Back to God's Word
By Melissa Deming
Women’s ministry has gotten some bad press lately. Millennials are calling for something new. Having grown tired of “their mother’s tea parties,” they stand ready to trade in the doilies of the 80s and the video-driven Bible studies of the 90s for something more.
I’ll be honest. I don’t believe women are sick of women’s ministry simply because it seems tired or fake, but because women’s ministry is often disconnected from biblical discipleship. Recently, I’ve started strategizing ways for our church plant to minister to the growing number of new believers and seeking women coming through our doors. This central truth rings clear: women benefit the most from a women’s ministry that connects the dots to true New Testament discipleship, which is about making disciples, not simply attending a Bible study, enjoying fellowship with other women, or meeting a mentor for coffee.
Usually, discipleship doesn’t happen without any of those things, but it doesn’t mean biblical discipleship exists when those elements are present either. An effective and powerful ministry to women can only happen when the church trains women to intentionally reproduce themselves as a Christ-follower by taking another woman along with her as she lives out her faith.
One element our church is pursuing to connect women’s ministry and discipleship is: biblical literacy.
Teach Women to Read the Bible
Bible study is the most important component of any women’s ministry. Souls, hearts, minds, and eyes are transformed when the Spirit illuminates God’s Word in the human heart, helping us apply it to our everyday lives (Ps. 19). The American church has never had wealthier resources from which to draw to equip and disciple women in the Scriptures. Yet, spiritual poverty seems to abound. The healthiest and most relevant woman’s ministries will encourage women to cultivate an insatiable appetite for the sweetness of God’s Word (Ps. 19:10-11). Women’s ministries would do well to evaluate if the women in their midst are equipped to read and study the Bible for themselves (see survey in sidebar).
A women’s ministry that doesn’t teach women to understand and apply the Bible for themselves will fail to make effective disciples. Teaching women to study God’s Word may take some creativity, as women today seem to be busier than ever before. I’ve heard many women’s ministry leaders complain that the women they serve do not want to participate in Bible studies that have “homework.” Consider these ideas for motivating women to study God’s Word:
- Start with a small number of women who show an interest in learning God’s Word.
- Instead of a 10-week class, consider hosting a special retreat or “crash-course” on how to study God’s Word. (Our church is hosting one such event centered on Psalm 19).
- Start a book club using one of the resources on studying God’s Word (see ideas later in the article). If you can’t meet regularly, work through the chapters on a private Facebook group or Google hangout, so that way other things won’t be a hindrance from learning how to study God’s Word.
Accountability is key. In the same way having an exercise partner can motivate one to stick to a workout plan, many women need accountability to study God’s Word. For this reason, our church doesn’t just offer separate discipleship classes or Bible studies, but the groups are part of our overall discipleship strategy.
Teach Women to Teach the Bible
A women’s ministry that doesn’t teach women to understand and apply the Bible for themselves will not only fail to make effective disciples, it will fail to make replicating disciples. Replicating discipleship is at the heart of New Testament discipleship. And unless our women’s ministries are producing women who can teach other women how to read and study their Bibles, then we are truly failing to make disciples at all.
So, how do we change that? Here are some ideas:
- Offer a better variety of Bible studies than simply video-driven studies or books written by the most popular teachers and authors. In this way, we’ll avoid the bandwagon of promoting personalities over God’s Word.
- Help the women in your church discover their spiritual gifts, keeping an eye out for individuals with the gift of teaching. You don’t need to identify the next Beth Moore, simply find women who will faithfully handle God’s Word and lead others to do the same.
- Educate the women in your church about the cycle of discipleship. She will need to step into the role of teacher as well. Replicating oneself does not require a woman to possess the spiritual gift of teaching; she only needs to be willing to demonstrate to others how to live out their faith in simple ways and rightly handle God’s Word.
- Intentionally challenge specific women to work through the same material with someone else they know—either one person or in a small group. In this way, as she studies the Bible, she replicates.
- Select material that is easily reproducible so women can lead other women through similar studies.
- If a woman seems unsure if she is capable of teaching, ask her to serve as your co-teacher. In this way, she can practice teaching in small segments with you standing ready to step in if she needs your help. The co-teacher system is also a great way to teach women how to facilitate discussion, encourage questions, and unpack God’s Word in a group setting.
Three Resources for Learning God’s Word
Looking for some good resources for teaching your women to study and teach Scripture? Here are three resources on teaching women how to study God’s Word:
Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard G. and William D. Hendricks is my all-time favorite book for learning how to study the Bible. Complete with pictures, graphs, and illustrations, this book is easy to read and offers easy-to-remember tools at the same time. Every good Bible study on the market utilizes or mirrors Hendrick’s three-fold Bible study method (observation, interpretation, application) to some degree. It’s a mainstay and a must-have for believers.
From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Although it’s not as easy to read as Howard Hendrick’s book, it offers helpful “keys” for understanding the larger context of Scripture such as its redemptive storyline.
Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin encourages women’s ministries to pursue the training of competent Bible study teachers. This book offers practical study tips and identifies some of the pitfalls women commonly fall into when studying God’s Word. Although I wish she gave greater credence to the role of learning the original languages in studying the Bible, I love that she encourages women to keep the big picture of Scripture in mind when interpreting it. Every Christian woman should own this book.
If women’s ministries desire to become effective and relevant, they must become more than simply a filling station to fuel up on God’s Word. Women’s ministries need to intentionally train women how to pour themselves out for others and into others.
One of the best places to help women connect the dots to her role in the church and the kingdom is by teaching her to replicate herself through God’s Word.
How Biblically Literate Are the Women in Your Church?
Here are some survey questions to ask the women in your women’s ministry.
- Can you articulate the big picture of Scripture and identify it in any given Bible passage?
- Can you read a passage looking for the author’s intent in writing and overall context?
- Do you know how to do a basic word study using a concordance and/or lexicon (or utilize Bible software)?
- Do you know the different biblical genres (literary types) and the different hermeneutics (interpretative methods) they require?
- Do you have a process for studying a passage or do you start by looking for the application? (“What does this passage mean to me?”)
- Can you explain how a particular passage points to or exalts Christ?
Some of these questions are technical, but they will provide insight if the women in your church are truly capable of studying God’s Word on their own.