Thursday, August 26, 2010

when Titus 2 gets down and dirty: how to lead a mums' Bible study in the middle of a creche (2) preparation

Last week I described the chaotic world of our mum's Bible study, and asked how you lead a discussion when you can't even hear yourselves speak. This week, I'll talk about preparing the study; next week, about leading it.

How do you prepare a Bible study for a group where everyone has mummy brain and you know you'll be interrupted every 5 minutes? Here are 8 things I've learned - mostly by making every mistake in the book. Please add your own ideas!

  • Choose a short study booklet (or write your own studies). We don't attempt Interactive Bible Studies (I use them in preparation, but not for our discussions): instead, we use Good Book Guides or Pathway Bible Guides, or I write my own.
  • Consider doing only half a study each week. It took us half a year (a glorious half year) to get through Women of Faith, as we spread each study over 2 (and in one case, 4) weeks.
  • Come ready to make a single point. It took me a while to realise it, but gone are the days of complex Bible studies. We know we've been encouraged when we go away with one new, rich thought from the Bible in our heads. Often, that's all our heads are capable of holding during this stage of our lives!
  • Prepare well. Just because everyone else's brains are on hold doesn't mean yours should be. The better you know the passage, the more clearly you'll teach it, which is important when people are running on empty. Make sure your one point is faithful to the passage and helpful for those who come.
  • Allow yourself to be changed by the Bible. How can anyone else be affected by God's word if you're not? It's often said that you shouldn't prepare Bible studies during your quiet times; I don't have time for such fine distinctions, so I immerse myself in the week's passage every morning, until I can't wait to share what I've learned.
  • Mix things up. Bring along a questionnaire, game or visual aid. There's nothing like a map, a brainstorm, or some Brick Testament (on one memorable occasion we watched the story of Deborah) to focus everyone's attention.
  • If you read a book together, make it a good but easy read. Long and densely theological doesn't go well with mummy brain (I learned this the hard way). Try a punchy book like Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal or Ed Moll & Tim Chester's Gospel Centred Family.
  • If you don't have time to prepare well, read the Bible together anyway. Some of the richest Bible studies for me have been when I turned up empty and went away surprised and challenged by God's word.

images are by chthonic and REL Waldman from flickr


jennifer said...

Hi Jean,
A very helpful and practical series - thank you.

As someone who is has and is likely to help lead a women's Bible study group again in the future I was helped in thinking about some of the things which can make Bible study groups a challenge for young mums.

When you use prepared Bible studies like Pathways in your group do you get the mums to prepare for the study at home before discussing in the group - or do you work through the study together in the group with no prior preparation? (Except by the leader)

Also, do you have any ideas for groups where it is a mixture of young mums and older women who are not at the same life stage? I have been in groups like this where sometimes I have felt some of the women who are not at the young mum stage have sometimes had the desire for something a bit more in-depth than say the Pathways studies. However, as you say, for young mums it would not be helpful to have something like that. Is it possible to accommodate these different life stages in one group - or do you think its difficult for that to work?

Looking forward to your next installment in this series!

Jean said...

Hi Jennifer,

Glad this little series (which was originally only meant to be one post but got out of hand!!) has been helpful for you.

The women don't prepare the study beforehand, because of their stage of life. Reading a short chapter is about all they can handle, and even that's hard. I do try to remember to send them an email a few days before the study reminding them to at least read the passage beforehand, and some do.

I've never led a mixed group like the one you mention. I imagine that would be trickier. In fact, if the kids were all there, I'm not sure how the older women would cope! And if the kids were there, a shorter study would be all you could manage anyway.

But if you're talking about a group with a creche, I'd be aiming a bit higher even with a young mum's group, because we'd be able to concentrate a lot better than we can now! I'd maybe still use a study guide like Pathways, but a full study not a half one, and I'd push the group a bit harder.

As it is, I often prepare my own study anyway, incorporating some of the booklet questions. I do my own work on the passage and shape the study according to my conclusions and the needs of the group members. So I'd continue to do this with a mixed group, just make sure I was covering everyone's needs in my questions and applications.

I imagine a mixed group of women could be a good one to lead (now I'm dreaming!) because the older ones could give the younger ones some guidance. Maybe you could ask some questions which would help this process to happen e.g. "what did you do when...?" A single-age group is a bit artificial, though convenient at times. So, yes, I'm sure a mixed group of women could work, perhaps even better, especially if you kept Titus 2 in mind and asked yourself how the older ones could love, support and encourage the younger (and vice versa).

