In my last post I examined the growing trend among churches that are moving away from offering women’s ministry. Today I’m going to respond to the 2 main reasons why this is happening, and then delve into the bigger picture of what’s at stake if we remove women’s ministry from the Church’s missional strategy.
#1: Women’s Ministry is Becoming Irrelevant–The first reason that women’s ministry is on the decline is that it’s become irrelevant to many women today.
The problem with this reasoning is that we do not treat the Church this way. Just because a church isn’t doing ministry effectively does not mean we abandon the idea of “church” altogether. Instead, we seek reform. We find ways to change, improve, grow, and preach the Gospel with more power and authority than ever before.
And that is exactly what we should be doing in the realm of women’s ministry. Just because successful strategies of the past are no longer working does not mean that women’s ministry has become obsolete. It simply means we need to raise the bar. Women need to step up and be more intentional about equipping their hearts and their minds to equip the women who come after them.We do not throw the form away.
We just make it better.
#2: Women Are Already Thriving On Their Own–According to this reasoning, the most urgent need of our day is to raise up strong men. Given the numbers of women going on the mission field and attending seminary, it would seem that women don’t need their own specific ministry if they’re already excelling without it.
There are actually two problems with this thinking. The first is an overestimation of the goodness of women. Women are not going on the mission field because we’re somehow better or nobler than men. It is instead the result of a combination of circumstances: our changing culture–women are encouraged to do more than they ever have before–and Gospel-centered teaching.
Due to the feminist movement, our culture nearly over-emphasized women for the sake of making them equally, and some of this was at the expense of men. But we are also seeing the positive consequences of a culture that continually affirms women in their abilities and intellect. Women are serving God in ways that they were never able to before.
That said, women aren’t surpassing men because we’re more naturally motivated. Our culture has encouraged us to do so, and there have been some positive results for the Church. But given this imbalance, the solution is not to make the same mistake as the feminists by over-emphasizing men. BOTH genders do well when challenged to step up, so we must not stop pushing women. Nor should we rely on the culture to do this for us, because the secular perspective often strays into a kind of woman-centered agenda.
The second problem with the above thinking is that its vision is far too small. While focusing on the surge of Christian woman in ministry, it overlooks the MILLIONS of women who do not know Jesus at all. I pray there never comes a day when we are satisfied with the number of women who know and are serving Christ. We must always persevere in reaching women around the world, and the individuals who are best equipped to do this work are other women. If we are to reach this demographic, then we must urgently arm more women and then send them into battle.
Now those are two reasons why women’s ministry is far more crucial than it is often given credit for. I would like to offer another.
Several months ago Ed Stetzer, who works at Lifeway overseeing research of the unchurched and teaching Christians how to respond, addressed the issue of women in ministry at a Leadership Network conference. He delineated the characteristics of a “dangerous church” in 2010–that is to say an effective church. Among the characteristics of this church, Stetzer stated that it will have “wrestled with gender inclusion.” He goes on to explain,
It is always a controversial issue, but gender issues will become increasingly a challenge for the church, particularly for the majority of American church attendees who go to churches that do not have women in pastoral roles…In the survey, the unchurched twenty-somethings were asked what impact two stances by a church have on them. First they were asked, “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church did not endorse the ordination of women as pastors negatively or positively impact your decision?”
Sixty-five percent of all of the younger unchurched said this would negatively impact their decision. Only 6 percent said that this would be a positive. So, the negatives outnumbered the positives 10 to 1….Now no matter where you are on the issue, we need to have a clear and biblical reason, that is consistently applied, to explain our position.
*To read this entire talk, you can check it out on Stetzer’s blog here.
Now some of you may read this and think, “My church does this already!” Plenty of evangelical churches have discussed this topic ad nauseum, so it would seem that such churches are doing well on this point.Well I asked Stetzer about this exact thing–Don’t evangelical churches ALREADY do this, almost to the point of over-kill? Stetzer responded, “No not really. The average SBC church does an incomplete job articulating their gender views. When they do, they only tend to describe it in terms of what women can’t do.”
And this explains a LOT. I have been mystified by the fact that churches with the most detailed views of Biblical manhood and womanhood, who have the most nuanced reasons for distinguishing between the roles of men and women, do not have ministries specifically for men and women. They are not taking their theology to its logical end. If men and women are so different, then men are best equipped to teach men, and women are best equipped to teach women. But most of evangelical churches aren’t doing this, and it’s for the exact reason that Stetzer described.
If we truly believe that God created men and women for different roles, and we want to play to those differences in a way that equips believers in their service to God, then we need strong ministries for women and men. That is not to say that our genders should define us more so than our identity in Christ–if your church does not have these ministries, it will by no means crumble. BUT, the reality of our gender differences should be a factor in our strategy for expanding God’s Kingdom.
And as Stetzer highlighted, this work is not only crucial for building up the Church, but for evangelism as well. If we do not articulate the roles of women in a way that gives women Scriptural options for serving, teaching, and leading, we will quickly become irrelevant.
Now this leaves us with one remaining question: “What does this look like?” How should churches seek to build up women in ways that are both effective and Biblical? We will take a look at that in the next post.