Philosophy of Women's Ministry in the Church

Nov. 4, 2011 Susan Hunt

Session Transcript

Susan Hunt: I’ve tried to anticipate your questions. Whether or not you’re asking the first question that’s on your handout, “Are there biblical reasons for women’s ministry in the church?” that is the first question you should be asking. We need to keep going back to that question, “Are there really biblical reasons for a women’s ministry?”

You see, women’s ministries often fall into the personality, event, or task-driven mode, and we want Word-driven ministries. Just because we settle this issue one time, just because you hear it here, you’re not done with it. We need to continually go back to this question, “Are there biblical reasons for a women’s ministry?”

I’m going to give you two reasons. The first is: God created us male and female. Gender distinctiveness is woven into the creation story, and as we’ll see as we go on, the foundational principles that we see there form foundational principles for a women’s ministry.

We must begin with a biblical apologetic for womanhood before we move to a biblical apologetic for women’s ministry in the church. It’s so important that we have a defense of womanhood, a biblical defense of womanhood. This is true anytime in history, but it’s particularly true at a time such as ours, when not only is gender distinctiveness under attack, it’s actually denied.
We are created equal in God’s sight, but with different functions. In Genesis 2:18 we see, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” Those wonderful words from God, “I will,” shout to us “sovereign initiative; sovereign grace.”

Here we see headship, the principle of headship, right from the beginning. Being created first gave man the position of headship, but we also see in this verse women’s helper design. That Hebrew word for helper is often used to refer to God as our Helper.

I’ve listed a few of those verses and how God is our helper. This helps us to understand our helper design. We see that He helps us by defending, seeing and caring for the suffering, supporting, protecting, delivering from distress, rescuing and comforting. That’s a description of a True Woman. This is the woman as God designed her to be.

The problem is, the man and the woman sinned, and in losing their relationship with God, they could no longer be the true man and the true woman that God created them to be. But that’s not the end of the story . . . we have the gospel.
In Genesis 3:15, again we see that wonderful, “I will.” God comes and He speaks to the serpent, and He says, “I will do for them what they cannot do for themselves. I will send an offspring of the woman who will defeat you, Satan.”
Now the man and woman heard this. They expected death, but they heard a promise of life. They heard the first proclamation of the gospel, and what was Adam’s response to this? We see in verse 20 that he named his wife. The naming indicates headship. So because of the gospel, Adam was restored to headship.

What did he name his wife? He named her Eve, which means “life-giver.” It’s interesting to me that Adam did not name her some form of the word ezer, referring back to her design. You see, because of the fall and the huge implications of the fall, there had to be something totally new, and there was. There’s the gospel.

Because of the gospel—life—the promise of life, we can be and do what we were created to be and do. So we must become, we must have that gift of grace, that gift of life in order to be restored to our creation calling.
Because of the gospel, the one who had become a life taker became a life giver. The new woman became a true woman again. We see the contrast on your handout between the life giver and the life taker, and at every moment we will be one or the other.

The life-giver words are words that we can summarize with the words “community and compassion.” Our life-giving ability, our helper design equips us to nurture, to mother, to be relational, and it equips us for ministries of compassion. “Community” and “compassion” are covenant words. They’re descriptive of covenant life among God’s people. They’re gospel words; they’re selfless words.
By nature we are life takers, but by grace, we can be live givers. But women must be discipled to be life givers.  When we become a Christian, when we’re redeemed, we have the life of Christ in us, so we now have the ability to be life givers, but that’s the discipling that needs to happen. We need to be trained.

That’s the second reason for a women’s ministry: Because of the Great Commission, Jesus gave to His church, to make disciples. A women’s ministry is a discipling ministry. Biblical discipleship is informational. We read in the Great Commission that we’re to “teach all things.”

It is also relational. In Mark 3 we read that Jesus went up on a mountain. He called those He wanted with Him. He appointed twelve so that they might be “with him”—two significant words in this passage. And that He might send them out to preach. Note that the relationship came before the task.

So biblical discipleship is relational, it is also transformational. Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher.” Not just “think like,” it’s not just information that we receive, but it’s the life of Christ that we receive, that we might be transformed into His very image.

So in biblical discipleship, we see that wonderful gospel process take place. I think that Paul really captures biblical discipleship in 1 Thessalonians 2: “We were gentle among you [and I love that he uses the mothering analogy] like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you, not only the gospel [that’s the information] but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (vv. 7-8). You see, it’s the content of the gospel in the context of relationships that validate the gospel.

