Jen Wilkin: I know, I know it's almost lunchtime. I want you to be hungry, just not literally hungry, so just hang with me a little bit. I hope that this has been for you a time not just to learn and to take in everything that's coming from the platform, which has been phenomenal. I feel like . . . I can't believe I got to come to this much less talk at it—to get to hear Pastor Mason and to hear Nancy teach. I don't know about you but I was up a little late last night wondering if I had a soul wig. Anybody else? [laughter] Freaked me out a little bit.
So I hope that this has been a time where you're just enjoying being with each other, too. I know I am. I got to bring a friend along with me on this trip. We walked out of our rooms this morning and looked at each other, and we were wearing almost exactly the same outfit. She's ten years younger than me, but we're like twins separated by a decade in birth.
So I looked at her and she says, "I can go change." And I was like, "No, man! We look great!" So we walked down to the green room and go in, and I proceed to dump half a cup of coffee all down the front of myself.
And I was like, "It's finally happening, Lord. You're going to ask me to wear my addiction in front of a room full of women." [laughter] And Anna said, "Do you want what I'm wearing? Let's go switch. Let's go switch outfits." And I thought, This is what women's conferences are for. Where else can you go and someone will offer you literally the shirt off their backs. And you would actually want to wear it. [laughter]
I hope that this is not just a time for you to learn but also a time for you to savor the sweet fellowship of the friendship and the camaraderie that we have as women, and not just as women but as women with a desire to lead and to teach where you spend a lot of your days feeling like an anomaly and you can come here and say, "I'm not the only one. Praise God!"
So yesterday I had the opportunity to kind of give you an overview. And I think that's what you've been hearing. You've been hearing really good theology, to talk about what it is that other women should do when they teach other women. And that's always the place we want to start. We want to start with this broad picture.
But what I get to do today is to start to zoom down. Our theology should always inform our philosophy, right? Why we do the things that we do. And then our philosophy should always inform our practice—how we live out what we say it is that we believe.
And so today in my two sessions that I have left with you, I'm going to talk through some philosophy and some practice. That's what I want us to get to.
And so, I was thinking as I was preparing for this, where do we need to go in the Scriptures? And I immediately thought of 2 Timothy 2. Paul's second letter to Timothy. Timothy who was probably his ten-year-younger twin separated at birth. And he's giving him wisdom on how he ought to dispense of this task that has been entrusted to him.
And he says, "You take what is entrusted to you and you pass it on to others who can help teach as well" (2 Tim. 2:2). And then he goes on to talk about what that would look like. And then in verse 15 of chapter 2 he says what are probably familiar words to you. He says, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
Today, I want us to think about what it means to be a shameless truth-teller. A shameless truth-teller. We talked yesterday about the sober and joyful, compulsion-filled calling of the teacher. And now I want us to ask ourselves, "How is it that we can be shameless teachers in the best way because our methods matter?"
We want to rightly handle the word of truth. Did you get the implication there? That there are right ways and that there are wrong ways that we can handle this. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to be a worker who says, "As far as it was able with me and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I rightly handled the word of truth."
Now, in order for us to think soberly about this, I need to pull the fire alarm a little bit. I was on a plane recently returning from speaking at a conference, and it's the nature of a conference like this that I spend a lot of time talking up here and then I spend a lot of time talking to people when I'm not up here. And I love it.
Nancy and I were talking about this and what a precious thing it is and how it really is fuel for us to get to interact with women at something like this and hear their stories and hear how the Word is impacting their lives. But I will be honest. When I get on the airplane, I'm done.
Have you ever been on a flight where the person sits down next to you and they're trying to catch your eyes and you're thinking, I can't. I can't do this for two hours. Because they want to be Chatty Cathy all the way home. And like it's loud on the plane, so they're talking loudly at you the whole time. And I'm not against like divine appointments and all that. I try to be available for those. [laughter] But I'm telling you, I was done after this conference I had been at. And it was late. It was a late flight.
And so I get on the plane, and I'm trying to keep my head down. Here comes this guy. He's about fifteen years younger than me, probably. And it becomes immediately apparent that he has been spending his time waiting for the flight to leave in the airport bar. He is quite relaxed. He is chatting with everyone. And I'm thinking, Dear Lord, no, no, no, no, no. As he works his way down and sits right next to me.
Plane takes off. He begins a conversation with me. He continues to avail himself of the drink cart, and I just keep thinking sooner or later this is not going to look good. And it becomes more and more apparent that should the cabin lose air pressure, it will be necessary for me to secure his mask before I secure my own. [laughter]
So I get his whole life story, right? I've gotten the whole download. He's in sales. He's going to a golf tournament. I mean, I knew it all. He'd been married for three years. I get the whole story, right? And sooner or later he gets around to asking me the awkward question, "What do you do?"
So I said, "Well, this ought to kill it." [laughter] I said, "I teach women the Bible." And there's the pause that I'm expecting. And then he gets this really thoughtful look on his face, and he says, "Huh, I bet you know all twelve commandments." [laughter] No, I can't say that I do, actually. Can't say that I do.
