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Women’s Ministry: Onward and Upward

By June 15, 20094 Comments

Woman prayingAfter having delineated the reasons that women’s ministry is on the decline, and then examining the reasons why we as the Church should be concerned, I am now going to explore some points of action on the part of the Body of Christ. This will not, however, be a formula, nor will it be a suggestion for church staffing policies. Women’s ministry is going to look different in different churches, not only because of theological variances but because of financial ones as well. In light of this diversity, I will instead offer several diagnostic questions to evaluate where you and your church lie on this issue.

But before I do this, I want to offer an opening definition of women’s ministry. I should have done this long before now, but it is important for evaluating where your church stands in regard to this particular ministry.  I would define women’s ministry as a function of the Body of Christ in which women are educated, equipped, and empowered to be disciples by other women. This function can play out in a variety of forms and is not necessarily limited to an official “women’s ministry division” of church life. There are plenty of different ways to accomplish this–the trick is in doing it effectively.

Having established this definition, you can implement it as you read through the following Women’s Ministry Diagnostics:

Diagnostic #1: If you are a church leader, are you providing women with the opportunities to use their gifts to the fullest?

As I quoted Ed Stetzer in my last blog entry, a large number of evangelical churches have comprehensive doctrinal positions on Biblical manhood and womanhood, but their beliefs fall short in one of two ways:

1. Churches only describe what women CAN’T do, without affirming the full extent of what women CAN do.

When I asked Stetzer about which churches do well in affirming women, he pointed me to Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. I researched Keller’s position and I found that while the office of elder is reserved for men, he goes on to say:

Though the job of elder is a high calling, every believer is a “prophet, priest, and king”. All non-elders in the church must and can use their gifts in the church, whatever they are. In a nutshell, our position is this: whatever a non-ruling elder male can do in the church, a woman can do….Thus, women at Redeemer will be free to use all the gifts, privately and publicly. There are no restrictions on ministry at all.

* To read Keller’s entire essay, click here.

I agree with Stetzer that this is indeed a strong and affirming stance for women in ministry. However this leads me to the second point of doctrinal break-down, which is follow through:

2. Churches do not put their doctrine into practice. 

There are plenty of evangelical pastors who would whole-heartedly agree with Keller’s stance. And the ones who don’t completely agree are probably not all that far off from his position. There aren’t many church leaders around anymore who would out-right deny that women should serve in some form of a ministerial role. The problem is that hypothetical belief looks very different from reality.

I have talked with numerous pastors who admit that they don’t have any doctrinal objections to a woman teaching or preaching in various church capacities or services. But has it ever actually happened? No. What’s more, church staffing often fails to reflect the equality of gifts outlined in their doctrinal positions. Women are considered to have equal gifts in ministry, but few churches will actually hire them to do so.

Now the real problem here is not the furthering of women’s “rights” in the Church or some other woman-centered agenda. What’s at stake here is the integrity of one’s theology and ecclesiology. (For you non-seminarians out there, “ecclesiology” refers to one’s view/understanding of the Church)

Ecclesiologically speaking, if you believe that God gives His disciples specific gifts to be used for the edification of the Body of Christ, and that God gives those gifts deliberately and with a purpose for expanding His Kingdom and glorifying His Name, then passive affirmation of these truths is not enough. Inherent in the above statement is action. God expects us to be using our gifts, so if we have designed a system that only enables some disciples to use their gifts while preventing others from doing the same, then we are not fulfilling our call to be the Body of Christ.

Theologically speaking, many evangelicals ascribe to a Complementarian doctrine that teaches men and women complement one another in their gifts. That said, if we do not actually allow women into positions in which their gifts are able to complement men, then what results is a lop-sided church leadership that is not only failing to draw on the diversity of gifts at its disposal, but fails to reflect the Trinitarian model of leadership provided for us in the person of God.

As I said, I will not prescribe what this looks like for individual churches, but I ask you to take a hard look at your church in this respect. Are you truly utilizing the gifts of everyone in the Body, or just some?  What would it look like to have more diversity of gifts on your church leadership and staff? And more importantly, how can you build a church leadership team that reflects the heavenly throng awaiting you in eternity?

Diagnostic #2: If you are a Christian woman, how are you honing your gifts for the glory of God?

While it is important to address the Church’s role in affirming the gifts of women, women must also pursue their gifts in Scriptural, God-honoring ways. We frequently fall short of this goal in one of 2 ways:

1. Women hone their gifts for the wrong reason.

For many of you reading this, you are very frustrated right now. You have gone to seminary, you have received an M.Div. and you are ready to serve. Unfortunately, you can’t find a job because you don’t want to be a children’s minister or counselor. I can relate.

In response to this frustration, it’s tempting to try and force your way into the church. You push and push and push, or complain and complain about how unfair it feels, hoping that someone will hear you.

