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The Problem of the First Woman

By February 2, 20116 Comments

Yesterday I was fortunate to catch up with an old friend who serves as a pastor at my last church. He is thinking about creating a women’s ministry for the ladies in his congregation and he wanted to pick my brain about the process. I was SO excited to hear how the Holy Spirit is working in and through the women there–I really do love women’s ministry and it is especially encouraging when my brothers in Christ catch a vision for it too. However, in the course of our conversation I realized that he has been running up against an obstacle that is very common in evangelical churches today: the first woman problem.

At churches across the country there is a tremendous desire for strong, female teachers from whom the women of the church can learn and be challenged to grow. While Christian women want to hear from women who can encourage them with the wisdom that is born out of life experience, there is also a desire (particularly in younger generations) to study the deeper theological truths of the faith. And while it’s usually not too difficult to find women who would teach in in the former category, very few would volunteer to teach the latter.

When it comes to teaching Scripture in a way that is intellectually challenging, most Christian women don’t feel up to the job. And yet the popular demand for it persists.

That is the problem of the first woman. Churches will not have solid, female teachers if there is no system in place to train them and nurture them. Unfortunately there are few pre-existing female leaders to remedy that problem, and male pastors are often hesitant to mentor women. What results is a Catch-22 in which the church needs female teachers but has no female teachers to train them.

Given this predicament, there will have to be a “first woman” in every church who sets aside her insecurities and fears about inadequacy and blazes a trail for the women behind her. This will not only require courage, but it will also require initiative. Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch. For those women who possess a seminary education, you are ahead of the game! God has provided you with the knowledge and the training to equip your sisters in Christ, so don’t be afraid to use it. Ask God how He intends to use your education for the edification of the Body, and then respond in obedience.

For the remaining 99% of Christian women who have not attended seminary or Bible college, don’t rule yourself out. Remember women like Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, who never went to seminary but grew deep in the Word through her own personal study. Not everyone with the gift of teaching attends seminary, but God nevertheless calls you to exercise your gift in faith. If you suspect that teaching is a gift God has granted you, I challenge you to use it to serve God and His Church!

And for those of you who do not have the gift of teaching, or you do not feel called to women’s ministry, I would encourage you to affirm the women in your life who do. It is tough being the “first woman.” It can be lonely and the footing often feels unsure. Fears and temptations abound. Which is why these women need affirmation, prayer, and truth. Encourage them and reflect back to them the gifts that you see.

Before I close, I thought I would leave you with a few helpful websites that are great resources to female leaders and teachers. Although not all of these sites are explicitly leadership-oriented, many of them are theologically challenging and/or thought-provoking. You can find each one of these in my blogroll, but I thought I would highlight a few here:

Practical Theology for Women–Wendy Alsup wrote a book by the same name, and while she is the kind of women you can relate to she also writes in a way that pushes women to go to the next level. I really love the way she thinks and the way that she is not afraid to say difficult things.

Her.meneutics–This blog is a part of Christianity Today and the content is consistently excellent. The word “hermeneutics” means “interpretation,” and each post offers a Christian woman’s interpretation of varying cultural topics. It is a great example of how to engage relevant topics from Biblical perspective, a skill that EVERY woman needs to have in this day and age.

Gifted for Leadership–The blog also belongs to Christianity Today but it specifically addresses questions surrounding women and leadership.

Leading and Loving It–This is a very special site in that its resources for women are unique. It specifically targets pastor’s wives and women in ministry, offering encouraging blog posts, online e-conferences featuring influential Christian women, retreats, and virtual online communities. The virtual groups are especially neat because they connect women to one another from all over the country. It’s like having a small group in which every member is from a different city.

That’s just a start, but there are many other resources out there. If you think I need to add one to the list, just post it below!

When it comes to women and leadership, God is definitely on the move. In the coming years we are sure to see more books written by women on the topic of theology, and there will be an increasing number of outlets for women who have leadership and teaching gifts and want to hone them. We are in a period of transition right now, which can often feel clumsy and difficult, but we also have great reason to rejoice in what is to come!


  • Angela says:

    Great post Sharon. Thank you for sharing the links. I am constantly looking for good women resources. Being the only women on my church leadership team can be difficult, particularly when it comes to mentoring and keeping healthy boundaries. Praying that more women have the courage to stand up and share their abilities to teach and their desires to learn.

  • Brittany says:

    So true… I’ve been fighting the same problem when looking for an older female mentor. I don’t only want to be encouraged in life… but in my pursuit of deeply understanding Scriptures more. I would love to see a church in our area do women’s ministry WELL. Blessings on them as they embark on that journey!

  • Emily says:

    Thanks Sharron! I hope it’s an encouragement that this woman opposite the country from you in Oregon is reading your posts and loving them! Keep it up!

  • Joanna says:

    Thanks for this post. I honestly have no “earthly” 🙂 idea how I stumbled on your blog today, but it is very timely. I’m a 45 year old Christian woman who has been teaching and mentoring women in the faith (both in the church and privately) for many years. Within the past two weeks, the Lord has very unexpectedly begun unexpectedly opening a door for me to pursue a four-year graduate-level deaconess certification program in our denomination. This would involve an internship at our local church, and possibly later employment there serving the needs of women, seniors, and young families. It is an exciting time – one that in God’s providence has been a long time in the making. The program I’m looking into is brand new, and if it does indeed “make” for the fall, I will have the opportunity (along with my cohort) to be a “first woman” in both this program, and in our local congregation as a deaconess (which in our denomination is a bit like a Protestant, married nun!). May God grant all of us who find ourselves walking this kind of path the grace to pursue it with great wisdom, love, faith, and courage. Keep up the great work on your blog – I plan to keep reading!

  • Sharon says:

    To all you ladies who commented, I am praying for you! God has GREAT and MIGHTY plans for each one of you. And remember that while you might feel isolated where you are, the Holy Spirit is doing a similar work in the lives of other women all over the country.

  • Ann says:

    Thanks for this – just what I needed right now. I am starting the women’s ministry in my church next week, with a “deeper” Bible study. I appreciate the reminder that someone has to be the “first woman” for those days when I really wish someone else could go first!

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