But here's the thing about that story that makes the laughter die away. One of the things that he divulged to me during his time talking to me was that he had grown up in the church—not just grown up in the church but he was the product of a Christian school education. He was the product of a Christian school education.
And I got to tell you, I don't expect everybody to know who Zelophehad's daughters are but come on, there's ten of them. There are Ten Commandments. Something is wrong. Something is wrong in the church today when someone can grow up—he was not in the church anymore, but when you can grow up in the church and grow up in a Christian environments and emerge from them and not know even the most foundational things about our sacred text.
I want to read to you from an article that was written by Albert Mohler at Southern Seminary. It's called "The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It's Our Problem." He says this:
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: "Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates." How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it's worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments. . . .
Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms. According to 82 percent of Americans, "God helps those who help themselves," is a Bible verse. [It's not.] Those identified as born-again Christians did better—by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one's family.
Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble. . . .
This generation must get deadly serious about the problem of biblical illiteracy, or a frighteningly large number of Americans—Christians include—will go on thinking that Sodom and Gomorrah lived happily ever after.
I'm going to read you the date on this article. This was written June 29, 2004. That's eleven years ago. In the intervening eleven years, what do you think? Do you think the problem has gotten better? Or has the problem gotten worse? I suspect that you are right.
And so I am here today to pull the fire alarm on this room full of women who are asking the question, "Should I teach other women?" Dear Lord in heaven, teach them and teach them well. The modern church cannot afford for its women to be biblically illiterate.
As we squint into the glaring dawn of post-Christian America, we must learn to treasure and teach our sacred text as recent generations have not. When women grow increasingly lax in their pursuit of Bible literacy, everyone in their circle of influence is affected. Rather than acting as salt and light, we become bland contributions to the environments we inhabit and shape, indistinguishable from those who have never been changed by the gospel.
Home, church, community, and country desperately need the influence of women who know why they believe what they believe grounded in the Word of God. They desperately need the influence of women who love deeply and actively the God proclaimed in the Bible.
So why is there so little interest on the part of women? Why does it feel so hard to get them to do this good work? I believe that a woman who loses interest in her Bible has not been equipped to love it as she should because the God of the Bible is too lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits.
How do we get them there? How can we as teachers cultivate a deep and enduring adoration of God in ourselves and in those that we teach? Well, it may not be the way that we intuitively think that it is.
There's a man named Paul Bloom who does research out of MIT, and his research area is in how we find pleasure in things. He's a pleasure researcher. And what he has found in his research is that pleasure doesn't simply occur; pleasure develops. And the way that it develops is extremely interesting. He has found that pleasure develops not by having repeated experiences of something, but by learning about the certain thing in which we take pleasure.
So, for example, if you are a lover of art, you did not become someone who loves art so much because you viewed art over and over and over again but because you began to learn about art. And the more you learned about it, the more your pleasure in it increased. He has found specifically that our pleasure increases in something as we learn about its history, its origin, and its deeper nature.
So I'm listening to this on an NPR podcast, and I'm thinking there is spiritual truth here to be mined. There is spiritual truth here to be mined, because the same is true about God. So often I hear women say, "I just don't feel close to the Lord. I wish that I felt deeper for Him. I just want to enjoy Him. I want to feel those feelings again." And their solution is to turn the knob a little higher on the praise music or to go and have an experience of the Lord somewhere hoping that that is what is going to refill their spiritual tank.
But where does the answer to this lie? How does our pleasure increase in the Lord? To know Him is to love Him, and where do we know Him? We know Him as He is declared to us in His Word. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about Him. This means that we must ask the women who we teach to be more than just consumers. We must ask them to be students in the true sense of the word—not passive, but active in the way that they approach the Scriptures.
And then we must teach them in such a way that they become just that. So today, I want you to consider teaching your students three skills—how to think, how to learn, and how to work. Because what did 2 Timothy tell us? That we are to be workers.
Okay, so first teach your students how to think. Now, this is a hard thing for women. Why? Because typically we're in touch with our emotions. Can I say that? Like it doesn't take us long to access that. We can go there. And it's good. And I don't mean to tell you that it is not a good thing to have readily available emotions.
I have this televangelist thing that happens when I read Scripture. It's terrible. I asked the Lord to take it away, and it got worse. Where, when I read out of Scripture when I'm teaching, I start to cry half the time. And I'm like, "This is awful." I've got to keep a Kleenex in my pocket in case it happens when I'm teaching, because what do you do when you're on a platform and your nose starts to run and everybody's looking at you? "Lord, take this from me." And He has made it worse.
We should feel deeply about God. Please don't lose that! But that should be a feeling that comes from right thinking about who He is. And so we must teach our students how to think. And for women, this can be a little bit of adjustment. Because I believe that a lot of this Bible literacy problem that we see has grown out of a desire to resource women only in emotive terms instead of in intellectual terms.
But what do the Scriptures say? That we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. So we are to love Him with our intellect. Is that a verse that is only for men? Or is it that the women are to love God with their emotions and the men are to love God with their minds? No. You are a thinking being, and you are commanded to love the Lord your God with every ounce of brainpower that you have.
