Linda and Connie didn’t come to church but were regular attenders at women’s Bible study. They did their workbook homework, never missed a week, and were big fans of our video teacher. When we switched to a more intensive, inductive study one fall, they weren’t happy, though they continued to attend.
But then something happened. Linda and Connie started delighting in God’s Word. As they studied the passage for the week, they began to spend hours each day looking up every cross-reference in their study Bibles.
Their new love for God’s Word then ignited a new love for God’s people. They began attending church and became hospitable, servant-oriented members. These women traded their obsession with a video teacher for an obsession with Scripture, and it resulted in their spiritual growth—which ultimately encouraged the whole congregation.
When women truly study the Bible for themselves, they change. God uses his Word to ignite robust spiritual growth that spurs women on and unifies the church. I’ve participated in women’s Bible study in three different churches over the past 20 years. In each case, the whole congregation profited because women were growing in their knowledge of the truth.
Not all women’s Bible studies are created equal. So what made these studies so profitable? Here are three ways we strengthened our studies—and you can strengthen yours:
1. Be Church-Based
When women worship together in church, sitting regularly under expositional preaching of God’s Word, it feeds their souls. They become united in their theology, engage in covenant relationships where they spur each other on, and benefit from the same elder oversight.
A church-based Bible study furthers the work of the main gathering and helps to build up not only the women but also the whole congregation, as fellowship becomes more intimate and women connect their families and friends. There’s a synergy that takes place when we root women’s Bible study in the local church.
There’s a synergy that takes place when we root women’s Bible study in the local church.
At my current church, we encourage women who attend Bible study to also attend our church. We invite them to become committed members of the congregation—to sit under biblical preaching, affirm our statement of faith, reach out with hospitality, and serve and be served. We encourage these things in large-group talks, smaller discussion groups, and one-on-one conversations. Women and families now regularly join the church and become involved through the vehicle of our Bible studies.
Outreach-oriented Bible studies in the community, workplace, or school can be fantastic ministries where people hear the gospel and meet Christ. There’s a place for parachurch Bible studies, but to maximize spiritual growth in Christian women, keep your Bible study under the authority of your local church. It’s good for women, and it’s good for the church.
2. Turn Off the Video
Women need confidence in their ability to understand the Bible. Some video studies are theologically solid and helpful, but many focus more on eliciting emotional responses than leading women to understand the Scriptures. Polished teachers can make us laugh and cry, but if we remember illustrative stories more than the text we’re studying, we miss the point and can become dedicated to the teacher rather than God’s Word. Video teaching can also intimidate women into thinking they can’t handle the Bible themselves.
At the United Christian Church of Dubai, we stopped the videos. We introduced a regular diet of inductive studies through books of the Bible with straightforward questions that lead women to understand and apply the text. We devoured Kathleen Nielson’s Living Word Bible Studies, and since it was so hard to find pure inductive studies for women that were theologically grounded, I began writing my own (most recently two volumes on the Gospel of Mark). These got women’s noses in the Bible.
It’s important to make sure any materials we use are closely tied to the Bible. Look for studies that accurately focus on the meaning of the text and apply that meaning to women’s lives. Wean yourselves off videos and study the meat of the Bible for yourselves.
3. Find Qualified Leaders
In the past, our Bible studies had leadership problems. Anyone could volunteer to lead, using any study she chose. Some leaders weren’t members of the church. Others weren’t even Protestant, so they had no teaching or oversight from our elders and weren’t united by any particular theology.
As we started getting to know the leaders, we realized that one didn’t believe that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. She had 40 women in the group she was leading—some Hindu and Muslim—and she had never considered that some of these women didn’t know the one true God. It was the Wild West of women’s ministry!
Changing leadership took time, effort, and patience. Our elders taught a systematic theology class for women leaders, encouraging them to think deeply about what they were teaching. They asked past leaders to become members of the church. The church also cultivated new leadership among women who were delighting in the Scriptures and committed to the church. We patiently waited, worked, and prayed for the culture of leadership to change, along with the culture of the entire church.
Fast-forward 10 years and now our leaders are excited about their Bibles, have sound theological instincts, and are committed to the larger congregation. They are women intent on understanding the meaning of the text and serious about applying it to their lives. Our leaders are from Egypt, Ghana, Australia, India, Kenya, Burundi, Ireland, Zambia, Kazakhstan, and America. We may not have much in common, but we all love the Word of God.
Worth the Work
By God’s grace, our women’s Bible study has been reformed along with the whole congregation. We now use God-centered biblical studies, our women love the church, and our leaders are all on the same theological page. We’ve seen women come to know the Lord. We’ve seen women get excited about studying his Word. And we’ve seen women get plugged into the church and start discipling others.
Strengthening a women’s Bible study won’t be easy. It will take wisdom, gentleness, and patience. You may even face opposition. But whether you’re leading a group of three women or 300, it’s worth your time, energy, and even delight.