I have a vocational issue.
I travel a lot and by nature of this work I end up sitting in conversation with a lot of strangers. It’s fun, and weird, and a wonderful opportunity.
The conversation usually starts something like this, or at least gets there very quickly:
“What do you do?” This from the aforementioned stranger in an airport.
My response: “I’m a writer.”
Said stranger inevitably responds with excessive interest, “Oooooo! That’s interesting! What do you write?”
I have a very tempered response. At this point, I’m almost scared to say it,
“I write women’s Bible studies.”
The conversation dies and silence often follows.
For a while I took this disinterest personally. Was something wrong with me? Did they think that my work was ridiculous? But it wasn’t happening just with strangers at the airport. I noticed that I occasionally found the same response when I conversed with people from within my own church body. Then the realization hit me that maybe that was just their impression of women’s Bible studies in general. Most people I encountered, when I probed deeper, either weren’t studying the Bible much or had a hard time finding a study that challenged them, intrigued them, or offered insight for anything that connected their daily life to the Kingdom of God.
So, I made it my mission to transform women’s Bible studies everywhere! Cue superhero garb.
Women are extremely capable individuals. We are not lesser than among humankind in our insight and ability to learn and grow. We have a lot to offer, including a unique perspective. I had sat around in many a class or study with tons of women in deep, rich conversation over a Biblical text, learning something new every time. I have been offended in my own life at different times by the topics presented to women for study, the ten-minute devotions, or committee meetings disguised in the church bulletin as Women’s Bible Study.
I had a mission and I meant business. As a writer, I began to take seriously the task of bringing meaningful study to women everywhere. In every study I wrote, there would be a lot of meat from the Word to chew on; there would be questions about the struggles and joys of everyday life; and there would be big theological words, a lot of big words.
I vowed that my studies would not look like, well, women’s Bible studies.
There would be no fluff, no schmaltz. I had a picture in my mind of books categorized as women’s Bible studies—that were missing, well, the Bible. Then, something happened and God opened my eyes to see something:
When I really opened my eyes to look, I saw the many, many other solid studies out there—for women, by women—that were free of schmaltz and fluff.
In writing and searching for women’s studies for my own community, I have found that the schmaltz is actually the minority. There are a wealth of resources for women out there and excessively skilled writers who contribute to them, both male and female. Women, across time and space, have rarely been enticed by fluffy. Shame on me for disparaging those women who have gone before me, who studied together while tending families and farms and relationships, and theological ponderings. The Spirit has always been at work in His Word. While I was excited to write and share God’s Word at work in my every day life, I realize God’s Word doesn’t need me. God’s Word does the work when it goes out, every time, in every generation.
Are there bad resources?
Yes, unfortunately there are across every denomination and across every genre.
The wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 applies here:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
We are to study with sharp eyes and ears, always going back to check the Word of Truth Itself. We have a helper. The Holy Spirit guides each of us as we open the Word. Good resources are out there—many of them!
Test everything . . . look closer. This is one reason we gather as a church, in real community, to study the Word. Resources and studies, any human writings, will be wrong. They will be fluffy at times. They will lack content and richness. They will even lead astray. Gathering together with other leaders to choose studies, gathering as a group to go through a study, this is a good start to testing and opening a conversation with Bibles open, so that we don’t end up with deception when we thought we were bringing Truth.
The best Bible studies combine these two things: the Word of Life, and living, breathing living-stone community. Growing together around the Word keeps us grounded in a foundation, eases the loneliness of this pilgrim journey, and reminds us that we are each forgiven and loved children of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the Altogether Beautiful work of the Church on this earth. I am grateful for all the women who have gone before me, are all around me, and who work beside me; who have studied the Word, written of the Word, and speak the Word to one another. This surely is something God calls Altogether Beautiful, held in high esteem by a God who never judges any book or any of us, by its cover.