Another Bible study gone by and you wonder how it happened so fast. The end of a Bible study leaves us either sad to see it end, sad we did not get more out of it, or completely rejuvenated in our walks with the Lord. For the leader, ending a Bible study could bring an array of emotions from excitement at seeing what God had done, to a feeling of failure wondering what went wrong. As a student of the Bible and teacher of it myself, I have observed a few things that seem to be essential in allowing women to grow spiritually. I have also found a certain order to doing Bible study that seems to work best. Then lastly, I have come to realize the wonderful responsibilities of a leader.
Essentials for Spiritual Growth
Let’s start with the essentials to spiritual growth within a Bible study. Many essentials go into a woman’s personal time with the Lord regarding spiritual disciplines and such. However, when it comes time for the Bible study meeting where everyone is together, we should focus on making it most meaningful. We cannot control what each woman does once they leave the study, so we should focus on the time we all have together. What essentially is necessary for that time?
First, there is power in women hearing the Word of God preached and explained in depth in its context. I cannot explain why, but this has the power to change women spiritually. This is why God’s method for His church is to proclaim His Word through preaching. Women (and men) long to hear the Word of God preached in depth in a way they can understand and in a way they can also apply it to their lives. Martin Luther was a popular preacher because he preached using the common language of the people and he explained what the Scriptures meant. Women sign up for a Bible study as opposed to some other club because they want to know and understand the Bible more. Some sort of teaching the Word of God in depth must be a part of our Bible Studies each week if we desire our women to grow spiritually.
Second, there is power in women sharing what God has been teaching them. Studies say we do not remember so much what we hear or what we read as much as we remember what we say (or teach). Therefore, as a leader, we must encourage our participants to voice what God has taught them in their own words so that it imprints that teaching on their own heart even more. A simple question might be, “What did God show you through your study this past week?” Even if every woman doesn’t share, every woman will have an opportunity to think through their answer in their head. This will enable them to remember what they Lord has done. I see a power in women confessing and proclaiming what God has taught them to a group of other women. A large part of this definitely has to do with accountability. Leading the ladies in this type of discussion points them to God and acknowledges Him as the ultimate teacher. We all are encouraged as we see God moving in the lives of fellow believers. Without the opportunity for women to share what God has taught them, a Bible study will not reach its full potential for spiritual growth.
Third, there is power in women being prayed for and praying for others. We cannot teach the Word of God, talk about God (about Him and ourselves), without praying to God. Prayer must be a part of a women’s Bible study. However, we cannot just pray to begin or pray to end, yet we should at least do that! We must also give the opportunity for personal prayer requests to be prayed for. If a woman cannot bring her personal prayer requests up at a Bible study, where can she? While we do not need to all pray for everyone every week, women should be regularly given the opportunity to share their prayer requests and to pray over the needs of others. This shows the women that they are cared for, helps them bond together, and it also shows them how they can be used of God to care for others through praying for them! What power we have in prayer! Without praying for the personal needs of women in our study, we lack a chance to help them personally be affected by the study.
The challenge comes in achieving all of the above requirements for spiritual growth within the allotted hour or hour and a half time slot given! I have been in Bible studies three hours long that never achieved the above three and I left lacking. Yet I have also been in studies only an hour long that achieved the above three things and I left feeling full.
Order of the Bible Study
As a leader, I have found a certain order to Bible study that enables us to touch on all three important points above. We start by easing into the lesson through teaching, then asking deeper tension questions, and ending with a scheduled time of prayer.
I have found that teaching towards the beginning of the lesson to be the best time because it helps ease the ladies into a deeper time of discussion. As a leader, I have labored over the lesson for a week or more. I have often even reviewed and prayed about it at least a whole hour leading up to the start of class. So when everyone arrives, I am so excited and so ready to dig deep right away! Yet, I find I am not met with quite the same level of enthusiasm immediately.
