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.”.

Bible Study, Mailbag

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

 

In my recent article, 4 Ways We’re Getting Women’s Discipleship Wrong, and How We Can Get it Right!, one of the points I mentioned is that we’ve equated women’s discipleship with purchasing a celebrity Bible teacher’s DVD/workbook package and parking women in front of a TV instead of training older women in the local church to teach younger women straight from the Bible.

The idea that we have to use pre-fab studies instead of teaching straight from the Bible is so deeply embedded in our evangelical DNA that nearly every time I write an article or social media post saying we need to kick this habit and get back to straight Bible teaching, what some readers seem to hear is that we need to use doctrinally sound pre-fab studies. (And they proceed to recommend materials by the handful of doctrinally sound women authors who are out there.)

That’s not what I’m saying. I know there are (a few) doctrinally sound pre-fab studies out there. I’m saying we need to totally revamp the way we do women’s Bible study and detox ourselves from our addiction to studies written by authors outside of your local church, who don’t know the women of your church, and who aren’t there for the women of your church – even if those authors are doctrinally sound.

A variation of this question came up again (from a very kind sister who genuinely cares about the ladies in her church and the teaching they receive) in response to the aforementioned article. I share it here, along with my response, to a) help continue to hammer on the idea that we do not have to use canned studies, there’s another, better way, and b) to give you a few ideas of how to stop being so dependent on canned studies in your own church.

I have found some good DVD’s that have been a real encouragement and have fostered true growth in our women. [List of doctrinally sound DVD studies.] While direct teaching is wonderful sometimes the women who teach in our church find themselves in limiting life circumstances…I would love to hear of some DVD’s that you’d recommend, not as a daycare/babysitter for women, but that contain good teaching for times when we want to be in the Word but cannot take the time to adequately prepare.

I’m glad there have been some doctrinally sound DVDs you’ve been encouraged by, and, just to clarify, I’m not saying every DVD on the market features a false teacher (but the vast majority of them do).

I’m not trying to sound harsh, but I think you might have missed the point of section 3 [of the article]. The whole point is that we need to stop relying on pre-fab studies and teach/study straight from the Bible, and you’ve responded by asking me which DVDs I recommend. I don’t. I recommend teaching/studying straight from the Bible. (I’ve explained more here, if it would be of interest.) Your question kind of proves my point about how deeply ingrained the “canned” Bible study mindset runs. It’s not a question of whether or not there are doctrinally sound DVDs on the market, the issue is that we need to study the Bible itself, and we need teachers in the local church who are trained to teach straight from the Bible.

…good teaching for times when we want to be in the Word but cannot take the time to adequately prepare.

I’m not sure whom you’re referring to regarding not having time to prepare. If you’re talking about a teacher, she should step down if she doesn’t have time to adequately prepare. That’s part of being a teacher (I address that at length in the first article linked below section 3). If she can’t commit to preparing, she shouldn’t be teaching.

If you’re talking about students in a Bible study class- if they have time to watch a DVD, they could spend that same time period reading and discussing a passage out of the Bible.

Again, I don’t mean to sound unkind or anything like that, and I do appreciate your question, but we really need to get away from the pre-packaged studies and simply pick up the Bible itself and study it.

Thanks for your response. I guess I didn’t clarify that I was wondering if there were studies that you’d recommend during times when the teachers we have don’t have time to properly develop a lesson. Your post just spurred that question in my mind though I know that wasn’t your intent. It takes me an average of six hours to prepare to teach a lesson and if I’m in a temporary place of not having time to adequately study for a couple of months we like to continue learning even if it is just from a sound teacher via DVD. Being from a smaller church in a depressed area where women are expected to work, it can be difficult to always have an available teacher. But the women do minister to each other in a word based way.

I definitely understand that women’s ministry is not done biblically in many cases. Your posts contain lots of good info. Thanks for what you do! 

Thanks for understanding. Here are a few things I’d recommend instead of falling back on a DVD.

