It was fall, time to reactivate the women’s ministry at Ripon Grace Church. Our pattern was to have a monthly meeting with a devotional given by one of the older ladies in the church and then refreshments while we chatted. That year the current leader of the ministry, asked me, the wife of their new pastor, to take over the work.
I have a passion for the Bible. I love to read it and I love to teach it so of course I said yes. Off I went to the local Bible book store to find a Bible study for our women.
What did I find? Most of the books available that were labeled “Bible Study” suggested that we read a chapter in the book and then answer questions about the chapter. Much of the discussion was about “how I feel about what the author has written.” Few of the studies required the student to actually open her Bible and interact with the text. Most of it was what I would call “fluff.” I was stunned. Those books may all be helpful, but how can we call it Bible study if we don’t open the Bible and read it? I decided our study at Ripon was going to change. It was going to be different because it was going to center on the Bible. Let me tell you how it changed.
- We started meeting weekly rather than monthly. I just didn’t think a monthly look into God’s Word was enough to grow and mature God’s women. My goal was to get every woman who attended into God’s Word on a daily basis.
- We focused on the role of the Holy Spirit as our teacher. After all, who better than the author to guide us in our journey through God’s written Word.
- I began to write studies that focused on the Bible text and its importance in our daily lives. Every day there was a Bible passage to read and discuss. The women at Ripon Grace began to come alive. They were excited to learn that they could read and understand the Bible on their own. They were amazed at the way the Holy Spirit Himself taught them truth that applied to their daily lives. They came to class each week eager to share what they had learned. We began to learn from each other and encourage each other.
- We began to pray for each other and we began to see God answer in amazing ways. We began to bond in ways that were closer and more intimate as we walked together through times of struggle, illness, and loss. For many years a faithful class member kept a book in which she not only recorded prayers but also followed up by recording answers. Every year at our final luncheon she would share what we had prayed for and seen answered that year.
- As we met each Tuesday morning, I often had the joy of watching the excitement of young believers as the light went on and God’s Word came alive in their hearts. There is no greater high than watching the Bible change people.
- Our women are spoiled. They don’t want to read a book about the Bible or a book about someone else’s journey with God and call it a Bible study. They insist that our study be directly focused on God’s Word.
I am convinced that one of the key needs of God’s people, both men and women, is to get back to the Bible. We have great opportunities in our world to be well taught. We can go to conferences and seminars and we can listen to great Bible teaching in our churches, through TV and radio ministry and on the internet. We can read books written by great men and women of God. We are fortunate to have those resources and we need to take advantage of them. However, if we put our Bibles on the shelf and fail to make real Bible study part of our daily lives, all the resources in the world will not be enough to grow us into the intimate friends of God we want to be.
May I make a few suggestions for those of you who are responsible for Bible study ministries in your churches?
- Pray carefully about what you are presenting to your group for Bible study. Be sure it is something that will drive them to open their Bibles and dig into God’s Word. There are more good studies available now than there were when I first started teaching but we need to be very careful what we choose.
- As much as possible, design your study in such a way that the students will need to open their Bibles every day. Encourage them to avoid the “night before” syndrome. Studies with daily readings and daily questions to answer are my favorites.
- Don’t assume that your students are well taught. Understand that many of the men and women in our churches are not familiar with God’s Word. Many in our culture have very little idea what the Bible is about and very little understanding of the God of the Bible. If you have new Christians or even not yet saved people in your group, go back to the basics, avoiding “Christianese” and big theological words that will be meaningless to them.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to teach and celebrate the things your students learn as they study. The things that excite a new believer may seem pretty simple and obvious to you but they’re big to someone who is just beginning to experience God. Let them share what they have learned and take time to celebrate their excitement. This kind of an attitude will encourage your students to share with each other and honor the work of God in each other’s lives.
- Use social media, texting, etc. to stay in touch with your students through the week. A private group on Face- book is one way class members can discuss what they are studying, ask questions, and share prayer requests through the week.
- Don’t forget to pray for your class members and let them know you are doing that.
Do you have a passion for the Word of God? If you do, you can make a difference by helping others to experience the joy of actually reading and studying the words of Scripture. No more fluff, and no more “what do you think?” It’s time to open God’s Word in our churches and in our small groups and ask, “What does God say and what can I learn from listening to Him?”
God has written each of us a personal letter. How many of the men and women in your sphere of influence have heard His voice and come to know His heart through solid Bible study? Maybe you can be the one who infects them with the Bible study bug. Maybe you can be the catalyst that drives them to intimacy with the author of the greatest book ever written. Believe me when I say that watching the Bible come alive to God’s people is the greatest joy ever.
Editor’s Note: Lois Shirk’s Bible study books are available on Amazon.com and she writes at loisshirksbooks.com. Her husband, Glen, recently retired after 33 years as pastor of the Grace Brethren Church, Ripon, Calif.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of GraceConnect. If you’d like to receive the magazine, mailed directly to your home at no charge, click here.