How to Take a Shallow Bible Study Deeper

Podcast Episodes, Productivity

After last week’s episode about women teaching theology, a lot of questions came in about “shallow”, pink fluff bible study settings.

How do we take them deeper?

Is it possible?

In this episode Phylicia shares some practical ways you can take a “social hour” bible study session to something with real meat. 


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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer. I’m here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey because every woman is a theologian.

Hello friends, welcome back to Verity podcast. Okay, this week’s episode is building on some questions I got after last week’s episode. Last week, I talked about whether women can teach theology to other women. In the course of that episode, I brought up the point that a lot of women’s Bible studies can be really shallow and end up like a social hour. And this really resonated with a lot of you. You told me that you’ve experienced this and that it’s not just a women’s problem. This is actually a problem in a lot of men’s studies as well, where men feel unhealthily stereotyped, and as if the content of these studies is just not scriptural, or at least not ushering them deeper into their Walk with God. This is clearly a problem that both men and women face and I thought let’s do an episode about what to do when you’re in a shallow Bible study. How to you change it? Can you change it? What can you do about the problems we encounter? 

So hopefully, this episode is practical, but also biblical and gives you some ideas for how you can help either change the Bible study you’re in, or start a Bible study that actually studies the Bible. So, before we get to some of the problems in modern Bible studies and how to solve them, I want to first look at the overarching purpose of the church. If we look at the early church in Acts 2, this is right after Pentecost, when 3000 people have joined the church after the preaching of Peter and the apostles and disciples who are in the upper room receiving the Spirit. Now we have a ton of new people who are coming into the church and need to be discipled. In Acts 2:42, it says, “That these people who embraced his message were baptized, 3000 of them, and they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” Four things, so what they were devoted to was the apostles’ explanation of scripture, to fellowship with one another, so healthy community, to the breaking of bread, this would be communion or eucharist and to prayer. These are the four characteristics of a healthy church body. 

Now, there are different interpretations of what exactly this looked like in terms of a building and functionality. Most scholars agree that the original church met still in that synagogue format, so it moved to Sunday because of Christ’s resurrection. At the beginning it was on Saturday, they would meet and they would learn from the elders and the leaders of their gathering. During the week, they would continue that learning in basically what we now call small groups, these house churches that would gather together devoted to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, communion, and to prayer. This is what the church overarching, broad, big global church is supposed to be focused on. If we have to narrow it down, this is what we need to see. I would argue that regardless of whether you’re in a home church or you’re in a building, that we need to be operating in a way that honors these four things and also honors the eldership structure that we see outlined elsewhere in the New Testament. Because as the church grew, there needed to be a way to handle all of these people coming in, being discipled, which is why the apostles broke down responsibility into the deacons and then the elders or apostolic leaders of the church. 

So, we can’t just call a small group or a Bible study a church if it doesn’t have the eldership structure and also these four things that we are looking at here. However, you might practice these four things as a small group, our small group does. So, as we are looking at the purpose of a Bible study, I want to first start with that overarching purpose of the church. Now that we know this is what the church needs to look like, what does a Bible study look like? What’s the purpose of a Bible study? Well, let’s look at what scripture says about the Bible, about studying it, what’s it for. The most popular, common, well-known verse is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, “All scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This is interesting to me because we often think of scripture as mere encouragement. We talk about encouraging women and that’s why we want to do a Bible study or we want to read a new book that’s been released. But here it says that, “Scripture is breathed out by God and its primary four things.” 

The primary four things that it’s functioning to do is to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness. All of which sound not as fun and lovable and cuddly as encouragement and yet it’s so essential for our growing up in the faith. Before we get into how to deepen a Bible study that is struggling with shallowness, I really want to look at this 2 Timothy verse and really sit with it. Is my Bible study functioning this way? Is it teaching? Is it reproving? Is it correcting and training in righteousness so that the people in it are complete and equipped for their good works? I would say that a lot of us have been in Bible studies that are not this way. They’re not actually functioning in a way that completes people or equips them. We go to the study, we sit around, we talk about our feelings, we watch a video, and then we go home. We aren’t any more equipped for the demands of our life. And I believe the Bible has better for us, and I believe that healthy Bible study can play an important role in that process. 

