Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thinking about Women's Ministry in an Old-New Way

Perhaps if you visited a church recently and wondered whether they had a women's ministry, someone said something like this to you: "Well, we do have a women's Bible study, but we don't believe that the church is called to create a bunch of programs broken out into different demographic segments."

Certainly, if a church is creating segmented programs that are disconnected from the overall life and unity of the church, then this would be a counterproductive ministry. If women's ministry is limited to a thing that happens in an isolated place, like an event, a meeting, or an activity, without any integration into the overall body, then it's likely that the women involved are missing out.

So, what is a healthy women's ministry supposed to be like?

Well, I could tell you to read "Women's Ministry in the Local Church" by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, and end the post here. Because that really is the definitive resource, in my opinion. Rather, I'd prefer to share what I've shared with other women on the topic.

Until recently, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) committee on discipleship ministries called the women's ministry arm of its work "Women in the Church", or WIC. The name was changed to Women's Ministry, because of the confusion and misunderstanding of using the acronym, especially among newer people in the local churches.

I fear something important may have been lost when the name was changed. When we spoke of Women in the Church, it actually meant every woman member in the church was automatically considered part of Women in the Church. It wasn't a program to sign up for or a club to join, but rather it simply meant that you became part of the Titus 2 model of mentoring, where older women would come alongside the younger women. It didn't matter whether you believed in women's ministry or not, if you were a member of the church, you were a member of WIC.

Sometimes, when we speak of women's ministry with newbies, there is pushback about whether women should even be "in ministry" at all and whether the idea is even Biblical. Usually, when the model of ministry is explained, their concerns are easily answered. Yet there are times when the question still lurks about whether women are exercising authority in the church by having a ministry with committee members/officers who plan and teach.

At this point, we gladly bring up the practice of active submission. In a thriving church environment, women's ministry leaders are encouraged and reminded to actively submit their budgets, plans, books for study, and teachers or speaker to the session for approval.

In a thriving women's ministry, the leaders actively submit by coordinating teaching material with their pastors, to ensure that it complements the preaching schedule and that it complements the pastor's vision and direction for the church as a whole. A thriving women's ministry will develop the schedule and plan any events or activities in tandem with with the life of the church, so that the content and context all fit together and integrate people into the larger body of Christ as much as possible.

Another example of active submission is a recent initiative in our local church. Women's Bible study and small group leaders are now required to read and study the Westminster standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms), then sign an agreement, listing any exceptions they hold. All of our women who teach other women or children have gladly submitted to that request.

When others see and experience a thriving women's ministry that is working in coordination and cooperation with the pastors, the session, and rest of the church, they are often both surprised and encouraged. It requires the veteran "older women" to set the tone by going to great lengths to create synergy and collaborate efforts with the nursery, missionaries, campus ministry, hospitality, outreach efforts, and many others.

When properly conceived, women's ministry can create and promote a fruitful environment where women are more fully integrated into the life of the church (rather than the opposite).

What to avoid
What are some of things for leaders to avoid, in order not to conceive of women's ministry as just another program?

1) Don't get sidetracked by worldly leadership models that say the church can only do one thing well (focus on a single core competency). People need more than one-dimensional ministry to thrive and flourish, especially in this hostile age.

2) Don't think of women's ministry strictly in terms of events and meeting needs. Our effectiveness to minister to one another is founded on how well women are able to think and live Biblically by studying and applying God's Word, and in prayer. Word-based ministry is the key.

3) Don't imagine that women discipling women through women's ministry somehow stifles mission effectiveness. Sure, if women spend day after day in church activities and events, then it will negatively affect their ability to be salt and light, but that is the opposite of the model of women's ministry that is needed. We do need women to spend time with other women, investing in their lives, in discipleship relationships. Women need to be able to confess their sin, repent, pray, hold one another accountable, pray, and apply God's Word to their lives. That can't happen if they don't spend some intentional time together in a gender-distinctive setting.

4) Don't limit the mission of the church to one (or two) hours on Sunday morning. Because even though preaching, the worship service, and the sacraments are the necessary components for a church to even exist, and for the believer to have a fruitful life, they are not the only things that people need to grow and mature in Christ. Especially in the case of newer believers and those who are immature in the faith, accountability and gender-specific discipleship can be crucial.

I never thought I would say some of these things, because I have very little trust for women. But thankfully, I'm at a place now where I can see that one of the biggest ways for me to continue to grow and mature in my faith is through developing more nurturing relationships with women in the church, who teach me by their example.

All of this is to say that women's ministry can be and should be so much more than a "program". Women's Ministry can be life-giving, God honoring, and complementary to the overall mission of the local church.


Series on Women's Ministry in the Local Church ‪#‎fwiw‬
1. Women's Ministry in the Local Church: Intro & FAQ
2. Women's "Ministry"?
 





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