We all know that verse and quote it by rote, which is the problem—we don't think about what it says. What we have just acknowledged in our quoting is that we can only have as much faith as our knowledge (or lack of) allows.
Every place we have worshipped, we have started a women's Bible class. We could make a few points about that—about how women are the ones who willingly gather on a continuous basis for extra Bible study—but that's not the issue today. Today I want to share with you things I have learned over the past 40 plus years about how to have a profitable women's Bible class.
1. Do not allow it to become a hen party or a gossipfest. I have heard that accusation in many places. I have even had women refuse to come to my class because they assume that is what it is. In fact, even after assurances, I had one woman tell me I was a liar and walk away "because they're all that way."
It is one thing to have a pre-determined amount of time set aside at the beginning of class (no more than 10 minutes) to share who needs our service that week—meals, visits, prayers, etc., especially before a prayer. It's quite another to gossip.
2. Make it a real study time. Everyone should understand that there will be work involved outside of class time. We aren't coming to rehash the same old stuff, things we have known since childhood and can discuss off the cuff. That would be a waste of a busy woman's time. Don't allow it to become a gabfest either, but a directed discussion that will actually help people learn and grow.
I have always had a trusted partner to help get the conversation back on track with a carefully worded question. That way it doesn't sound like a rebuke when we suddenly stop the scattergun approach that has caused the class to stray from topic and go back to the matter at hand—which is learning something new.
I have lost count of the times women have come to class only to leave after a week or two "because it's too much work." Yes, it's work to learn something new. You actually have to think a little bit. You might even need to change your mind about a few things, but isn't that more exciting than the same old same old?
3. Choose good, deep material that is suitable to the group. If most of you are widows, why study "How to be a Good Wife?" In fact, though it is never wrong to revisit those types of studies, even a class full of young wives and mothers needs to learn other things too. How about the Psalms? How about the prophets? How about a topical study like faith?
And don't judge a workbook by its title. Ask someone who has used it. For example, my Born of a Woman is often dismissed as "just another women of the Bible book." Ask someone who has studied it. You couldn't be more wrong. I am sure the same is true of many other books out there.
And a word of caution: I am hearing about a lot of classes using material that is not Biblical at all. It isn't that I am against using anything written by someone from a denomination. I pick up commentaries and Bible dictionaries all the time and the vast majority of the time, they are written by Calvinists of various stripes. But I know what I am reading, I know what those folks believe, and I know what to beware of. If you don't, you had better put it down until you do.
And that also means you need to choose a knowledgeable teacher. She needs to be willing to work harder than ever before in finding those things that are new to everyone, and be willing to go to others (perhaps a preacher or elder?) for help. What would I have done without a husband who is a walking concordance, whose specialties include Romans, Ezekiel and Revelation, and the history of the Biblical text? I don't know, but he isn't even the only one I have mined for information. Don't be too proud to ask for help.
4. Make it practical. We are just finishing a three year study I wrote on the prophets. But we always include the question: So what does that mean for me? How can I use this lesson that Isaiah or Micah or Haggai taught? If all you are learning is pie-in-the-sky theory, how much good will that be to you tomorrow morning? Theology is great, and yes, women can learn it no matter what anyone else might think, but it won't help you when your life falls apart, when your faith is tested, and you wonder how to put the pieces back together if you haven't learned how to apply the lessons it teaches.
5. Make your class a safe place. "What happens in class, stays in class." Your gathering should be a place where women can ask questions that might raise eyebrows, where women can share faults and weaknesses, and where they can seek advice on touchy, extremely private problems knowing that it won't wind up spread all over the church, where they won't be laughed at, and where their faith won't be questioned.
However, as a wiser, older woman, that doesn't mean you can't share with a preacher that a certain topic might be a good one for an upcoming sermon without mentioning any names at all. It doesn't mean that if a soul is in mortal danger you shouldn't go to the elders and ask for help to deal with it. If you can't trust them to be discreet, why are they your elders? And they are ultimately responsible for every soul in their care.
6. Use this class not only to gain knowledge but to deepen relationships. It really shouldn't have, but it has astounded me how close these groups of mine have become. Part of that comes from getting together outside of class as well. The Tuesday morning class breaks about 11:15 and many go out to lunch. The third Sunday afternoon class eats a fast potluck lunch together, along with the husbands and children, before returning to the building for our 2 hours of study. We have gone to the hospital together. We have visited homes together. When you feel comfortable and safe with one another (see number 5) you want to be together, and togetherness fosters closeness and understanding. Use it.
7. Invite others. Sometimes it's hard to change the dynamic of a group. We tend to want to keep it all to ourselves. That's not what a Christian does. Just as we want to share the gospel, we should want to share with our sisters what we have found in our Bible study group.
Don't be discouraged. If you have a class of depth that requires some work, it won't be as popular as the old hen parties of old. But somewhere more women hunger for the Word just like you did, and they will be forever grateful if you find them.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pet 2:2-3)