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Building a Biblically Healthy Women’s Ministry
(by a pastor, for pastors)
by Pastor John Chester
It is no secret that I am not a fan of discernment ministries, and that I think the concept of Biblical discernment is grossly misunderstood by many. But that in no way means that I don’t think telling truth from error and sound theology from errant (or even heretical) theology is unimportant.
And nowhere is it more important than in women’s ministry. The reason I say that is simple, more than 50% of the people in our churches are either women or they are growing into women. According to The Pew Research Center 55% of those attending Evangelical churches are women.
Yet women’s ministry is often not thought of much by us pastors, I think because we view “women’s ministry” as a thing or program, rather than ministry to women who make up more than half of the congregation we are charged to shepherd. And so we spin it off to someone else or put it on our benign neglect list so that we can concentrate on “more important” things. But nothing is more important than the souls of the women of the church. And practically speaking, any error introduced in a women’s Bible study will work its way through whole families and infect the whole church.
With that in mind, let me offer some tips to guard against error in your church’s women’s ministry.
Preach The Bible
The pulpit sets the tone for the church and everything that the church does, or at least it should. The good news is that even the smallest church with the least talented preacher can have a strong pulpit, because the strength of the pulpit depends on what is preached, not the preacher. What the church needs is a healthy dose of Bible. And by a healthy dose, I mean all that should be preached is the Bible.
It is the Scripture that is inspired and the Word of God that is living and active, and it is the word of God that makes your pulpit strong, not your ability. No one needs your ten tips on having a more productive quiet time or your five steps toward a healthy marriage even if you sprinkle them with a few verses. The people the Lord has entrusted to you need to hear from Him, not you. Your job as a preacher is to decrease while the whole counsel of God is declared. By all means, illustrate, explain, introduce, conclude and apply the text, just stick to the text!
Why this is so important for women’s ministry and guarding the women of your church from error is that it will trickle down in to the church’s Bible studies. If on Sunday (and whenever else you preach) the women of the church get a strong dose of God’s truth, they are going to be better able to spot error and less susceptible to it. And when they see that you have a high view of Scripture, they will develop a high view of Scripture too. When they see you are a Berean who evaluates everything in light of what Scripture says, they will be more likely too as well.
And as a corollary, when you’re preaching the Bible, use it as an opportunity to teach the church, women included, how to think about and interpret the Bible. I’m not saying that the pulpit is a place for a discourse on the grammatico-historic hermeneutic, but it is a place to (often) say things like “this would have meant to the original readers” or “context determines meaning” or “Whenever you see a ‘therefore,’ ask yourself, ‘What is the ‘therefore’ there for?’.” These may be throwaway phrases to you, but they teach the congregation, including the women, how to approach Scripture.
This seems very basic but it needs to be said, you need to know what is going on, what is being taught and what materials are being used. And you need to read any material being used in any class or study. Read, not skim, not look up on the internet, not ask your seminary alumni group on Facebook, but actually read. Need I remind you that you will give an account for how you cared for the souls the Lord entrusts to you? When you stand before God to give an account, “Well, I Googled it,” is not going to be good enough.
You need to pay attention to what is popular in the world of women’s ministry too. The women in your church buy and read more books than the men. Pay attention to what is out there, and don’t be afraid to address any errors that are gaining traction in “churchianity”.
Be The Bad Guy
What I mean by that is be willing to be the one to take the heat. Be willing to veto a book, a curriculum, or even a topic that the women’s Bible study wants to use, and be willing to have the leader lay the blame for the veto on you. I would much rather have someone say to me, “We wanted to use ________ book. Why did you say to use ________ instead?” than have a bad book used, or quash the joy of the women’s Bible study leader if she became an object of scorn. And quite frankly (and this actually happened to me) I would rather have the women’s Bible study leader mad at me, than to have the women be taught something that is wrong.
Invest In Your Leaders
I am genuinely baffled by the lack of investment in women’s leaders. We pastors will often go out of our way to invest both time and treasure in a young man we think might one day have a significant ministry in our church (or dare we hope and pray) or even go into pastoral ministry themselves.. But we often fail to invest our time and treasure in women who have a significant ministry in our churches right now. Might I suggest that the bare minimum you should do for every Bible study leader (man or woman) is to provide basic instruction in hermeneutics. A great resource is Grasping God’s Word by Scott Duvall and Daniel Hays, and there is an excellent companion workbook that makes teaching basic hermeneutics a snap. I promise you that if you teach the teachers of the women in your church how to approach Scripture, it will rub off.