But when you find your heart straying into a direction of bitterness, beware! A tactic of force or coercion that results from anger and frustration is not only ineffective, but it is also not of God. While it is important for evangelical woman to raise concerns about the health of the Church in relation to women’s ministry, we do so FOR THE GLORY OF GOD, not women. This must always be our motivation.

2. Women are not honing their gifts.

A theology of male leadership is not permission to be lazy. Men have their roles, and women have theirs, but the call of every disciple is to preach the Gospel of Christ. Just because you are not on a church staff does not mean you are any less of a minister. While it is important that the larger Church affirms women and provides them with opportunities to serve and lead, we don’t have to wait on this to be serving and leading.

So the question is, where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you know what your God-given gifts are? How are you refining them and using them? And if you are doing all of these things, what is your driving motive? Are you doing it for yourself and your glory, or for God’s?

One thing is for sure–we cannot complain that the Church isn’t using our gifts for the glory of God if we ourselves are not using our gifts, or if we care little for the glory of God.

Diagnostic #3: If you are a church leader OR a woman, what are you doing to equip women with the same training and urgency as men?

As I mentioned in my previous post, women’s ministry will find itself on the road to irrelevancy if it fails to keep up with on-going shifts in the female demographic. Here is one example: As a college student, one thing that always frustrated me about the women’s break-out sessions at conferences was that my male counterparts usually heard from pastors, whereas we women heard from pastor’s wives. Now I am by no means belittling the knowledge and wisdom that those women possessed. Their husbands would not be equally yoked with them were they not women of great faith.

However, not all pastor’s wives are called to be teachers and preachers. Some are, but some are not. That said,  I think this trend exemplifies a common pattern in women’s ministries–women leaders have not always been expected to be trained and equipped in the same way that male leaders are. This is not universally true, and it is not to say that God cannot use someone who does not have a seminary degree, but there is a reason why we expect male pastors to have extensively studied and prepared to teach. It is a responsible, effective and faithful way of equipping yourself to be a better teacher, and we should expect the same of women leaders.

In the past, it would have been a challenge for churches to find women with seminary degrees to lead in their church, but that is no longer the case. More and more women are going to seminary, so it’s time to implement their training. Is your church doing this?

And if you are a woman, what are you doing to educate and equip yourself to lead other women? If you are thinking about seminary, don’t let the limited job market be a discouragement. I have used my degree to serve my church in many ways without ever serving on staff. The Church needs women who can answer tough theological questions as an increasingly educated generation of non-believing women come their way. A seminary education is not just about getting a job, but equipping yourself for the sake of the Church.

And if you don’t feel called to seminary, your call is no less great. If you’re leading a Bible study you should do so with excellence.  Rather than becoming an hour-long therapy session, your small group should be a missional hub from which you send young women out into the world to share the Good News! Or, if you’re not a small group leader, who are you discipling? Find a younger woman to walk alongside of through the peaks and valleys of life. Pour truth into them so that they might rise up and serve the Kingdom of God with rigor and might.

As I have said before, woman serve as one half of the Body of Christ, which means we need to pull our own weight. Our roles may be different from men in some regards,  but we are no less crucial to this spiritual battle. We need to stop treating our Christian faith as a means for propping up our self-esteem, and instead hear it as a call to arms. You have heard the call, now take up your arms.


This concludes my series on women in ministry. It’s difficult to fit it all into three blog entries, but I hope it has at least served as a start to the conversation. I know I have not answered all of your questions, so feel free to post them and we can follow up. Til then, I want to end with a final thought: Do not mistake my passion for this topic as anything other than what it is–a desire to see God glorified through His Body, the Church. In all that we say and do, we should be about one thing, and one thing alone–the Gospel of Christ. Affirming the role of women in this endeavor is one important means toward this end. Women’s ministry itself is not that end.


  • Jess says:

    Thanks for such thoughtful insights on a really important topic, Sharon – I’m always challenged by what you have to say.

  • Pam Smith says:

    Picked up on your blog through a Google alert…appreciated your thoughts. Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA is committed to helping women thrive in ministry. On this link: you’ll see three women currently being profiled who are using their training in significant, God-directed ways. God’s blessing on your campus ministry work.

  • Dinah Clarke says:

    what makes me so sad is the sheer close-mindedness of so many, and almost a determination to think things through. I don’t see anyone saying that men mustn’t read anything of a teaching nature written by women …. and there is still the old problem that these rules don’t apply to the mission field … why not?
    After a long time, I have come to the conclusion, that if God has gifted, the gifts should be used. And the general rule is that no servant of Christ should “lord it over” another, we are all slaves of the one Master.

  • Dinah Clarke says:

    oops … no edit function!
    it should of course read “a determination NOT to think things through”

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