So, it turns out that stroller wheels still run pretty well over hummocky, leaf-strewn garden pathways, and that the thud of a tiny muck boot still makes the same satisfying “bong” against the metal bed of a wheelbarrow. When the going gets desperate with a little guy, the desperate go outside — just as I did with this little guy’s dad a couple of decades ago, and the truth is that there are some weeks when the only “women’s ministry” that happens in my life is this offering of respite to my daughter-in-law who needs to go to the dentist or spend some time with her husband. Then, there are the weeks that include space for planning events and projects; for scouring the Bible, listening for God’s voice in preparation for a class or a devotional or a blog post. Over the past couple of decades of my involvement with ministry to other women, I’ve spent more than a few moments wondering: “Exactly what should be the focus of a women’s ministry in the church? Is it to help women know and serve women, or is it to help women know and serve God? Can it be both?”
Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman have compiled a series of ten essays in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, and they have addressed many of my questions as well as concepts I had not even considered. The ten essays could each stand alone in their focus on a particular aspect of ministry, but what emerges from the whole is a way of thinking about women’s ministry (or ministry in general) that exalts the Word of God, identifies contexts in which women’s ministry occurs, and addresses specific issues relative to women’s ministry.
- Where ministry happens and what it looks like are peripheral. Of central importance is a steady and purposeful focus on the Word of God, His deeply personal and powerful message of truth. There is no need to distinguish between having a warm and welcoming fellowship and having an academic and enriching study of a God-breathed text. Through the Word, women will find connections with others through understanding their own stories in light of the Big Story of God’s creation of a people for Himself through His Son.
- What it means to be a women and also a Christian is tied up in our having been created in God’s image. “The perfect unity and differentiation of the eternal Person of the triune God [is mirrored by the unity and differentiation of] the non-identical but equal parts of humanity” — male and female — with roles and responsibilities that are unique and not interchangeable. Colossians 3:16 is a joyful job description from Paul to the faithful men and women who worshiped at Colossae. “When we come together, everyone will participate!”
- The model for biblical leadership training found in II Timothy 2:2 represents four generations of gospel workers: Paul, Timothy, the faithful men, and “others.” From this verse flow two qualifications for leadership in women’s ministry: faithfulness and the ability to teach. Furthermore, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry offers a sound strategy for training future leaders which is based on another of Paul’s letters to the disciples in Thessalonica. He emphasized fluency with the gospel message, transparency of life, a parental urgency of purpose, and integrity before God. Chapter 3 is a gold-mine of suggestions and resources for leadership development.
- Ministry to women within the context of the local church provides the rich resource of a broad palette of giftedness and a ready-made community in which to begin living in relationships of accountability and to begin utilizing gifts for the strengthening of the church. “Until the day when ‘the city’ comes down from heaven, local churches will be outposts of that city, colonies of heaven.”
- Grounding a women’s ministry in Bible study is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission. This does not mean that every devotional has to be lifted out of the four Gospels or include an overt invitation. Gloria Furman asks (and then answers) some excellent questions with the central point being that Bible study will not only fuel evangelistic zeal and equip healthy ambassadors among believers, but it will also put all of life into perspective within the narrative arc of the history of God’s Forever Kingdom. The mind-blowing truth is that mortal women may behold the face of God and live.
- It’s a treat when the sweet women of our Ladies Missionary Fellowship gather each month. We love our missionaries, and although our feet are firmly planted in mid-coast Maine, our hearts travel to the ends of the earth in prayer. Through praying for women around the world, we are absorbing the truth that women’s ministry is as diverse as the different cultures where women minister. Essentially, however, we cannot assume a level of biblical literacy or a gospel mindset anywhere in our post-Christian age, and should be continually asking ourselves if we are centering all our most important events around fellowship and cute snacks or if we are making them into “occasions for rejoicing together in the Word and for celebrating the occasion in the light of its truth.” This notion will affect the way I go forward with planning baby and wedding showers and other group celebrations.
- As women search the Scriptures together, relationships are a natural outcome, resulting in a ministry of mentoring for those who are mature in the faith. This “life-on-life” discipleship is demanding, and it is tempting to shrink from the opportunity when it comes. Through the creative use of letters between an older woman and a younger woman, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry explores the relationships of trust, intimacy, and unity that can develop among the women of a church through Paul’s discipleship model found in Titus 2:3-5.
- The call for women to be transformed into the image of God must address every area of life, including women’s struggle with sexual sin. Ellen Mary Dykas presents a masterful analysis of the Luke 13:10-17 account of Jesus’ healing of the bent woman. Women’s ministry is the ideal context in which to recognize those who are bent by/in bondage to sin; to respond in non-judgmental love rather than intensifying the bent-woman’s sense of shame; and to offer hope and freedom from their captivity to their bodies. A wealth of practical implications follow, and Ellen describes these using actual examples of young women from her own ministry.
- As a Christian Education major back in the 80’s, I graduated full of zeal and fervor into a world in which the only churches who would hire a 21-year-old female as their C.E. Director were so far-removed from my own statement of faith I wondered why they even bothered to interview me. And those who wondered very politely if I wouldn’t be willing to fill the pulpit during any of the senior pastor’s vacations. Undaunted, I eventually found employment with a parachurch organization working with children, but it was not until I was able to volunteer my time that I became involved in women’s ministry. Gloria and Kathleen offer encouragement to those with a heart for ministry. Learning to work effectively with male leadership and humbly waiting for God to open doors and build bridges are essential. However and wherever it happens, women’s ministry is at its best when “women reach out to help one another, [providing the] “safety and understanding that the presence of another woman brings.”
- Equipping women as co-laborers in Christ should include adequate training in theology, church history, and practical ministry with an eye toward the day that the prophet Habakkuk foresaw when the “earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.” The highest aim of all ministry is to prepare both men and women for “that day,” and this wisdom takes us back to the gospel without which we would have no hope ourselves, or hope to offer the world.
Word-Filled Women’s Ministry elevates the conversation about women and our service to the body of Christ a Dubai high-rise above the usual menu of “who gets to do what and under what circumstances.” With our hearts yearning for the coming of Christ, our egos, our goals, and our boots-on-the-ground labor must all be focused on a harmonious striving for “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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