Now, there are other verses that talk about this too. In Joshua 1:8, Joshua speaking and says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” In the Old Testament, the book of the law would have been the Torah. The first five books of the Bible that we now consider so hard to read and slug through, and that it laid down the truth of who God was and his desire for relationship with man and for man’s relationship to each other to be something righteous and good. This is what they were to meditate on. This is what they were to pay attention to and that’s what a Bible study should be encouraging. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” If we go to a Bible study and the only thing, we store up are the opinions of other people or the opinions of a Bible teacher on a video, or social commentary. We don’t have what it takes to fight sin. We need scripture to fight sin. We need the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2 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.” This is applicable to those of us who are hosting studies and who are teaching people. We want to be teaching people in righteousness. We want to be guiding them on the right path. If what we are teaching or hosting or facilitating is not ushering people down that path, we should be concerned and we should want to bring people back to a deeper understanding of the Word. Understanding the purpose of the church, the purpose of a Bible study, to honor the training in righteousness that the Word facilitates. 

Now, let’s move on to some of the potential problems that we run into in a study setting and some ideas for how to solve them. In my last episode about women teaching other Women theology, Episode 109, I talked about how a lot of Bible studies descend into social hour. It’s basically sitting around talking, sharing your experiences and not a whole lot of productive connection and treatment of scripture. I’ve even hosted studies that went this direction and I had to learn how to rein them in and redirect them, which can be really hard because you feel mean when you’re doing it. You don’t want to stop people from sharing or talking. This is why the very first thing I want to address when it comes to deepening your Bible study experience or hosting a Bible study is that your biggest problem out of the gate is lack of structure and vision. We want to think that we can just throw a video up there and buy the book and have a successful study and sometimes you can still get stuff out of it. But I have found through experience that if you do not structure your time very firmly, the time will structure itself. By structure, I mean it will descend into chaos. [laughs]

What will happen is people want to talk, which is great, and you will find that time ticks by superfast. You don’t start on time, then you don’t have enough time for the video and the discussion, and then you definitely don’t have enough time for prayer. If you open up your prayer time to be just prayer requests instead of actually praying, then you lose even more time, often 20 or 30 minutes just sharing requests. So here are some ideas for this. Number one is, if you’re not running the study that you’re in, approach the leader and ask them about their ideas for structure or vision. Maybe they have an idea and they just need help actually implementing it. I’m in a prayer group with a friend of mine and there’s just a few of us, but my friend is really good at helping me stay on track with the time. We set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and that’s our talking time. When the timer goes off, then we start our prayer time. Whether we’re opening scripture and praying it back to the Lord or writing out our prayers or we’re writing prayers for somebody else. However, we want to do it that week, we try to set that timer for talk time and then when the timer goes off, we move into the actual prayer group time. The same thing can work for a Bible study. I would also recommend having set times for certain sections. This is really helpful for people who struggle with paying attention, people with ADHD.

It’s nice to know time frames and to have short sections of time in which you’re focusing and it also helps keep things clipping along and focused as the study as a whole. For example, say you do 20 minutes of talk hangout time and then you do 15 minutes of video, 30 minutes of discussion, and 20 minutes of prayer. By then you’re almost at two hours and you have structured your study firmly where you can keep things going. Now, I’m not saying that you need to hedge the Holy Spirit in and if you’re having a really powerful prayer time, you’re like, “Oops, no timer went off. Everybody needs to leave.” [chuckles] But I do think that generally having a flexible structure is really helpful. Now that’s on structure and timing. But what about vision? It’s very important to have a vision for your Bible study because this changes who you’re ministering to and who’s even in the study. If your vision for the study is to reach unchurched people, you’re going to be studying very different passages most likely. You’re probably going to be defining terms a lot. You’re going to choose a whole different video study if that’s what you’re doing. You’re probably going to need other strong Christians with you facilitating the group so that you can answer all the questions and help people understand what Christianity is. 

If you are going to be doing a study for long-term believers, you’re going to approach it a little differently. You’re probably going to get different types of questions. You might deal with more legalism or apathy. You might get people who aren’t very engaged because they grew up in the church and they think they know everything. You might even get people who are super opinionated in their tradition and so it can look very different. That’s why your vision for the group, your intent for it is so important. If you’re not the host, you are within your rights to ask, “Hey, what’s your vision for this group?” If you’re running a prayer group, is your vision to help people grow more confident in prayer? Or is your vision to gather people who already are confident in interceding and pray for something specific? Like you only pray for the city or your state, for example. Maybe your Bible study’s goal is evangelism and you really want to study how to be evangelistic and so that’s your focus or maybe your Bible study’s goal is discipleship and you want to simply deepen your Walk with God. And so, you’re going through Ephesians or Galatians with a group of long-term Christians. Just know what you’re trying to accomplish because it’s going to change the structure that you set up in place.

