Teaching Women how to serve...
Whatever you position on women’s ministry, the Bible is clearly in favour of women teaching women. But are we? Susan Thorp investigates…
Source: Perspective Vo3 No3&4 ©Perspective 1999
In our household, we’ve been through a lot of different ‘cuisines’. There was our Chinese stage; our Italian stage (very popular); our lentil/ vegetarian stage (very unpopular); and our Thai/stir fry stage. All these have met with a variety of cheers and jeers from the recipients. And as much as we like experimental cooking, I know that the thunderous applause is always reserved for the meat-and-three-veg-just-like-Mum-made-it meals. The way to most male hearts is to cook something that resembles steak and vegetables (go lightly on the broccoli).
There is, after all, nothing like a good square meal.
Many ministers, my husband not excluded, make it their first priority to see that the flock is well fed. They sweat week in and week out over the sermon, convinced that a good square meal of faithfully applied biblical the-ology is the best thing to serve in church. And the long term payoffs are usually evident in a congregation who are encouraged and growing in their Christian stature. No doubt we all applaud the training and time that is invested in feeding the body good food!
But what do you think of when you g hear about ‘women’s ministries’. You know… the ladies’ bible studies and assorted auxiliaries and guilds, where women are involved with teaching each other. Although we may not admit it publicly, a lot of what passes as ‘ladies’ fare’ in the church has all the substance of a plate of alfalfa sprouts. As a woman who has been a partaker of the offerings at some of these gatherings, I can testify that women’s ministry (with some notable exceptions) tends to be more subjective, emotive, weakly related to biblical context and concentrated on domestic application ¿ than it ought to be.
On the whole, many women’s meetings are strong on feeding the physical rather than the spiritual stomach.
Now before you jump in with ‘let them eat cake, cause that’s what they really want’, think about the Christian women you know (and if you have one, start with your wife). What do they really prefer? The majority of women I know, even the vegetarians, would gladly pass up the sprouts for a substantial spiritual steak.
Women want to be taught properly.
I think that in our concern to maintain Biblical patterns of family life and in our confusion over the issues related to the ordination of women, evangelical ministries have seriously neglected teaching women how to teach. In our concern to maintain male headship in the congregation, we have failed to recognise and train the gifted women. Perhaps some of the related problems may not have arisen if women had been equipped to understand and expound the Scriptures in appropriate venues.
And if you are thinking that women’s ministry is a small component of the activity of the church, think again. Browse your weekly notice sheet, scan through APL or some other church magazine. The opportunity for women’s ministry are myriad! I can testify from personal experience that women who are willing to take on the task can be kept very busy.
So those of you who are concerned to feed the flock a nutritious meal each Sunday should think about what the women are eating the rest of the time. Part of equipping the saints for works of service includes equipping women for ministry to women. Here are a few suggestions that might improve the situation:
1. Recognise that women have teaching gifts, and give some thought to who in your congregation would be able to teach.
2. Encourage women to join theological education and biblical studies courses. Moore College and SMBC and PTC all offer internal and external studies courses that are really useful and accessible to women. Part of sup-porting women in this area may include organising childcare, and helping them to break the domestic barriers that often stop them from completing their study.
3. Include women in preaching workshops. If you are beginning a training group for lay preachers, make sure some women are invited. (Again, this may mean a bit of childcare sup-port.) Encourage the recording and appraisal of their messages. Groups like CWCI, for example, have extensive teaching ministries among women, but will not endorse speakers officially until they have access to recorded messages. Recordings of women speaking are rare!
4. Encourage women to use their gifts in appropriate venues. Perhaps you could maintain a list of equipped lay preachers from your congregation, including women, so that you can suggest possible speakers for suitable meetings.
But the most important thing is to give up that faint cringe we feel at the thought of women preaching and teaching. There is, after all, nothing wrong with a biblical message pre-pared by a well-trained woman for the consumption of women. After all, we’ve been cooking up good square meals for our families for years.
Susan Thorp is a regular CWCI speaker and the wife of a Presbyterian minister in northern New South Wales, Australia