In my last article, I discussed how Christ has given the church the gift of ordained ministerial office and that this is how the church ministers to every member through Word and sacrament. With that in mind, let’s get back to women. What goes under the umbrella of women’s ministry?
Many churches include hospitality service such as organizing and making meals for new moms or someone who is ill, inviting visitors over for coffee, baby showers, and some even go so far as to organize the Sunday morning greeters. These are wonderful services for a church to provide, but I question why hospitality is under the umbrella of women’s ministry. The biblical command to be hospitable was not directed to women only.
What I am getting at here is that maybe under all the best intentions of having a thriving women’s ministry that serves the church well, the men may be missing out on the blessings of serving in some of these areas designated for women. We may be divvying up services in male and female categories that aren’t necessary and missing opportunities to serve together.
A major cultural challenge that the church is up against in our day is gender distinctiveness. It’s real and good, and yet, how do we express it? We want to be careful to teach and model male pastoral and elder leadership in church, as well as headship in the home, but we do not want to foster a male culture. Sometimes I think women’s ministry can add to this problem rather than help it. How can we show forth gender distinctiveness and exemplify healthy male/female relationships in the church: brothers and sisters in the Lord? How do we model the hope that we have for living on the new heavens and the new earth as new creations living in the already and the not yet?
We can easily add to this problem when all of the ways that women serve in the church are separated to a women’s ministry. And, as I’ve already shared, we lose focus of the ministry that we all truly need. Here’s the thing: complementary churches may be giving lip service to the importance of male leadership in the office of pastor and elder, while simultaneously neutering them of their ministerial role. We recognize that women are gifted in many ways to serve and teach, and so we think we create a safe place for them to do that by offering women’s ministry. These often informal and organically formed groups become viewed as the place where the real ministry is happening because of its practical value. And then we say we are being complementary because we have designated a separate wing for women to do their thing in the church. It has the appearance of valuing women and giving them a place to serve under male headship, but far too often these women are not properly invested in or led in the most meaningful way.
My first article of this series pointed out the bothersome verse in 2 Tim.3:6 regarding weak women in the church who become caught up in false teaching. This infects a whole church. Although I’ve been steering away from having a formal women’s ministry as we see it in the evangelical church today, women teaching women is biblical. Not only that, women teach women all the time, whether they are equipped to do it or not. I broke down this term “weak women” as a term of contempt toward a particular group of women. As nonworking-class, they had time on their hands. And they were easily seduced by the teaching that had an appearance of godliness over the real thing. I see this happening on a major scale in the church today.
Churches can have great teaching from the pulpit, and yet there is a lack of connection from the ministry on Sunday morning to the teaching they let in through the week. Where is the discernment? What are we missing?
It has become easier to target “weak” women to infect the church with false teaching because we have separated them to their own ministry. There are so many books full of bad theology with these groups in mind. Pastors can hardly keep up with what the women are up against in the danger zone ostensibly labeled as Christian publishing. But it is imperative that they do. With the technology we have today, not only do false teachers have more access to spread their doctrine, but the weak people they target move on to publish their own books, speak to their own crowds, and lure in more of the same. We are all familiar with Titus 2. But I think that we forget who it is addressed to. Paul is instructing Titus as he is bringing his ministry in Crete to a close, and equipping elders there to carry out the work they have begun. Some main concerns are the organization of the church and dealing with false teachers. We see in this letter how the ministry produces fruit in all the different people in the church. Titus is exhorted to teach sound doctrine (2:1), and then under his ministerial care, mature women are to “teach what is good” (2:3) to younger women in the faith. We see in these verses how doctrine and life go hand in hand, and mature women should not only model this, but train the younger women. This isn’t a mere appearance of godliness, but an embracing of sound doctrine and the fruit of it.
There is a responsibility that lies on the elders here to invest in the women so that they are equipped to teach what is good. Women teaching women flows from the ministry. What we do in our own households outflows from and pictures our participation in the household of God.
I’m all for having a the women of the church plan fellowship activities together. In fact, I love being a part of that. I especially love attending women’s retreats and conferences that are full of good teaching. It’s been an honor to do some speaking to different women’s groups. I have learned from many of the women in these retreats and they have been a great blessing to me.
And of course we should be encouraged to use our gifts to serve the body of Christ and in our vocations in loving our neighbor. I’m not convinced we need a formal women’s ministry to organize this. What we do need is to prioritize the ministerial office given to the church and their role in equipping lay members in teaching what is good. Our service and conversations are shaped by the theology that we believe. Let’s be passionate about investing in good teaching and the discernment to spot a counterfeit. Let’s improve communication between the leaders in the church and the women who teach, so they can participate in solid women’s Bible studies and book studies, outworking from the ministry of Word and sacrament. This will be blessing to the elders and the church as a whole.
*Originally Published July 20, 2015.