1. Get one or two more women trained to teach, and have a rotation of teachers. That takes the burden off of one person and is also helpful if you get sick, go out of town, have an emergency, etc. It would also give each teacher a longer time period between lessons she has to teach, so she would have more time to prepare. It might not be the easiest thing in the world to get that in place, but prioritizing Christ and His ways rarely is. He never promised us easy, but He did promise to help us. Ask for His help and have your class pray about the situation, too.

2. If there’s some sort of out of the ordinary, rare emergency that has kept you from preparing, simply go in to class, read the passage together, and discuss it verse by verse.

3. If it’s been impossible to prepare, turn that class period into a prayer meeting. Frankly, it would be beneficial as we need far more small group prayer meetings in the church. You might even want to purposely schedule your class that way, say, lessons for three weeks, prayer meeting on the fourth week, or something like that.

4. Make use of my studies at the Bible Studies tab at the top of this page. If you need a “one and done” type of lesson in a pinch, look under “Wednesday’s Word” toward the bottom of the page. Read the passage with the class and use the questions for discussion. All of my studies are free to download, print out, and distribute.

These are the kinds of things teachers have done for centuries until DVD players were invented. There’s really no reason to ever have to fall back on a DVD. Like I said, if you can watch a DVD, you can read a passage of Scripture and discuss it.

Additional Resources

The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?

McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word

Bible Study

Bible Studies


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Bible Study, Church

McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word

mcbible-study

“Why can’t we just be taught a book of the Bible?” I heard this again today from a Christian woman hungry for her church to teach her the truth of God’s word. It’s a cry being raised by women from all over, scrounging through the dumpster of “Bible” teaching their church currently offers, searching for something – anything – that will nourish their hearts, minds, and souls with biblical truth so that they might actually be able to grow in Christ.

What’s going on here, church? Pastors? Women’s ministries? Why are godly women starving for the word of God at their own churches? This is a problem. And it’s not a small one. And it’s not going away. It’s getting worse.

amos-8-11

My family is a one income family. My husband works hard to provide for us, and we’ve made a lot of (completely worthwhile) sacrifices so I can stay home and raise and home school our children. One of those sacrifices is that we rarely get to eat out, even at a fast food restaurant. That means I cook. A lot. Fortunately, I happen to enjoy cooking, but it does take several hours of work a week. And sometimes, at the end of a long day, I’m tired and not particularly in the mood to spend a couple of hours on my feet chopping and mixing and sautéeing and stirring and roasting. I’d much rather chuck it and have my husband pick up McDonald’s on his way home. In fact, if we could afford it, and I couldn’t cook, and I thought it was healthy, my family would probably eat fast food for supper three or four times a week. I like fast food. My kids LOVE fast food. And why do all that work if you don’t have to and there’s an easier option, right?

But that’s no way to feed a family. It makes people obese and can lead to all kinds of other physical problems like heart disease, hypertension, and digestive ailments because the majority of fast food is high in the bad stuff (cholesterol, sodium, fat) and low in the good stuff (fiber, vitamins, minerals). Not to mention that having other people do the work God has assigned me is the lazy way out.

Yet while it’s easy to see how detrimental and unhealthy it is to feed a family a regular fare of fast food in the physical realm, this is exactly what most churches are doing in the spiritual realm when it comes to their Bible study menu.

“My pastor asked me to teach a women’s Bible study class. What’s a good book to use?”
“Why don’t you just teach them a book of the Bible?”
“Oh, I don’t feel equipped to do that.”

“Our Sunday School class is looking for a new curriculum. Any suggestions?”
“How about just working through a book of the Bible?”
“Our teacher works a lot of hours and doesn’t really have the time to study and prepare like that.”

screenshot-2016-11-10-at-12-31-44-pm-editedI hear this kind of thing over and over and over again. Churches aren’t even attempting to train people to properly teach the Bible, and Bible study “teachers,” (often through no fault of their own) either don’t know they need to be trained, or don’t have training available to them, or they’re unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to be trained and to prepare lessons.

We have classes that need teachers, so we take whoever is available and willing, and we stick them in front of a group of people, hand them a take out bag of McBible Studies written by the celebrity Christian du jour and say, “Here. Feed the church family.”