I'm just ramblin' along here, hopefully vaguely helpfully ...

Have you got any good answers to your own excellent questions?

Love Jean.

Caroline said...

Hi Jean,

I think the Titus 2 perspective is one reason why mixed-age groups of women really should be the usual way of meeting together, but you are right that the older women may not cope. As I mentioned in a previous comment I've had some past experience as a mother of toddlers in a group with mainly slightly older mothers, and even though I thought I was managing the distraction issue by keeping my son quiet, his wriggling was a distraction.

But I wonder (if I may think out loud, and as someone who is now in the "older mother" category), is expecting unnaturally well behaved children, or forbidding their presence, really teaching the younger women to love their husbands and children?

I think that you're right, you would need to keep Titus 2 explicity in mind to do this. And also that this topic has quite a bit of overlap with Deb's post on "how I want ministry to be". For some reason we think that when we meet together it should always be enjoyable/pleasant/helpful to ourselves.

Thanks Jean (and Deb!)

jennifer said...

Hi Jean,

No I don't really have any answers to my own questions - am just trying to think some things through.
The groups I've been in have had a creche - although the younger babies and a toddler who is unsettled etc will often join in with us, which is nice rather than a distraction. I can see how that would be very different in a group with no creche.
Some people I've spoken with stress doing solid studies, and the advantages of preparation. But your post reminded me that young mums may find that more difficult than people at another stage of life.
The other thing that prompted my questions was just the difficulty of catering for different needs. I must admit that because I am no longer at the young mum stage I really long for some in-depth Bible study. And to be honest I've found it hard to get that in church life. The way I've handled that is to do some Diploma of Theology subjects at Bible College. And I've found it a dilemma in mixed groups of how to move on to solid food for those who are ready for it when for some just being there is a struggle.

Jean said...

Caroline, I agree, mixed groups (and services) are ideal. But not always possible - mums, for example, can't often do evenings, and working women can't often do days, so there's not always a lot of possibility for overlap.

And yes, you'd hope for some patience with young children, especially from women who have been mums. I imagine that it would be much harder for the single and childless women to cope, though.

I like your observations which flowed from Deb's post - must pass them on to her!


Jean said...

Hi Jennifer,

I'm all for solid studies. That's why I work so hard on preparation: if you're going to keep it simple, you need to know the passage inside-out so that your points are theologically solid, challenging, helpful, but also really, really clear.

The posts I've written on Women of the Bible should give you a good idea of the kinds of issues we cover in our studies. Not light-weight, but also, I hope, relevant and clear!

I also understand what you're saying: you long for in-depth studies as you leave the baby stage, and many churches don't provide this. Maybe you could start your own women's Bible study, and go a bit deeper, if that's possible in your situation!

But yes, that's hard in mixed groups. Although I wonder if a study that is true to the Bible should be helpful and challenging for all?? It's hard, isn't it! You want to cover the basics, but push the more mature Christians at the same time. Perhaps the best way to do this is just to study the Bible, rather than topics: God's word is milk and meat, it teaches the immature and challenges the mature at the same time. Easier said than done, I know.

love Jean.

Sarah said...

I go to a women's Bible study which meets every three weeks. We do this deliberately to make it easier for the young mums which make up about half of the group so they don't have the pressure of meeting every week. The husbands stay home and take care of the kids so their wives can have a night out and learn from God's word undistracted. I struggled with the dilemma of being a working woman (so most days were out) and wanting to meet with mums (who I thought wouldn't consider nights as an option). So far our model seems to be working for us. In fact, the mums have more energy and enthusiasm than I do. I think the chance of having unhindered adult conversation is a real highlight for them.

Jean said...

Sarah, that sounds blissful: a couple of hours of kids-free time to talk about life and the Bible! No wonder the mums are enthusiastic!! :) I like your every 3 weeks model - an excellent idea.

jennifer said...

Having thought about it some more I think what you have said about preparation by the leader is key.

When I look back I can see that the studies I've been in where the leader has been well-prepared have been much more profitable than when the leader has done little more than have a quick look at the study beforehand and maybe read through the leaders notes at the back. Those are the times we've ambled around and got off track and into every controversial question that could be brought up!

So, I think you are right, and the role of leading needs to be taken seriously. This probably is even more crucial when the group is not expected to answer the questions themselves beforehand and then discuss.

Jean said...

Thanks, Jennifer, and I agree. Your point is so helpful that I might post it! :)