Many of the ladies coming to class have at least slept since they did the lesson, but most likely they have done a whole lot more than just slept! When a woman arrives at Bible study, her mind is everywhere! “Did I lock my house when I left? Did I feed the dogs? I can’t believe I didn’t crash on my way here, that semi SO almost hit me! I wonder if my child is still screaming from me dropping him off at childcare. Work!” And on and on and on it goes. I know because I am one of those women, with a million things on one’s mind when arriving anywhere! With women especially, they’re not totally present mentally when we begin the study.
Starting off the Bible study with a deep question, even if it’s from the lesson and they have an answer written down, will take them a while to mentally be ready to respond and share what they wrote. Remember, their minds are a million places. The last thing they want to do at the start of a Bible study, is be the first to be vulnerable. Therefore, I have found this a great time to simply start teaching and/or reviewing the lesson. While they might not be ready to share, they will be ready to listen. Many come completely drained and exhausted and need to hear a word of encouragement or good news. So hearing their leader speak about the Bible right away helps them transition their minds from thinking of everything circumstantial to things eternal, from God’s Word. As you teach, they will remember what they learned from the lesson and grow eager to share as they listen.
We typically start our Bible study with a song, prayer, and reading our Scripture memory verse together. All of these things help ease the ladies into something deeper. Just like at church we often sing before we hear the Word preached. We prepare our hearts to hear God’s Word at church. In Bible study, we prepare our hearts to hear, and then share. After our song, a quick prayer by the leader for our time together, and the Scripture memory verse, I usually use the time to teach God’s Word. This could be teaching on the passage we studied over the week. It could be simply reviewing with the ladies our passage or what we have studied in the past weeks. It could also be a worksheet (that does not require too much thinking) that they do in pairs or groups to study the passage more (that I go over with them when they finish). I might also use that early time as an opportunity to explain something I missed in a prior week, or to clarify something in the lesson that seemed confusing. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that takes a little bit of time so that the ladies are eased into the study of God’s Word and eased out of wherever they just came from. At the start of this, usually only one or two ladies will be with me and thinking about the study. But by the end, the goal is that every woman will have transitioned out of where she came from and into the study to be totally present for the hour you have her. Not only that, but she will have learned a bit of something new about God’s Word!
Occasionally, especially early on in the study, I have found an ice breaker question to be appropriate. This seems to work really well if 1-the ladies do not know each other well (which could inhibit their sharing later on in the night) and/or if 2-the lesson was fairly easy and did not require a lot of extra explanation on the leader’s part. For example, I have asked the ladies before to share a high and low from their past week or current day. Again, only one or two ladies will be ready to share at first, but then as they start to share, others will begin to process things in their mind and it will help ease them into the study. Note: if doing an ice breaker, some type of teaching or explaining may still be needed on the part of the leader at another time during the study. The ladies still want to hear God’s Word preached.
After a woman hears the Word of God preached, especially if she is reminded of the passage she studied earlier in the week, her mind will start to recollect what God taught her through that passage and throughout the week. As she listens to the leader review and explain the passage, her heart will begin to get excited about what God has taught her through the passage. And as every good teacher says: repetition, repetition, repetition! Even if we just review what we learned the previous weeks, we give the ladies a chance to remember what God has been teaching them through the study the previous week. Then after hearing a bit of teaching and hopefully learning a little something and/or feeling fully eased into the Bible study, they will be eager to share what God has taught them. They will then share as an overflow of their own hearts being so full of God’s Word. After feeding oneself so heavily on the Word of God, one cannot help but vocalize (especially women) how feasting on God’s Word has changed them. If women are eased into the Bible study, they will jump at the chance to share God’s working in their lives.
