By Gena McCown, Co-Found Women’s Ministry Council
Whether you are the Women’s Ministry Leader, or a Small Group Leader, the topic of small group and bible study materials is one worthy of serious consideration. As a Women’s Ministry Leader, you may be charged with coming up with the Small Group plan for all of the women in your church. Coming up with a list of approved choices or for your leaders or even selecting a church wide study for the women. If you are a Small Group leader you may be seeking to take more charge in your own group, and select material on your own as the group progress. Perhaps, you may be considering starting a small group with your friends outside of your church or a community group.
Whatever the reason you are shopping for study materials, it is good to have a guideline on how to wade through all of the options. Years ago, it was much easier. There were a handful of published women’s studies. However, with the advances of technology, we are no longer confined to the studies on the shelves of our local Christian bookstore. We have plenty of options through well known publishers to self published authors providing digital downloads.
In the sea of options how do we even begin to know which studies are biblically sound? How do we even know what types of studies are appropriate for the women in our church?
WHAT TYPES OF STUDIES DO THE WOMEN NEED:
When I begin to look at materials for the women I lead in small groups, there are many things I take into consideration. First, I have chosen to have groups that are open to new members coming in and out versus a closed group of women who are meeting together over a period of years. This is a conscious decision on my part to make sure that new women in the church always have a study to jump into & to be able to cover a variety of topics.
Some things I take into consideration are:
- Is there something going on in the world or even locally that requires exploring? If we are seeing an increase of divorces in our community, perhaps it’s time to choose a study that helps build up marriages. If your church is struggling with how to handle the topics of transgenderism or sexuality, maybe it’s time to take a bold step and start the conversation.
- Will my group be comprised of women who are of similar age and stage as I am? Or, do I have a group of women who vary in biblical knowledge or come from different stages of life? If so, I’m not going to pick a parenting topical study if half of my group have never had kids. I want to take into consideration the demographic of my group & their biblical knowledge.
- Are there particular goals the church or the Women’s Ministry would like to see accomplished? If the Pastor wants to have more small groups, then I want to have study options available that either train up more leaders or are easy ones for new leaders to step into. If the church wants to see an increase in volunteerism in the church, we may want to look into more studies that explore using our gifts, community outreach, missions, etc.
WHAT IS THE BEST FORMAT FOR OUR CHURCH:
Your church may elect to have a small group menu that has a variety of topics, types of groups, availability, and frequency. Or, your church may elect to have a very structured small group plan. There are some churches that even have Small Group Pastors who oversee the groups.
Some format options include:
- All of the women (or church) choose a study to go through together collectively but broken up into their small groups. Everyone is working the same book, at the same pace, but may have groups broken up by age, gender, stage of life, and different schedules of availability. When they finish one study, the whole church then moves to the next study.
- Each year, the first study of the season is done collectively by the church or women in the church, as explained above. Then upon completion of that study, the groups independently pick their next study option.
- Season to season, each group or leader is responsible for selecting the study materials. Groups may be closed groups that meet consistently over time, or open groups that allow people to fluidly move in and out as the topics interest them.
Each of these options has great benefit to the church. The first format option keeps all the church members on an even playing field. They can even discuss their study progress with others not in their specific group, creating conversation and fellowship among the body. The second option allows for the community of learning while also allotting for individuals to also study topics that are less general and more specific to their needs and interests. The third option is one that allows variety throughout the year, and as people’s needs change they can find a group that better suits it. Additionally, the fluid movement between groups allows us to get to know more people in the church. And, ultimately, if you sign up for a group that just isn’t the right personality fit, you can move out of it without hurting feelings.
EVALUATING THE MATERIALS:
Once you know what TYPES of materials you are looking for, and what FORMAT of study is going to fit for your church or Women’s Ministry program… then you can begin to sort through your option of MATERIALS. Not every church or Women’s Minsitry is going to select the same TYPE or FORMAT for study, but the important thing that we should all agree on is that the most important aspect is the quality of the materials. You can have a great looking calendar of studies to choose from, but if they are lacking quality and credibility, you would be better offering nothing.
The book, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, provides a great evaluation tool for determining if a study is the right fit for your ministry:
Is Scripture the authority of the materials? The best books are full of scripture quotations and are built around scriptural principles. Scripture is used to support/prove scripture. The scriptures should have more weight than the author’s personal opinions or experiences.
What is the doctrinal perspective? Does the book compromise any of the essentials of faith (creation, fall of man, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, atonement, resurrection)?
Does the book teach salvation by grace through faith? Does the book support or compromise the need for repentance, reconciliation, and reliance on God? Does it confront sin, call for change, point us in the direction of sharing the gospel? Does it display total reliance on God as a lifestyle not “as needed”?
Who is the author? Do we know the author, their background, or reputation?
Who does the author quote? Authors quote who they read, and who they read influences them. It is important to know who the author looks to as a resource.
Is the book man-centered or God-centered? Is the emphasis on God and conforming to his image or to “be satisfied and happy”?
Is the book teachable and useful? We need to ensure our teachers are prepared and able to teach the materials. If it is delves into issues too deep for our teachers to understand, they won’t be able to communicate the lessons of the book. What will the book equip our women to know? Is there a workbook or lesson plan suggestion to help our teachers in the process?
Sit down with your Women’s Ministry Team (and Small Groups Pastor, if you have one) and figure out what your guidelines for studies will consist of. You can clarify the above to the specifics of your group. Then as you start your process of selecting studies, use these guideless to help eliminate those that do not pass the test. Present a list of approved studies to your leaders before small group season starts, of course leave an open door for women to make suggestions to your team for future studies. Some Women’s Ministry Leaders have created a list of approved study authors, so that the women know that anything by that author is already approved. These authors usually include Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Kathleen Neilsen, etc. Widely known, respected teachers. If it is a newer author, it is worth vetting the materials. Even an author that has made the best sellers list may not be the right study for your church, we shouldn’t assume the publishing company has the same vetting standards we do.
Finally, I want to remind all of our leaders that there are the studies that women WANT and then the studies that women NEED. When we make sure to pray over these selections, letting the Lord prompt our decision making, we are more certain that the studies are what they truly need. That is our responsibility as leaders. If they want something else, they have full freedom to study any materials they want outside of the church/ministry. Remember, as teachers, we are accountable for what we teach to those who sit under us.
There are 2 installments left in the series. The last one will address the questions that have been submitted by our readers. If you have not submitted your question yet, pop on over to our intro to the series and use the form today.