“Most people haven’t a clue what Jesus was like. And so we invite them to take a look. They can decide for themselves. And when they begin to see Jesus, the way he loved the marginalized and the hopeless, the way he speaks to the proud and the arrogant who were usually the religious, they see his healings, even though they don’t believe miracles. But they watch him do these things and hear his astonishing claims. And above all, they’re usually so moved by his love. So it’s effective because you have the power of the Holy Spirit illuminating the power of the Word of God.” — Becky Pippert
Date: April 2, 2019
Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana
Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
Mentioned in this podcast:
- Uncovering the Life of Jesus by Rebecca Manley Pippert
- Discovering the Real Jesus by Rebecca Manley Pippert
Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Becky Pippert: I want to say that evangelism is life and death, it is life and death. It makes all the difference in the world where we will spend eternity, hope for this life. I’m beginning this by saying that evangelism is life and death and that it makes all the difference in the world where we spend eternity, what kind of life we are going to have now. And there is I just heard a word that right outside here, someone is attempting to commit suicide. And so there’s fire trucks and police and everyone trying to talk him down. And I thought, Oh Lord, has he heard the gospel? Has anybody spoken to him?
So, let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for this time together. We thank you for the tremendous privilege you’ve given us of sharing the good news of Jesus. I ask, Holy Spirit, that you come and fill me a fresh and fill us in this room with the very presence of God. I pray that you will inspire us and excite us about this. But Lord, let’s also see why it matters so much. And I pray for this man and I ask in the name of Jesus that he will hear something from one of the police or firefighters. But, Lord, gives someone a word to say to him that clicks. And I pray that his life will be spared. And I pray in the name of Jesus. He’ll hear the gospel and come to Jesus Christ and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
You might even be thinking as we are doing this, who are the non-Christians in my life that I might invite to what I’m about to talk about? Now, usually, I do the evangelism, personal evangelism training or talk. I’ll do that, but then say this is what flows out of that relationship, part of that evangelistic relationship, a seeker Bible study. We’re doing it reverse.
Let me just give you a little bit of background. I wrote, my first book was Out of the Salt Shaker, which was a long time ago and I’ve written many books since then. And I’m gonna do this at the end. I don’t wanna go over my books and all that right now. Although I will show you one thing and that is, we are talking about how do you lead a seeker Bible study.
And here are two, I’ve written more, but these two are here. One is Discovering the Real Jesus, Gospel of John. This is Uncovering the Life of Jesus, which is in Luke and they are written for people, I wrote them specifically for you to be able to do with people who weren’t quite sure what they believe. Christians have used it and then really enjoyed it and felt they got a sense of the ethos of how to approach non-believers. But anyway, I wrote it particularly for non-believers.
My husband and I and he’s not with me right now. He had an appointment that he couldn’t get out of. But we have just returned from having spent seven years in the UK and in Europe. Now, that’s the most secular place on the planet. And we did ministry both with churches, training churches in evangelism and seeker Bible study. And we did university students. We did it, we didn’t think we were gonna be there for seven years, but it ended up being seven because the fruit was so amazing. You know, most people are very illiterate when it comes to the Bible and that’s actually in our favor. Because they may not like the church, they may be critical of the church, unbelievers are still interested in Jesus. What was he like? What did he say? How did he… There is more interest and sensitivity. Well, I ended just very, very short. We began training all over the UK, literally all over Europe. But right in the very beginning, I was speaking at a conference for about 1,400 campus leaders, Christian leaders from their universities throughout the UK, Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland.
And I was teaching them about evangelism, but I was also them about seeker Bible study. And I was telling them how to do it. It was a brand new idea to them, do a Bible study with non-Christian, nobody is gonna come to that. But as they started listening, they got more excited. So we passed out Uncovering the Life of Jesus the red one and they really got excited, we were together about four or five days.
Then it was time for them to go to universities. This is early September. And then I started getting the emails from what we would call InterVarsity, they call it UCCF, but it’s a campus ministry. And all of a sudden I started getting all these letters from emails from staff saying, you aren’t going to believe it. We thought they’d need to do the book with Christians first to get their confidence. They got so excited that they went back to campus, develop friends with, you know, friends that weren’t believers and then invited them. Hey, let’s take a look. See what Jesus is like. What do you have to lose? I mean, why don’t we just take a look, let’s just look at it once. 1,000 seeker studies started in the UK in the first nine months, the ministry said they saw more conversions that year than they’d seen in 30. And it isn’t that it’s just some magic tool. It is the tremendous… I’m gonna talk about this. I do evangelism seminar after this of really what is involved in getting involved in relationships with unbelievers and what does that mean and the, you know, what is personal evangelism, etc.
But why is seeker studies so powerful? It’s the Word of God and it’s the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Word of God and Jesus comes alive. I have been doing seeker Bible Studies since I was a student. I went for a year in Spain. I did undergraduate work in Spain. And I was taught this by my mentor who became a mentor. Her name was Ruth Siemens. And I was saying the same thing, Ruth, nobody’s gonna come to a Bible study, you know, that’s for, you know, non-Christians. And I already knew. I knew I had to develop relationships and pray and I was doing all of that. But the idea of inviting them to take a look at Jesus, I really thought she’d been in the Spanish sun too long, you know? And to my absolute astonishment, I had eight good friends that weren’t Christians. All eight said yes, all eight came. I said, just try it once we did it and they said, “No, no, no, we wanna do it more than once.”