Hence why sharing seems to be the next logical thing to cover after some sort of teaching or review occurs. Obviously with sharing, I usually have prepared questions and topics and depths where I desire the discussion to take us. Ultimately, the goal in this discussion time is not to simply ask questions in the study, but to find issues of sin or areas where women recognize growth needed in their lives. As Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing (Dr. J) from Moody would say, “areas of tension,” are what we’re after here with regards to discipleship. This is the depth we need to reach through discussion. It’s not just addressing sin, but addressing what sparks the sin and what stops us from obeying God, in everything. Again, this is all for the purpose of pointing each other back to Christ, not for the purpose of condemnation.
For example, it’s not just addressing wives submitting to their husbands without fear (1 Peter 3), but asking what stops women from submitting to their husbands without fear. Would we rather complain about why our husbands need help as opposed to joyfully being the helper God knew they needed? Do we fear submission because we have an improper understanding of it? Do we fear it because we do not trust our husbands? Or is it ultimately God that we do not trust? Do we want ultimate control of the relationship? If so, that’s saying we want ultimate control of our lives as opposed to being willing to submit our lives to God. Do we not think our husbands are capable? If so, we probably have a deeper heart issue and need to pray to view our husbands in a more positive light the way God views him. Then within this, we should address what if the man is not godly, and/or asks the woman to sin etc. The boundaries of submission should also be discussed. We are not required to submit to every man, just our husbands. We are not required to submit when being asked to sin. Without getting into lots of examples of people outside of the Bible study, the women should see and want to share what God meant by this passage and how that affects them.
Now, especially after a time of deep discussion, the ladies will long to go into a time of prayer together. Yet also having heard the Word of God explained, the prayer requests they had when they walked in the door (largely circumstantial) might have changed by the end of the study (largely heart issues). Perhaps someone walked in thinking everything in their life was going wrong, thinking they needed prayer for their work, family, relationships, and house. But after the study, they might realize they really just need prayer to have a thankful heart in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Prayer can be all together, in smaller groups, or whatever. It just has to happen regularly, and the ladies need to be given the opportunity to share personal requests fairly regularly.
Responsibilities of the Leader
Lastly, I will share the role and responsibility of a leader. I often ask myself why these ladies have signed up for a Bible study. I used to go to a large church. Our church had countless groups or volunteer opportunities. Why would a lady sign up for a women’s Bible study… especially if she’s married and/or with children and it would mean time away from her family? Regularly, I am reminded it’s because she’s hungry. She’s looking for something. Whether she’s hungry for the Word of God or for relationships with other women, she has prioritized filling that hunger above whatever else she could be doing during that time.
She has also taken a risk by signing up that must be acknowledged by the leaders. Think about it! She signed up for a study with a bunch of ladies she doesn’t know in order to go in depth studying God’s Word and sharing her heart with a bunch of strangers! This is not easy! Again, ladies signing up for these studies want something so much that they thought it was worth the risk. They have prioritized this because they are hungry.
That leaves the contemplative leader with quite an expectation to deliver! Praise God that only He can deliver what they are seeking. Praise God that He does use things as “simple” as Bible studies as a way to transform lives. Praise God that He uses imperfect leaders like myself to do His work. He takes what little we have to offer and really does above and beyond all we could ever ask for or imagine (Ephesians 5:20). Sure we can plan to ease the ladies into a time of discussion. We can plan to teach something in greater depth that was just breezed over in the lesson. We can plan to discuss certain things in certain depths. And we can plan to pray a certain way. We can plan and prepare and we should. Yet we must always remember, our planning and preparing is simply like planting and watering. Only God makes things and people grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). Therefore, we have to be open and sensitive to His leading as the ultimate guide of our study.
As a leader, I do feel the burden and responsibility to do my best each time I lead. This definitely requires studying the passage in greater depth while anticipating and researching answers to possible questions the ladies may have about the passage. It also requires a great deal of prayer on my part in preparation. The week my leading went the best is when I had asked some ladies to pray for me to teach well (after failing miserably one week!) We, as the leaders, should be praying and seeking God as to how to lead. We should be seeking God asking Him what topics in the study need covered in greater depth, what areas and questions to prioritize in covering as opposed to other less important details. All of this goes into preparing our lesson each week. Remember, the ladies are coming to learn about the Word of God. So we must do our best to teach it clearly (Colossians 4:4).
