Originally published November 2, 2018
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s observance of Reformation Day, I directed your attention, in part, to the brave and godly women who played a part in the Protestant Reformation. A few days ago, I shared this post on my Facebook page…
Is the women’s Bible study you’re attending preparing you for something like this?
Of course, when I say, “something like this,” I don’t mean only being executed for your faith. I mean something hard. Life-shattering. Devastating. The loss of your spouse. A stillbirth. Your adult child choosing the prodigal life. A terminal diagnosis. Losing your business or your job because you won’t compromise on Scripture.
And it isn’t just the big, life-altering things, either. What about “smaller” issues like humility, serving without resentment, gratitude, glorifying God instead of self, submitting to your husband, patience, and prioritizing your time in a godly way? What about daily life in general?
Praise God, many women can truthfully answer, “Yes,” to my question. Their churches are training them in the Scriptures and discipling them well so that they can face big or small issues in a godly, biblical way.
But if the best sellers shelf at LifeWay is anything to go by, far more women would have to answer, “No.” Something is wrong in women’s discipleship in the vast majority of evangelical churches. I see the product it creates every day: women who run their lives by their feelings instead of the Word of God, women who believe their own opinions and experiences over Scripture, women who attend every study, every simulcast, every conference, every women’s ministry activity, yet whose lives are devoid of the Fruit of the Spirit.
Our churches have far too many weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6b-7)
And if you’re consistently getting a defective product, you’ve got to trace the problem back down the manufacturing line to find out what’s wrong and fix it so your product won’t be defective any more.
So what’s going wrong on our discipleship assembly line, and what can we do to fix it?
We’re creating false converts instead of true Believers
This is the main reason we see women who can’t or won’t deal with life’s issues – big or small – in a biblical way. They can’t because they’ve never been truly saved, despite what they may claim. And the reason many of them think they’re saved – because they’ve prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or made a commitment to…something – is that their churches have not taught them the biblical gospel.
The biblical gospel is not “Jesus is a nice accessory to add to your life to make it prettier, like a new purse or bracelet,” or “Jesus will heal you, give you the money you need, or do cool signs and wonders for you,” or “Jesus will help you accomplish your dreams,” or “You’re worthy. You’re enough. Jesus loves you.”
The biblical gospel is raw and startling and offensive: You’re not worthy because you’ve offended a holy God with your sin and rebellion. You deserve death and Hell for your crimes against the King, and there’s nothing you can do to assuage His wrath against you. It is right and good for you to feel guilty and hopeless about that. But because God is good, and worthy, and kind, and merciful, He, in the person of Jesus Christ, took the wrath and punishment you so richly deserve by suffering humiliation and dying on the cross. He endured all of that so you wouldn’t have to. Then He rose again to conquer death so you could live. So He could give you the gift of repentance and faith and credit His righteousness to your account to forgive your sin and make you right with God. You’re not enough. Jesus is enough. And praise God for that!
We need our pastors and teachers to fearlessly and unashamedly proclaim the hard edges of the gospel. We need to train church members to share the gospel correctly. We need to stop reassuring people living in unrepentant sin that they’re saved. If it walks like an unsaved duck and quacks like an unsaved duck, it’s most likely an unsaved duck. And that duck needs to examine herself against Scripture, maybe with the help of a mature sister in Christ, to find out where she stands with the Lord.
We’re dealing drugs instead of fostering joy
If you look out across the landscape of evangelicalism today, you’ll notice the dynamic between women’s ministry and Christian woman bears an eerie resemblance to the dynamic between drug dealer and addict.
Women are hurting or bored or discontent or unsaved, so they bounce from women’s Bible study to women’s ministry activity to women’s fellowship to women’s retreat to get their next hit of Christianese-laced dopamine so they’ll feel better and maybe get a little escape from their circumstances. And Christian retailers, conferences, and often even local churches are right there to peddle the latest designer drug to women who can’t get enough.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing intrinsically bad about any of those activities. In fact, assuming they’re doctrinally sound, they can all be very good things! But if we’re using the emotional high we get from them as a substitute for biblical joy, or if we think those things are the source of joy because that’s the dime bag we’re being sold, that’s spiritually pathological.
Real, biblical, satiating joy doesn’t come from an outward activity. It comes from the inner working, shaping, and sanctification of the Holy Spirit – a concept we’ve got to get across to Christian women. Joy comes from gazing at Creation, the cross, the communion of the saints, and remembering – celebrating – all Christ has done, and will continue to do, for us and in us. Joy comes from repentance and forgiveness from sin. Joy comes from worshiping in spirit and in truth. Joy comes from unity with the brethren. Joy isn’t a temporary injection of happiness, it’s a congenital spiritual trait.