Teach your students how to think. Often women in the church are not challenged to have a thinking faith. I praise God that Nancy has built a ministry around asking women to do just that. Because it means I can stand up in a room like this and say these things and you will be able to receive them because you already know that the fire alarm needs to be pulled.
We need to have a thinking faith, which raises the question, what is the path to transformation? Isn't that what we all want? We want to be changed. Right? That's what I want. I don't want to stay the same way that I was. I want sanctification to do its work in me. So what is the path to transformation? How are we changed?
Well, we're not left to wonder about that. Romans 12:2 actually answers that for us. It says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Great. That's what I want. I don't want to be that person any more. Tell me what to do next. "But be," what? "Transformed." Yes, that's what we all want, right? "By the renewing of your mind." Thank you. Not your heart.
Does this mean that our hearts are not to be renewed? No. But it means that the path to the renewal of our feelings is through our thinking. Right thinking should inform right feeling. We can't simply feel to feel differently; we must think to feel differently.
You know how I know this is true? Because I love . . . I'm going to call them cheese puffs so that I don't get sued. But I think you all know which cheese puff I have in mind. And I love it, love it, love it like a little baby bunny. I love the cheese puff. [laughter] I will eat them until my tongue bleeds from being cut by the whatever it is that makes them sharp after you eat several bags in one sitting. [laughter]
And I devoted many years of worship to the cheese puff. Oblivious happy years in which we were happy together. Until one day, what happened? I read the label. And do you know what happened to my feelings for the cheese puff? They died a slow and terrible death. As soon as I was able to look up in a dictionary what all those words meant that were the ingredients of my dearly loved cheese puff. But you know what? I didn't want them anymore. You see the transformation that happened there? Once my head knew, my heart couldn't love what I had loved before.
Isn't that a picture of how the Lord changes us? He gives us a better vision—the knowledge of Himself—and we see ourselves in relation to who He is and then we cry out, "Lord, I don't want to be like this anymore. Change my desires. Change my desires. Make me want the better thing."
The path to transformation is from the head to the heart. The heart cannot love what the mind does not know. And so we owe it to the women that we teach to give them a thinking faith.
Know Him, and you will love Him. It is a simple formula. He is the most loveable being. We must teach women to think rightly about God and that right thinking will then beget right feeling for them. I love that women are able to have a deep feeling faith. I think many times men can look at us and learn from that.
But I think that we need to be careful not to think in exclusive terms that it is our job to be the feelers and that it is men's job to be the thinkers. You. You. You. Every woman you teach is called to love the Lord her God with her intellect. So first teach your students how to think.
Second, I want you to teach your students how to learn. Teach your students how to learn. Don't just give them good information; give them good tools. And we're going to talk about what some of these tools are in my last session this afternoon. I'll get into a little bit of it now. But you need to give them good tools. Why? Because remember, we want them to be boat builders, right?
We've seen the immensity of the sea, and we want them to see it, too. And in order to get there they've got to build boats. And so you're going to give them the tools to build the boat all the time, captivated by the image of God high and lifted up. But you have to give them more than just good information. You have to give them good tools.
You have to push them to seek firsthand knowledge of the Scriptures. Firsthand knowledge of the Scriptures. You know why? Because the false teacher and the secular humanist rely on us not knowing what the Bible says. We haven't even gotten to what it means or how it should change us. They rely on you being ignorant of what the Scriptures just physically say.
But so often women that I encounter have gotten into a way of thinking that I would characterize as just the telephone game. They read a book about the Bible. And I don't know if you've noticed this, but when you read a book about the Bible and you don't read the Bible, you just read a book about the Bible. Right?
And you're reading through, and they're quoting Augustine or they're quoting John Piper or whoever it is they're quoting. And what we end up getting into is a situation where we are reading so often what someone said about what someone said about what someone said about the Bible. And it feels more accessible to us. It feels more actionable because there are bullet points and there are air quotes pulled out to the side.
But God help us if we become content to be curators of other people's opinions about a book that we cannot trouble to read. This is where the words of life live. Use those books as a supplement to but not a substitute for spending time in the Word of God firsthand.
You are commanded to love the Lord your God with what? All of your mind. Let's change the emphasis. You are commanded to love the Lord your God with all of your mind. Not my mind, not Nancy's mind, not John Piper's mind, yours. It's not that there isn't a role for teaching in the church. Good grief, I wouldn't be here if I thought that.
But you and your students have a firsthand responsibility to have exposure to the Scriptures firsthand. It is the best guard against false teaching. It is the best guard when we get these soul-sucking questions asked of us. Right? Or even ones that aren't so soul-sucking, even the smallest challenges to our faith.
And we begin to feel ourselves crumbling. Why? Because all we know is what someone's said about what this says. But we need to know. We need to know firsthand. So I want you to teach your students how to learn. And like I said, this afternoon we're going to look at some really specific tools to help with that.
And then third, I want you to teach your students how to work. Teach your students how to work. We have gotten, I think, into a mindset in the church where we believe that just showing up is awesome if you sign up for a class or something like that. I want to change that paradigm.
