Over the past 5 years, I have become acutely aware of how adult women feel when they begin to read and study the Bible for the first time. And, I see the need for Bible studies designed for women who are reading and studying the Bible for the first time– "Bible study newbies." I've recently finished writing another Bible study designed for women new to the Bible. For this new study, I've gathered together a group of women from all walks of life who remember what it was like for them to do their first Bible study. We are collaborating together to make the lessons as user-friendly as possible for "Bible study newbies." We want a woman to be able to pick up this Bible study and feel confidence in learning something of God's Word as she works through it. We hope she'll be ready to pick up another study and keep going—getting to know both God and His Word better with each one. Learning how to study the Bible with confidence and joy!
Last week, as we met together to improve the first lesson, I asked each woman what they remember about their time as a "Bible study newbie." The descriptions that came back were these: frightened, panicked, lost as a goose, isolated, and crying like a baby. Oh my! Yet, they didn't give up. Some of them kept on because they had signed up for the course and didn't want to quit. Others had someone tutor them through the study. One mentioned that only God strengthened her enough to keep trying. Even after a couple of years, one woman said she still gets lost in our regular women's Bible study at church which assumes everyone has a fundamental understanding of the characters and historical details in the Bible. My heart wants to make the experience of the "Bible study newbies" so much better than that. Because I've been listening and watching over the past 25 years of active Bible Study leading, I've picked up some insights about helping "Bible study newbies." I'd like to share these with you.
#1 Acknowledge their presence
Women who are unfamiliar with the Bible attend your church, your Bible study, and your women's group. You may not know who they are, but they are there.
Are you a small group leader? Assume that some of the women in your small group do not know how to find a Bible verse, read it and answer a question. Explain churchy words the first time you use them (Gentiles, grace, salvation) and repeat until you think everyone has heard. If you are studying the gospels and talk about John, say which John it is—John the Baptist or John the disciple.
Are you a ministry director? Do everything you can to communicate to women that you want to provide a safe place for "Bible study newbies" at your church. Then, offer them some of the resources I mention below. :)
#2 Sympathize with their insecurity
If a woman is not much of a book learner anyway, she is going to feel insecure right away and even defeated that she will never be able to learn the Bible on her own. Come alongside that woman who is a "Bible study newbie" and let her know you want to help her as much as you can. Show compassion to the woman who signs up to attend your Bible study and then feels absolutely overwhelmed because it is too hard for her. Help her.
When you encourage "Bible study newbies" to start reading through the Bible, have them start reading the New Testament rather than beginning in the Old Testament. I can't think of a better start to understanding the Bible than reading the life of Jesus!
#3 Provide the best tutoring
Twenty years ago, I was in a large Bible study with about 200 women. One of the women came up to us leaders and said, "My mom would like to come to Bible study. But, she doesn't know anything about the Bible. Do you think you could offer a beginners' group?" DUH! Why had we never thought of this before?! The next fall we offered a small group for "Bible study newbies" as part of our large study. 15 women signed up for it! There was a genuine need we had not previously acknowledged.
So, we asked two women to be the group leaders whose hearts wanted to help those "Bible study newbies." They gave the newbies tabs for their Bibles (today, showing how to use a Bible app). They selected specific questions for the women to work through in the group and a few to work through at home (not getting overwhelmed by the whole study). They helped them learn how to read a question, look up a verse, and try to answer the question afterwards. Several of those women grew like weeds in their faith and in their Bible study skills, so much so that in 3-4 years, they were leading Bible study small groups. It was fantastic!
Another way to help a "Bible study newbie" is to just do a beginners' Bible study with her one-on-one before she ever signs up for the large group study. This is so much less intimidating to someone just learning from the Bible. That's the whole premise behind my GRACEFUL BEGINNINGS Bible studies for anyone new to the Bible. If you are a ministry leader, keep a supply of beginners' Bible studies on hand to help your new women get a great start in studying the Bible.
The bottomline is this: Make it easy for "Bible study newbies" to learn and not give up!
Recommendations for Further Reading:
If you are a “Bible Study Newbie,” check this out: Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide