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 believing and seeking women coming through our doors. We’ve returned to the drawing board multiple times to tweak our strategy, yet this central truth rings clear. Women benefit the most from a women’s ministry that connects the dots to true New Testament discipleship.
This is the underlying message I hear echoed in blog posts bemoaning the current state of women’s ministry. True New Testament discipleship is about making replicating disciples, not simply attending a Bible study, enjoying fellowship with other women, or meeting up with 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 intentionally trains women to intentionally reproduce themselves as a Christ follower by taking another woman along with her as she lives out her faith in her everyday calling and activities.
Today, I’ll share one element our church is pursuing to connect women’s ministry and discipleship: biblical literacy.
Teach women to read the Bible
Growing and encouraging women through 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).
And from video-driven studies to great new books, 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. Because God’s Word is sufficient for every need and circumstance, 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).
I know that not all women are gifted in Bible study, but all are expected to endeavor in the task of becoming biblically literate. Women’s ministries would do well to evaluate if the women in their midst are equipped to read and study the Bible unaided.
So, here are some survey questions to help you evaluate the level of biblically literacy among the women in your 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 a 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 those 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.
A women’s ministry that doesn’t teach women to understand and apply the Bible for themselves will fail to make effective disciples. The women who walk out of our doors each week might be well-fed, but they will also be lazy, ineffective. and ultimately irrelevant in an ever-changing culture. (Ouch. I know.)
Teaching your 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 others 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 in April centered on Ps. 19).
–Start a book club using one of the resources on studying God’s Word listed below. If you can’t meet regularly, work through the chapters on a private Facebook group or Google hangout, that way business trips and sickness won’t keep women from learning how to study God’s Word.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in women’s ministry is accountability is key. In the same way that having an exercise partner can motivate one to stick to a work-out plan, many women need accountability to study God’s Word. For this reason, our church doesn’t just offer discipleship classes or Bible studies, discipleship groups are also a part of our overall discipleship strategy. We want to see Titus 2 played out, but we also know, practically, that women need accountability to continue to read and grow in God’s Word.
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 as well. Replicating discipleship is at its heart 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? Again, here are a few 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. Don’t assume you know someone’s gifting or area of interests. Ask regularly! You don’t need to identify the next Beth Moore, simply 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. A disciple does not simply remain a student only. To become a fully-formed disciple, she will need to step into the role of teacher as well. Replicating oneself does not require a woman 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, studying the Bible becomes a form of replicating discipleship.
–Select material that is easily reproducible so women can lead other women through similar studies (see the material listed below).
–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 teach women how to facilitate discussion, encourage questions, and unpack God’s Word in a group setting.
3 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 to study God’s Word:
Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard and William 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. Any Bible study on the market utilizes or mirrors Hendricks’ three-fold Bible study method (observation, interpretation, application) to some degree. It is a mainstay and a must-have for any believer.
I just finished reading From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading, and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. This book is a wealth of information for studying God’s Word. And although it is not as easy to read as Howard Hendricks’ book, it offers helpful “keys” for understanding the larger context of Scripture such as its redemptive story line.
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 female Bible study teachers.
This book offers practical study tips and identifies some of the pitfalls into which women commonly fall when studying God’s Word. And although I wish she gave greater credence the role of learning the original languages in studying the Bible, I love that the author encourages women to keep the big picture of the Scriptures in mind when interpreting it. Every Christian woman should own this book.
If women’s ministries have any hope of becoming effective and relevant once again (and I think they do!), they must become more than simply a filling station to fuel up on God’s Word. Women’s ministries must also intentionally train women 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.
What is your favorite tool or book that helped you learn how to study God’s Word? Share your resource in the comments so I can see what’s on your bookshelf!
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