2015 is coming to an end, and many of us will be looking at our Spring/Summer Bible Study Options. Small groups will be forming, and sign sheets will be set out for the women of the church to choose from. How do we select what to put on the menu? Let’s get down to basics, by understanding the TYPES of studies that are available.
Book Studies: A book study is generally a book that is about a particular topic such as: motherhood, marriage, single life, overcoming grief, etc. These topical studies address very particular subjects and use a mixture of human experience, secular wisdom, and bible verses to help us become better at something or a better person. Some of my favorite Book Studies include Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman, and A Confident Heart by Renee Swope.
Bible Studies: A Bible study is when a group will gather to study the Bible itself. This may be a book that covers the Bible as a whole or digs into a very particular book or section of scripture. Examples of these types of studies include Malachi by Lisa Harper, Daniel by Beth Moore, or Sermon on the Mount by Jen Wilkin. It also includes direct expository study of the Word with the Bible as your main source.
Both of these styles of study groups have benefits and drawbacks. Book studies are lighter on scripture and more of a self help or self improvement study. They offer biblical insight and support, but “biblical knowledge” is not the purpose of these books. If you choose to study a book written on a particular portion of scripture, you have the benefit of gaining biblical knowledge, but this knowledge is based off of another person’s interpretation of the scripture. On the one hand it benefits you by helping you understand the scriptures faster, but on the other we have to ensure that the author’s interpretation is accurate. There is always risk of error. In expository study, we are studying the direct Word of God for ourselves, however this can be a slower process. This can often be a very intimidating study for the new believer, although I never discount their ability to jump right in.
How Do We Choose a Book for Our Study Group?
If you are choosing to do a Book Study or a Bible Study based off of an author’s interpretation, here are some things to consider:
Who is the author? What experience or credibility do they offer?
Who does the author read, cite or quote often? Who influences them?
Is the material recent and relevant or dated? Does the doctrine of the book line up?
What is the result you are hoping to achieve through your study groups?
You will also want to consider things like the cost of material, the length of commitment, dates and times, etc.
If you want to offer an expository study: Who in the congregation is knowledgeable to lead such a study? Or what team of women can we bring together to lead this study?
There are So Many Women, How Do We Choose a Study that Suits Everyone?
Some churches will pick ONE study, and have a variety of groups to meet various availabilities. Years ago, I attended a church where we all studied The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. We had groups during week days, week day evenings, weekends, etc. We grouped the women based on their locations, times they had available, and if childcare was needed or not. There were groups studying in homes, cafes, and others met at the church. This should be a book that anyone can grasp, regardless of how long they have been a Christian. A book on Systematic Theology may NOT be the right selection.
Other churches will offer SEVERAL studies, on different days of the week and times. You may offer a book study on mothering, a study for singles, another on the book of Galatians, and one on Mary & Martha. Our previous home church even offered college level seminary style courses for our members who were interested in advanced study. Variety in options allows you to offer studies that meet women where they are at. You can pick something that walks new believers into the scriptures gently, and still offer a meatier topic like an expository study of Nehemiah.
The third option is to offer both of the above as options. I recently spoke with a Women’s Ministry leader in Missouri, who does just that. In the Fall the whole women’s ministry studies the same book (usually expository Bible study, or a written book on the Bible). At the end they will have a brunch to recap the study & have discussions for those who couldn’t plug into a group. Then, in the spring, the individual small groups break off to do their own study. This is a great way to encourage the spiritual growth of the women, help them get to know one another as a body of women, and a great way to plug in new members of the church. The spring study allows the women to begin to foster more personal relationships and study topics that interest their groups specifically.
I am Still Uncertain!!! I am New to This, How Do I Proceed?
It is absolutely OKAY to be uncertain if you are making the right choices! God wants us as leaders to ensure we are being wise and responsible teachers. If you are uncertain where to begin, talk to your Pastor. He may be able to point you toward authors that he endorses, or which books of the Bible are an easier one to start with.
You can also speak with other Women’s Ministry leaders in your area. Not only will they be able to make some recommendations for you, but they may even have materials you could borrow. This is especially helpful to a fledgling Women’s Ministry or a small church with a limited budget.