For Small Groups: Book Study or Topical Study?

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Every small group leader has to decide whether to lead their group through a book of the Bible, or through a topical study. In their volume Organic Ministry to Women, Sue Edwards and Kelley Matthews make a case for groups devoting most of their time to book studies, and supplementing these with the occasional topical study. Which have you found to be the most rewarding in your church or small group?

First, one decide what to study. Will it be in-depth studies that guide your women through a book of the Bible like Genesis or the Gospel of Luke? Will you dig into studies with biblical themes such as covenants or the parables of Jesus? Or will you serve up studies on topics like forgiveness and friendship or the most recent bestseller on how to live for Christ? Each are valuable—but which one will transform women with more power and impact? We recommend a steady diet of books of the Bible or biblical themes with sporadic snacks of topical studies. . . .

Topical studies of particular interest to women provide a nice change of pace. Consider using topical studies as a summer alternative when schedules change and attendance is inconsistent. Online retailers and Christian bookstores stock a variety of options by reputable Bible teachers.

But topical studies usually focus on pertinent Bible verses, at times plucked out of context. Without understanding the context, readers are likely to misunderstand or misinterpret the meaning of cited passages. These studies are easy to organize. Simply order a booklet for each participant, recruit a group leader, and enjoy digging into a topic together. However, your core curriculum should focus on books or themes in the Bible because they change lives. Studying the Bible itself, instead of books about the Bible, does require more effort on the part of the leaders. One of you must know the Bible in order to guide others. You must find a curriculum that fits your needs or recruit someone with the biblical and writing expertise to create their own studies. Some controversial passages can stir up theological disagreements that you need greater research and discernment to address appropriately.

The Bible is not always easy to understand. Reading ancient literature can sometimes seem like hunting buried treasure. You need to know the historical and cultural background as well as geography. . . . Avoid the temptation to choose topical or studies on popular books because they are simpler to understand.

It is worth the extra effort to bring groups of women deep into the heart of God’s Word by tackling whole books of the Bible. Longtime pastor and author Andy McQuitty offers some benefits.

You can take virtually any book of the Bible, Old or New Testament, and teach through it expositionally and you will find occasion to teach on every felt need. . . . You’ve got to have confidence that God’s Word is sufficient to touch the needs of your people.

It’s important as teachers of God’s Word that we are forced to deal with passages that we wouldn’t necessarily choose. First, we need to not let our teaching ministry be guided by our personal preferences. We’re supposed to teach the whole counsel of God’s Word. . . . The second benefit is for your students. They encounter passages that seem inconsistent, harsh or confusing. If their spiritual leaders are only teaching the popular, the passionate, the easy passages and are skirting around the difficult ones, it may create in the minds of students an insecurity that maybe there is no way to understand or reconcile the difficult passages. So we actually diminish our students’ confidence in the Word of God because we don’t deal with tough things. Expository teaching forces us to deal with issues that ultimately strengthen students.

If you want to transform women, use the most powerful tool available. Study God’s Love Letter, the Bible.

Learn more about Organic Ministry to Women, or request a faculty examination, media, or blog review copy.

“This is such a needed resource for anyone involved in ministering to women! Organic
Ministry to Women reminds us that the church is a unique sphere where women from Gen
Z to the Greatest Generation engage. This book serves as a step-by-step instruction guide
to unite women across ages and stages, especially as we work to include them all in our

Angela Cirocco, Minister to women, Northwest Bible Church, Dallas, TX

book cover for Organic Ministry to Women



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