Five women actually, there was one man, but students, all students, five came to the Lord. I am friends with them now. One of the ones that was the farthest from the kingdom became a missionary. She was from Northern Ireland. I am the godmother of one of the first people I’d led to Christ in that group. It changed my whole life because I saw, Oh my goodness, there is hunger, there is an interest. And if we know how to approach people in the power of the Holy Spirit and then seeing the power of the Word of God, it was just an extraordinary experience that changed everything. And from that point on, I started leading seeker Bible Studies.
Now, one last thing about me, I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I was the first person to become a Christian. Eventually, every member of my family came to the Lord, but it took a long time. My dad came to Christ 30 years after my conversion. Now, if you had asked me when I was an agnostic, not a Christian, what I thought of Jesus, I would have said not with any intentional irreverence. I would have said, “Oh, I think he was really nice.” And, you know, and I never heard one word of the Bible, not one. So my entire scholarship was based on Hollywood films, you know, and nothing else. I said, well, I think he was really a nice guy and just sort of kind of skipped along the shores of Galilee, you know, with his friends, the kind of person everyone would love, but especially your grandmother, okay? Long story, but eventually, because I’d had looked at other religions, finally looked into Christianity was the last religion I looked into. I decided, and I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Someone gave me the book and I thought, okay, I’ve gotta start reading the Bible in order to understand what it is Christianity teaches.
By the grace of God, I began with one of the gospels when I started reading. I say by the grace of God because it just saves some time, you know, for me to get to know Jesus. And instead of this meek mild man that I was expecting, I found this man of extraordinary passion who threw furniture down the front steps of a temple because he was so angry by the religious hypocrisy. He said such weak and innocuous things as I’ve come to set the earth on fire. And I thought, you know, you can learn a lot about somebody when you find out who likes them and who doesn’t. Well, in Jesus’s case, what I was flabbergasted by was that the religious basically detested him and prostitutes and lepers were just crazy about him, loved him.
And I thought, wow, what kind of man is this? He is so different than what I thought. And I, one of the first passages I read was John 2. I had started with the Gospel of John and where Jesus is encountering these religious hypocrites and was so angry at their hypocrisy and ripping them off financially and making his Father’s place a market place, you know, the temple a marketplace. And then he and I didn’t know the story at all, and he’s turning the tables upside down, throwing the furniture down. And I went, wow, I may not like hypocrisy, but I’ve never trashed a room. And I went, I had no idea Jesus and I had anything in common. I had no idea his reaction to hypocrisy, religious hypocrites.
Now, the Jewish leaders would’ve said, what do you expect us to do? Here’s a man claiming to be the Holy One, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, and he hugs lepers, he talks with prostitutes. What kind of holiness is this? This isn’t a Holy man. And he didn’t just evangelize sinners. Word they’d quite didn’t use. He had meals with them. And they said, “We have no room for this kind of guy.” And I remember thinking as an agnostic, wouldn’t it be the most amazing thing if this turned out to really be the Son of God who’s come from heaven to earth? Because I thought that is mind-boggling because if it really is God incarnate and he comes to planet earth, what is the chief criticism about Jesus? He just didn’t seem religious enough. Now that’s a pretty funny thing to say about God.
Do you see why looking at Jesus is so powerful for skeptics, even people who are really, let’s call, you know, maybe had a little bit of church background and they’re very nice, you know, and they would certainly think there’s nothing wrong with me or sinful about me that, you know, but they’re very, very nice. And then they encounter Jesus. Most people I meet are not that hostile to Jesus. They’re hostile about a lot of things in Christianity, but that, as I said, they are still intrigued by Jesus. And when we are able in a conversation that we end up having a spiritual conversation to draw their attention to Jesus and say, let’s just take a look. Let’s just find out what he’s like, you’re really gonna be surprised. Let’s see what he was like. How did he treat women? How did he talk to them? How did he treat children? What did he say about himself? What did he do? Who was he?
And one of the things I always say is, how can you make an intelligent decision about the Christian faith if you never read the primary source material? Now that line I use more with students because students are all about doing primary source material. But how can you make an intelligent decision if you never read the Bible? It’s impossible. You just have to take a look. You don’t have to believe it. You just have to take a look. Well, I gotta tell you that what has revolutionized my approach to evangelism is certainly I think understanding a biblical approach to what and watching Jesus and how he did it, but it’s inviting them to take a look at Jesus. It literally has revolutionized my evangelism and we have taught this all over the world.
We were seven years in the UK and Europe, eight years, for eight years right before that, we literally traveled the world. We did six out of the seven continents over and over again and it’s always what I taught, both evangelism and seeker Bible study. And then to get the stories from people all over the world who are doing it is really very exciting. So what happened to people in Jesus’ day when they met him? They were amazed by his miracles. They were astonished and shocked by his claims. They were moved by his, well, if you were on the outside, they were very moved by his tenderness to outsiders and sinners. The religious were appalled. They were stunned by his criticism of the religious. This Jesus is so beautiful, so radical, so much more than we could ever summarize in four points.