I have also found that praying for each lady every week throughout the week helps me prepare. Not only does it help me prepare, but I believe it helps them grow spiritually as well. I used to have a professor, Dr. Bill Thrasher, who asked his students every semester to fill out a notecard about how he could be praying for them throughout the semester. I believe he prayed for us each week and I know that aided in my spiritual growth while having him as a professor. Praying for others is also a way we can love them. If we’re praying for those in our study regularly, God will grow a love in our hearts for them which will then motivate us to do our God enabled best to work hard in preparing to teach each week.
One final thing I have found to be good is to try as far as it depends on me, to make things run smoothly. Obviously, we cannot plan for everything and sometimes things just do not go as planned. But if we can anticipate and arrive early and set things up ahead of time, it really helps things run smoothly. Interruptions (be it technical difficulties or whatever) seem to stifle the mood and distract the ladies from staying focused on the study and God’s Word.
For example, one time I printed out the lyrics to our worship song, but did not realize the lyrics I printed out were not entirely correct for the version of song we were listening to! After the first verse, we were all lost. It sure made worshiping that week difficult for everyone, although, they were quite gracious. Thankfully for us, we followed worship with a prayer in which I praised God for working through our mistakes, and I trusted Him to do His work that night despite me. We will never realize how important it is that things run smoothly until we see the devastating consequences of something going awry. Being the creative person I am, always trying something new, I have often had things not go as well as I planned. I have found a fine line between doing something creative and different to better illustrate a point and doing something so creative and different that it distracts from the point. I am still figuring this one out!
With all of this, I have to mention something about technology. I firmly believe the devil is into technology. Therefore, whenever I have something requiring technology for a study I’m leading, I have a backup plan in case something goes awry. I take two laptops. I’ll take two speakers. I’ll have my phone or another laptop ready in case the classroom TV doesn’t work. I have paper copies of powerpoints. I have paper copies of everything in case some technology doesn’t work. Whenever I have backups for my backups, the devil takes one look and says, “forget it! That’s too much work to mess with that Bible study!” and the technology works perfectly! Anyone who’s ever led a Bible study having any element of technology knows exactly what I’m talking about!
Another thing that can stifle or distract from the Bible study is getting off track. This also is the responsibility of the leader to keep the ladies on track with their study of the Word of God. Doing this requires a great deal of prayer. We can and should pray beforehand that God would lead the discussion and keep us on track covering what He desires to be important. Yet we should also pray throughout the study constantly seeking God with how to steer the discussion and which questions to ask next, how long to wait for others to answer, etc. Granted, some things can be figured out before the study, like a type of time schedule prioritizing which questions to cover when and which to skip over if not enough time. However sometimes the discussion takes an unexpected turn and we must seek God about what to do in the moment.
While I did not mention this as a leader’s responsibility, it should go without saying that the leader should be constantly spending time in personal Bible study and prayer and working on her own relationship with the Lord. If anything stands between her and the Lord, it will make her teaching and leadership less effective. She should constantly be giving herself to the Lord and allowing Him to prune her in order to make her a more holy woman of God. It is assumed a leader chosen will do this regularly.
So while the leader has a great responsibility to teach the passage accurately and correctly each week (James 3:1-2), we also have the responsibility to pray regularly, and to prepare things as best we can so things run smoothly without interruption. We do not want anything to distract the ladies from growing in their relationship with God. The ultimate purpose for all of these things is simply to set the stage for God to do a transforming work in the lives of each of the ladies in the study. Yet as the leader, we have a great responsibility to shepherd the souls of precious women in our studies. And for this responsibility, we answer to God, who is the only One capable of truly shepherding us and our ladies.