Disciples are called to be disciplined. Do you hear how those two words are so closely related? They're called to be disciplined. Is anybody in here disciplined at anything? You've probably got something, right? Maybe you're good at working out. Or maybe you're good at playing an instrument or something like that. How did you get that way? Yes, you got that way by practice.
Let's say you're a violinist. The first time that you sat down to play the violin, how good would you be at it? And how smart would you feel after you got done? And so you would be tempted to say, "Well, this is too hard. I'd rather just listen to violin music."
Imagine, I had four children in piano lessons at one time. One time, until we were like, "Listen, we can't afford this. So unless one of you is Liberace, the rest of you have got to quit." [laughter] How would I have felt if I had taken that child over to the piano teacher who I was off-loading buckets of money to, and she had said, "You just sit there and I'm going to play for you a while. And maybe you'll just pick it up." Fired. Right?
Why is that our template so often for how we try to train our people in the Scriptures? We learn by doing. We learn by doing. This means that we must make our students do the work. In fact, I would say, try not to do anything for them that they can do for themselves, which is why we're going to give them tools.
If you're a parent in here, you know this philosophy, right? I always called it, with related to parenting, I called it "intentional laziness" where I was just waiting for them to have whatever motor skills or intellectual ability that they needed to where I could off-load the next thing on to them. Right?
So like, "Oh, look at you. You're walking vertically. You can start doing your laundry." [laughter] "Oh, look, I think that your grip is strong enough not to drop a butter knife. Go make your lunch for school." [laughter] Intentional laziness, right? I'm getting back my life a little bit but what's also happening? I'm doing right by my children. Why? Because I'm training them to become self-sufficient adults.
Imagine if my nineteen-year-old son walked into the kitchen while he's home from Christmas break and says, "Mom, hey, what shirt should I wear today?" What? "What should I eat for breakfast?" No. I would have done something terribly wrong as a parent if he was not able, if I had not off-loaded those things to him. My job is to raise a fully-functioning adult. That is your job as a teacher. Right?
And so I always tell the women at the beginning of my studies. So we started 1 Peter this fall. I say, "I have three goals for you. I want you to know the book of 1 Peter. Now who are we kidding? We're going to spend eleven weeks in 1 Peter, and you're going to know about this much of it, but it's going to be a really good this much. Okay? So I want you to know 1 Peter. But more than that, the second thing I want for you is that anytime you sit down to study your Bible, you will be more comfortable with it after having done this particular study." In other words, that's me. I want to give you those tools, right?
"And then my third purpose is always what? Not just that you would know 1 Peter or know how to study your Bible better, but what? That you would see God more clearly. That's number three." But it should probably be numbered as number one. I've got to work on my numbering system.
So how do we off-load? How do we practice intentional laziness in the best way with regard to our students? Well, I think you have to, just as with parenting, you have to set a clear expectation. "This is what I expect from you; this is what you can expect from me. I will come prepared. I will have put the work in. I am doing what I am going to ask you to do." That's a big piece of what we tell our students. "I have already done and will be doing what I am asking you to do. And I want you to come along with this. But you need to understand that this is hard work."
And it is amazing to me how this seems often to be the only area of our sanctification that we thought would be easy. Like we think, I've got the Holy Spirit in me. I should just be able to open this up, and just kapow! He's just going to drop truth on me.
You know, in the study that I'm doing right now in 1 Peter at the beginning of chapter 2, he says you should crave the pure milk of the Word. You know that pure spiritual milk? You know that passage? What is that picture that he is painting there? It's a room full of women, you can say it. It's breastfeeding, right? That's a nursing mom image right there.
He says, "Like a newborn infant, crave pure spiritual milk." How easy is nursing? Okay, it is the most natural thing. It is the most necessary thing for that little baby. But is it easy? No. Believe it or not, it is an acquired skill and it is hard. That is our metaphor for taking in the Word of God.
It is the most natural thing; it is the most necessary thing. But it is not something that we automatically know how to do well. We must learn how. And it's hard work, as is the case with all sanctification. It's hard work but it is good work, because we are dying to be transformed from who we were into who we could become through the work of the Holy Spirit.
So part of this teaching them to work is giving them some permissions. You need to give your students permission to fail. This is really hard for women, right? Because we don't want to take the wig off our soul. We want to show up put together, and we have developed a habit of wanting to have the right answer all the time.
So I don't know if you've ever been in a small group . . . So I ask this open-ended question at the end of each of the weeks of my homework where I say, "Knowing that God is _____ [they have to fill in the attribute of God] shows me that I am _____ [they have to lay themselves up against whatever it is that they've learned about God] so therefore I will ______." Some women come up and they say, "Ummmm, what is the answer to that one?" [laughter] I don't know. You tell me what your answer was.
They love a "fill-in-the-blank" mentality. They want to check off that they've finished their homework, and they just want to be right. And so they come to small group time or whatever time it is where there's going to be discussion and they want to show you that they got the right answer.