Evangelism is not about methods and techniques. What we need to do is bring people at first prayer, context of friendship, bring them into the presence of Jesus and let Jesus do it for you. When they start reading who Jesus is, they simply are not the same. So what do we call this inviting people to look at who Jesus is? I call it, for lack of a better word, a seeker Bible Study. Not secret, but seeker. A seeker Bible Study is it’s meant for anyone who has a partial or no understanding of the Christian faith. It can be a complete atheist, it can be an agnostic, it can be somebody who thinks they’re a Christian. Now you don’t go to them and say, I’m doing a Bible study for pagans and you just came to mind. Obviously, the way you invite people’s gonna, you know, vary depending on who you’re speaking to. And it could be anyone, let me go to invitation a little bit.
We look at the person of Jesus through the gospels in which the facilitator, we’re leading it, the facilitator asks questions and then lets the participants discover the answers directly from the texts. Now, I would assume in Gospel Coalition and this kind of conference, I am hoping you know how to do inductive Bible study, a Bible study in which this is, there are some Bible studies where you would teach. This is not it. This is a Bible study where the text is the teacher and you’re asking questions and starting to get them interacting. And because the gospels are so lively and the stories are so fantastic, it’s very easy to start creating interest in momentum. But the text is the teacher, not the leader. It can be done one-to-one. You can do it with just simply you and another non-Christian.
But my favorite way, and I’ve done it every way, is to get one other person that will co-lead with me. And then I’ll say, let’s do a women’s study. And then you bring your friends, I’ll bring mine, doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other, they’ll get to know each other. And then it could be the two of you with maybe three, four, five, seven, eight. Beyond eight, it can get, that’s a little bit large, but I’ve done larger studies in that. But you can ask. And now my husband and I have done seeker Studies with couples and our neighborhoods. We’ve done almost any format you can imagine, teenagers, junior high. We’ve done it with just about everybody. But it is a study that asks questions on the text about Jesus and the key is that these must be people. You don’t invite Christians to this study. There are a gazillion Bible studies out there for Christians. That’s why I started writing seeker Bible Studies. There was so little material.
And so it isn’t, if you wanna kill a seeker study fast, start bringing in the Christians, you know, because one, they’ll start giving answers and that’s not what we do. We want them to answer it based on the text. There’s a tendency to use God-talk, and this has to be a very different kind of ethos. But the key is the majority of people must be seekers or maybe technically that they wouldn’t even be a seeker. Maybe they’re just curious. Seeker really means biblically that the Holy Spirit is at work inside the person drawing them. Now, sometimes, I mean the Holy Spirit is always drawing people, but it may be somebody who isn’t even really all that drawn yet to spiritual things. They’re just curious. That’s fine. It can be other religions. I’ve had people from other religions, I’m gonna give you time to ask me questions. So that’s what is a seeker Study.
Number one, what is a Seeker Study? Number two, why is it effective? Because most people haven’t a clue what Jesus was like. And so we invite them to take a look. They can decide for themselves. And when they begin to see Jesus, the way he loved the marginalized and the hopeless, the way he speaks to the proud and the arrogant who were usually the religious, they see his healings, even though they don’t believe miracles. But they watch him do these things and hear his astonishing claims. And above all, they’re usually so moved by his love. So it’s effective because you have the power of the Holy Spirit illuminating the power of the Word of God.You’ve got the most supernaturally powerful resources and they know nothing about it. Now, your love is also important, and for them, but it is a power pack tool.
Thirdly, why does the style of a seeker Bible study appeal to unbelievers? I’ve noticed particularly in our present-day that people are being, particularly non-Christians, they’re a little bit reluctant more so than they used to be about videos where somebody is teaching them. You know, again, this comes from the all of, I’m gonna talk a bit about this in my next talk about what are the…what post-modernity has done to us as a culture. So it’s nobody’s gonna tell me the truth. I make my own truth, you know? Well, then you come and you start reading a study and they’re simply being asked questions where they try to determine what the text is saying.
Why is it so effective? They don’t have to believe anything. Anything. They’ll always say to me, “Oh, you don’t want me. I’m an atheist.” I go, “Oh, you’re exactly who I’d love.” If you have an open mind, if you are saying, I don’t care what you show me, I am never gonna believe. I’d still say try it once. But if you have an open mind, this is exactly for you. Oh, you don’t want me to come. I’ve never read the Bible. I said, ”Oh no, that’s all the more fun.” Because you will have insights that are fresh and that may have never occurred to me because even though I wasn’t raised a Christian, I’ve been one for a long time. So you’re exactly who I would love to come. They are able to investigate, they are able to see what Jesus was like.
And why is again, this approach so effective? What researchers tell us about postmodern culture is that people today more than ever need to feel welcomed. And they need to feel cared for. To put it another way, they need to sense they belong before they believe. They need to know you really want them there. And we know perfectly well, they don’t believe, but they need to feel they belong before they believe. Another thing researchers tell us, they want experience before explanation. Now in order to be effective in witness, you have to provide both. You have to do, you know, share your experience with Jesus Christ and pray and see answered prayer. But they also need explanation. But this kind of approach enables them to come and experience the person of Jesus before they understand what it means.
