To Teach What is Good and So Train the Younger Women (Titus 2:3-5)
First, some of the more recent voices that have shot up into the limelight are not necessarily the voices of spiritually older women who have a depth of theological background and experience. Many of these younger voices have attracted attention because they perhaps have touched a nerve in the popular psyche that "older" women may not have noticed. But that doesn't mean the younger voices have all the answers. Those more Biblically mature women who've been out on the blogosphere for 8 or 10 years need to be engaged with these conversations. While it's been incredibly encouraging to see and read a plethora of new books published by women on the subject of women's ministry lately, the depth, clarity and theological precision of each varies quite a bit. Bottom line: women writers have a great deal to learn and gain from one another.
Formal Seminary Training - To Go or Not To Go? (That seems to be the question du jour!)
Lately, a number of the more seasoned women Bible teachers, whose teaching I've read and listened to for years, have decided to undertake seminary degrees at one of the top reformed seminaries. Their various reasons are their own and are surely between them, their husbands/their pastors and the Lord. It's interesting to me that so many of the women I regard as having such rich theological backgrounds and knowledge are the ones who are considering this option now.
I understand the desire to grow; I have even explored a few seminary options recently, taking a few online courses at two of the different institutions to get a taste of the course work and their approaches. My conviction at this point is that I absolutely do not want to pursue a seminary degree any longer after testing the waters. Yes, I love learning - I'm a perennial and lifelong student, especially of scripture and theology. And yes, of all the subjects in my life that I would want to dedicate myself to on a daily, committed basis, reformed theology and doctrine is definitely at the very top of the list.
However, taking a few courses on topics that I've already developed a love for and have studied previously, has been a stunningly disappointing experience. If I were to follow through with a full seminary degree, I have hard time imagining that I would develop a deeper passion for the glory of God and His Word.
That last sentence highlights the issue of motive for me:
Why would I want a seminary degree? (These are my actual answers to that question).
1- To increase my intellectual skills and amass knowledge.
2- To become a more credible authority in the eyes of others. (by adding say, MDiv, to the end of my name?)
3- Because so many other women are doing it and I want to be like them.
4- Because getting a seminary degree will make me feel better about myself.
5- To get seminary training would make me more effective in the ministry work that I do.
6- To get seminary training would lead me to be more worshipful and to develop a deeper passion for the glory of God and His Word.
And here are some of my appropriate responses to those honest(!) answers/motives above:
#1 on it's own, for it's own sake, this is most likely a form of greed and potentially idolatry
#2 is people pleasing - fear or man - and has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord. (If women's ministry required such a degree as an entrance requirement, as the pastorate typically does, then this might be a different question.)
#3 is a form of coveting, desiring what others have for oneself, simply because we want it, is not a valid reason and would be a form of coveting (also, idolatry)
#4 feeling better about oneself might be an interesting motivation for a non-believer - Maybe!-, however, in my case, it points to the sin of discontentment and highlights a performance-driven mentality.
#5 to become more effective in my ministry work is a Godly motivation for attending seminary. However, the additional question might be whether a certificate or a few select courses in a particular area of study (such as counseling or Bible studies) would provide an sufficient foundation, or whether a full seminary degree is actually warranted.
#6 to grow in knowledge that leads to being more worshipful and passionate about God's glory is, at the end of the day, my chief concern. Even if I attend seminary courses in pursuit of #5 (a worthy goal) and those courses result in diminishing my worship and love of God, I might want to consider this.
Based on all of the above, I will likely take a few more seminary courses in my particular areas of need and interest; however, I am seriously considering taking any future courses in "audit" status. I have no need to earn an MDiv. and I believe that taking the courses in an audit status will allow me to achieve my objectives without zapping the joy of learning and study and Godly growth that will come from being immersed in the actual content.
Back to the Issue of Older Women and Younger Women
So, here are my questions for the older women in our churches. And when I say older, I'm referring to women who are more spiritually mature and not necessarily women who are "old". The temptation of checking out and sinking back from engagement because there are "so many other voices" out there is strong. And sometimes women who tend to be more introspective might want to redirect their time and energy toward a formal seminary degree before fully considering whether such an endeavor would produce the kind of outcome that they would necessarily desire. To those who are on that fence, I ask:
- Will a seminary degree help you grow in your ability to teach younger women the gospel, about the doctrine of the church, to grow in their love for the Lord, to love their husbands and their children, to serve better and to be self-controlled, etc.?
- If you have already been doing these things for years, what do you expect to gain from a seminary degree? Examine these answers with your husband (if you're married) and pastor.
And for women's ministry in general:
- Is this a potential opportunity for the Church to learn how to keep older women engaged with younger women?
Let us pray for contentment, to make the most every opportunity that we've been given, to grow in our love and knowledge of the Lord's grace and His Word, and to encourage one another to continue by faith -- whatever that might look like in each of our lives. Let us also pray for one another, that we would consider what the Lord may calling the next generation of older women of the church to do to engage with the younger women.