That’s a problem in and of itself, first and foremost, because relying solely on pre-fab studies due to the fact that no one is trained to instruct the people of your church in the word of God isn’t biblical. The Bible says that pastors, elders, and teachers in the local church body should be “able to teach.” Not facilitate. Not read aloud what someone else wrote. Not “able to work a DVD player.” Teach.

But recruiting “teachers” who are unskilled in handling God’s word to lead a pre-packaged study often morphs into another dangerous problem, especially in the area of women’s Bible study: importing false doctrine into your church. Here’s a list of LifeWay’s top selling books for 2015. Every single non-fiction book on this list that’s likely to be used for a women’s group or individual Bible study (seven of the twelve by my count- which is a staggering proportion considering LifeWay also sells men’s studies, theology books, training manuals, “Christian living” books, and a wide variety of other non-fiction topics, but I digress) is written by a false teacher. Every. single. screenshot-2016-11-10-at-12-31-31-pmone. In my research of women’s Bible study authors and teachers, I estimate that approximately ninety-five per cent of the the female authors and teachers on the shelves at your local Christian retailer are false teachers. That goes way beyond a biblical “diet” laden with cholesterol and fat. Now, we’re talking about spiritual food tainted with E.coli. If you’ve got a woman in your church who’s facilitating a class using materials by one of these false teachers because she’s not competent enough in God’s word to teach the Bible, how in the world is she going to be able to catch and correct the false doctrine these Christian celebrities are teaching her class?

The answer is: she’s not. In fact, her awareness of her own incompetence in Scripture and her assumption that the Christian celebrity knows what she’s talking about (Because, after all, she’s a celebrity and LifeWay sells her materials, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?) will have the exact opposite effect. She will downplay and keep quiet about any nagging doubts – assuming she knows her Bible well enough to even have those doubts – in her own mind that the Christian celebrity is teaching things contrary to sound doctrine, and she will affirm the false doctrine that’s being taught. Then, this harmful bacteria of false doctrine will spread from woman to woman and class to class, and discerning women, knowing that the kitchen is contaminated, will grow emaciated from a lack of clean cuisine to feed on. We end up with a church full of “Bible” study and Sunday School classes that teach fluff and false doctrine instead of the unadulterated word of God. To borrow from Coleridge: “Food, food, every where, nor any bite to eat.” We’ve got a famine of God’s word, right in His very own house.

Church, pastors, women’s ministries- we’ve got to put a stop to this. People teaching Sunday School, Bible study classes, and, particularly, women’s Bible study classes must be trained in basic hermeneutics, the competent handling of God’s word in context, and the ability to teach sound doctrine as well as to refute the false. Do we not believe Scripture, or somehow think our church is exempt from it, when it says:

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

or

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 is our fear of God and our obedience to His word? We would never think of letting an untrained, incompetent teacher teach our children math or science in school when all that’s at stake is their academic education. Why are we satisfied to let untrained people teach the Bible at church when people’s eternities are at stake?

It doesn’t take years of seminary training. I never went to culinary school, but I’m still able to cook and feed my family a healthy diet because of what I’ve learned from others. Pastors can train teachers. Skilled Bible teachers can train others to teach. There are even great materials (like this one that was used in a training session I participated in last year) that can help as you teach people how to teach the Bible.

A doctrinally sound book study can be a fun, interesting, or useful supplement to the regular, straight teaching of Scripture in a Bible study class, but even these shouldn’t be used in place of training teachers. The best theologian out there isn’t a living and active member of that class. He doesn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of the class’s theology. He can’t address their current struggles and questions. He doesn’t love them, care about them, pray for them, and labor in the Word for them.

Only real life, trained, biblically competent teachers can do those things. They are vital and they are irreplaceable.

So let’s quit shoving Happy Meals into the hands of women who are starving for the pure milk and meat of God’s word. Let’s offer some cooking classes and set the table so the members of our churches can sit down to a healthy, home cooked diet of nourishing food that will help them grow to spiritual maturity in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go start supper.