Interview by Marco Silva /
We are excited to highlight for you a new series of Bible studies for women: the Sophron Studies (pronounced So-frone). We know they will inspire you to go deep with God and his word. The first volume is Galatians: Redeeming Grace and the Cross of Christ. We asked the authors, Melissa McPhail and Lisa Menchinger, to tell us about themselves, along with what they hope to accomplish with their study. If parts of this interview sound strangely quaint, it was in fact conducted pre-covid.
How did you come to know and love Jesus Christ? Who or what was instrumental in your own discovery of God’s redeeming grace at the cross?
Melissa: While going to church at our Marine Corps base chapel as a newlywed, a marine’s wife confronted me about my testimony. It made me stop and think and worry that maybe I was not saved. Shortly after, I heard the gospel and was converted.
Lisa: I came to know and love Jesus Christ as Lord through a difficult marriage and divorce. During the divorce, the Lord called me to himself. The Lord used preaching on the radio to woo and pursue me and give me a hunger for more, along with observing my parents’ changed lives, who had recently come to faith.
What does a typical day in your life look like? What does an ideal day look like for you?
Melissa: A typical day involves coffee with my husband at 5 am, daily reading in my “Read the Bible in a Year” exercise, cleaning up the house, and then heading to my home office to write. As my husband says, I am “compelled” to write Bible studies. I have an ongoing list of writing goals, with no deadlines or demands; it’s just what I do.
I often meet in some sort of discipleship relationship for coffee or lunch, one-on-one with women. I am also making plans for my oldest son’s next graduation from his military training; visiting him and his new wife, anticipating a graduation for one of the twins, planning two rehearsal dinners for my twins’ Summer weddings, and gearing up for college football games in the fall to see if my youngest son makes it on the field to throw. I love being a wife and mom!
Lisa: A typical day is filled with normal household joys and duties. I’m involved in a few different ministries at my church, Christ Covenant Church, so there are meetings, e-mails, planning, etc. I meet up with women in a Titus 2 capacity, I love to cook and entertain, and I spend several hours a day in the word, which includes quiet time, prayer, study, and teaching prep. An ideal day involves coffee, a walk, seeing grandkids, cooking a nice dinner, interacting with women, and most importantly, time in the word and prayer. And I’ll add sunshine and 75 degrees too!
Whom do you count as mentors in the faith?
Melissa: Definitely John MacArthur and his ministry, Dale Ralph Davis, and Kay Arthur with Precept Ministries.
Lisa: My first mentor was my pastor’s wife in New Jersey, Susan Braun, when I was a very new believer. She pushed me and challenged me in the word and taught me how to be a student of the word. My pastor, Mike Braun, was also a mentor in the faith. I love the Puritans— their faith and their writings have shaped me significantly. David Powlison’s writings influence and shape how I do ministry to women and help me to help women change.
I noticed that you are a member of Christ Covenant Church, where Kevin DeYoung serves as senior pastor. How has God used his ministry to bless you? What have you learned from him?
Melissa: Kevin has done a great job of emphasizing the importance of the body of Christ. He is a gifted preacher, with a quick wit, but Kevin is not about himself. He urges us to be students of the Bible, get involved in church, and serve one another.
Lisa: Kevin’s ministry has been a wonderful blessing. I am thankful for his vision for the local church as a connected family that stands upon the word of God and prayer together.
The PCA appears to have a robust women’s ministry. What is your connection to the denominational ministry and Karen Hodge?
Lisa: I know Karen Hodge personally. She has been a wonderful support, as has our denomination, as Melissa and I pursue the writing of Bible studies. We attend the yearly PCA Women’s Leadership conferences. We have often heard people say here that there isn’t a lot of Reformed women’s material available, which motivates Melissa and me to write.
How has God used Bible studies like the Sophron Studies to impact your walk with him?
Melissa: Inductive Bible studies give us the knowledge and opportunity to know God. Studying for ourselves what the Scripture says is the foundation of sound doctrine. Sophron Studies and other inductive Bible studies give us an opportunity to know God and grow in godliness. All women can become weak women, like the ones in 1 Timothy 4. We must prepare our minds with truth to avoid walking away from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tell us about a time when you had an “a-ha” moment while studying Scripture. What was that like and how did God use it?
