Personal Bible Study: An Invitation to Come Alongside

Kristie Anyabwile

Imprinted among Kristie Anyabwile’s earliest memories is a scene in which she and her grandmother “Miss Nicie” kneel to pray beside their shared featherbed. Kristie vividly recalls the worn tapestry of da Vinci’s The Last Supper that hung on the wall adjacent to the bed, and the harsh pricks of the occasional feather quill shaft poking into the soft skin of her folded fingers.

Miss Nicie came to live with the family in her later years, which spanned from 73 to 104. As circumstances would have it, with the other two bedrooms occupied by Kristie’s parents and two siblings, respectively, Kristie and her grandmother shared the third bedroom, an arrangement that provided Kristie ample observation of and an early invitation to her grandmother’s habit of personal Bible study and prayer. But it would be more than a decade before Kristie would receive the gift of a personal relationship with Christ for herself.

Living water

In college, Kristie met a brilliant and vibrant young man who converted to Islam and became an evangelistic Muslim. They married their senior year, just after he changed his name to Thabiti Anyabwile, and faith took a back burner as they began their life together—until they turned 25 and faced the crisis of their first pregnancy ending in miscarriage. Numb with grief, Thabiti sat in front of the television, searching. Kristie recalls her surprise when Thabiti invited her to watch a Christian television preacher with him.

During this time, it was as if God were dumping out a forgotten pot at the back of the stove, refilling it with living water, and moving it to the front burner. One weekend, while traveling to see Kristie’s sister in the DC area, they decided to coordinate a visit to the intriguing TV preacher’s brick-and-mortar church nearby.

As the young couple sat and listened to the morning exposition of Exodus 32 in a sermon entitled “What Does It Take To Make You Angry?,” the Spirit lit the pilot light. Both Kristie and Thabiti heard a clear invitation to come follow Christ and responded to the gospel that same day.

Bible questions

Brimming with questions, Kristie and Thabiti began studying the word side by side back at the breakfast nook of their first home in North Carolina. Their learning styles were very different, however, and while Thabiti was scouring commentaries and diving into ancient languages, Kristie was struggling to make sense of the storyline of Scripture. She continued teaching high school social studies, and they plugged into a church plant with a handful of friends where she began serving in children’s ministries.

But as she read her Bible day after day, and as children were added to their home, Kristie’s list of questions just grew longer.

Eager to understand, Kristie reached out to two older women in her local church. Each declined her request for mentoring—graciously, but neither feeling well-equipped for the task. This left Kristie discouraged and confused. Yet it simultaneously sparked a commitment to figure out what she needed to learn so that she could one day answer another younger woman’s request for mentoring with a ready “Yes!”

Not long after, a friend was leading a Bible study through her parachurch ministry and asked Kristie to come alongside her and help facilitate the gatherings. Initially intimidated—but interested, she watched this woman capably direct the discussion. Encouraged that she too could do this, Kristie began to imitate this woman’s pattern of discipleship and gradually gained confidence and competence.

She and Thabiti both continued “to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord,” and while their Bible study processes still looked somewhat different, their spiritual journeys were developing in a tightly connected parallel, like two beautiful lines of Hebrew poetry.

They flourished under the leadership of their pastor and his wife, and through the close knit community they built within their local church. Their lives were full, from the weekly setup of the Holiday Inn for Sunday worship, to midweek Bible studies, to early morning basketball and prayer for the guys, to play dates and picnics among the moms with littles.

Ministry shifts

Kristie recalls the day Thabiti sat her down to soberly tell her that he was sensing God’s call into vocational gospel ministry. And she laughed! Not because she didn’t believe it, but because he was finally seeing the obvious gifting and passion she and others had already noticed in his life.

That call, which started as a small church plant among friends, eventually led their growing family to relocate to the Cayman Islands where they joyfully served for eight years before intentionally settling on the southeast side of Washington, D.C., to plant a church in an under-resourced community. Along the way, Kristie gained clarity on her own calling to come alongside individuals in their spiritual journey, regardless of where they were coming from.

When the first younger woman approached Kristie and asked her to be a mentor, Kristie remembered her quiet commitment to the Lord and accepted. Often, with children around their ankles, mentoring and discipleship looked a lot like two women talking about the intersection of the Bible and life in a small kitchen while dipping chicken into an eggwash and then PankoTM breadcrumbs to sauté alongside a sauce of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, spices, and cream to make what Kristie’s kids still call “Yummy Chicken.”

Better Bible study

Over time, Kristie added utensils to her drawer of Bible knowledge as she continued to “stir up the gift of God” within her soul. Early in her journey, Kristie got involved in Bible Study Fellowship. This is where she first understood the Bible as one story.

While in the Cayman Islands, she taught preschool Sunday school and led a small group of ladies in Bible study and in serving the senior saints in their church with periodic luncheons. An even smaller group committed to starting a 5am Club, a phone tree of sorts to help each other start their day early in prayer and Bible reading. But for Kristie, participation in the Charles Simeon Trust workshops was her Le Cordon Bleu, a premier training opportunity. 

Understanding biblical theology and genre-specific studies both as a student and as a Bible teacher became a big deal for Kristie. Bible study was still challenging for her, but the pieces all started clicking into place.

