What Women Need Most for Better Bible Study

Small Talk — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

Thank you for having me. I am going to talk about women’s Bible study, but I do believe that what I have to say is relevant to men to hear as well. You heard that I teach women the Bible. On a weekly basis, I lead an inter-denominational women’s Bible study in my community that represents about 68 different churches in the area. So some of the insights I’m going to share with you in these 10 minutes are based on that broad exposure that I’ve experienced across denominations, not just within a particular denomination. What I’m hoping to do is make you aware of some of what the prevailing culture is within Women’s Bible study and talk about how I hope to see it change.

What Women Need Most for Better Bible Study

Has anybody else noticed that Google can read your mind? I’m talking about when you go on to Google something and you start typing something in and Google just automatically knows what you were looking for. So if I go out and type in, “Where is the nearest . . . ?” It will say, “Starbucks.” And I’m like, “How did Google know I wanted a Starbucks?” Or I’ll say, “How often do I need to change the . . . ?” And it’ll say, “Oil in my car.” How do you know, Google? Before a word is formed on my keypad, you know it. What is going on? But we know why Google knows, right? Google knows because we’re asking the same question that everybody else is asking, so you can get a barometer for what people are asking by what Google tells you.

Last fall I was teaching through First, Second, and Third John. And we got further along in the study, so it was time for me to do the week on Third John. And part of my preparation process is to go out and get a copy of the text, download a copy of the text, pop it into a Word document, double space it, and then I annotate it for my teaching notes. So that’s what I did.

I went out to Google and I typed in 3 John. And you know what I got? I got John 3. I thought, “Google, come on.” So I tried it again. I typed in 3 John, because I thought if I did the same thing twice different things were going to happen, right? I got John 3 again. So then I got curious and I started going through the search results to see where 3 John got returned for me. And I got through about 10 pages before I finally gave up because it moved on from “John 3” to “Commentary over John 3”.

I thought about that for a little while and then it hit me: this is really bad because no one is looking for 3 John. No one. Google knows what we’re thinking about before we think it, and no one is looking for 3 John. As far as Google is concerned, 3 John doesn’t exist. And the problem that we have within the Church is that for many of us, as far as we’re concerned, 3 John doesn’t exist either. Have you studied it? Have you spent a week really tearing apart 3 John? And within women’s Bible study circles, the problem can be pronounced because of several things that we’re going to talk about.

Better Definitions

The first thing that I want you to understand about women’s Bible study and what it most needs is that it needs better definitions. It needs better definitions. We have a tendency to call everything Bible study. So just as not all of Abraham’s children are Abraham’s children, not everything in the Christian bookstore is a Bible study. But women have a tendency to go in and pick up a book that is maybe a devotional book and say, “Oh, I’m going to take this and do this for my Bible study,” or, “I’m going to do this book that’s on a topic and I’m going to call it a Bible study.”

And it’s not that there is no Bible study element to devotional books, or to books that cover a topic such as anxiety, or how to be a better mom, or biblical womanhood, but those kinds of books take Scripture and they attach it to a topic. And when you’re doing a Bible study, what you’re doing is you are reading through Scripture and you are letting topics present as they occur within the text. Those are two very different things.

Unless we have clear definitions of what Bible study is and what Bible study isn’t — and I mean in relation to building Bible literacy, building a comprehensive knowledge of Scripture — then we’re only going to spend time in certain areas of Scripture. Because I promise you, in the Christian bookstore, you will not find a devotional book written on Leviticus. Can you imagine the cover art someone would have to come up with for that? You’re not going to find it. You’re only going to go to certain areas of Scripture if the things that you’re spending your time on are topical studies or devotional books.

They’re not bad. They’re useful and they’re good. But those are intended to be layered on top of a foundational understanding of Scripture. In fact, that’s when they really take on life, when you have a foundational knowledge and then you begin to read topically or you begin to read devotionally. So first, women need better definitions for Bible study. They need to understand the difference between something that is devotional, something that is topical, and something that is actually building for them a base understanding of Scripture.

Better Resources

The second thing that women need is better resources. We need resources that focus on who God is first and who we are second. A lot of times if you look at the resources that are available for women in the Christian bookstore, there are a lot of questions that ask me to reflect on who I am in light of what the text says. And that’s a really good question to ask. We should ask that question. It just shouldn’t be the first question that we ask.

The first question that we need to be trained to ask is, “What does this passage teach me about God?” Because not until I see what the passage has taught about God can I understand what the passage teaches about me, because I can’t have a true estimation of who I am until I see myself in relation to who God is. When I see that God is just, I understand the extent of my personal sense of justice in a new way. And then seeing the distance between my idea of justice and God’s idea of justice causes me to cry out, “Lord, change me. Make me more like you with regard to justice.” We need resources that focus on God before they focus on self.

Secondly, women need resources that target our minds, not just our emotions. A lot of what is out there for women to study that is written by women for women targets the emotions, and sometimes only the emotions. And other times it plays so heavily on the emotions card that the thought card never comes into play. My big contention is that when the Bible says that we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, women are included in that. We are to love God with our minds every bit as much as men are. Our intellect should be engaged in the pursuit of the knowledge of God. We need more resources that offer that to women.

And the last thing that we need in terms of better resources is that we need resources that ask us to do the work. We need resources that don’t spoon-feed us answers. We need resources that are training us how to begin to ask the kinds of questions that the resource itself is asking. We need to be learning how to be better students of the Bible in such a way that when I do a Bible study, by the time I get to the end of that study, I should feel more comfortable with my Bible than I did when I started. I should be better equipped to sit down without a study aid and study the Bible.

But in many cases, the way that women’s studies are structured, I can actually feel less confident opening my Bible when I get to the end of a study because I’m so overwhelmed with how big name teacher X pulled together all of these ideas from all over Scripture. But the reason that big name teacher X is able to do that is because big name teacher X has that foundational knowledge of Scripture that I’m missing. I’m happy to love God with big name teacher X’s mind, but I have to love God with my mind as well.

Better Leadership Support

We need better definitions, we need better resources, and lastly, we need better leadership support. Women flourish in the Church when men care about women flourishing in the church. If you are in church leadership, I beg you, educate yourself on the kinds of studies that your women are doing. Care about what is going on with over half of the people who fill your seats on Sunday. Your church will be so much better off if you do.

If you are tired of the same pre-packaged studies being done over and over again in your church, look around you and ask the question, pastor, who are the women in my church who I can help train to be a teacher, who I can help train to write good questions, who I can help train to become a leader in this area, to model well these things for the women in our church? If you will invest in the women of your Church, how great would it be to see the rewards that are reaped when women begin to love God’s word, begin to take it in and study the Bible, not so that they can know the Bible, but so that they can know God and have their joy increased exponentially. When that happens, communities change, homes change, churches change, and countries change. And that’s really, really what we need.

I’m so excited about this emphasis that Desiring God has on Look at the Book because it makes me hopeful. It makes me hopeful that the tide is turning and we’re beginning to return to a truer definition of what Bible study is. And honestly, it gives me some hope that maybe in five years, maybe in 10 years — I don’t know how long it’ll take — that when I go out to Google and I put in 3 John, I just might find what I’m looking for.

Blessings on all of you. Thank you for having me.