Melissa: Years ago, I was preparing to teach a class on Abraham and Sarah at another church. I came to Genesis 15:6, and immediately went to a cross-reference of John 3:16. This made perfect sense to me at the time. I did word studies and kept digging into the etymology of the word faith. This is where Reformed theology began for me. I was astonished to realize that the Lord brings faith, it is not by works, and that includes “praying a prayer.” I realized there is not a “walk an aisle” faith; it is faith in Christ that God gives!
Lisa: I remember when we had a very sick 12-year-old son who was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease. We were also in the midst of a grievous church situation. My time with God was truly my sustenance! I could not wait for people to leave the hospital so I could just sit with my Bible. It was like I was sitting on the lap of my heavenly Father, and his words would comfort me. The nearness of God was almost tangible during those difficult times. I was safe in his arms in the midst of the most unknowns I have ever experienced. (My son is 24 years old now and doing fine.)
How has the Sophron Studies approach in particular, or inductive Bible study in general, shaped and formed your walk with Jesus?
Melissa: Sophron thinking is not natural, it is the very opposite of the fleshly way to think and respond. It is hard-core training. I fail every single day, I am always learning Christ’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and patience. Sophron Studies has shaped my walk with Christ because I am learning Jesus and his gospel continuously! I see my continual shortcomings in holiness and I see his superabundant grace.
We are blessed to have a lot of options for Bible studies today. What makes Sophron Studies, and this Galatians study in particular, worth someone’s time and investment? In other words, why should someone choose to walk through Galatians with your help?
Melissa: The 16 lessons take a student through the author’s purpose, teaching, and instructions while emphasizing the context and encouraging women to think “sophronly” about God and the material that they are learning. Galatians makes us pause and ask, “What am I trying to add to my faith?” We are very much like the Galatians! Lisa and I are both relational, so we add relevant and relational application questions to the meaty study.
When I thumb through your Galatians study I see a lot of questions, accompanied by a lot of white space. How are you hoping someone will engage with this study?
Lisa: We are hoping that women interact with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. We live in a culture of blogs and podcasts. These things are good, but they can’t take the place of time with Jesus Christ in God’s living and active word. We write questions that can be answered from the text but we also write application questions that engage the heart.
God’s word changes people, God’s word is sufficient for godly living, and we pray that women will walk away loving God more, loving the local church, and with a strong desire to live holy lives. But we also offer gospel reminders that we are all still sinners who take our glance off of Christ and can look to other things for our identity and satisfaction. We want women to remember where real hope lies: in Christ.
Melissa: Ideally, sitting down with Galatians will be an intentional, steady, daily time of devotion. It is not to be mere homework like an academic assignment, but a time to delight in the Lord.
What do you hope the future for Sophron Studies looks like? What do you have planned or what would you like to accomplish?
Melissa: I hope Sophron Studies impacts women to grow in their knowledge of the Lord, to think “sophronly”, and to live it out in their homes, churches, and communities. Women are influencers, for good, bad, and ugly! We know that affecting a woman through a study affects her home and family; learning sound doctrine guides a woman in her own home and gives her the opportunity to share Christ, to love, and to build up her own home. And we strongly believe that stronger-minded women (those who think rightly, biblically, sophronly) will strengthen their families and churches and communities.
More studies are planned! We hope to soon publish an 8-week study titled, “Women who Worship.” Each lesson focuses on a different woman of the Bible and how we can learn from her spiritual journey, whether good or bad—Jezebel is one of the characters we study! This study is one of my favorites! We are also ready with Ephesians, Philippians, Titus, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. And there’s always more in the works!
In a sentence or two, tell us what you hope your study will help achieve in the life of a woman who takes up your study and invests herself in it?
Melissa: We want women to take the time to study and let God’s word penetrate their hearts to give them confidence in sound doctrine so that it drives them to sound thinking, which determines sound living. All women can be students of the word; it is not too difficult, even if it seems that way! Sophron Studies is inductive, but it is not for an elite group of women. We want believers of all maturity levels to benefit and grow.