We have to stop asking questions that allow them to feel that way. I tell my women, "I'm going to ask you questions, and they're going to make you mad because your homework is going to raise more questions for you than it's going to answer." And I'm so for that I can't even tell you, because you started to think at that point.
That's a natural part of the learning process is to understand what we do not know. It is you on the first day of violin lessons. You're going to need to get used to that. Not only that you're going to need to lean into it and get really familiar with that because that's a positive thing for you.
We need to give them permission to fail. It is so hard like when I ask a woman to paraphrase something, she's like, "I'm going to do it wrong." That's okay. Do it wrong. You will get better. It's all right. Start somewhere. You're allowed to not do it right the first time. Give your students permission to fail.
Give your students . . . this is going to sound scary. Give them permission to speculate. It doesn't mean that they will remain in speculation indefinitely. Although, I've got to say on some topics in the Scripture, we may be speculating on them until Jesus returns. But let's do so sober-mindedly and with some good tools in our hands, shall we? But you have to give your women permission to speculate. Maybe it means this, but maybe it means this. And there should be dialogue around that that's pushing them to think and to think hard.
Give them permission to fail and to speculate and to wonder. And this is a big one: Give them permission to wait. Give them permission to wait. We have an instant gratification society. We don't want to wait. Not only do I want to show up with the right answer, but if I don't have it, I want you to supply it to me as quickly as you can.
Women need permission to wait as they study. They have to get over the desire to have the right answer, to have an instant answer. And the job of the student, they need to understand, is not to please the teacher but to expand their own thinking to love God with their mind.
Everyone works diligently at what they care about. Everyone does. You don't have to convince someone to work hard at the thing that they love. Our job is to help them learn to love Bible study. So I want you to teach them to think, to learn, and to work.
And then next, I want you to set your students on a three-legged stool. Set them on a three-legged stool. I believe that there are three very important components to the way that we present the Word of God to our women. And in many cases we are only operating on one of them, maybe two.
Our most common scenario in the church today, I suggest, is to come and sit under a teaching over a passage of Scripture that we have spent how much time in before we hear the message? Zero. Right? I mean maybe you've studied it at one point in the past. But how often do you sit under teaching and hear something taught from where you have spent significant amounts of time in the text before you hear the teaching?
There are not always going to be environments we have control over this in. You may not know what your pastor's going to preach on before he preaches on it on Sunday. But you and I, as women who are teaching women, we can set this up so that women can learn the value of this.
And it will do a couple of things. It will help them to be able to learn more during your teaching time when you actually get down to teaching through a passage. Why? Because they've already owned the text a little bit on their own.
But it will do another thing as well. It will hold you, the teacher, to a much higher standard. Because what did we say that the false teacher and the secular humanist relied on? Because it's the same thing that a weak teacher relies on as well—ignorance of the text. If I can't rely on my women not knowing what the text said, then that means I've got to bring my "A" game.
Now, I welcome it and I celebrate it because I need the accountability and because I want to run further in the time that we have. I don't want to have to set up the story for you. I want you to have done that on your own. Remember? Because what am I doing? I'm making you do everything that you're able to do. I'm practicing intentional laziness. Actually I'm working my guts out to make sure that the lesson goes as far as it can. But we're making our students do as much as they can on their own.
So the first leg of the stool, you've probably already guessed, is personal study time. Personal study time. I'm about to say something that is hugely unpopular. If at all possible, give homework beforehand.
We hate homework. I know. I went to school, too. I didn't love it either. But what class did you ever take that was of any lasting value that didn't have a homework component to it?
I've got two children in college right now. If they came home to me and said, "Oh, that's fine. We just show up for class. I get some stuff out of it." I'd be like, "Where is the homework? Show me the syllabus. I am bleeding out cash to this organization. Where is the homework?"
So think about this in terms of Bible education. I would argue with you that biblical education is far more important than what my children are going to learn at the university. But we don't give homework? "Just show up. It will be fine. Holy Spirit will be there. Come on." Could we care more about this?
Now, I know what you're thinking. They won't do it. Well, I tell you what. You are absolutely right. If you do not assign it, they will not do it every time. [laughter] James makes that statement that I think applies to this: "You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2). Ask them. Our Bible literacy issue will not get better if we continue to lower the bar. Ask them.
You know why? Do you know what my kids learn by me off-loading things to them, by me saying, "You do this; you do this; you do this"? You know what they learned? Confidence. They took confidence from that. "I can do this."
Hey, I fail. You know like when you first get your kids folding the laundry? That goes terribly. And I'm a little bit of a Type A myself, not in all areas. But I admit, I like a neatly-folded clothing drawer. And I did not have it for like a decade. I'd be like, "You fold it. You go put it away." And they'd be like, "Mommy, I did it." And you're like, "Awesome! I know you didn't. I'm not going upstairs." Like in my head, "Just don't go look, don't go look." Or if you do, you'd be like, "Baby, that is fantastic." Right.
Give the homework. Give it to them. Get them started in the process, because it will take a while but they will get better at it. They will fail less. Their speculations will end in places that are helpful quicker. They will wonder in right ways, and they will learn to wait well. Give them homework.