Thirdly, people want a story before a sermon. Again, this idea of preaching down, I mean the stories in the gospels are just so powerful and so wonderful. And they want an authentic relationship long before a didactic sermon. That’s the genius of seeker Bible study. It communicates truth in narrative form, it honors process, it is dialogical talking back and forth, not didactic, and we aren’t posing as authorities from on high. We’re the question asker. We’re not the one that’s coming in and teaching.
One little parenthesis about that though there will come times where somebody says something that is so… They’ll say a lot of things that are off the wall, but sometimes you’ll come upon something where like for instance, who are the Pharisees? Never heard about them. Now in my seeker Studies, I’ll explain this right at the very end, the way I do it. I have a little bit on the Pharisees historical context that they read, but you have to be prepared in case people need something explained, but you don’t wanna fall in the trap of being the teacher then it shuts down.
Seeker Bible study is effective because it doesn’t rely on our skill, but on spiritually powerful resources. As I’ve said, I am astonished when I see how the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word of God convicts. You know, I have had Christians in this study and they’ve said like, somebody says something that really is off the wall and they’ll say, “You can’t say that, this is the Holy Word of God, this is the authoritative Word of God.” And then all the language that goes with this, here’s the amazing thing to me about the power of the Word of God. You don’t have to say it. It is so powerful that it speaks for itself. And so to sort of come in with this defense isn’t necessary. In fact, it can get in the way because they’re here because we’re inviting them almost like, think of it, I’ll say like a book club. Only the book is the Bible and you’re just gonna take a look.
I remember a woman I did a seeker study when I lived in Washington DC and I did a women’s study and I invited my friends that were not believers, but we’d had many spiritual conversations. My girlfriend invited her friends and they were all typical Washingtonians, you know, very successful. You know, had very high-powered jobs. And they came because they were curious and also because we develop friendships and they cared about us. And I remember the woman with the biggest job, she was the head of a huge hospital in DC and we were doing John and we came to John 2, cleansing of the temple. And she said, “I gotta say,” this is at the end of the study. “I got to tell you something. I have a powerhouse job in a powerhouse city. I can spot a powerful person like that and I need to be able to do that, to know who to hire.” And she said, “This man, this Jesus is the most powerful human being I have ever encountered.” And I thought she’ll be back. Any positive response, I’m not expecting you to follow her into her knees, you know, in confession of faith. That’s what I’m hoping will happen, you know.
She comes back the next week and it’s John 4, woman at the well. And we finished the study and she goes, “Do you know what blows my mind, is how Jesus uses his power.” His power was established in John 2. “How he uses his power to love, how he uses his power to affirm this woman, to build her up. Even everything he did, the way he paid attention to her.” We do the third study, can’t even remember what it was. And she goes, “I tell you what I think,” she says after the study, she said, “I’m starting to ask myself for the very first time, how do I use my power? If Jesus is that powerful, how am I using mine?” Get together for the fourth week. You know what she said at the end? “You guys are gonna think I’m crazy. You know, I’m an atheist and that this is the first time I’ve ever read the Bible, but I have been so struck by these stories and about the person of Jesus. I’m starting to read it on my own now. I’m starting to read the gospels on my own.” But she said, “I keep having this experience where I start to turn and say, Jesus, do you think I’m doing it all right?” And then I think we now wait. Well, how can you say that? You know, you don’t know. You know, and I thought this is unbelievable. I never said a word. The conviction came from the Holy Spirit. And when you watch it before your eyes and it takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. But it is effective because we are using spiritually powerful supernatural resources.
What are the advantages for the unbeliever? Now, I don’t have a chalkboard, but I want you acrostic. Is that what you call it when you do the numbers down. All right. You know what acrostic is where you… All right. We’re gonna write in your notes, “Safe place,” only use the letters. So S is at the top, A is below, F is underneath the, you know, so you go all the way down. “Safe place,” make a column all the way down. Let’s just look at a few things here about what are the advantages for seekers. All right. What’s the S stand for? It is a safe place. We are providing them a place where they’re, one of the things that’s so important is they’re reading the Bible probably for the first time, and they’re doing it with people like them, not with church people. That would be intimidating, you know, but they’re doing it and they feel safe. They know that we know they’re not believers and we welcome them warmly and say, this is so exciting because you can decide for yourselves. We’re gonna take a look and see what Jesus is like.
What does the A stand for? Authenticity. You have to be yourself and allow them to be who they are. It is so important that they feel welcomed and appreciated for who they are, but it needs to be relaxed. What does F stand for? F stands for a couple of things. So it’s SAF, what does F stand for? One is food. Now, in America it’s very different because we’ve been, you know, we’ve been everywhere and in Latin cultures, in Africa, and in Asia. I mean we’ve been to Malaysia five times ministering there. They wouldn’t dream of having friends over without doing a full meal. That’s the culture. And so they’ll make it potluck maybe where everybody brings something. But in America, it tends to be what the English call nibbles. I love that word. So you have, you get together and you have, you know, you give them, offer them something to drink and have little nibbles, you know, whether it’s little sweets or savory or whatever it is. And I do. And just catch up. How are you, and let me introduce you. You don’t know everybody. And so you do that about 20 minutes. I mean there’s not a hard and fast, but no longer than 30. But I try for 20 and then say, okay, let’s get together now and take a look and do one of these passages together. All right, so food.
