WOMEN’S MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH: Bible study provides starting point and backbone for women’s ministry

SPECIAL REPORT: Just girls – Women’s ministry in the church
Bible study provides starting point and backbone for women’s ministry

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“Teaching biblical womanhood.”

“Spiritual mothering.”

“Mature women pouring themselves into the lives of young women.”

“Women teaching women.”

These are some of the terms Southern Baptist leaders in Texas use to describe the function of women’s ministry in the local church. Call it what you will, but the starting point and backbone for ministry to women, they all agree, is Bible study.

Bible lessons for women are the most popular studies sold in LifeWay stores and serve the purpose of getting women into the Bible. But members of the SBTC’s Women’s Leadership Team contend those same materials should move women to study as they seek to know God more personally and strive to live the life he desires.

Where once there was a void in gender-specific and topical Bible studies, there is now ample material from which to choose.

The most popular authors among LifeWay customers are Beth Moore, Kay Arthur and Elizabeth George. Some of the books marketed to women have clever titles like “The Frazzled Female: Finding Peace in the Midst of Daily Life” by Cindi Wood or “Bad Girls of the Bible” by Liz Curtis Higgs. A sequel titled “Really Bad Girls of the Bible” offers “more lessons from less-than-perfect women.”

Leaders of women’s ministry in local churches face the task of deciding which studies to offer. What’s the difference in a Bible-based study and studying the Bible?

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary women’s studies professor Dorothy Patterson told the TEXAN, “The basic curriculum is teaching women how to live.” She claims Titus 2:3-5 as the source for that directive:

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”

“That is the biblical view of what women’s ministry is all about–how to live the Christian life in their own homes,” Patterson said. “A believing woman needs to know how to live the life God has challenged her to live.” Patterson said the greatest need of women today is “to hear a word from God?to know who she is and how she relates to him.”

One of Patterson’s passions is for women to hear that word from God. “When I go to churches, I’m amazed at the number of women who say, ‘Where can I go to study the Bible like that?’”

Patterson believes that the number of women’s bible studies available is evidence that women are hungry and ready for serious Bible study.

“They are beautifully packaged materials done by women who love the Lord,” but Patterson said those resources must also challenge women to a deeper, more serious walk.

She told of a question someone asked her regarding a Bible commentary she had written for women: “’Don’t you think this teaching is too much?’”

“We don’t think of women being able to do this depth of study. So we don’t take it verse by verse. We’re jumping all over Scripture,” she said.

Rhonda Kelley, professor of women’s ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary also believes that a healthy women’s ministry will be based on Bible study. “It was Bible study groups that initially provided the catalyst for women’s ministry in the local church. And the word of God should remain our focus,” she stated.

“Women want fellowship,” acknowledged Barbara McKinney, women’s ministry director at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist church in Irving. “They’re sitting there soaking it up,” she said, concerned that the studies “ought to turn out a woman who goes out and makes disciples. It ought to produce change. The whole purpose of this study is to get you off your duff.”

Brenda Greer agreed. “If women’s lives are not being changed, why are we doing it?” Greer directs women’s ministries at Southside Baptist Church of Abilene. The impetus for the growing and maturing women’s ministry at her church is the study of the Bible—without commentaries, she added.

“Women’s studies should be about more than punching a button that says ‘play,’” she stated. She’s quick to credit women who have set the bar high in terms of what is expected in a study of God’s word. But women need to be in the word on their own, without videos, without commentaries, without someone other than the Holy Spirit revealing the meaning of what they have read, she added.

“Women need to understand that nobody can speak to them like God,” stated Shirley Moses, SBTC women’s ministry consultant. “Nothing takes the place of getting in the word for yourself and letting God speak to you from Scripture. It will stay longer with you than what any Bible study can.”

And yet it was a video-driven Bible study where Shirley Moses learned that lesson. “I saw what Beth Moore, Kay Arthur and Anne Graham Lotz were doing—the process they used to study the word and it got me interested in doing it for myself.”

At age 69, McKinney remembers when Bible studies amounted to a group of women using only the bible, a concept she thinks foreign to many of the women in churches today. “A lot of it is personality. Women are following a personality,” she said, adding, “I have a real hard time with that.”