It is like stretching before exercise. Or so I hear. [laughter] When you stretch before you exercise, it gets easier to do the work of exercising. Homework does that for you and your students. And so, what kind of homework? Does that mean you have to write a whole full-blown curriculum every time you're going to get together to have a discussion with whoever you're teaching? No.
At bare minimum, and I don't mean to minimize this because this is a really important skill. At bare minimum, ask them to read the text that you will be covering about three times. Just say, "Read it through three times. Mark on it if you want to." Again, we'll talk about some of that this afternoon. But at bare minimum get them reading the text before they come. If that's all the homework you give, I believe that you will see your ministry, your teaching ministry begin to transform in very short order.
Personal study time encourages independent thought versus just curatorship of other people's opinions. So whatever you give to them—and we'll take a look at some good ways to approach this—keep the work doable, keep it thought provoking, and keep it creative as much as you're able to.
Be thinking in terms of what are the kinds of questions I want them to begin asking of the text themselves. So like when I'm not with them, what am I wanting them to start thinking in their head anytime that they read through a text. And ask those kinds of questions if you're structuring questions for them before you get together with them.
You need to anticipate the tough questions, and ask them. The one that they may be afraid to ask is the question that you need to ask them in the time before they come, so that when you get together they've already thought about it and they're ready to have a really good discussion about where to end up on that.
So be a good asker of questions. Be a creative asker of questions. And I will tell you my philosophy on this is to keep whatever I give them before they come highly based on just reading comprehension with some interpretation and application elements to it. But for the most part, if I can just get them to be able to be able to comprehend what's going on in the text and in the teaching time, I can just run like heck.
So lastly, if they don't do their homework . . . Okay, there's my realist hanging out. If they don't do it, make them wish that they had. [laughter] So here's how I do this in my format. I reference it in the teaching constantly. I'll be like, "Now, you saw in your homework this week, blah, blah, blah." Or "remember you looked this word up in your homework? Wasn't that awesome?" Or "remember what you put on this question?"
And that way all of those women who, like they're hanging on for dear life; their kid cried all night long; they didn't get their homework done. I don't want them to be like, "I'm never coming back. I couldn't get the homework done." But I know that their small group leader is going to turn to them and go, "It's okay you didn't get it done this week, but you try again next week, right?"
But what I do during my time is I build for them an excitement around, "I think I missed something. I think the rest of these women are getting more out of this than I am because I didn't get to the homework this week." So help them develop. Don't punish them, but find ways to encourage them to try to stick with it.
Okay, so the first leg on your stool is personal study time. And then the second leg on the stool is group discussion time. Group discussion time. Now, if you're in a room that's five to twelve women, then you have a room to weave your discussion time into the third leg of the stool, which I'm sure you can all guess is going to be the teaching time. Right?
So it doesn't mean that you have to have these three things that happen in just this way. It is possible to weave discussion time into the time that you are teaching. So just bear that in mind depending on how many students you might be dealing with.
Group time helps your students test their personal interpretation against the shared interpretation in the group. This is such an important thing to do. One of the things that concerns me sometimes is that people will read this book that I wrote called Women of the Word that gives them these tools so that they can spend time getting firsthand knowledge of the text. And too often they run past the part that says, "Hey, you know what? Don't just do this on your own alone in a room."
Because we live in the United States, right? And so we have this thing. We have this individualism thing that has been bred into us since our earliest days in elementary school. And we think "I can do this on my own" is the best thing that we can say. And it is a good thing. But trust me, the Christian faith is not about doing it on your own.
First Peter, what are we described as? "Living stones that are all part of one building." We are meant to be doing study of the Bible in community. So you have your time alone, and then you come together as a group and you discuss.
And you get your crazy out on the table. "This is what I thought this passage meant. What did you think?" And you're ready for the whole group to look at you and say, "You are very bad at this. We are going to help you get better." [laughter] And you let that environment be a safe place to fail and to grow. And so we have this group time so that we can purposefully move forward together.
Now, it's really, really important that you keep the discussion on track. What did I say was that women needed to be pushed on? Is it building community with one another and hugging? No. What is the thing that we need to be pushed on? Keeping our mind engaged, right?
Which is why when you have a discussion time over what ever happened in the homework, you want to keep it about whatever, you want to honor that person's investment that they put in before they got there by guarding the time that you have to discuss it. So you're going to use that time for what it's for.
It doesn't mean that you're going to be like, "Oh, I'm sorry, prayer request time has passed, and so you'll just need to sit on that till next week." No. We're going to be flexible, right? But I always tell the women in my study, "You know what? I know that you're going to form community with each other. I know you're going to network and make relationships with one another, and that makes me so, so happy. But that is not my primary goal. My primary goal is for you to learn. And everything that we do when we gather here will be structured around protecting that idea. Because you're going to make friends, you're going to go to lunch, you're going to love each other, you're going to name your kids after each other. I get it. But I'm going to push you on the thing that is hard for you. I'm going to ask you to love God with your mind during this time, and we've got some structure around that." So keep the discussion on track. Keep it purposeful.