Then some discipleship, not all, but some, is to be gender specific. That’s what Titus 2:3-5 is all about. The Great Commission made gender specific. Some discipleship is to be gender specific because God created us male and female.
Then we come to the question, “Are there biblical principles for crafting a women’s ministry?” Is there biblical apologetic for women’s ministry, or do we need to reinvent women’s ministry every time there’s a change in leadership?
It was as I was studying Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, what’s known as the pastoral letters, because they were written to these men in their capacity as pastors, that I realized there were five passages within those three letters that mentioned women specifically.

As I looked at the principles in each of those passages, there it is. It’s exactly where it should be, in letters dealing with the church. Here we see principles—and I have them listed for you—the principles of ecclesiastical submission, (This goes right back to creation. God created the man first, giving him headship.) of compassion, community, discipleship, and Scripture.

This correlates with our design and our redemptive calling. This should not surprise us. All of Scripture is a window on all the rest of Scripture, to understand it. It does thrill me! It thrills me in my soul when I see these beautiful correlations, Genesis, Timothy and Titus. It’s all there together.

Now, the book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church unpacks these passages and gives some application, so we’re not going to repeat that here, but I do want to use those principles to answer what I would suspect would be some of your how-to questions, and those are listed here on your handout.

How do we craft ministries that are submissive to church leadership? The dialogue between Nancy and Crawford was a perfect lead into this. They really answered the question in that dialogue. How do we do that? How do we cultivate community among women? How do we train women for ministries of compassion? How do we train women to be life givers, rather than life takers? How do we do this from a gospel perspective?

Let me give a word of caution: This is not a done deal once we get it under our belts. This is an ongoing process from now on. This is what your women’s ministry leadership should continually be thinking through, evaluating, coming back to these fundamental questions, and then saying, “How are we doing this?” and “How are we attaching what we’re doing to why we do it?”Is what we’re doing flowing out of those biblical principles?”
I’m going to answer those questions by going back to the principles: First of all, ecclesiastical submission. The governance of the church is to reflect the creation order. This order liberates us to do and to be what we were designed to do and to be. Informationally, this means that we teach biblical submission by our attitudes and our actions.

Relationally, it means that if women in leadership are married, this begins in their marriage. You cannot circumvent any of these principles by going around your marriage and going to the church. It must come right through your marriage. Every principle we talk about should begin in the marriage. We should intentionally find ways to support church leaders. We’re not to be competing with them. We’re to be life givers to them.

One ministry leader told me that their women’s ministry team now does not make a decision without stopping and asking the question, “Will this be a life-giving decision  for our church?” Not for our women’s ministry, but for our church.
Use that chart and ask the hard questions, “Are we defending our church leaders? Are we supporting other ministries in the church, or are we vying for space and resources? Are we being a support to them?” What attitude will your leaders project when some proposal is rejected, or some budget request is rejected? How will we communicate that to the women, if they know about it?
Secondly, what about compassion? Our helper design equips us and gives us a heart for compassion, for caring for the oppressed and the suffering in very practical ways. After the crucifixion, it was the women who got together and prepared the spices and went and anointed the body of Christ. That was the practical task that needed to be done.

You see, that’s what a women’s ministry is to do. We are to anoint the body of Christ with practical compassion, and then to move out into the community. It may mean taking meals to the sick; it may mean working in a homeless shelter.

In Scripture we see that the deacons were appointed to wait the tables so that the elders could spend their time teaching and praying for the flock, but I often wonder . . . I sure hope there were some women who volunteered to do the cooking for those deacons to have food to serve. That they joyfully partnered together for this ministry.

This is such an important part of the discipleship of our women. We need to think very intentionally, “Are we giving women the training and the opportunities for these kinds of ministries?” So many of them want to do this, but they just don’t know how.

We, actually, in our Bible studies . . . Let me pause and say, I’ve taught a Tuesday morning Bible study for about 35 years. It’s in three different churches where my husband has been—but in each of those (a small church plant, then a larger church where he was on staff, and now that he’s retired, we’ve gone to a small church plant again, a different one, just to help out and volunteer to them)—and in all different size churches, I’ve “been there.” I understand where you are.