The most popular by far is Beth Moore of Houston who began teaching in that city’s First Baptist Church. The studies she created through Living Proof Ministries and published by LifeWay resulted in phenomenal sales and led to tens of thousands of women attending conferences that quickly outgrew local church settings. (See www.lifeway.com/women and www.lproof.org.)

LifeWay Women’s Enrichment Ministry specialist Chris Adams, a former Texan with 12 years of experience in a local church setting, said the Living Proof Live events were originally held in church auditoriums. “We were forced in large venues,” she said, referring to crowds like the 20,000 who traveled to Indianapolis this year. “That was not our original plan, but it is what goad has done.”

Whe the addition of live satellite broadcasts, Moore is able to speak to thousands more, reaching women from a variety of denominations. A Colorado Springs conference las summer drew 8,000 participants locally with another 35, 000 viewing in 165 satellite locations. An online study begun in 2002 has attracted 48,686 students.

While Moore is as amazed as anyone at the success of selling millions of workbooks, she knows those studies do not replace an intimate walk with God. She made that clear last June at a Southern Baptist gathering of ministers’ wives in Indianapolis. “Can I get in your business?” she asked the capacity crowd. “Are you having your quiet time with God? Nobody has the right to take our individual, personalized time with God,” she insisted.

Similar admonition comes from Precepts Inductive Bible Study founder Kay Arthur, whose studies are being taught in over 119 countries worldwide in more than 67 languages. (See www.percept.org.) She told a Houston gathering of church leaders, “It is only through becoming intimate with scripture that churches can effectively confront the culture. The word of God is the foundation for all that we are,” she said. “But the problem is that in the churches of the United States collectively and even on the mission fields … we don’t have people in the word of God so that they know truth for themselves.”

Adams works to get women attending one of Beth Moore’s conferences connected to small group Bible studies in the area where events are held. “We need to leave something in these women’s hands that will keep them in the word and keep them growing.” The LifeWay team also returns to the host city six weeks later with women’s ministry leadership training, she said, teaching anywhere from 75 to 350 women how to build an effective and growing ministry.

“If a church’s women’s ministry is just event driven—whether it’s four events a year or taking women away to a big event—you’ve got nothing holding those women together between events,” Adams warned. “What goes on in between? When we’re doing leadership training that subject is a big question. There’s nothing to keep them growing and serving in between. They’re just waiting for the same high from the next event.”

McKinney share the concern expressed by others who were interviewed. “We’ve created a generation of women who don’t study for themselves. Women need to know how to get a word from God not via someone else.”

Longtime Bible teacher Susie Hawkins of Dallas believes the exclusive use of videos in teaching is a mistake. “They are an enormous blessing, especially in some churches that don’t have a teacher. But they can develop a cult following,” she warned. ‘How are you going to find your women teachers?” she asked. “We lose opportunities to connect with our women to find who is really gifted if we use video series teaching.”

Women’s ministry leader Brenda Salge of River Hills Baptist Church in Corpus Christi believes newer Christians often gain affirmation through popular studies geared to their needs. She suggested they use this type of study for no more than three years. After that they need to dig deeper, Saige added.

Other women’s ministry leaders shared a concern that some studies are so introspective and self-affirming that they do not spur women to ministry beyond the church walls.

SBTC consultant Shirley Moses responded, “One particular Bible study curriculum is not for every woman in your church. There are generational differences as well as differences in the way women learn.” She noted a trend away from 12-233k studies to a six-week format in order to draw more women into Bible study who think they are too busy to make a longer commitment.

Moses is especially excited by the approach of a new LifeWay release called, “Enjoy: A Thirst-Quenching Look at Philippians” by Bible teacher Tianne Moon. Based on an inductive approach, Moon encourages participants to study selected Scripture, utilizing principles of interpretation to draw logical conclusions about how those verses apply to life. Moses believes this type of approach with give women the tools they need to learn to do their own study of any passage of Scripture. She invited Moon to speak at regional women’s conferences hosted by SBTC in 2006.

“Everything we learn in the Bible is an avenue to take us to what we’re called by God to do. It’s not how much more head knowledge we can gain that’s important. We need to put it into action, meeting the needs of God’s people and the lost who are going to Hell because we’re not sharing the gospel.”

Greer said it wasn’t until she and her ministry team overhauled the women’s programs at Southside Baptist and put away the video-driven studies for an exposition of Proverbs and Titus that a fundamental change began to take place.

“God just spoke to us through his word. Imagine that,”

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