Here's another one: Don't fear silence. Let it do its work. Can you count to thirty before you wait for a woman to answer? Do you have the nerve? I hope you do. I want you to develop it. Silence has to linger for a long time, especially early on in your relationship with your students. Because why? It takes courage for them to put their voices out there.
This is one reason, I'll just throw in a little plug for this right now, why single gender learning environments are critical to the well-being of the church. Do you know why? Because studies show that in mixed gender groups—so you've got five men and five women—that men contribute at twice the rate that women do. Twice the rate.
I sat in on a class at my church recently, and there was a Q and A at the end of the discussion time and it was a fifty/fifty class, men and women. And during the Q and A there were eleven questions that were asked of the teachers at the end of the class. Can you guess how many were asked by women? Zero. None. And the guys leading the class were not scary or mean or off-putting. It's just a thing that we do.
So think how important it is. Think how precious it is when women gather to discuss things together. Think about the freedom that some women feel only in that environment. You can imagine I was annoying whether there were men and women in the group or whether there was just women. But I know that many women are not that way. They are slow to speak. What a gift. So let's beat that out of them, right? [laughter]
No. Your small group time should be a place where you feel free to contribute and where your contributions are safe. That we're all allowed to learn together.
Keep the discussion on track. Keep it purposeful. Don't fear silence. Throw the question out there. Count to thirty slowly in your head. Someone will crack. And if they don't, you find someone and say, "Will you be the first person to ask this question?" You set it up beforehand so that you begin to build this expectation.
Think of this. We do it in parenting, too. When I ask a question, you respond. Right? Isn't that what we do with our kids? You have to train a group in that, as well. When I ask a question, you respond. It takes them a while to learn it, but we can get there if we think carefully about it.
Always, always, always look for the question behind the question when you have something that comes up in your group. I'll give an example of this. Someone will ask a question about hell. When they ask the question about hell, what are they almost always thinking of? Are they worried about hell? No, they are worried about a deeper question. They have a loved one who just passed away or they're thinking that they can't trust the character of God. That's not a question about what hell is like. It's a question about what God is like.
And so, even when you don't know the answer maybe you can say, "You know, I can't speak specifically to what hell is going to be like. But I can tell you this—we can trust God. We can trust God." And you can point them toward the real question that they're asking. And so look for the question behind the question.
Here's another thing you can do. Invite openness with openness. You set the tone. The way that you share your responses is going to model for them what you are hoping that they will do. So that means that you need to be vulnerable enough to say when you don't understand something. And if you're asked a question you can't answer, say, "I don't know but I will find out." Everyone say that with me, "I don't know, but I will find out."
Isn't that fantastic? It makes you vulnerable. It makes you human. But here's the other thing—it's just flat honest. And people know when you're like, "Well, I believe that it may have been and back in the fifteenth century and Josephus . . ." And you're like, "What?" Just go home. Buy yourself some time. They can wait. You've trained them to wait. Invite openness with openness and admit your knowledge limitations. It humanizes you and it keeps you humble, and our students need that so, so much.
Okay, so then we have the third leg of the stool, teaching time. And as I've said, depending on the size and format of your group, this may be something that is a blend with discussion time. And you can tell that even as I teach larger groups of women, what do I do? I'm still pulling you in, right? It's not a stage trick. I need it. I need to know that you are with me and this is not a monologue or worse a soliloquy.
Have you ever lectured your kids? No. Why would we do that? The Bible says not to. [laughter] If I asked most parents, "How should you talk to our children?" It would be, "Oh, it should be a dialogue back and forth, back and forth." But what do we do so often? We tell ourselves it's a dialogue, but then we're talking, right? And we're talking and we're talking and we're starting to warm to our theme and we are "I am good. This is good." [laughter]
And pretty soon it's turned into a monologue, right? What's a monologue? It's when one person is talking and other people are listening. But how quickly does it move from a monologue to that third thing—soliloquy. Do you know what that is? Mrs. Wagner, my English teacher, would tell you that is when one person is talking and nobody is listening. [laughter]
That is not the role of the teacher. There are times when you will be doing monologue in the literary sense. But ideally it always remains as much as possible a dialogue. Right? I ask. You answer. That's what we want. So keep that in mind.
During the teaching time, you need to be several things. You need to be resourceful. Okay? This means that you need to get help. Don't think, "Okay. I'm in charge of teaching this thing, and so I've got to make this all happen on my own." You go find a pastor who will help you, who will point you toward good resources who can help surround you with whatever you need. Is it childcare? Is it facilities? Maybe it's just a direction to go with a study. You go get help either from a pastor or from a mentor.
I had that. Mary Willis is here today. You know what she did for me? I didn't have a place to meet. And I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. This is too hard." And she said, "You can do it." And then she told me exactly what she had done. She said, "You know what? You go find a church in your community, and you ask if they will host that study. And you see what they say." And she gave me the tools. She built things around me to help me get going when I thought that it was too much for me to handle.
When I need good resources, I can ask my pastor and he's going to give them to me. And in fact, if I need a conversation about something, if there's something I'm a little concerned that I want to say just right, I know who I can call and they can help me say it in a way that honors the text.