God gave her Colossians 1:28–29, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” These verses have been both bread and wine to Kristie, strengthening and encouraging her heart as she continues to step forward in ministry with obedient faith. 

She describes the Charles Simeon Trust as sort of a mid-level training for Bible teachers, not quite seminary but still having some expectation of Bible literacy coming in. As she took her Bible teacher’s training back to her local church, she sensed a need to begin with the basics with absolutely no assumptions about the prior Bible study experience of her fellow disciples of Jesus. “I want to welcome the questions, to back up, slow down, and bring others along.”

Remembering her early struggles to understand and apply what she was reading and her craving to be mentored as a young wife and mother has motivated Kristie to create classes and other resources that are a sort of simple syrup for those seeking to know God through his word. “It’s hard to commune if you’re confused,” she says. So as Julia Child made French cooking accessible to the average American, Kristie Anyabwile strives to make Bible study accessible regardless of a person’s background or present level of Bible knowledge.

At one point she taught a course called Foundations. Eventually she launched Equipped, a ministry in her local church to raise up women from within her church to be equipped students and teachers of the word. “If the fruit of what God is teaching me is to see God raise up another teacher, that would just make me so happy.” And she says, “It is the highlight of my life to walk alongside others in their journey!” 

Regarding her present methods of personal Bible study, Kristie uses descriptors including inductive, literary, expositional, and devotional. Scripture memory, prayer, and meditation are vital to her. She also does a lot of journaling. “I am a verbal processor. Sometimes that means I’ll phone a friend. But mostly I process through my pen,” Kristie shares. “I have to write about what I’m reading.”

So it is not surprising that as she’s continued to study and learn, she’s graciously shared her thoughts—not only as a speaker, but also as a writer, contributing to blogs and books and even the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible.

In 2019, Kristie served as the editor of His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God which has proved to be a timely and healing collection of expositional devotions of Psalm 119.

Literarily

And in 2022, Moody released Kristie’s first solo book Literarily: How Understanding Bible Genres Transforms Bible Study (available in Logos Bible Software). Not to be confused with “Literally,” Literarily presents the Bible as “an epic story intended to transform hearts.”

In it, Kristie walks through the various literary genres of Scripture, including Law, Old Testament narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, the Gospels and Acts, the epistles, and apocalyptic. She further breaks down three types of writing that show up within each genre: stories, poetry, and speeches. She concludes with a chapter on context.

But she doesn’t expect her readers to remember everything from freshman English. She was a social studies teacher once upon a time, not an English professor. Beginning by clearly and simply defining terms, Kristie relates literary concepts to popular music, literature, and movies in a way that makes those ideas accessible to both teens and adults.

It might be that someone is new to Bible study, or it might be that they’ve been a believer for years yet have never been introduced to the importance of understanding the type of writing being used in various passages. Early readers of Literarily have included both men and women and have spanned life experiences from young adult to seasoned pastors. One seminary professor, seeing the importance and accessibility of this resource for use by those preparing for gospel ministry, wrote of her plans to include Literarily in her required reading and course discussion as early as next semester.

Kristie’s goal is not to have an academic exchange, or for her readers to add to their stack of of literary and biblical terms. No, her goal is to make Bible study accessible in order to facilitate true communion with the Lord.

Though she doesn’t shy away from technical terms and techniques—like parallelism and imagery in Hebrew poetry, plot and setting in narrative, and argument in letter writing—her desire is that those coming alongside her would be welcomed into the sweetness of personal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit of God Himself as they spend time in the Word.

Even as Kristie encourages ladies in her classes or kids in her neighborhood to ask questions, she herself continues to be hungrily inquisitive. She will tell you she’s benefited from reading the Bible through in a year on multiple occasions, but she’s also learned in recent years to give herself the time and freedom to explore and enjoy the Word of God and to chase down those simmering questions.

So rather than relying too heavily on a Bible-reading schedule, Kristie’s study is at present largely inquiry-driven. As her understanding of genres in biblical literature has taken hold in her mind and heart, she has found herself wondering things like, how does the fact that James is an epistle written in the tradition of wisdom literature inform my reading and application of the text?

Future plans

Kristie’s plan over the next few years is to work on writing a set of genre-focused Bible studies that kneads out this literary approach to Bible reading. She won’t work through every single book of the Bible but will model what studying the Bible literarily looks like.

For example, if you’re studying Proverbs, understanding that this is proverbial wisdom that is generally true but not a guaranteed promise for everyone helps prevent a potential crisis of faith when you read, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it,” but try to reconcile the reality that your adult child is not following the tradition you brought him up in.

Regarding Isaiah, it’s helpful to know that the genre is prophecy, so Isaiah is simply communicating the message God is giving him to speak. But it’s also helpful to understand that most of the prophecy is written as poetry, so we should look for concrete imagery and other literary devices such as similes and metaphors.

Knowing something is poetry invites the reader to soak in the beauty of the language, to engage emotion, to expect a bit of mystery, and to give herself permission to not understand everything all at once. “There’s always more to learn.”

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This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Slight adjustments, such as title and subheadings, may be the addition of an editor.

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Written by
Michelle Grover

Michelle Grover is a writer, educator, and community grower located in Traveler's Rest, SC.

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