Over these years one of the things that we’ve done is to, sometimes, some weeks, take a week of our Bible study, while the nursery was available for the young moms, and we would actually take women and go out and do ministry. We would divide into teams. Some would go visit our elderly people; some would go to a homeless shelter and volunteer; some to a crisis pregnancy center, all different things. Some would clean the church, different kinds of ministries, so that they could get their “hands dirty” in ministry.

Sharon and Alicia are best friends of mine, and have been best friends as long as I can remember. Sharon said to me, “Do you know when Alicia and I became friends?” I said, “No,” and she said, “It was about twenty years ago when you took the Bible study to a crisis pregnancy center. The two of us were assigned—we hardly knew each other—to fold clothes. As we folded clothes together, a friendship was formed.”

That friendship has not just blessed those two women. It has blessed our church. Their service to our church has been phenomenal. You see, this is important, it’s an important part of our discipleship.
Now thirdly, community . . . I’m going to take just a little bit longer on this because it’s really one of my heartbeats. I’m convinced that so many women who come to Bible studies are desperately lonely and feel very disconnected.
Last month, I did a conference for about twenty churches in Ohio, and they had done really good work in preparation. They had polled women in all of those churches to find out, “What do you feel is your greatest need as a woman in the church?”

The one thing I got back from them that was common throughout the whole survey was that women said they felt lonely and disconnected. We have the answer. This means that we must take great care and be very intentional. And how do we cultivate community among our women?

Many Bible study models are primarily academic, and I am in no way minimizing content; I’m very big on content. But we must find ways to blend together content in the context of relationships that are nurturing and building women up.
A woman told me recently that she was new in a community. She went to a Bible study—she called around and found out about one. So many things were going on in her life, she just felt she was unraveling and desperately needed support of other women, she needed friendships. She got to the Bible study, there was this wonderful lecture, and then they were given some questions, and they were given this instruction:
“You’re going now into small groups, but you are not allowed to talk about anything except the content of this lecture—no personal issues are to be brought to the table.” There was no time for women to share prayer requests, and she said, “I left as lonely and even more desperate than I came, and I never went back.”

We’ve got to think about this, and we as the leaders need to be sure that we get the balance. We are not minimizing content. Let me just tell you what we’ve developed over the years, and it’s in this resource notebook.
That is, we have a team of women who are responsible for our Bible study. For one, I never want any woman to refer to our Tuesday morning Bible study as “Susan’s Bible study.” It is not. There’s a team of women, and they’re actually more visible than I am.  Among this team, there’s someone who does the refreshments, someone who’s in charge of the nursery—and that’s another thing I’m an advocate for.

We need to provide a nursery, not make the young mothers take turns for the nursery. They need to be in Bible study more than anyone else, and I’m an advocate for the church putting that nursery in its budget.
At one point, when we were in a very small church and there was no money, we just prayed and God provided it. The mother of one of the young women, who lived in a different state, called me and she said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I know my daughter needs to be in that Bible study and I want to supply the money for you to have a nursery so that none of the young moms have to miss.” Go to bat for that.

Then we also have someone who’s in charge of our prayer time, so that, when we divide into groups, they’ve got a list of church prayer needs. Then we have someone on our committee, and her responsibility is what we call “community building.” Every week she has something planned for us, usually it is what we call a “box talk” or a testimony.

Guidelines for both of those things—they’re a little different—are, again, in the notebook. I’m going to take the time to demonstrate a “box talk” to you, because what we have found is that this is the quickest way to get women connected. They’re given five minutes for this. Not only does it get them connected, but we find that women who would never begin by giving a testimony, who would never teach a Bible study, they won’t even pray out loud yet, will give a box talk, because they want to tell you a little bit about themselves.

Here goes my “box talk.” This is an abbreviated version. Instead of a box, I’ve brought my beach bag, because I grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Iabsolutely loved the beach, and every summer our family goes back with our children and our grandchildren, and we fill up the beach for a week and have so much fun.

I brought my Bible because it was in a Bible class at seminary that I met Jesus—get that—I went to seminary, not a believer. I was getting in a degree in Christian education because I was so miserable and so desperate, and I was religious. I thought I needed to do something religious to get happy, and I met Jesus.

Just about a week later, I met my husband, and I’m really glad it was in that order, or he would have had nothing to do with me.

