I’m working on a tiny booklet for the women of my church. In it I write on women mentoring women, Bible study, discipleship culture in church etc. The purpose is to encourage the women at my church, young and old, to spend time with each other, disciple one another, come to Bible study if possible, and pursue loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind. My primary goal with this pamphlet is to follow our church leadership’s vision to help build a strong “one–anothering” culture in our church. As I have been thinking through who our women are and how best to encourage them, I realized that many times women can frustrate women in women’s ministry.
Our church is only a year and a half old but it has already grown to two services. Our women’s ministry is still new. As a matter of fact, the upcoming Romans study will only be our second women’s Bible study as a church. No one has yet frustrated me, and I pray that I haven’t yet frustrated anyone. But it could happen, and because I know it can, I’m asking God to reveal things to me now in order to thwart discouragement, disappointment, and friction in the future. My biggest prayer after “God lift their eyes to you and teach them how to love you,” has been “God help me serve these women with humility and let me never clobber them with doctrinal precision or man-made methods.”
God is not in the business of cloning. He is an artist who creates, a potter who molds clay according to his will and for his glory. I of all people know how dangerous it can be to take a good thing, and make it an ultimate thing—to take a good thing and allow it to be set upon me as a burden or to set it as a burden onto the shoulders of our sisters.
I don’t ever want to shove exegetical Bible study onto women. I say this as someone whose first priority is to help women know their God by studying His Word. It is not legalism for me to exhort my sisters in Christ to read and study the Scriptures. You cannot love God if you do not know God. And you cannot and will not know God unless you pick up the Bible and read and study it seeking the Holy Spirit’s illumination. This can be done alone or it can be done with other women.
Having said that, however, I offer these thoughts, praying they will bring peace and wisdom:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
1 Corinthians 8:1 (ESV)
Bear with me and the quirky way I want to illustrate how women can frustrate women to the point of turning them off from reading their Bibles and learning about God.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul explains to the Corinthians how those who know (those who have the theological knowledge) that the gods behind the idols do not exist and can eat meat offered to idols (from the local pagan marketplace) without their conscience bothering them, need to realize that there are Christian brethren with weaker consciences who do not possess this knowledge. They are not as theologically astute. Moreover, when they see others eating the meat they also are tempted to do so. But their past associations with paganism coupled with a weak conscience leads them to a state of defilement in their conscience. (For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. —Romans 14:23) Thus, Paul says, even though idols have no real existence, in the mind of those who don’t have a full understanding of these things, they are real and by eating the meat they sin in their own minds. Look at his argument:
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat , and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
1 Corinthians 8:7–13
Let me draw a line through this illustration to help you better imagine what we women do to one another when the strong stumble the weak and the weak continue in their weakness.
Some women cannot take the meat of Scripture, yet. The reasons may be many and complex. Others only like their Scriptures “neat,” not even one cube of ice, thank you! (Forgive me for mixing metaphors.) In North America, right now, we are suffering from years of women not really knowing their Bibles. They have spent years in topical and devotional studies, perhaps with cherry-picked single verses being the extent of Bible in their study. Theology, if it even comes up in conversation is a dry, dusty word, and good only for men “who are into that stuff.” Their consciences are weak from years of the fluffy bunny variety of women’s ministry.
Although I personally believe that exegetical Bible study is the better way of studying Scriptures, that is, I believe that reading verse by verse in the context in which it was written is the way we come to a deep understanding and therefore a deeper love of God, I don’t want to stumble my sisters in Christ with my zeal for this. I definitely believe that once women get a taste of the real Scriptures, all those other types of studies and books will taste stale in comparison to the savory goodness of the Word of God. But in the meantime I don’t want to crush the soul of a sister in Christ if they happen to prefer or need a different method for studying the Scriptures.
Ladies as we begin a new year of Bible studies, let me encourage all of us to suffer long with one another. Zeal for Christ is good when surrounded by love and grace. Let’s not set such a high bar that we discourage women.
NOTE: Those looking for a Bible study in the Phoenix area, please join us as we study the book of Romans this year. See here for more details.