Secondly, it needs to be fun. Some of the, when I’ve ever seen a Seeker Study get into trouble, it’s when they try to run it like they’re running Sunday school, you know. And they need to relax, you need to enjoy them. That’s another big problem with Christians, you know, is the judgment. And you’re gonna hear things you don’t approve of. And so we need to be relaxed, we need to be welcoming, we need to have fun. Remember we have told them to think of it like a book club.
What does the E stand for? Everyday language is spoken. Don’t use God-talk. Now, one of the things I do in evangelism training, actually I’ll show you this. We have done this evangelism training around the world, literally, and we just filmed a live conference. This is called “Empowered.” And what it is, is all these principles on evangelism that I’m teaching, you see the training, how do we learn how to ask good questions? How do you arouse somebody’s curiosity? How do you go from a natural conversation to a spiritual conversation and not feel like you’ve dropped an A-bomb? What do you do if you’re shy? How do you…you know, all the kinds of things that are involved in evangelism. I think people today need training more than ever. I think it’s a desperate need actually.
And so it’s seven weeks of Bible study and videos that can be used for small groups, churches, even an individual, but it’d make more sense to do it with a group. But I mentioned this because I just said everyday language, don’t use God-talk. And that’s so easy to do once you’ve been a Christian for a long time and all your friends are Christians, and now you’re trying to get out of that and do what Jesus said. And he’s called us to be salt and light. So it helps to get just a little bit of training in that. But just paying attention will help. All right, that’s safe.
What’s place? Start with a P. It is a process and people today are so biblically illiterate that it is gonna take longer. It doesn’t have to take forever. And I’ve certainly led people to Christ in very short time, but I’m willing to be patient for the process and not pressure. Give them time. All of this is so new to them and don’t get discouraged. Just the other P to this is not just process, not pressure, but pray. Can’t tell you how critical prayer is, you are praying for them. The more you get to know them, even as you’re preparing the study you’re going to think, Oh, I kinda think I know how one person might respond to that question and how another. Do I pray before I start a study? I don’t, because I’ve invited them to think of it like a book club. They absolutely know I’m a Christian and we’re doing Bible study.
Now, if you do do a prayer, make it short. But let me tell you when I do pray. At the end of a study or maybe the sixth week out of the seven studies, I go, let’s have a dinner and this is in America. And I’ll say, “Everybody bring something. Let’s have a great meal after we do the last study.” And then I say, “You know, as a Christian and in my home, we always thank God for food and I’d like to do that.” And I don’t pray very long, but I always mention everyone there, their name in prayer. Thank God for them, to help them and bless them. And it’s amazing. When they hear you pray, I’ve so often heard, “I’ve never really heard anybody pray that like conversationally to God, you didn’t even sound religious. You just sounded like you were talking to a person and you said my name. Nobody’s ever said my name in the presence of God.” So prayer is powerful and I think it needs to be in the right place. That’s okay, that is P.
L what does L stand for? L stands for the love of Christ must be conveyed. They’re gonna see it in the text. They need to see it in how you and your coworker treat them, how you respond to each other. And you also, you need to be unshockable. I can’t tell you how important that is in a seeker study. I remember in a pretty large study, I did it for three years. We’d do seven weeks, six or seven weeks, and then we’d start again a little bit later, maybe one in the fall, one in the spring, but every year for three years. And the one woman, Patricia, Pat, she came and she was really bright, probably in her 50s, I would say. And it was all my neighborhood, which is, I had a couple of Christians joining me and then I usually don’t have more than one. In this case, it was a larger study. And by the way, Christians would hear about it and always wanna come.
And so I go, here’s the ground rule. The ground rule is you can’t come unless you bring a non-Christian friend. You can’t imagine how many Christians that eliminated out of the gate because they didn’t have any. And I would always go over with the Christians what the rules were. I mean, had the ethos of the study, you know, etc. All right, so we’re in a study and Pat in her 50s probably, and really, really bright, actually a scholar by profession, but a little rough around the edges. So we did John and I said, tell me, we were doing John 4. And I said, “What do you think the Samaritan woman thought when Jesus said, give me a drink?” And so she said, “Well, we’ve now, you know, we’ve read this study and we know this was kind of a loose woman, you know, and been around the block a few times. And we know that because of what you said in the intro, that rabbis didn’t speak to women much less to women who were, you know, immoral if you could tell that by her appearance. And she was used to one thing, she was used to men coming to her for one thing. And so here is Jesus treating her with respect and being very kind and then saying, give me a drink.” And she said, ”I would guess the Samaritan woman thought, well, at least he’s using a new pickup line.
Now, I’ve been in seeker studies till the cows come home. But I burst out laughing when she said it. And I was about to say something before another Christian in the study who didn’t get the ethos of the study. And she went, “Oh my, oh my, you can’t say that. He’s the Son of God.” Yeah. And I took one look at Pat’s face and I thought, she’s never coming back. And so I knew I had a minute to fix this and really asked the Lord to help me. And I said, “Pat, it is a…” I said, “Yes. My friend believes he’s the Son of God, so do I.” But I said, “Nevertheless,” I said, “There were a lot of people that were around Jesus who didn’t think he was the Son of God, didn’t know what to think, just like you.” And I said, “Pat, it’s exactly why I’m so glad you’re in this study. Even though I come from a non-Christian home,” I said, “I’ve been in the church a long time.” And I said, “That is a very fresh insight.”