Invest time and invest treasure too. Provide at your (or the church’s) expense good reliable resources for deeper study to leaders of your church’s women’s Bible study. If the women are going through a book of the Bible (with an approved curriculum as the guide) provide reliable (and accessible) commentaries on that book. If the women’s Bible study is topical or using a topical book as a guide, provide some other good books for deeper study and reading.
The women of your church need to feel comfortable sending you an email, shooting you a text or even Facebook messaging you with a question. They should even feel OK picking up the phone and calling you if need be. I get the wisdom in erecting hedges and being careful how you interact with women. But you can’t shepherd effectively if you treat over half of your congregation as walking third rails. Rest assured the women of the church will pick up on your reluctance to interact with them and they will be reluctant to approach you with any questions, doctrinal or otherwise.
If you are married, this is one area where your wife can really help you. Her saying “you should ask my husband” will go a long way. And as a corollary one of the worst things that can come out of your mouth when a woman from your church asks you a theological question is “you should ask my wife.”
If you are like me you will have to work at this. The one thing I can say that always gets a laugh from my wife is, “I’m a people person.” It’s not that I don’t love people, it’s that I tend toward shyness, and I’m not super outgoing. So I work at being an accessible resource for the women of the church, and you can too. And who knows, you may one day be rewarded with a call where a newer believer asks “Is it true that the Israelites ate the scapegoat?”. (That is a real question I got from a real woman in the church and why it is so important that women feel like they can pick up the phone and call you.)
Your pulpit ministry and other teaching at the church is not enough. You need need to be regularly writing. As Al Mohler observed, “Leadership is about communication, and much of that communication is necessarily written…leaders must learn to write and to set time aside for writing.”
But you say you don’t have time. Mohler, one of the busiest men on the planet offers this helpful bit of advice, “You do what you have to do.” I contribute to a group blog with other pastors and a couple of former seminary professors. We all write with an audience in mind – our own church. Why? For two reasons, it builds a resource library that they can access, and it allows us to address issues that we may not get to address in a systematic fashion from the pulpit. I’ve covered topics like the various approaches to apologetics, what goes into a worldview, basic pneumatology, basic anthropology, how to bring Scripture to bear on anxiety, the sanctifying power of suffering, and much more. And yes I have written some things that would fall into the broad category of discernment, like why our church isn’t charismatic, the danger of letting a prolife social gospel supplant the biblical gospel and the respect for life that flows from it, why assisted suicide is unbiblical and even why events like Together 2016 (which for the record took place in our proverbial back yard) should be avoided. I write because I want to educate the church, especially the women of the church, who as a rule read more, about these issues.
Be willing to Sacrifice
Whatever cherished activity or ministry is keeping you from being all in on your church’s ministry to the women of the church, give it up! Let me give you an example. I love our men’s Bible study, so much so that I had the next three topics for the study preplanned. But currently there is no overlap in our church between the women qualified to lead a women’s Bible study and the women with the desire and time to do so. So the Wednesday night Men’s Bible study I have taught since the church opened has been tabled and replaced with a coed midweek Bible study. Sure, I had planned on going through the topics covered in Men Counseling Men edited by John Street, but instead I am teaching an Old Testament survey course geared to Christians of both genders. Truth be told I’d rather be with the guys, but that is not the best thing for the church, and as pastors we should lead in counting others (including the women of the church) as more significant than ourselves.
I could go on and on, but I’ll close with this; it breaks my heart that Michelle asked me to write this guest post. When she asked me to write this post she said that multiple women had contacted her and asked if there was anything about how important it is to help church ladies tell truth from error that they could print out and give to their pastors. For shame! No one should be more concerned with the spiritual well being and growth of the women in the church than their pastors. That in some places and in some cases that is not true is a blight on our brotherhood. This is a profound failure to fulfill the charge of 1 Peter 5:1-4, and there is no excuse for it. As the Apostle said:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
John Chester is the pastor of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket, Virginia. Prior to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. He hails from The City of Champions: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra. Read John’s blog articles at ParkingSpace23.
Note from Michelle: I first had the pleasure of “meeting” John when I read and responded to this excellent article of his on ParkingSpace23. While he and I have a couple of differences on discernment ministry, I think the world of him as a brother in Christ, pastor, and fellow blogger. I literally teared up when I first read this guest post, because I wish every church could have a pastor like John.