My favorite books—I love books, Nancy I’m with you, just give me a book and I’m happy—but two of my favorites are Pilgrim’s Progress (and this is the children’s edition, because it’s still one of my favorites. I discovered this wonderful book by reading it to our children when they were little), and another is Stepping Heavenward—love this book. Love it!

Get a theme here—pilgrimage—that’s what it’s all about, and these both beautifully depict that. I love commentaries, and having a husband who’s been a pastor for forty-eight years, I have access to so many wonderful commentaries. I also love just stuff, and my current read is Dick Cheney’s book In My Time. I’m loving this, and next on my list is Joel Rosenberg’s spy thriller The Tehran Initiative . . . great stuff.

Then, my family loves SEC football. College football was our thing. This is my Auburn shirt. Last Saturday, I was a Auburn University with three of our grandchildren who are students there, watching the Auburn Tigers. Any fans here? Okay, Okay, I knew there had to be some here.

But  this does present something of a dilemma. I graduated from the University of South Carolina, and my husband graduated from the University of Georgia. There are some Saturdays when there’s a lot of tension in our house, but I’m not as competitive as some of the rest of them, so here’s how I’ve resolved that dilemma. I cheer for whoever has the ball and I end up happy.

Do you think you know me just a little bit better? See? Now, most women love doing that. Our son, who is a youth worker, even uses it with the young people.

Now, what about those weeks when a women walks in the door and you look at her and know her life is coming apart? Her husband has just walked out on her, she’s just gotten a diagnosis of cancer, her son’s just been arrested. All of this has happened just recently for us.

What do you do? Does that take over your Bible study? You need to give thought to “how we’re going to handle this.” What we have begun doing with that is it’s become a safe place. So women can come in and come to me or to any of our leadership team and tell us. And then when we start Bible study, we just tell the women. (First we will ask the woman in crisis, “Is it all right if we tell the others?” Generally it is because it’s become a safe place.)

Then we tell them all. The woman in crisis sits in a chair, and we all gather around her, we put our hands on her, some kneel at her feet and hold her hands, and we pray for her. Then, we begin Bible study, but it gives me an opportunity as I teach the Bible study to bring home some principles into that situation.

We have not ignored her, but neither has that taken over Bible study. The other thing that it has done, is, all of the other women have now been sensitized to it, and other women who have been through similar things begin ministering to her outside of Bible study. You see, that’s what we want to happen. Think very intentionally about how you’re cultivating community in your Bible study.

The fourth principle is gender-specific discipleship. Titus 2:3-5 is our mandate to disciple women. I’m not saying that everything we do in our Bible study is to be about gender issues, but I am saying that it should permeate all that we do. It should give application. Our Bible study teachers need to be ingrained with the biblical principles of womanhood.

I would say, use True Woman 101 to train your Bible study leaders, then no matter what they’re teaching, they can bring in these applications. Nancy asked about my latest book Prayers of the Bible that’s actually a study that we taught in our Bible study last year.

I really understood when you said you don’t speak on prayer . . . the women in our Bible study wanted to study on prayer, and I thought, “I can’t teach on prayer. How do I do this? Who understands prayer?” And then as I was just praying about it . . .duh? . . . “Go to the prayers of the Bible.”

Oh my, it opened up so much for us as we simply studied the prayers of the Bible. But in each chapter of the book and in each Bible study, we then made application about, “How does that help us to be true women? What can we learn from this that will help us be true women?”

A friend told me that when she moved to a new city and they became involved in a new church, it was a wonderful church, wonderful preaching, strong women’s ministry, strong women’s Bible studies. But she called me after they’d been there six or eight months, and she said, “This is so odd, but as strong doctrinally as everything in this church is, the women think like feminists. How can that be?”

I said, “Are the women anywhere taught what Scripture says about womanhood?” So she looked around and she called me back in a couple of weeks, and she said, “I’m shocked, but no they’re not.” So by default they’ve had to go to all that they hear, which is the world’s perspective of womanhood. Then there’s this huge disconnect between our theology and our view of womanhood.

Don’t let that happen in your church, don’t let that happen. Are women learning the principles, the language, of biblical womanhood? Listen, the language of life     giver is so strong and so beautiful. Women will come now and say, “Pray that I’ll be a life giver in this situation.” That’s the kind of thing we want to happen.

