Recently I mentioned my church’s women’s ministry completed a homegrown Bible study that has been one of the most personally and corporately fulfilling seasons of ministry in all the sixteen years of serving our beloved congregation. The six-week study on Colossians was developed to reclaim biblical discipleship using the gifts and talents of the women in the local body vs. printed curriculum that – at times – may prove untrustworthy as authors make doctrinal and philosophical shifts that no longer align with scripture or our ideologies and pursuits
During 2020 and particularly during the election cycle, as the work of the Gospel was being increasingly undermined and overwhelmed by political and social media wars, it became crystal clear it was time to shut the thing down and rethink our entire approach to women’s bible study within our church. I am documenting the process for no other reason than to record the Lord’s goodness to us during one of the most difficult periods of life and ministry. Aside from the obvious sorrow we share with those who have lost loved ones during these past two years, we are grateful for the chaos and refinement that were also part of the equation because of the purpose and focus born as a result.
In January of 2020, our outreach director initiated a discipleship program which established small groups of men and women committed to reading through the Bible together for a period of one year. We burst out of the gate full of energy for the task but just a couple of months in, the world rolled up the sidewalks and we had to determine how to move forward.
Our groups were all determined to continue meeting and so whether in person or by Zoom, in a time of forced isolation we forsook not the assembling. Week after week, we poured over obscure passages, wrestled with hard sayings, prayed for one another’s burdens, and kept our sanity because of the lifelines we all became to one another.
Before we knew it, we turned the page on Revelation 22. We experienced four stages of grief but refused to accept “acceptance” that our time together had come to a close. So, the prayer then became, “If we aren’t done Lord, then what next?” Turning back to Genesis didn’t seem the right path so we sat still and we listened.
That’s when the Lord began to replace What Next with What If? What if we stopped being frustrated with those leaders and teachers who were betraying our trust at every turn and did something about it? What if we stopped being facilitators of another’s calling and became disciplers of our own membership?
The two women’s groups met to pray over the possibilities and determined to merge our numbers and present our gifts to the Lord to see what would come of it. Trembling yet exhilarated with knowing God was at work, we chose Colossians because it seemed to ring out most in all our current contexts. True to the one body, many members formula, we all prayed, we all discussed subjects that arose from the text, some taught, others kept the project on time, one managed our print and social media, others led discussion during study nights, yet another chose the cutest folders to distribute study materials. Selecting adorable office supplies is a gift of love – prove me wrong.
There were word studies and apologetics call outs and spiritual gift assessments and snacks and a music playlist. There was bonus material (never homework!) and there was honest, vulnerable conversation and prayer.
Most importantly, there was accountability. As the teaching sessions and bonus material were developed, Luke was the best editor and listener to make sure all was doctrinally sound. We used source material from two dear scholar friends, Dr. Charles Quarles and Dr. Alan Bandy, to ensure we remained true to the intent of a passage and also to geek out over their travel photos of modern day Colossae and other academic details.
When Night One finally arrived, our study development team met to pray and calm our nerves. I mean – it was entirely possible no one would show up to this thing because – no videos? No book to buy? No expectation of a teaching style from a well-known teacher?
But they came. The women came and they came in greater numbers than any study our church has hosted. Not only did they come – they stayed. Over 2/3rds who started finished which is a retention rate we’ve also never seen. Normally we are lucky if 25% stick it out to the end.
I’m sure the attendance could be attributed to everyone being eager to reconnect after so long however I choose to also believe that God is moving among us. He’s doing a fresh work in lives and showing women how many opportunities there are to fulfill their ministries right here in a tiny town in North Alabama.
We held a wrap party to celebrate all God had done (hosted by a wonderful friend practicing her newly identified if not already evident gift of hospitality) and to give opportunity to those who had attended the study to sign up for a new season of Discipleship Groups.
And the beat goes on.
We didn’t record any of the sessions because the time together was personal. However, for posterity’s sake and as time allows, I will share some of the session points that seemed to resonate most.
I appreciate your indulgence.