Bookshelves full of fill-in-the-blank Bible studies line my room – thick ones, cute ones, 12-week and 10-minute-a-day ones. My handwriting fills the blanks inside them with words I wrote as God poured into me. Others have short, messy answers that I frantically wrote while sitting in the parking lot just minutes before women’s bible study began.
The women’s ministry of our new church was just a few years old. And fun! Each year more women came with their new Bible study workbook. It felt successful. Appeared successful. In some ways it was. In other ways, I wasn’t sure. So, I began to evaluate.
These are the questions I asked:
1. Are we producing disciples?
I wasn’t entirely sure how to measure this. Part of me wanted to say, “YES!” People were excited to bring their friends and some were reading God’s word for the first time – ever! But no matter how many signed up in the beginning, about 70% remained in the end.
2. Are we producing disciples that produce disciples?
Um…no, we were not.
3. What if the measurement of successful women’s ministry isn’t in the numbers that show up, but in those that go out?
Best I could measure we were creating a perfect environment for “failure to launch.” It was safe, easy, and in a kit. Just show up, and we’ll do the rest.
4. What if the numbers of women being fed at Bible study, are not as important as those that can feed themselves?
A common question asked of me was, “When is the next study?” So I began to ask a question of my own, “Where are you reading in the Bible right now?” After a few awkward responses, most would say, “no where.”
5. What if women crave more than I was leading them to find?
The women wanted grow, but didn’t know how to on their own. It reminded of one day, when we lived in Zambia, that I noticed a girl climbing a paw-paw tree to get the fruit. I yelled up to her, “the fruit isn’t ripe.” She yelled back down to me, “yes, I know, but I’m hungry.”
Women are smart! And hungry. At the loss of not knowing exactly what to do, we often settle.
So, here is the sound-byte version of what we did (Sorry there’s no kit)
We gathered the women and revealed what we were assessing. We paused our “program” and instead poured into 20 leaders. We went backward to go forward. We helped these leaders unpack their personal life stories and begin to see God’s restoration, healing, and redemption. We uncovered the narrative of God’s story by reading chronologically through scripture. God’s story collided with their life stories. We asked tough questions we didn’t know the answers to, which sent us studying the Bible even more. We prayed, confessed, and grew. Then we sent these leaders out to invite others to join them and repeat the process.
There’s NOTHING wrong with study kits and workbooks. I still use them. I felt led to be a missionary using a fill-in-the-blank study. I’m thankful for wisdom written by others that have challenged my faith and gave me handles in dark places.
But, let’s not be afraid to evaluate…honestly.
And let’s be okay with un-programmatic, messy discipleship.
Let’s lead women to be disciples that make disciples.
Lori is a Global Mission Catalyst at IMB, mobilizing churches and leading women to participate in God’s global mission. She, her husband, and their 3 kids lived in Africa as missionaries before returning to plant Grace Point Church in Bentonville, AR where Mike is Sr. Pastor. She’s passionate about discipling people to see how their everyday life collides with God’s mission of making His glory known to all nations. She blogs at lorimcdaniel.org
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