Then the fifth principle, is the authority of God’s Word. Everything must flow out of God’s Word. Then, another question is, “How do we implement a Titus 2 discipleship ministry in our church?” It was that friend of mine who said the women think like feminists that really made us begin thinking about this in our church—this was about ten years ago. We began praying, “Could this happen in our church? Could it be that women really don’t understand the principles of biblical womanhood?”

As we thought about Titus 2, about discipleship, we decided that the best thing to do was to start a specific Titus 2 discipleship ministry that was single-focused, only focused on teaching biblical principles of womanhood.
It correlates with our Bible studies, it’s not in competition with that, but it is a single-focused ministry, and it is a small group ministry. The groups meet once a month, because we don’t want it to compete with the rest of church life, and we found that that there really is time. They’re small groups of six to eight women, there is not a teacher in each group, but a facilitator, not necessarily the oldest woman in the group.

In one group, right now, the woman who is facilitating, who is leading the group, is the youngest woman in the group, but she is just that—she’s the facilitator. It has just been an amazing thing, as we’ve seen how relationships have grown, how women’s understanding of women’s ministry and of womanhood has grown. We have a specific curriculum. But it doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it helps you to accomplish your objective.

Our curriculum for that particular ministry are books that deal with womanhood. So the women read a book, they come together once a month, they discuss the book, and they discuss how it applies to their life.
Guidelines for developing such a ministry are in this notebook, as well as—and this is the most important piece, I think—there’s also a section to train your Titus 2 leaders. Actually, that training would also work as one component of training your Bible study leaders, just so that they can weave biblical womanhood principles into their Bible studies.

Then the question, “How do we disciple our teen girls?” The curriculum that I mentioned has a leader’s guide. It’s a three-year curriculum. There’s a leader’s guide for each year, and there’s a journal for the girls. This is in the resource center. So three years, three different journals.

What really works is when the women’s ministry can partner with the youth ministry, and you’ve got women through your women’s ministry who are learning biblical principles of womanhood, then they can take this and teach it to the girls.
However, in some situations, women are learning it as they’re teaching it. One of the things we’ve done this year that has just been wonderful is that we really want to reach out and enfold our teen girls, so we assigned a teen girl to each one of our Titus 2 groups.

The Titus 2 group is to pray for her, they’re to stay in contact and find out her prayer requests. It’s been very interesting to watch. We began the Titus 2 year with a kick-off when all the groups meet together, so that they can see other women who are in a group and get a sense of the bigness of this ministry.

This past September when we had our kick-off, we sent a letter to all of our teen girls, telling them what we were doing, and that we would be praying for them. We invited them to come to that kick-off and to sit with the group who would be praying for them. It was just comical to watch.

Those girls walked in. Written all over their faces was, “I don’t want to be here, but my momma drug me.” And we showed them to their group. By the end of the night, those girls were giggling. You would see an eighty-year-old and a teenager hugging each other—they were laughing. They were having so much fun together, and it has brought this dimension into church life. Our teenagers don’t walk in, heads down, separate from the rest of the people.
These women are going to them, “How can I pray for you? How did this work out, that thing that we’ve been praying for?” It’s wonderful interaction with those girls. They just come up now and hug us. That’s what you want. You want it to be relational, but also look for opportunities to actually teach them these principles.

Now, if you’ll look at the last page of your handout, everything I’ve said is reduced to these silly little pictures. This picture is, again, in the notebook. Use it with your women. You see, our challenge is that many women are hiding in caves of isolation. Some are there because of ignorance, they’ve bought the lie that independence is power.

Some are there because they are so wounded, they are afraid to come out of that cave. Some are there because they just don’t know that we are supposed to live in relationship with one another as God’s children. Our responsibility as leaders is to shine the light of truth and of love into those caves, so that it becomes safer to come outside the cave than it is to be inside the cave. Then we begin helping women connect as sisters in Christ, developing community.
As women develop community, it spills out into our whole church, and the church community life becomes deeper and sweeter. As women are in community, their Christ confidence grows and they are energized to move out together into ministries of compassion, whether it’s in their own marriages, in their families, within the church, in community, whatever it is.

Then, you see, as that happens, that fuels community, because as we’re out serving together, then it fuels that community life. So keep this picture in mind and let that be a picture of what you’re moving towards in your women’s ministry.

Again, thank you for what you do. I love you and I pray for you, I really do. Thank you.