Below you’ll find the transcript for episode 28, What’s the difference between discipleship, Bible studies, and mentoring?, from the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast.
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EP 28 – What’s the difference between discipleship, Bible studies, and mentoring?
Welcome to the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast. I’m Cyndee Ownbey, your host and women’s ministry mentor. I’m the founder of Women’s Ministry Toolbox and the author of Rethinking Women’s Ministry. The Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast is a podcast for women’s ministry leaders and team members of all stages (from new to seasoned) serving in their local church community. If you’re looking for hope and inspiration, you’ve come to the right place! In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of women’s ministry, I’ll be asking seasoned women’s ministry leaders to share their best tips and the lessons they’ve learned. Together we’ll learn to build a flourishing, Christ-focused women’s ministry.
Today we’ll be talking about discipleship, mentoring, and Bible study groups. How are they the same, and how are they different?
In episode 27, I shared several definitions of discipleship and encouraged you to find out how your church defines discipleship.
Today as we talk through the differences and similarities between discipleship, mentoring, and Bible studies, we need to establish some working definitions.
How I define discipleship, Bible studies, and mentoring:
I define discipleship as believers growing and changing through the study of God’s Word together with the goals of:
1. Becoming more like Christ
2. Replicating the process with others
I see discipleship as the umbrella under which Bible study would fall.
In this context, I define Bible study as a group of people meeting regularly, often weekly, to discuss God’s Word. Usually, members are expected to read a section of scripture and answer homework questions in preparation for their discussion group time. Some Bible study groups include teaching providing additional commentary, and others focus more on discussion. Bible study may additionally include a time of fellowship and sharing of prayer requests. While Bible study books might be used, the emphasis should be on reading and discussing God’s Word and not man’s words.
Mentoring may or may not fall under the discipleship umbrella, depending on the goal.
I define mentoring as the relationship between two believers which provides biblically sound guidance. The mentor is more spiritually mature and often older than the mentee. Some mentoring relationships are focused on spiritual growth and include Bible study. Other mentoring relationships are focused on living life in a way that honors God. The focus could even be on learning practical skills like cooking. Mentoring often addresses seasonal needs (such as mothering young children and navigating the empty nest). The mentor and mentee might use a resource to guide their time together. Mentoring should include regular in-person meetings, whether that be weekly, monthly, or somewhere in between.
As a side note, small groups (some call them life or community groups or d-groups) are not always the same as Bible study groups, but there’s usually some overlap. The focus is often more fellowship-driven, and small groups are often co-ed.
What do these groups or programs have in common?
Discipleship, biblical mentoring, and Bible study groups all have the same focus – spiritual growth. If you’re not seeing growth in your women, please take the time to examine why that’s not happening. Unfortunately, not all groups and gatherings lead to growth.
What are some of the differences?
Discipleship always utilizes the Word of God to equip believers and replicate faithful followers of Christ. Mentoring and Bible study groups might have that same focus, but many do not.
Discipleship and Bible study can happen one-on-one, but most often, in the context of women’s ministry, occur in small groups. Mentoring is usually one-on-one or in a very small group of 3 or 4.
Discipleship groups and Bible study groups almost always have a definitive start and end date. Mentoring might, but often mentoring relationships are open-ended and may stretch many years.
Discipleship encourages replication.
While we may hope that women who have been mentored will mentor others and while we may hope that women who have been in Bible study will lead new Bible study groups, that doesn’t always happen. As leaders, we don’t always set that expectation, and we often don’t provide sufficient training to equip new mentees or new Bible study leaders. (That may be a topic your Bible study team or women’s ministry team may want to discuss.) I’ll dig deeper into leading groups in a future podcast episode, but I also have resources available now to help your leaders lead well.
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The Bible is filled with examples of mentoring and discipling relationships – Ruth and Naomi, Mary & Elizabeth, Moses & Joshua, Eli & Samuel, to name a few.
It isn’t a matter of should we disciple or mentor, but how do we disciple or mentor the women God has placed in our church.
Your church may already have a robust discipleship program in place, in which case your role may be to support and encourage participation. (That includes you! Set an example.) You may also be able to help identify potential group leaders.
If your church does not have a program in place, God may be calling your team to fill that gap.
Before you start ordering materials and recruiting leaders, please take the time to sit down with a staff person. There may be something already in the works that your team is unaware of. You also want to secure the support of your church staff.
Some churches have a Discipleship Pastor that oversees discipleship and Bible study groups. That was the case in the first church in which I served as the Women’s Ministry Director. I sat down and talked with that pastor to find out if our team could have input on the women’s Bible study selections and leaders. Eventually, we became responsible for selecting studies and recruiting leaders, though we always kept him in the loop and remained open to his guidance and feedback.
Some discipleship and Bible study pastors aren’t always aware of the latest women’s Bible study materials. They might also not be aware of Bible study authors that your team has identified as solid and those your team has concerns about.
We can bring value and information to discussions about women’s Bible studies.
We need to take care we do so in a respectful way. I want to encourage you to take the time to develop that working relationship.
If you need help selecting materials, don’t worry! That’s the topic of our next podcast episode. Be sure to hit the subscribe button or sign up for my email list, so you don’t miss it!
If you already have a discipleship, Bible study, or mentoring program in place, how’s it going?
Do you see growth? Do you see replication?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell from the outside what kind of impact our programs are making. You may wish to send out a survey to participants to understand their experience better.
Here’s a list of 6 questions you may want to ask discipleship or Bible study attendees:
- How would you describe your spiritual growth in the last six months?
- How would you describe your confidence level in studying God’s Word?
- How would you describe your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit?
- How would you describe your obedience to the Word of God?
- Describe any changes in your attitude toward studying your Bible.
- Have other people noticed Christ at work in you? If so, how?
We’ve recently started a new sermon series at our church. Our pastor is taking us verse by verse through 1 Thessalonians. The first chapter describes the faith of the Thessalonians. In verses 6 and 7, Paul says, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit so that you could became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” Verse 8 goes on to say, “your faith in God has gone forth everywhere.”
That is my hope and prayer for the discipleship, Bible study, and mentoring participants in our women’s ministries and our churches.
I pray women will become imitators of the Lord, that they will become examples to other believers and that their faith in God will go out everywhere.
Vibrant, well-run discipleship, Bible study, and mentoring programs should produce Christ-followers who obey the Word, love others, and share the gospel.
May we pray and plan for women whose faith is contagious.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Women’s Ministry Toolbox podcast. Leading in women’s ministry can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be! You’ll find support and ideas you can use in the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Community Facebook Group. We’d love for you to join us! Search for us on Facebook or visit womensministrytoolbox.com/groups to access the link. May the grace of God carry you through difficult ministry seasons, may He direct your steps as you seek to make Him known, and may your love for the LORD be apparent to every woman you serve.
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How to Be a Great Bible Study Leader
Bible Study Books: Reviews and Recommendations
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