This is the first post in a three part series. You may be interested in reading Part Two before or after reading this post.
I’ve read a few blogs recently that suggest the idea of a women's ministry in a church is somehow passé.
I beg to differ.
Instead, I want to say that every church will always need a women’s ministry. Let’s talk about why that is. In this first article, I want to address the biblical basis for a women’s ministry in every church. And then, in the second article we’ll think about women’s ministry historically and why it is still needed today in our egalitarian society.
So let’s begin with the biblical basis for a women’s ministry in the local church. Have you noticed that in social settings the women tend to cluster together? There are aspects of the feminine life that can only be understood by other women. Women profit from being with other females--they learn from each other and encourage each other.
The apostle Paul built on this idea in his instruction to a young pastor, Titus, who was pastoring the church in Crete. Knowing that Titus himself could not do everything that the church needed done, Paul carefully instructed him about how to organize the church. Titus himself was to teach the older men, the older women, the young men, and slaves (Titus 2:1-9). But, what happened to the young women? Paul removes them from Titus’ direct teaching and entrusts them to the care of the older women (Titus 2:4-5). From the beginning of the church, women ministering to women was in the plan. Titus was to be actively involved in teaching, encouraging and instructing the godly older women so that they would be equipped for the task of leading the younger women. This should instruct pastors today and encourage older women.
The women that Titus was to invest his energy in were elderly. The word ‘older’ in the NIV as translated from the original Greek literally means ‘ancient’ and clearly indicates this woman is significantly older than the ones she ministers to.
Paul encouraged Titus to pick the older women based on some additional qualifications (Titus 2:3)—not all the old women were chosen! The women he should invest his time in were to be godly in all aspects of their life and behavior, from the grocery store to the prayer meeting.
They should have their tongues under good control—they were not to be slanderers or gossips. They were to be women who could be counted on to hold their tongues with the confidences of young women.
They were to be free from addictions, and alcohol in particular. But in another sense, these older women had to be free from any consuming addiction that would rob them of time and interest to invest in younger women. They were not to be addicted to gambling, Facebook, drugs, or even exercise or shopping.
And finally, they should have an interest in mentoring and training the younger women—older women who are young at heart, who remember the joys and stresses of being youthful, and who can come alongside young women because they care about them. These ladies were to be ‘teachers of what is good’. This is not literal teaching as we understand it today, but more of an encouragement and a ‘fanning of the flame’; the picture is of one gently blowing a fire to encourage it to burn. It is mentoring in its purest form. This ‘teaching’ is not primarily academic, possibly not even doctrinal, though it must always be doctrinally correct. The emphasis is on encouragement, the idea of, “Yes, you are doing well in mothering your children. Keep up the good work.” Because young women need encouragement. Because young women need to see a godly life in the flesh.
The older women were also to be trainers of the younger women. The word ‘train’ is related to ‘self-control’ in verse 5. The word group has to do with virtues like being reasonable, sober, moderate and self-controlled. In classical Greek it meant to bring a person to his senses. Subsequently it meant to give good advice or encouragement according to Walter Liefeld in the NIV Application Commentary.
So these are the mentors, the leaders of a women’s ministry in the early church. Now, in what areas are they to train and teach the young women? And does the curriculum that Paul prescribes have any relevance for us today?
Paul delineates seven distinct topics and they are as up-to-date as they could possibly be (Titus 2:4-5). The topics revolve around relationships, attitudes toward others, getting organized, clearing out clutter, husband-wife relationships, sexual issues and how to raise your children. Wow, that sounds like the New Year’s resolutions many people make—the top ones being: to lose weight, get organized and make financial progress.
The first area Paul addresses is the primary one for a married woman—her relationship with her husband. In a time when romantic love in marriage was not the norm, Paul still says the women are to have affection and care for their husbands who might, or might not, be loveable. And by the way, this is the only place in Scripture where a woman is told to love her husband; the more common instruction is that husbands are to love their wives. But here Paul says a woman must have a sweetness in her spirit toward her husband; becoming godly means loving whatever man you are married to. Not easy in the ancient culture, and not all that easy today, but this is God’s first requirement.