Now, here is the power of the Word of God. Pat came up to me and she said, “If you hadn’t said that, I had already determined I wasn’t coming back. I was so afraid that I’d put my foot in it. I was so afraid I’d offend some Christian, you know, but when you told me that I gave you an insight you’d never even considered.” She said, “I went, Oh my gosh, if she’s the teacher and it never crossed her mind, wonder why, I’m gonna come back.” The Christian came up to me and said, “Becky, I have been so convicted.” She said, “First of all, I just haven’t been around non-Christians. That’s my problem. I’m always with Christians.” And she said, “Watching how Jesus interacts with people, it’s so different than what I just did in that study.” But she said, “Also watching how you interact.” She said, “I really feel I’m being changed.” Two people were being changed by the power of the Word of God. One was a Christian, one was a non-Christian. That is how powerful the Holy Spirit and the Word of God is. It took three years, but Pat became a Christian and she is now leading Bible Study Fellowship.It’s just such a mind scramble. Maybe you knew who she is. Oh my gosh, it’s wonderful.
I remember a woman saying in the study, I said, “Why Jesus touch the leper?” And again, it was a Christian who didn’t get the ethos. And she brought a non-Christian friend, but she went, “Oh, I know the answer.” Now, this isn’t class. This isn’t Sunday school. You don’t raise your hand. And she goes, “Oh, I know the answer.” Jesus didn’t contract leprosy because he was a Son of God and he couldn’t possibly have gotten leprosy.”
Now, you know, it’s, how are you gonna respond as a non-Christian when you’ve wrapped it all up and that’s what it is? So I was praying and saying, Lord, what do I do here? And a non-Christian said, who were the majority in that study? She said, “You know, I am 42 years old and I the first time in my whole life I’ve ever read a Bible.” And she said, “I admire your faith that you know that he is the Son of God. I’m not there yet, but I admire your faith. But here’s what I’ve learned from looking at Jesus. What I have learned is that Jesus would have been willing to contract leprosy if he thought it could help and heal a person.” Who do you think got closer to the doctrine of the atonement? That he became sin who knew no sin to that we might become the righteousness of God. I mean, that’s atonement theology. Who do you think got closer to the real Jesus? No risk. There’s no risk here. I couldn’t possibly do it, I’m God. You know, it’s denying his humanity. And that’s one of the big problems I see sometimes when Christians are starting to do this, is that what is our understanding of the theology of the incarnation?
He was the eternal Son of God who came to earth and fully assumed human nature in every way but without sin. We tend to emphasize the deity. We don’t look enough at the humanity. And that’s what these kinds of studies do. First, you begin to understand who he was as a person, and then you come to realize hopefully, that who he was.
All right. A, what is A, in place, PLA people are amazed to see the relevance of the Bible to their lives. Amazed. We were in China recently and I had been there doing training in China and very undercover, obviously. And I met with a group who had been in the training, and what they did is they immediately got out pictures and started putting them on the table in front of Dick and me. And saying, “All right, now here I am and this one was,” I gotta be careful how I say this. An academic at one of the top schools in Beijing, we’ll just leave it there. And for her to do a study like this with students, jeopardizing her job and if she lost her job, she’d lost everything. She’d never be able to get another job there. And her parents weren’t Christians and they were so unhappy with her that she was taking this risk. There was about eight students around her, five came to Christ. Now, there was just a real movement of the Spirit there. So five came to Christ and the other three came later. Eight people were converted. Then she goes, “Now I’m doing it for faculty.” And you never know who’s a spy. You never know who is actually. And she says, “Oh, but Becky. When you see what Jesus has done for me. He gave his life. How can I not be willing to sacrifice?”
And I thought, oh my gosh, we in the West desperately need the witness of the persecuted church, the witness, they put us to shame. They really do. Anyway, amazed to see the relevance of the Bible.
C, we care for them pastorally. Now this is important. It’s not just you’re doing this study, but you get together with them. I would say maybe midway through the study, if you have a co-leader, divide up the people however many there are and then go have lunch or breakfast or coffee or whatever, but then say, “Hey, tell me what do you think? You know what’s your reaction to things? What do you like about Jesus? Where are you kind of…what kind of questions do you have?” And that pastoral work is important because it’s often not in the study itself that somebody goes, I’m saved, is that they wanna talk to you outside the study. And if you’ve never met with them, that’s gonna be a little bit more awkward.
Pat was one of the exceptions because she said that third year, she goes, “Well I’ve got something to say.” She said, “The first year you saw I was an atheist and I acted like it.” She said, “But I was drawn. Second-year I began moving.” She said a lot more than this,” but she said, “What I want you to know is I have just given my life to Jesus Christ. I am absolutely committed. I believe it’s true.” Now when that happens in a group, you talk about an impact on the other people. I have seen so many people come to Christ after one person who’s almost always the least likely to come to Christ.
And E is, everyone is welcome, which I’ve already said. People are gonna come and go by the way and you don’t. If somebody misses one and then comes the next week, you don’t have to go back and do the next study. You just keep moving on doing the studies.