Now, if you have a mixture of new Christians and long-term disciples, if you have a co-ed study of men and women, those are also factors that you need to be thinking about. How are you going to steward who’s there? How are you going to lead them along towards the place that you want them to go? Now, obviously you can’t make them go there. It’s kind of the whole “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink concept.” You can’t make them read their Bibles, you can’t make them grow spiritually, but you can facilitate it with a good structure and vision. 

Hey friends, I am so excited to let you know about the new summer Every Woman a Theologian collection. This shop collection is dropping May 25th and we have some amazing products to share with you. We have the new spiral bound Revelation Bible Study, which is a totally new format that has been much requested. We also have my first children’s book, my family loves to eat together, and lots of new hospitality items in Verity home for doing more of life together. An all-new candle, a restock of our favorite lavender brownie mix, measuring spoons, olive wood rolling pins, and so much more. If you are new to the Every Woman a Theologian shop, this is the primary way that our ministry and this podcast is supported. So, thank you so much for shopping with us. We can’t wait to release these items to you May 25th and you can join the email list at to stay up to date on all of our launches. That’s

Okay. The second problem we run into in a lot of shallow Bible studies is, quite frankly, that the Bible is passed over. We don’t even open the Bible. I’m sure you’ve been in studies like this. It’s pretty sad and scary that it happens, but it’s really easy if you’re doing a book study, because oftentimes the Bible verses are kind of interspersed in the book. You’re reading the Bible verses, watching a video, and then discussing. And what can happen is we can get really passive about the actual study portion, and it’s really just watching a video and talking about it and eating cupcakes. Which do we have time for that? Does any of us? Do we have time for that? I know I don’t, really. [laughs] We want to do something that actually bears fruit so that means opening the Bible itself. This can be difficult if you’re doing a book study. If you are doing a book with a video, what I would recommend is actually highlight the verses beforehand. If you’re the leader, highlight the verses beforehand and ask people to read them. Ask them to look them up, open the Bible and read those verses out loud at the beginning and then when they come up throughout the video or throughout the discussion time, you can return to those verses. My favorite way to do a study, honestly, and the way we led college ministry and the way we did small group in the past, and the way we do small group now, is simply to read a passage of scripture aloud, one chapter and discuss it, bring some commentaries in and sit around and talk about it, follow the cross references. When people ask me, how do you want to do a Bible study? How would you do a Bible study? I literally just think it should be so simple. It should be so simple. Just take the apostles teaching and read it and talk about it and then pray. It can be that simple.

This brings me to the third problem that we have in Bible studies and that’s that no homework is completed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a Bible study, whether led by me or just attending, where people show up and say, I didn’t have time to do any of the homework. Sometimes this is because the homework is really involved, there’re a lot of questions to answer, there’re a lot of stuff that you need to look up, and so you didn’t finish it. This is one reason that all of my Bible studies including the Revelation study, which I have in my hand right here, we will be rereleasing at the end of May, spiral bound and hardcover. We are so excited. The reason I write my Bible studies the way I do without weeks and days assigned is because this is a pet peeve of mine. I would get so irritated when I’d have five days of homework that I’d have to complete before we met again. The fact that it was certain days was just so hard for me that if I missed a day, I’m like, “Oh, shoot, now I’m behind. Now I have to do two days at once.” So, when I write my Bible studies, I do verse by verse structure, and it’s simply the chapter of the Bible, and you take as long or as short as you need to go through that chapter of scripture. That’s it. If you’re interested in our Revelation study or our 1-3 John study, both are in the shop and the Revelation one rereleases in our shop launch at the end of May 2023. 

Okay, so no homework is completed. What do you do when that happens? Well, now you’ve got a problem. Because if the women were supposed to be there or the men were supposed to be there and having read the stuff that was in the chapter for that week and then they’re going to sit down and watch the video, but they have no idea what it’s about. They’re still going to want to talk about it, which is good, but they haven’t actually studied the scriptures on it. If it’s in this homework which leads us to this problem of, like, “Where do we go from here?” Now people are just sharing thoughts off the cuff and they haven’t actually studied anything, and they’re going to go home with some nice thoughts and not actually spent time in the Word. This is why, again, I really encourage making scripture the center. Even if you’re doing a book study, pull the scriptures out of the study, have them read them aloud, have them look up cross references because if they didn’t do the homework that week, they can do it right there in the study. I don’t mean answering all the questions, although you can pick and choose questions to do if you want. It means making scripture the center even when it’s tempting for it not to be. This way it fixes the problem of not doing homework and it still centers you on the Word. 

