Bible Study

You Have What it Takes to Lead a BIBLE Study?

I am so sick of women’s ministry/discipleship/”Bible” study that centers around narcissistic navel-gazing, I could vomit. My hurts, my feelings, my opinions, my self image.

Newsflash- You’re not the only person on the planet who’s ever been hurt or had problems.

And wallowing in the hurt and your emotions has never been the way to heal and feel better. Healing from the hurt comes from taking your focus off yourself and placing it on Christ: studying the actual Bible, obeying His commands, walking in holiness, praying, worshiping, serving others.

These canned “Bible” studies that masquerade as teaching the Bible – maybe even have the name of a book of the Bible in the title – yet all the “study” questions are about you, your preferences, and how you feel, are doing you no favors, ladies. They are keeping you enslaved to your hurts and self idolatry so you’ll continue to buy more and more of these books. Don’t be naive. LifeWay, CBD¹, and all the major “Christian” publishers know that there’s no money to be made in telling you to study your Bible. If you study your Bible you might actually grow in Christ, learn to glorify Him instead of your own opinions, heal from your hurts, and learn to handle your problems in a biblical way. And then all these divangelistas – whose main function in life seems to be exegeting stories from their own lives and telling you all about their pain- will be out of a job because you won’t need them, their books, their DVDs, their conferences, their simulcasts, or their merch, any more.

The Christian retail machine doesn’t make money when you follow what the Bible says to do: sit under good preaching and teaching at your own church, disciple women in your own church, be discipled by godly older women in your church, serve your church, attend your church like your life depends on it (because your spiritual life does), study your Bible every day, live in obedience to Christ. 

You’re being played and you’re being used by Big Christian Retail, ladies. Stop clinging to the pretty little gilded shackles they have locked around your wrists. Break free and experience the freedom in Christ that can only come from walking faithfully with Him in His Word.

I’m no prophet, nor a son of a prophet, but sometimes I think I might have a tiny inkling of how Jeremiah felt when he said:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:9

When I see the way so many professing Christian pastors, leaders, and teachers in the public eye damage the spiritual lives of their followers by adulterating God’s Word, biblical anger wells up inside me. And sometimes, the pressure gets to be too much and it finds a way to escape, like it did the other day when I tweeted the remarks above.

hate with a holy, biblical hatred what the Christian retail machine, overall, has done to Christians, particularly Christian women, by feeding them fluff and false doctrine.

Go back and read the robust theological thoughts and writings of some of the women who helped usher in the Reformation. And then go stick your head in the door of the average women’s “Bible” study at the church down the street and listen to the teaching and comments. We didn’t get to where we are today without somebody poisoning the water hole.

So it was with no small sense of irony that two days after I had let the fire loose on Twitter, I found myself clicking – with much trepidation – on an article from LifeWay Women that popped up in my feed: You Have What It Takes to Lead a Bible Study.

It was written by a darling young lady named Mickey who made several very good points and was charming and encouraging. I’m certain she wanted the article to be helpful and edifying, and I have no points of contention with her personally. This article was a work product. It expresses LifeWay’s position, not necessarily Mickey’s personal thoughts and opinions. (I wrote for a LifeWay publication once. Believe me, if what you’ve written doesn’t match what they’re trying to convey, they edit it until it does. Which, as a business, they certainly have a right to do.)

“What might LifeWay Women think qualifies someone to lead² a Bible study?” I wondered, as I waited for the page to load. “I have what it takes? What does it take in their eyes?”

The first point of the article was to address women’s feelings of inadequacy about leading a Bible study and reassure them. Feelings. Not what the Bible says about teaching God’s Word, or the qualifications for doing so, or even the need other women have to be taught Scripture. Feelings. For LifeWay, the major obstacle to overcome for a woman who’s on the fence about teaching a Bible study is her feelings of inadequacy.

And how did LifeWay address those feelings of inadequacy and offer reassurance? Again, not with Scripture (indeed, no Scriptures are quoted or even referenced in the article), but by exegeting a personal anecdote from the author’s life. “I felt inadequate too, but then I gave it a try and I was successful. So if you’re feeling inadequate to lead, just give it a try. You’ll be successful, too.” It may be an oversimplification, but that’s the take away.

If this methodology sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s because you’ve worked through one of LifeWay’s most popular women’s “Bible” studies. Generally speaking, this is the core of the majority of LifeWay’s women’s “Bible” study products: your feelings and the exegesis of personal stories from the author’s life to relate to and address those feelings.

The article went on to quote a recent LifeWay Women survey which asked women,

“What is the biggest obstacle keeping you from leading a Bible study?”

Know what the number one answer was? “I don’t feel like I know enough to lead.” (Again with the feelz.)