We’re parking women in evangelical daycare
instead of giving them spiritual mothers
In most churches, “women’s discipleship” means the church has purchased a divangelista’s DVD and workbook package, and provided a room set up with chairs, a DVD player and monitor, and a woman to “facilitate” the class. It’s the spiritual equivalent of glorified babysitting. The kids might have some fun, be entertained, and enjoy spending time with their friends, but it’s not the same thing as having a mom.
Mom tucks you in at night. Mom listens to your stories. Mom makes you eat your vegetables. Mom kisses your bo-bos. Mom disciplines you when you’ve disobeyed. Mom pours her life into you. Mom is there.
That Christian celebrity on the screen doesn’t even know the women of your church exist. She doesn’t know their names. She can’t comfort them when they’re sad or rejoice with them in their blessings or advise them when they need counsel. And yet, by continually feeding women a diet of celebrity studies, we teach them to idolize and become disciples of this woman they’ll never meet. They’ll never watch her serve in their church. They’ll never observe her walk through trials. They’ll never be able to pour their heart out to her over a cup of coffee or feel her arms in a warm embrace.
Christian women don’t need evangelical daycare, they need spiritual moms.
I know this is going to sound like a bombshell to a lot of people, but you can have a strong, healthy, thriving women’s discipleship ecology in your church without ever setting foot in a Christian bookstore. Without DVDs. Without curricula and workbooks. Because women’s discipleship isn’t about parking them in front of a TV and hoping they get something out of it.
What we need is older women who are trained to teach the Bible and show other women how to study it on their own. Real life, flesh and blood, in-your-own-church spiritual moms who don’t have perfect hair and makeup and designer clothes or sparkle with charisma. Women with a few miles on them who know what it’s like to be broke or have a rebellious child or battle cancer or fight for their marriage, and can walk day by day with other women through their trials. Women who are spiritually mature and can set an example for their spiritual daughters of repentance, evangelism, servanthood, humility, prayer, and kindness. You know, the kind of women Titus 2:3-5 talks about?
We’re teaching idolatry of self
instead of slavery to Christ
“I don’t agree with that.” “That’s just your interpretation.” “That teacher you’re calling a heretic has helped me so much!” “I don’t care what the Bible says, I like/dislike ___.”
I, I, I. Me, me, me. Sometimes it’s because they’re false converts. Sometimes it’s because that’s what the divangelista on the DVD is teaching them. Often, it’s a combination of both. Somewhere down the assembly line, we’re ratcheting up women’s self-esteem with how wonderful they are, that they’re God’s masterpiece, His princess, the pinnacle of awesomeness. By making them disciples of the celebrity they’re watching on the screen, we teach them to value worldly success and fame rather than humility, suffering, and serving. We appeal to women’s fleshly emotions, coddle their self-centered feelings, and in a total misunderstanding of Christian unity, validate their unbiblical opinions and experiences to make sure there’s no controversy or hurt feelings. Is it any wonder we have an abundance of Christian women for whom self reigns supreme? Who think their truth is the truth?
It’s totally natural for self to sit on the throne of an unsaved woman’s heart. If that’s the cause of her self-idolatry, the only solution is the gospel and God opening her heart to receive it.
But we’re doing genuinely regenerated Christian women no favors when we inundate them with homages to self. We already love ourselves too much. We don’t need the church encouraging that, we need the church to help us fight that. And the number one way the church can do that is to stop being afraid.
Stop being afraid of controversy. Stop being afraid to call the names of false teachers who are harming women. Stop being afraid to call sin, sin. Stop being afraid of hurting women’s feelings with biblical truth. Stop being afraid to correct unbiblical theology and opinions. Stop being afraid of an unscriptural definition of disunity and learn what good Christian factions are. Stop being afraid. Fear is not a Fruit of the Spirit nor an appropriate attribute of the church.
Teach women the biblical construct of being slaves of Christ, their good, kind, and merciful Master. Teach them that they are not entitled to any opinions other than their Master’s. They may not hold beliefs contrary to their Master’s Word. They may not think, feel, speak, or act in ways that displease their Master. They are to obey all that their Master has commanded them in His Word. He is the Master. He calls the shots. We are the slaves. We obey.
There are so many ways we’re getting women’s discipleship wrong. These four points are just the tip of the proverbial ice berg. We’ve made women’s discipleship a pretty, pink tea party instead of the hard, bloody, call to die that it actually is.
Why aren’t supposedly Christian women prepared to die for Christ? We haven’t prepared them to live for Christ.
And yet…we can! There is hope! We can fearlessly teach women the whole gospel, the whole counsel of God. We can rehab spiritual euphoria addicts and reorient them to biblical joy. We can ditch the DVDs and divangelistas and give women the Christian mothers in their local churches whom they so desperately need. We can devalue self-idolatry and shape and sharpen slaves of Christ.
We can. And it’s guaranteed to work, too. All we have to do is start trusting and obeying God’s Word over man’s methods, and we’ll be getting women’s discipleship right.