Okay, the fourth problem that we run into is being feelings centric versus being truth centric. Another issue we run into a lot in women’s studies, but it can happen in men’s too, where we sit around and we say, “I feel like this passage is saying this.” First of all, I got some advice early on in my career from someone far wiser than me that when you’re tempted to say, “I feel like,” correct yourself and say, “I think,” because you’re thinking your opinion is the product of your thoughts. So, acknowledge that you are thinking it. You’re not feeling it, you’re thinking it. So, when you are thinking whatever you are thinking, ask yourself is this centered on the Word? And where am I getting this? I have hosted studies where we had a mixture of people who’re not believers and people who were. This is especially important in those environments. You want to be saying things if you’re a Christian that are based on scripture, and it’s okay to process that aloud with your friends, but bring it back. Bring it back to scripture. And this doesn’t mean you have to be quick to correct and make sure everybody’s on the same page and doing the right things and all that. But just that you are gently guiding whatever is shared back to what scripture says, not to what our feelings say. 

Okay, fifth problem, over talkers. Every study has them. They’re the people who are uncomfortable with silence, which I’m raising my hand that used to be me. By being in a study with a leader who is very comfortable with what we call the awkward pause, I learned how to get over this. It’s still hard sometimes, but it is so important to become okay with a pause in conversation. And here’s why? It takes between 15 to 30 seconds for someone to formulate a thought. If there’s a gap in conversation and everyone’s sitting there silent, interjecting yourself can actually cause quieter people to never speak up. It can also cause people who had a thought that was still percolating to be interrupted so they can’t remember what they were going to say. In the end, what you end up having is the one over talker or two who talk the whole time, and they talk back and forth, and then there’s eight people sitting there who never actually get to say anything. In situations like these, which I have had and I’ve even facilitated, and I’ve had to learn and continue to learn to get better at facilitating studies where over talkers are more limited so the quieter can speak, we have to be willing to let those pauses happen and not interject, including as the leader. What I try to do is count to 15 or 20, and if the pause is still happening and I’ve asked a question, I will restate the question in a simpler way or restate the question in a different way. 

Sometimes I will call on people. That’s more something I would do with younger students if I’m in a class environment versus a peer-based Bible study. As you are sitting there letting that space, that pause, hang in the air just remember this is not a reflection on you. It’s not embarrassing, it’s not awkward, it means people are thinking. It is a good thing. What our Bible study leader did years ago that I learned from was he actually made a rule. It wasn’t a strict legalistic rule, it was something we all understood to be a good thing. Made a rule that if you had spoken previously and you were tempted to speak again, you had to wait for three other people to have their turn speaking before you could speak up. So, the people who are really, really vocal, if they had spoken and said, “These are my thoughts.” And another question is brought up and there’s a pause, instead of speaking again, they waited for three other people to share their thoughts before they spoke again. We also had a known standard that the 10 to 15 seconds pause was normal and good. We talked about that and that led us to being okay with those pauses and having better conversations because of it. You may have to eventually take an over taker aside and say, “Hey, I hate to say this, but you have a lot of really good thoughts, but there are some quieter people we’re trying to bring out. There a way that maybe we could partner in helping draw out these quieter people? Maybe we could make some space for them?” I would hate to have that conversation. It sounds really uncomfortable, but it may be necessary if you have somebody who continually overshares or dominates the conversation. 

Last but not least, one of the problems we run into in shallow Bible studies is this descent into stereotyping and segregation by life stage. I stuck these two together because I think we often use stereotypes to stick people into their life stage and not get out of it. One blatant example would be separating men and women. So, this isn’t always bad. I actually think that it can be really good. I am teaching a theology class this summer through Every Woman a Theologian, and I am making it a study only for women. Even though my pastor said, “Hey, it’d be really cool if maybe you opened it up to some men.” I should say, “I really think it needs to be for women” because when women are sharing in the prayer time and when they’re sharing during the connecting time. A lot of times they’re sharing things that are very raw for them and they may not be comfortable opening up in that way if there are men, other husbands in the room that they aren’t really well acquainted with, and especially with a really large group, this is often the case. That’s an example of why I would do something that’s only women, but I definitely don’t think it always needs to be only men or only women. In fact, our small group that we are in is five couples, so it’s 10 people, 10 adults, and then all of our children, girls and boys. In that environment, we have a wide variety of people, and it’s a healthy wonderful small group. 