Is it any wonder, when, for decades now, evangelical women have been fed a steady diet of nothing but girlfriend stories that they feel inadequate to teach the Bible? Of course they feel inadequate! They don’t know their Bibles because the materials they’ve been getting from LifeWay all this time haven’t taught them the Bible. They likely know more about their favorite author than they do about Jesus. Most of them probably correctly feel inadequate because they don’t know enough to lead.

Feelings of inadequacy aren’t wrong simply because they make you feel bad. Sometimes your feelings of inadequacy are wrong because you’re neurotic or unrealistically anxious, and sometimes they’re right because you don’t have the skills to handle the task you’re attempting. We’ve all watched enough American Idol auditions to know that.

Our feelings need to be informed, molded, and submitted to the facts of God’s written Word. And what does God’s written Word have to say about whether or not you have what it takes to lead a Bible study?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
James 3:1

Where LifeWay issues a blanket “anybody can do it” encouragement to the hundreds of women (whom LifeWay has never laid eyes on and has no idea whether or not they’re biblically qualified to teach God’s Word) reading this article – “…trust me, friend, you have what it takes, too” – the Bible says that teaching Scripture is a solemn, weighty ministry fraught with the burden of responsibility of imparting God’s Word correctly. And precisely because of that, “not many” should become teachers.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

What does LifeWay think qualifies someone to lead a Bible study? “…a willing spirit, an open heart for new friendships, and thirst for more of God.” Is that what the Bible says about qualifying for the lofty responsibility of teaching God’s Word? No. The Bible says we need to work hard at studying, understanding, and rightly handling God’s Word so that we don’t end up twisting it or teaching something that conflicts with it. We need to be able to stand before God unashamed to say, “I worked hard, and studied long, and did my very best to teach your Word accurately.”

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.
2 Timothy 2:24-25a

LifeWay seems to think getting over your feelings of inadequacy means you have what it takes to lead a Bible study. The Bible says there’s a much higher standard. Are you even able to teach – to accurately explain what God’s Word says, in a way women can understand, and help them correctly apply it to their lives? Are you quarrelsome? Kind? Able to endure evil patiently? Do you know and can you handle Scripture well enough to correct someone who makes an unbiblical argument, and can you do it gently?

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
Titus 2:3-5

LifeWay doesn’t address the character needed to teach the Bible. The Bible says you’re to be mature and behave reverently, you’re not to gossip and slander others, and you’re not be controlled by alcohol.

While one of LifeWay’s tips for leading a small group is to choose a study that fits the “interests, preferences, and characteristics” of the women in your group, the Bible doesn’t really care what they’re interested in or prefer to learn. It prescribes what they need to learn. Do you know “what is good” according to Scripture? You have to know that if you’re going to teach it. And you also have to know what the Bible says about wives loving and submitting to their husbands, loving their children, being self-controlled, kind, and pure, and working at home, if you’re going to teach those things.

 

The Bible says you have to know your Bible to teach a women’s Bible study. You have to have certain skills, abilities, and character traits. Not just anybody can do it. Not just anybody should do it.

Do you have what it takes to lead a Bible study? If you want to know, don’t check with LifeWay. Check your Bible.


¹Christianbook.com – It used to be called Christian Book Distributors. Old habits die hard. :0)

Additional Resources:

Bible Studies

Basic Training: Bible Studies and Sermons

McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word²
After I finished writing today’s article, I noticed that the LifeWay article exclusively used the phrase “lead a Bible study” rather than “teach a Bible study.” This is likely due to the fact that many LifeWay studies do not require the leader to teach so much as to play a DVD of a popular LifeWay author teaching. It is probably also intentional – to encourage women to lead without that pesky little need to be biblically qualified to teach. However, most people still rightly understand “leading a Bible study” to mean teaching the Bible, thus the survey response of “I don’t feel like I know enough to lead,” and Mickey’s own fear that “I don’t know enough about the Bible to lead…”. You don’t need to know much about the Bible to push a button on a DVD player. McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word addresses this harmful practice and the need for the church to have trained teachers teaching the Bible.

4 Ways We’re Getting Women’s Discipleship Wrong, and How We Can Get it Right!

The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

20 thoughts on “You Have What it Takes to Lead a BIBLE Study?”

  1. Wow Michelle!
    I love how you have articulated what I’ve been feeling for years! Thanks so much for this article. It saddens me that so many believers aren’t aware of the richness and joy that comes from the Word of God. God Bless.
    Patti

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  2. This article makes me look forward to writing a Bible Study on Colossians for my blog. Readers typically aren’t fond of my studies, perhaps because I don’t encourage touchy-feely responses. But I really believe women need to understand God’s Word as the Holy Spirit intends. Thank you for writing this blog post.

