Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church
In a day and age when moral relativism seems to wear the crown and gender distinctions are ig- nored and even customised, it is refreshing to review a book that drives a stake deep into the Bible. Even in the Christian world, confusion runs amok about the biblical roles of men and women, their relevance in the local church and the nature of women’s ministry. How does one define and understand this gender specific ministry and its relation to the church? Should the ministry be defined by context or the needs of women or are there other basic underlying principles that form its skeletal structure?
A group of women under the editorial eye of Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson have beauti- fully explained what women’s ministry entails according to the Bible. These women, who believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant and sufficient Word of God for all matters of faith and life, attempt to search the scriptures for principles and guidelines concerning women’s ministry in the context of the local church. They have done a stellar job of exploring word-based ministry and its global impact while addressing various issues related to women’s ministry and the goal of it all. Particularly exhilarating and powerful is the resounding theme that God’s Word is enough across all contexts and cultures. In a nutshell, they say, the premise of the book is,
Profitable ministry among women is grounded in God’s Word, grows in the context of God’s people, and aims for the glory of Christ” (13).
As Christians, all of us are familiar with Jesus’ words from Matthew 22:37-40,
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’.
However, when it comes to women’s ministry specifically, we tend to rush to do the second forgetting the first. Love for neighbour that does not spring out of the well of glad theology ultimately fails to deliver and last. And sound theology must be rooted in the scriptures for this is where God has graciously revealed Himself. So I wholeheartedly agree with Nielson that the central focus of women’s ministry, as in the case of any church ministry, should be on the Word of God (20).
Nielson in the opening chapter expounds from Isaiah 55 the weighty truths about God’s Word that must shape all our lives and ministries as followers of Jesus Christ (20). She explains that God is a speaking God. It is in His speaking that creation came into being and through the taking in of His Word we were made to live in relationship with Him (23). Post-fall, it is through this very Word, the gospel, that we are given new life and restored into a relationship with Him. If by God’s Word our very being exists, how much more for life and godliness and ministry? She further explains that God’s word is powerful to accomplish what He purposes and powerful to save not just a few but ev- eryone who thirsts. It also comprehensively equips every Christian. So we can with full confidence unsheathe this two-edged sword to build our ministries in the church (24-29). I was particularly encouraged by these magnificent truths about God’s word to trust in its power as I minister to oth- ers. Nielson then explains that this two-edged sword is not just a selection of texts but the whole Bible; the whole story of the scriptures with Jesus at the centre (29-32). If our ministry to women is not founded on and built by such a glorious Word of God then it is no ministry at all.
When the Word of God is at the heart of our ministry, it also shapes the Why’s and How’s of ‘Ministry by Women’. To this end Claire Smith, in the second chapter, begins by addressing the foundational subject of gender and their equalities and differences from the creation account of Genesis 1-3. This then informs us about the role of women in ministry within the body of Christ, the church. Claire holds to the biblical position of complementarianism and does an outstanding job of describing the beauty of being male and female and its connection to being made in the im- age of God. She explains that this image which was tarnished by the rejection and distortion of the assigned roles is now being restored in Christ Jesus, not just in our marriages but in the Church. Claire’s approach is both refreshing, liberating and encouraging as she walks through the various ways women can serve the church under the authority of male leadership which includes teaching women and children, formally or informally.
When the Word of God is the centre of women’s ministry and if ministry by women is vital to the growth of the church then this Sword must be unsheathed to equip the women who minister. These women in turn must be able to train and pass on the Word to future generations. Carrie Sandom, in the third chapter, addresses the crucial and serious task of training and its importance for women’s ministry. She gives some really helpful insights into how we are to train new leaders.
Chapters four through six deal with the various contexts for women’s ministry. Cindy Cochrum in chapter four tells us that the primary context for women’s ministry is the local church with the goal of strengthening it because God makes himself known to the world through the church (96). She addresses briefly the benefits of ministry in a local church as opposed to virtual Christian fel- lowship. Cochrum also explains in detail the various fruits that grow from a shared commitment to God’s Word in a local church. However this chapter might have been strengthened if the term ‘local church’ was defined biblically.
If you have been hesitant to invite non- Christians to your Bible study group, I highly recommend chapter five by Gloria Furman. She tactfully spells out five ways a Bible study can be used to reach women for Christ as they behold our God and the Gospel. Keri Folmar in chapter six explores the impact of word-filled, gospel-centred, church-oriented women’s ministry across many nations with encouraging testimonies that spur us on to the good work of serving the body of Christ and furthering the kingdom of God through evangelism.
Chapters seven through nine illustrate various ways women minister to women and others in the church. These include the Titus 2 discipleship model (chapter seven) , one on one discipling relationships that target specific struggles with sin (chapter eight), childcare, caring for the elderly or disabled, praying with one another, visiting the sick, music ministry or helping with meals (chapter nine), to name a few. They also address the importance of the church’s affirmation and encouragement of fruitful ministry among women by not only equipping and training the leaders but also by praying for them and (in some cultural contexts) striving to remove/overcome practical hindrances like transport and child care.
Aside from the above mentioned the content of chapter seven seemed very long drawn and may cause the reader to lose their train of thought and miss the point of the chapter. Chapter nine, for the most part, was a repetition of previous chapters although demonstrated well through various ministries happening around the world.
The final chapter of the book deals with the ultimate goal of ministry. Nancy Guthrie, very re- freshingly and soberly addresses the highest aim of ministry among women: to prepare women for the day of the Lord. The greatest tragedy of life would be to face that day unprepared (221). To that end she works her way through the illustrations and parables Jesus told his disciples from Matthew 24 and 25.They explain to us our desperate need to know what is urgent and what simply doesn’t matter in light of eternity (223). They remind us of our call to faithfulness with what God has en- trusted us with (224) and the necessity of not presuming upon the kindness of the Lord. Christians ought to be prepared to face the inescapable judgment that awaits us though it will be one not of condemnation (228–29).
With such solemn, unequivocal and urgent appeals from scripture, Nancy, drives home the sheer importance and the necessity of the work of ministry among women. This will matter forever be- cause “in the Lord (our) labour is not in vain” (234–35).
I highly recommend this book to every Christian woman, new in the faith or mature, to know how to love and serve the church and be cared for, spiritually and physically, by the body of Christ.