Sometimes it can be good to separate men and women depending on your vision for the group. Other times it can be good to combine them. Where else does life stage come into play? Marrieds and singles. This can be a huge pet peeve for singles especially because they come into a group and it’s just assumed that everybody’s married or everybody has children. Now, I do think there’s something to be said for marrieds and singles just accepting that there will be people who aren’t in their life stage and be okay with that and embrace and celebrate that. Don’t require that you need to have everybody be in your exact season in order to connect. There are other things to connect about outside of your children, outside of your job, outside of being an empty nester. We should be able to cross generations. When we assume and put on other people the idea that, “Oh, they’re married, they’re not interested in me, they’re too busy.” Or “Oh, they’re single, they’re probably going out every night and having fun so they don’t have anything in common with old married me or I’m a grandma and I’m an empty nester, so nobody’s going to want to listen to me. I’m so out of touch.” These are lies that we believe. The more I spend time with these different groups, the more I see how we have told ourselves these things when they’re not even true. They’re not even what singles are actually believing. I was recently on a writing retreat in Italy. Half of the ladies who attended were single, half of the ladies were married with children, and one of them, I think, was an empty nester. So, we have are almost empty nesters.

So, I’m hosting this retreat. We have this split kind of down the middle in terms of the different seasons that people are in. Something that seemed to emerge was just this idea that married people thought they were so out of touch or boring, and that single people must be going out and having fun all the time, and single people were going, “No, I’m home folding laundry five nights a week. I’d sure love to be invited over.” [laughs] So, when you’re doing a Bible study, don’t fall into this trap that you can only invite people who are in your exact life stage. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t want to deal with all of the different schedules and sleep schedules, and stuff like that that married people deal with, that’s fine. If you don’t want to have to work with the up and down and all over the place schedule that maybe some of your single friends have and you’re like, “Hey, I need something really consistent and this is what we’re going to do.” Then yeah, maybe they wouldn’t be interested in coming, but it’s always worth asking. I think really getting obsessed with these life stages or stereotyping people in their life stage or even stereotyping men and women, it can really work to our disadvantage when it comes to connecting in a study setting and going deeper together and having that Koinonia fellowship that is talked about next to. So, let’s not stereotype. Let’s not think that women only want to make cupcakes and talk about motherhood or men only want to talk about hunting and sports. I know so many men who feel like they don’t belong in Bible studies because they’re like, “I don’t hunt and I don’t follow sports. What do I do? Where do I fit in? None of this [chuckles] resonates with me.”

They just want to study scripture. They want someone to say, “Hey, here’s what the Bible says about being a father and being a man and being a Godly man at that.” And women want that. They want to study scripture and hear; how do I talk to my unsafe friends about Jesus? How do I talk to my kids about sexuality? They want to know this stuff. I think we’ve sold all of American Christianity short when we think we need to do all these hype things to get people to be in a Bible study, when they just want to study the Bible, they literally do. When you look at other countries, when you look at the underground churches in China and Iran where women are often leading and teaching, you are seeing that people there, they just want to study the Bible. They just want to know the Lord. And really in America, it’s the same. It really is but what we’ve done is we’ve said, “Oh, we need all these antics and all these extra things to make people want to come and want to stay.” And it just isn’t necessary. There’s nothing wrong with having good snacks. I always make some snacks when I host because I like to eat snacks. But it doesn’t mean that you need to do all of these gymnastics to get people to come to your Bible study. 

So hopefully this was helpful to you. If you are in a shallow Bible study, you want to take it deeper, you want it to change, I hope that some of these tips are helpful to you as you create the environment you want. Here’s the thing, you guys, if you are in a study or you’ve been in multiple studies and nothing’s working, you’re just like, “Ugh, over and over again, we’re not studying scripture, we’re not going deeper, we’re not connecting, we’re not praying together.” Start a study, start one. All you need is two people, one person. You could start with one person and little by little, you continue to grow. You pray people in and you show up and you say, “You know what? We’re going to go deep.” That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go deep. God will bring you those people and those people will bring you more people and you will find that community. It exists everywhere I’ve lived and I’ve lived multiple places over the US. Everywhere I’ve lived, I have found those people because they do exist. But deep calls to deep, and I don’t mean legalistic calls to legalistic, I don’t mean cage stage kind of thing, where you’re sitting there like, “Well, if you don’t read theology in your spare time, then I don’t know what to talk about with you.” 

No, think of this as the freedom of coming to scripture alongside other people. Not being hyper dogmatic, but just excited to look at the Word and walk it out next to other people. Not in legalism, but in joy. When you do that, you are going to attract people who also have the same goal because the Holy Spirit is in both of you. And God hears your cry for community. Sometimes you have to be the first one. You have to be the one with the open door. You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to stay up late, to cook some snacks, to invite the single women over who can’t arrive until after 08:00, when your kids are going to bed right then. Sometimes you have to be willing to sacrifice for community. but if it’s worth it to you will do it. When you’re sitting around your living room with a bunch of women who love the Lord and who are in love with His Word, I can tell you from experience, it’ll be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. 

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian, as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s word and the heart of Jesus Christ.


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