A Non-Review & Some Group-Study Tips

God of Creation

I lead a Tuesday morning study group for women at my church.  It is the first Bible study group I ever joined (in my entire life), and over the last three years, these women and our weekly meetings have become one of the brightest spots in my world.  Even when I struggle to meet any of my other obligations, I am somehow able to get myself together and show up for the Tuesday Ladies.

Today, we finished our last session of a 10-week study on Genesis 1-11, and we used the God of Creation study by Jen Wilkin as our “teacher-led” guide.  We’ve truly enjoyed it, and I feel like it’s been way too long since I talked about Bible study on this blog–which is sad, and I’m gonna fix it right now!

We Use Published Bible Studies In Our Group
Because neither I nor any of the other ladies in my group have a formal education in biblical studies, we feel more comfortable having a pastor or professional bible teacher “in charge.”  What this generally means is that we select a published study of some kind to serve as the main structure for our trip through whatever book we’re looking at for the season.  We don’t spend a lot of time worried about whether or not a given author is lined up with us on every distinction of doctrine.  For us, the published material is a starting place–a convenient structure set up for us to keep things orderly.  Questions of theology and doctrine are addressed as we move through it.

Our group discovered Jen Wilkin in her Sermon on the Mount study last year, and I talked about it briefly in my list of recommended media.  When we saw that she had published a study on Genesis, we all agreed it was the one we wanted to tackle for the Fall 2019 season.

Jen Wilkin
This is a capture of Jen Wilkin teaching in a session of God of Creation.

The Importance of Studying Genesis
Genesis is one of the most vital books of scripture to work through and understand.  Huge foundational pieces of orthodox Christian theology are found in the images and events described in Genesis, but far too few of us have spent enough time and gained enough depth in its pages.  Understanding Genesis, in my opinion, is a prerequisite to understanding anything else in the Old Testament properly.  It is placed at the beginning, and it is called (literally) “the beginning”…for a reason.  Good luck with anything else in the Pentateuch/Torah if you don’t first get a grip on Genesis.

I know somebody out there just said, “amen.”

I know that because Genesis is a really tough book to read, especially for women.

When I first started reading the Bible, the plan I was using sent me to Genesis about three months in.  It was a calendar-based program that I started in October of 2016, so Genesis came on January 1 of 2017.  The weeks I spent reading Genesis were the most difficult days I ever spent in scripture study.  It was awful, and there were days I felt like I was about to quit, call the Bible a bunch of ancient garbage, and give up on God and Christianity altogether.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit and my senior pastor were there with me the whole time.  God didn’t leave me to face the gauntlets of Genesis alone, and I wanted that same comfort extended to my Tuesday Ladies.

You have to understand that, at 44 years-old, I am the youngest of the Tuesday Ladies.  Most of these women have been in Bible study since before I was born, and they always have things to show me or teach me.  Mostly, they provide much-needed perspective.  It is highly unlikely that any of my Tuesday Ladies were reading Genesis for the first time when we embarked upon God of Creation, but there are two things about Bible study that I know for certain:

  • You will see something you never noticed before every time you do a new study in the Bible.
  • Bible reading is not Bible study.

Everyone in our group was looking forward to a chance to dive deep into the Creation story, and we surely did that.  No matter how many times you’ve read Genesis, and no matter how many times you’ve referred to a verse or two here and there, a full-time and purposeful study of the book as a whole will be worth every minute and every ounce of effort.

Jen Wilkin is an excellent teacher.  Her talks each week do a great job of pointing out a lot of things that most casual readers of Genesis would miss.  Each talk stays under an hour, with most running about 40 minutes.  Wilkin takes academic rigor in Bible study very seriously, and the study guide contains homework that will focus the student on the biblical text.  There is very little–virtually none–of Jen Wilkin’s own voice in the study guide.  No anecdotes.  No devotions.  No exposition.  What you do get in the book is a series of guided questions to make you read the text–really read it–and then consider the structure, the context, and how Genesis harmonizes with relevant scripture from elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments.  I like this aspect of Wilkin’s work.  I like it a lot The study is never, ever about her.  It is always about the biblical text.

This study is Tuesday Lady-Approved.  When we come back after Christmas for the Winter season study, we will continue with part two of this study: God of Covenant, also by Jen Wilkin, which covers Genesis 12-50.

9B31B520-100E-4B63-8080-9EA442AC6DF9_1_201_a
This is a typical page from the study.  Note how few words are from Wilkin and how much of the work here is writing and thought drawn out of the student.
B98803FC-5062-4181-A376-64BA064C1D7E_1_201_a
Another typical page from the study.  This one has scripture references that the student is asked to look up and consider alongside the text from Genesis in some way.  You find this throughout.

Amy’s Tips for Working Through a Published Bible Study

Published studies have a few things in common.  They usually come with video lessons, and they always come with a study guide for the student to read and write in between sessions.  Over the last three years, I have developed some habits and preferences for working through a study like this.  If any of them sound useful for you, give it a try.