The advantages for you is that I think it’s the easiest form of evangelism I know because we say I’m not an authority on the Bible. We’re here to see what Jesus says. We’re curious about who he is. I’m gonna ask some questions and I’ll show them. I’ll go, you know, these are questions are written by a woman. I know. You can at least say that now. And, you know, and just I’ll ask the questions and I’m curious what your responses would be. You don’t have to be an evangelist. You don’t have to be a professional, you don’t have to be a scholar. It could almost get in the way being a scholar. You’re to lead a good Bible study discussion.
Another thing is your faith will grow so much as you begin seeing people responding. And as one student said to me in England recently, he said, “You know, I led one study and saw all kinds of people come to Christ. I led a second study and not one yet has come to Christ. But you know why I’m thrilled? They are not the same guys. They’re so different. And they’ve already asked me, when are you doing another study?” And so this is God’s time table. We couldn’t convert someone if our lives depended on it. That’s God’s business. We do what we’re called to do. The objective of the seeker study, ultimately, of course, we want them to come to Christ, but the immediate objective is any positive response, any, and that usually means they’ll be back.
How do you prepare? Oh, wait a minute. What questions do you need to ask yourself in thinking about this? Pray, ask God if this is something that you’re interested in. Say this is something I’d really like to do, but who? Who should I invite and how do I do it? I’ll do that in just a second. Decide if it’s a women’s study, is it a couples’ study, a teen study, whatever. The size varies again on who you know, it could be one-on-one, it could be three, five, seven, as I’ve said. Where do you do it? A neutral place. Don’t do it at church. It has too much association and they’ll think, Oh, you’re just trying to make me a Baptist. That’s really what you’re after, you know? And so a home is ideal, with students it could be a dorm or a restaurant or whatever. Just makes sure it’s neutral.
When should you start? Well, the question is do you have some work to do in terms of building your relationships? I spoke to a convention of university students from all 40 countries, all 40 in Europe and one of the about, oh, I don’t know, I think it’s about 4,000 students. And one woman who was a biologist said to me, “Becky, everything I’ve been doing is wrong. I’ve listened to your plenary talks and now I’ve gone to your workshops. I use God-talk. I don’t really love them. I’m kind of irritated with them, tell you the truth because their lives are a mess. And I realized Jesus really loved these guys and I need to find different language and I need to get invested.” And she said, “I think it’s gonna take about three months and then I’m gonna ask in three months having invested, etc, etc.” Three months, she invited her coworkers, which were about five people and they all came and there was one guy in the study because it was coworkers, so it was men and women. And she had I think she had a guy that they were co-leading together.
Anyway, she said, “Oh, Becky, there is this one guy. He is so belligerent and so difficult.” And I said, “Look at Paul. You know, what did Jesus say? You’re kicking the goad too hard.” And I said, “The very fact he’s reacting so strongly, just wait.” He was the first one to come to Christ and ooh my gosh, it was so powerful and we’ve met them now.
How do you invite people to come? And then I’m gonna take questions. How do you invite them? Okay, pray. Ask God who to invite. Cast the net wide as more people than you might have even assumed you would ask. When you invite, be enthusiastic. It’s not like you don’t wanna come, I don’t think. And not everybody’s gonna say yes, but no doesn’t mean never. Don’t worry about that. But when you’re inviting, you might say something like, you know, I’ve really enjoyed our conversations. We’ve had a couple of spiritual conversations and you have such good questions. But I’ve gotten, I’m kind of curious, have you ever actually read the Bible? Have you ever looked at any of the biographies of Jesus? They may not know what a gospel is. Have you ever looked at any of the biographies of Jesus? How can you make an intelligent decision if you’ve never read it? What would you think about getting together? Just once. And let’s read a story from the life of Jesus. No pressure, but I think you’ll find it fascinating. Why don’t you try at once? You didn’t have to have figured everything out. You don’t have to have read the Bible, just come.
Now, that’s just a beginning of…there’s many different ways you can invite. When you have them together, after you’ve had your, you know, the very first meeting after you’ve had your, you know, something to drink, something to eat, then say when you are seated, you know, what we’re doing here is we are in very different places in terms of our beliefs and that’s why we’re here. We wanna find out who Jesus is and what he’s like so that you can make up your minds. You know, I am a Christian, but I want you to be able to read what he’s like, what he said, and you can make up your own mind. I want it to be a safe place. I’ll say it directly. I don’t want you to be embarrassed if you haven’t read, don’t worry about, oh, am I gonna look dumb? You know, your insights are gonna be fresh and I want us to have fun together and do this. I said we’re going to do a study guide. We’re gonna use it. I’m gonna use a study guide. Then I show ’em what it is.
And you could even do this. I’m gonna tell you right now in my study guide, this is the one on Luke, there’s always a icebreaker question. Have you ever had a friend say something like, if only I could get my deepest wish fulfilled, then I’d be happy? How true do you think that statement is and why? If only I could get what I want. And so there’s no text here, you know, Bible texts. So people usually talk very freely. Oh yeah. You know, I thought if I just got that job or if I just got this or got that. And truth is I had a new set of needs, you know, after that. Now, why am I asking this? Because in this particular study, Jesus heals the paralyzed man and who came obviously thinking, that’s all I need. All I need is to just get healed. And what was Jesus’ first words to him? My son, your sins are forgiven. Oh, maybe there’s another problem we didn’t know about and you don’t go real deep into sin. You’ll see this as I explain this and there’s background notes. But anyway, I do it because I want them to see this as a relevant question.