You know why? Because I'm not enough. I think we've covered that, right? We're not enough. But also remember we're not isolationists. And so we reach out to other living stones and say, "Can you help me? Can you help me in this good work? Can you pull me along?" Be resourceful. Look outside of yourself for help so that you can be a responsible worker.
Be unpredictable. Bring creativity to your task. Again, probably not the butcher knife. But how can you think creatively about how you're going to communicate your message? It is not our job to bore people to death with the Word of God. Remember, we're giving them a vision of an ocean. How do we do that? How do we do that? Draw from your own life experiences but also know about their lives, right?
Think about illustrations that are going to bring whatever it is that you're trying to teach to life. For me, illustrations are the hardest piece. When I can get those in place, I know I can drive this home. I know I can. Application, I mean, I'm a sinner. I can figure out how to apply this and tell you all about that. For me, it's finding that right illustration that's going to capture them, that's really going to connect their thinking to their feeling, right? Make it practical for them.
Be resourceful; be unpredictable. And part of being unpredictable means we don't hurry through the parts they expect us to. Do you know the email I get most frequently about the studies I have done is about the week that I taught the genealogies in Genesis. You know why? Nobody thought it was going to be interesting, and it was fascinating. It brought us to our knees.
But how often do you study through Genesis and you don't even stop there? They're like, "Well then there's a bunch of names, and let's just keep on moving." Oh, we taught Joshua. I did the land allotments for two weeks. Two weeks they had to read them repetitively. And they came back.
You know that fear that Nancy says she has where you're like, "Maybe they're not going to be here?" I had that fear a lot. A lot . . . ments. And they came back. [laughter] They came back because the Word is living and active. And because here's the big thing for you to keep in mind.
When you set your students on a three-legged stool, it doesn't all rely on you being the most awesome teacher that week. And that is fantastic news. The last thing I want to hear is, "You were a rock star or you killed it." I don't care about that. I just want to show up and be faithful to the text. Don't ask me to be a rock star. You go somewhere else if you want that. My job is to teach the text. And it's not just my job, it's your job to come and partner with me in that as a student. Come on along. I'm going to set a good expectation for you. I'm going to hold you to it. I'm going to hold myself to my own expectation, and we are going to be workers who can stand before God unashamed of the way that we have approached His Word. Let's do it.
Be resourceful. Be unpredictable. Be vulnerable. Share out of your weakness. It is not fun for me to stand up and tell everybody that I have a sharp tongue, that my besetting sin is also the thing that can, at times, be my biggest strength. The way that I use my tongue. But I have to. I'd be a big fat liar if I stood up here and said anything different.
What is your besetting sin? Keep it ever before you. It will keep you humble before those that you teach. And your vulnerability will help train them to be vulnerable as well.
Here's another one—be reasonable. Cover a digestible amount. The more time that you spend in the Word, the more capacity you may have to move through a text at a particular rate. Remember that your students are for the most part craving the pure milk of the Word as newborn infants. And be gentle with them. There is never anything lost in going slowing through a passage versus too quickly. So be reasonable. Cover a digestible amount.
And then lastly, for this morning—and this is such an important thing for you to remember—be gentle with yourself. The post-teaching debrief in your head is a killer. The coulda, shoulda, wouldas. Like the worst thing I think that I can do after I teach is go back and look through my notes. And be like, "Oh, I meant to say that. Or I should have said this. And I could have said that."
It's brutal. Nancy referred to it yesterday as the "battle after the battle." Yep. I know about that one. Give yourself some grace. The Lord does not ask for perfection from you; He asks for willingness, and earnestness and soberness of mind. And He asks you to come needy to Him as you reach out to teach to others.
So it is no surprise that we finish teaching and we didn't say everything we meant to say. A dear friend of mine always reminds me, "You don't have to say it all at once. He'll give you another chance."
And so this beautiful idea that I think we're losing when we think that we have to come and sit and hear something that just blows us away and can never be topped is the idea of an ongoing ministry. Right? Week after week where we have a cumulative effect in our teaching, where no one particular teaching time has to be fantastic. Why? Because we're building toward something bigger than any one teaching time. And we can trust that. We can trust that.
Allow your teaching to have a cumulative effect. Don't feel like you have to get up there every week. There are weeks where you the teacher didn't have adequate time to prepare. Now, I'm not advocating for that. But I'm telling you I have seen the Lord show up on that week for me.
So it's okay. Don't be hard on yourself. And sometimes, depending on the environment you're in, you may be the only encouragement you have. So know that the Lord looks on you with gentleness and kindness. Know that you are involved in a good work. Be encouraged in that.
I'm going to pray. We'll come back this afternoon, and I'm going to give you workers some tools. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, I thank You that You do not hold us to impossible standards because of Christ. I pray, Lord, that each woman here would step forward in confidence and in grace to pick up the tools that You have given her. I pray, Lord, that we might be well equipped for the task and be workers unashamed passing on to other women this beautiful truth that lies in Your Word. And we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.