1.) Have Your Study Guide Spiral-Bound
You may have noticed that the images I posted from my study guide for God of Creation (above) display a spiral binding.  The guide does not come this way.  Most study guides for published studies like this come with a regular glue binding, so the guide will never lie flat.  It can’t.  This irritates me no end, so I have all of my study guides “spiral-tated.”  I made up that word, and I refuse to admit that it isn’t a real one.

I take my study guides to a local Staples.  Throughout North America, you can find spiral binding services in a number of places.  At Staples, I pay about US$6.00 to have one of these books cut and bound with a plastic spiral.  I also have a clear plastic cover put on the front and back to keep it clean and unbent.  If you don’t have access to a Staples chain where you are, find a shop that offers printing services, and look at their pricing to see if it’s reasonable.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  During seasons when I’m doing more than one study at once, I have been known to walk into Staples with 5 books at a time for this service.  Oh, if only I could’ve done this to my textbooks in college!  Being able to bend that book back on itself and have it lie absolutely flat?  Ambrosia, my friends.  Ambrosia.

I study in bed before sleep.  I use a lap desk with my Bible open on the left, and my spiral-tated guide on the right.  It works for me.  Consider your own needs, but if having a spiral binding would be useful to you and the extra cost isn’t a burden, give it a go.

2.) Allow for Two Solid Hours of Meeting, Especially for Women
Women like to talk.  We do.  If we are a group of women who study together each week, we get to know one another.  We truly care about Jane’s broken freezer, Margaret’s sick granddaughter, Penny’s missing remote control, and Georgia’s anxiety over an upcoming family reunion.  So we talk about it.  We talk it out.  This allows our members to unwind, focus on what we’re about to do, and set aside those worldly cares for the rest of our meeting, comfortable and warm and cared for among her sisters in Christ.

Allow for this.  Allow for feminine fellowship, which takes longer–typically–than male fellowship of a similar kind.  It is part of what we are as embodied female humans.  Let it happen.  Make room for it.  Plan for it.

If any of this applies to men’s groups, consider whether adding time to your meetings might be worthwhile.  All-male groups have a different dynamic than all-female groups, but what I’m suggesting is that you look for opportunities to make sure that each of your members has an opportunity to participate without feeling he is “being a burden” or “wasting what time we have left.”  Make room for your meeting.

Two hours is perfect for my Tuesday Ladies, and every time we try to cut that down, it negatively impacts our meetings.  I would urge you to resist the temptation to reach for simpler studies with shorter videos if the only reason you’re doing that is time constraint.  Try to find a way to make your meetings long enough to utilize deep studies.  If it can’t be done, then it can’t be done, but make it a priority.  It’s worth it.

3.) Find a Schedule that Works and Keep It
Our group meets for two hours.  We do everything in the same order each week, and that fosters a really comfortable and confident atmosphere.  Everyone knows how it all will go, and that makes everyone feel free to share.  Here’s how it goes for us, and I keep an eye on the clock to move us from one stage to the next:

20 minutes – Greet and Seat
Ladies grab their snacks and drinks, greet one another, chat, and sit down in preparation for the meeting.
10-15 minutes – Devotion Reading and Opening Prayer
Our designated devotion lady shares a devotional message and opens us in prayer.
30-45 minutes – Review of Homework and Discussion Time
This is when we talk about the text and discuss the previous week’s homework.  Any questions people have.  Any discoveries they made.  Anything in the text that disturbed them, challenged a previously-held idea, etc.  We talk it out.  I let this discussion time go on as long as I can until it’s time to turn on the recorded lesson.  This, in my view, is the most important part of the entire meeting.  Every mind is focused on the text we just studied, and every woman in the room is encouraged to add her thoughts.
Viewing of the Recorded Lesson
This varies from week to week with most of these studies.  Our video lessons in God of Creation ranged from 35 minutes to 51 minutes.  As the lady charged with leading the meeting, I make sure I know what time we have to stop talking and start the video to stay on schedule.  This varies slightly from week to week, so it’s important to take note of the video length beforehand.
10-15 minutes – Prayer Requests and Dismissal

This is the structure every single week.  We do things in the same order, on the same timetable, every time we meet.  It fosters a habit of transitioning smoothly between the stages, and it makes everyone comfortable.  Sometimes, we run a few minutes behind if one of our older members has something to say.  Never interrupt a woman over 85 years of age.  Every word she speaks is a potential gift.  Plus…she’s earned it.

4.) Address Questions and Offer Additional Material Between Meetings
If, after a meeting, I feel that a pastor needs to be consulted or that further research on a question is warranted, I take care of that.  I often spend a day or two researching something that one of my ladies is hung up over or curious about.  On a couple of occasions, I have encouraged one of my ladies to make an appointment to sit down with one of our pastors to ask questions and receive comfort on a scriptural subject.

Sometimes, I feel that the published lesson missed something or didn’t go deep enough on something, and I will add to that through the week by sending a group email or group text with links to scholarly articles, helpful videos that illustrate a biblical theme, or just write an informational article (kinda like my scripture blog posts) for my ladies.

My point with this last tip is:  don’t feel that your group must only be addressed on the day of your meeting.  Use the rest of the week to send updates, share what you’re learning, and ask questions.  The days when you’re not meeting are ideal for talking to a pastor, researching something online, sending supplements via email/social media, and studying, studying, studying your Bible.


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