Secondly, historical context. You can read it out loud. You could have somebody else read it if they want, but it’s simply giving them background to the texts they may not have. So icebreaker question, historical context. Then we read the text and just ask anybody to read that once too. We asked the questions and then the last part is, so why does it matter? Now in this case, I said, “C.S. Lewis, an Oxford professor and Christian writer who was once a fervent atheist wrote,” then comes the real shock, “Among the Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he always existed. He said he’s coming to judge the world at the end of time. When you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was quite simply the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.”
The question is, why do you think people who reject the controversial claims that Jesus made about his own identity still call him a great teacher? How could he be a great teacher if he’s so confused about the main subject of his teaching namely himself? And why this study is so brilliant is that, I mean, the text itself is because you see the Pharisees coming and going, wait a minute, who do you think you are? They might, the people in your study go, Oh, he’s a nice guy. You know, and he was really…the way I talked when I wasn’t a Christian. And then all of a sudden you see the reasonable response, which is the Pharisees going, are you crazy? Nobody can talk like that. You’re talking like you’re God. They do the work for us.
The second study and this one is, it’s called, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” And it is the prostitute at Simon’s banquet. That is so wonderful because they think Christians are just like Simon, judgmental, critical, and you are no more than your sin. And Jesus sees this woman and goes, no, no. What determines who you really are is your response to my grace. It’s absolutely so powerful when you see the contrast. I do the prodigal son then do, what do you call it? Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus and then the cross and the resurrection.
Now I am sorry, I went over, I mean I haven’t gone over time-wise yet, but I really wanted to take some questions. So we’ve only got three minutes. Yes.
Woman 1: [inaudible] Don’t you think this approach would work for people who believe in another religion?
Pippert: Yes. How does this work for people who believe in another religion? And I have had people come, you know, that were from other religions. And what brings them is if we have had good and open conversations back and forth, we’re all, say maybe, tell me what your faith says about, and I really just do the gospel, creation, you know, who is he, what’s his nature, what went wrong? How do you fix what’s wrong? And yeah, what’s the solution, etc. And then they always say, “Well, tell me what your religion believes.” That kind of a thing where we’re looking at points of commonality and then looking at the real differences that will often say, “Well, I would like to see a little more of what Jesus is like.” Okay. Yeah.
Woman 2: How do you approach this with people who profess to be Christian but [inaudible ]
Pippert: Exactly. How do you approach this with people who say they’re Christians and you’re pretty sure they are not? I remember my daughter went to Boston College and she had a couple of roommates who were sort of cradle Catholics. It’s not that Catholics can’t be Christians. They weren’t, and they’d really never read the Bible. And when they saw Elizabeth reading her Bible and they went, “What are you doing? What class are you studying for that you read the Bible this early in the morning? And she went, “Oh no, I’m just doing it. It’s devotions. I call it a quiet time.” And they went, “You’re reading the Bible for fun?” And then that began conversations where they talk about faith. And what was really touching, they’d always ask her for prayer. They’d go and say, okay, look, and they come back drunk on the weekends. She’d clean up after ’em, didn’t judge them, just cleaned up, put them to bed. Finally, they go, all right now, you know, I mean, we’re Catholic and we absolutely, you know whatever that meant for them and but they’d go, “We don’t really know anything about what you’re reading in the Bible.” Elizabeth said, “Well look, why don’t you just brush up on that area of weakness?” Didn’t call it a seeker Bible study. This is a kind of brush up for some, and it could be anybody. I just happened to say. It could be absolutely anybody. Yeah.
Woman 3: Can you give them questions before?
Pippert: Ah, good question. It depends on what you wanna do. Sometimes I have written this for them, so sometimes you, I will give it to everybody and they can read right along with me. And they’ll often start reading ahead obviously because they get kind of hooked. But then obviously there’s an issue of money, you know. So sometimes we’ve just said, here’s a kitty here. If you want to put in some money, fine, if not, fine. Or I’ll just use it and I’ll say, if you want to take, you know, get one of these copies, let me know. Okay. So it’s one way or the other. And what’s interesting is people always would say to me, Oh yeah, but don’t they come up with different versions saying, yeah, but that’s your version of what it says, almost never in all these decades. That’s the power of the Word of God. It’s clear.
The only time I’ve had trouble is somebody from another religion and we had a Christian scientist and that came and Christian science is really sort of Eastern religion in Western garb and he goes, and it said that the woman at the well was tired. Jesus was tired and thirsty, obviously, and weary. He sat down by the well and the guy said he can’t possibly be tired, thirsty and hungry. He was fully evolved. He is a spirit creature, a spirit being, and he couldn’t have been tired and thirsty and hungry because it does. It’s Eastern religion and the non-Christians in the study went, “Well, if that is really what…if he wasn’t that way, why did they say it? It’s pretty straight forward. He was tired and thirsty and hungry.”