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  3. What i just read sounds like you are saying we are not to have an emotional response when teaching or learning from Christ. Is that true? Sounds very legalistic to me…not everyone feels fit to lead when they are called from God. What is so wrong about telling others how you learned to move passed feeling inadequate to leading a life group with strength, faith, and trust in God? Just food for thought

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    1. I’m not sure how you inferred that from the article. No, I’m not saying all emotions are bad or that you shouldn’t have any feelings when studying your Bible. I’m saying women are being taught through these studies to idolize their feelings, and that their feelings are the central focus of a “Bible” study. But in reality, they’re not studying the Bible, they’re hearing a bunch of personal anecdotes from the author and talking about their own personal life experiences and feelings instead of discussing Scripture.

      I’m sorry, I’m trying to clarify, but I’m really not sure how to explain things better than I did in the article.

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  4. Michelle, I am so encouraged by this article. I’m one of a few ladies in my church who are hungry to dive deep into the Word. We are regularly frustrated by the masses who are content to do a “Bible study” full of questions like “what do you think about …” and “how does this make you feel..”. Why do so many people think that sitting down with the Bible is somehow not what we are supposed to do? I don’t need someone else’s thoughts or feelings on Scripture to understand it or make it mean something to me. I need to read the Word and spend time in the Word to be able to understand and grow in my knowledge of the Word. Thank you for your boldness and desire to speak the truth. You are well spoken and it has been an encouragement to know that we are not alone in our desire to know God through diligent study of His Words.

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  5. Thank you for writing about this subject. I have been attending Bible Studies (never a Lifeway) regularly for about 15 years and they all seem to morph into therapy sessions. I just quit another one and think I’m through with that avenue. I find I can learn more if I read and study the Bible by myself. It’s pretty hard to find a group where Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer aren’t idolized and loved. I love God and want to understand His Word. The Bible Study I was last in chose a study once which was written to teach you how to “get over” your feelings of inadequacy because you were the only one not invited to a party or something along those lines. When I saw where this study was going, I told the leader that I was not going to continue but regretfully, didn’t say why. I was vindicated because they didn’t get very far into it before they decided to drop it. I have been hard on myself for not being content in a Bible Study but when the Bible is not being seriously studied, I start looking for the exit. Not everyone is a good leader because you need to know how to kindly, but forcefully, prevent some from dominating the discussion.

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  6. I loved reading this! Thanks for the reminder that we’re not all crazy. Our little Bible study group is open to all of our church ladies. I’d guess we have about 60-70 women who attend the church regularly. We have only 7 women who attend the women’s Bible study regularly. Not a great ratio, but then again we only study the Bible. We read, learn meaning based on context, history, culture and language helps, and then we discuss application. No flashy personalities, no expensive videos or books. We have to beg people to come. It’s so sad. I know that if I showed one of the big name packaged studies 30 women would show up, but I wouldn’t think of it.

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    1. Lisa, if it makes you feel any better, what you’re experiencing is the rule in most churches, not the exception. I answered a similar comment yesterday on my Facebook page, and I wrote an article about it a while back, too: The Mailbag: How can we get women to WANT to come to Bible study?. My church is about to start a new round of women’s studies. I’m teaching the book of Colossians, and the other classes are doing two different book studies by popular teachers. Even though mine doesn’t cost anything, won’t have homework, and offers childcare, I already know that it will be the lowest attended. We just have to be faithful to tend the sheep God puts in our little flocks. They are worth it. :0)

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  7. What I have been seeing among so many popular women Bible teachers these days is this: They are young. In the book of Titus we are told that the older women are to teach the younger women. However, it seems that so many younger women are usurping this role… OR the older women are relinquishing this role to the younger women.

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    1. Great point, Marty. I’ve noticed that too. I think it goes hand in hand with the contemporary movement in churches. We have to have contemporary music to attract the young people, which means we have to have young musicians to play it (can’t have 50 year olds up there playing twentysomethings’ music, it looks ridiculous), which means we also have to have a young pastor to match the young musicians, and it just trickles down from there.

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  8. Honestly, the tone of your original tweet was bitter, angry, and condescending. Your point may have been better made if it had reflected the qualities listed in the above biblical references: “patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

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    1. Hi Audrey- I’m curious if you would apply that same tone standard to Matthew 23, Galatians 1:6-9, or any of the other passages of Scripture in which a stringent tone of righteous anger is used. (I mean, I didn’t even come close to calling people a brood of vipers, hypocrites, accursed, or saying they should emasculate themselves.) This is polemical writing against a principle, not one on one, face to face teaching with a person. If I were to sit down with an individual at LifeWay who was in charge of whether or not false doctrine is taken off the shelves, my message would be the same, but my tone and approach would be different.

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  9. Thank you so much for this.I don’t find the tone sharp at all, maybe because I think it is high time to have serious conversations about this issue.I applaude you!

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