What about the unmarried women? What are they to be taught? They, too, need to learn about healthy male/female relationships. It’s proper for a godly elderly woman to model a loving spirit toward her husband, and to encourage that in her mentee. It’s appropriate for a godly young mom to talk with a college woman about not having sex with her boyfriend. It’s appropriate for a godly college woman to talk with younger girls about righteous dating behavior and godly attitudes toward guys.
And even if a woman doesn’t marry, she is still qualified to speak godly wisdom into the life of younger women regarding men and marriage, and in fact, she is required to do so. Nancy Leigh DeMoss of Life Action Ministries is a good example of this. She has not married, but has instructed many women in the principles of godly living though her teaching and writing ministry.
Secondly, the curriculum is to include teaching about loving children. In the ancient culture of the Roman world, children were not particularly valued. Orphans were easily available and the early Christians were known for adopting them. Paul reinforces this by wanting the young women instructed to love children, to welcome them, to teach them and to realize that raising them is a worthwhile occupation. There are words that need to be heard today when our culture teaches us that one or two children are nice to have, but to devote one’s life to having a large family is just plain odd! Careers for women have been elevated over motherhood. Women today need older women to validate the honor and worth of raising children, whether natural born or adopted. I think this also includes an attitude of value toward children—Jesus loved and blessed the children and thought that ministry to them was worthwhile, and so should we. Women of all ages should be taught that rearing children is an honorable profession.
Next, Paul adds to the curriculum the idea of being a self-controlled woman. This speaks of the self-discipline that is necessary to accomplish the tasks of employment, homemaking and mothering. Women need to be encouraged to grow in this virtue which will enable them to get their work done on time, to control their temper, to eat moderately, to sleep on schedule and to have an orderly household. Well-run households do not just happen; they are the result of planning and execution, which require self-control.
Paul reiterates the need for self-control in Titus 2:11-15. And the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:6 calls on believers to add self-control to faith, goodness and knowledge. Self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); some would say it is the capstone fruit—the last to be acquired and the most indicative of spiritual maturity. In the great Jane Austen movie “Sense and Sensibility,” Emma Thompson plays Elinor the older sister, who exhibits self-control in great measure, enabling her to succeed at life and escape the follies of her younger sister, Marianne. Marianne gives in to every emotion and desire, leading to an unwise love affair and almost to ruin.
Fourth, purity is added to the curriculum. Older women are to teach the younger woman to be modest (1 Tim. 2:9) and not to display all the attractions of her body. Her actions are to be pure as well, with a sisterly/daughterly relationship toward the men of the church (1 Tim. 5:2). This means not a hint of sexual provocativeness is to be in this young woman. It seems appropriate that the apostle makes the purity of the women the responsibility of the older women who can lead by example and exhort the younger.
How this is needed in the American culture where purity of thought, dress, choice of TV programs and reading is obsolete. Yet God values purity. Jesus was pure in His every thought and action and He is our guide and standard. Everything that comes past a woman’s eyes, everything she puts on her body, and every thought in her head must be moving her toward an innocence of spirit. She is not to be one who speaks with sexual innuendoes nor does she enjoy risqué entertainment. She moves as far away from that as possible toward all that is wholesome, good and clean.
The fifth area of instruction is that of being busy at home, or, as the NASB says, “workers at home.” Proverbs 31 places a high value on the industriousness of the excellent wife, as does this New Testament passage. The young wife is to be taught to work hard at home, keeping it clean and tidy, preparing meals, and looking after the welfare of the husband and the children. She is not to spend the day in gossip, laziness or boredom. Part of the rulership given her in the creation is in her domain of the home and she is to be diligent in the doing of it, as a good manager of the household.
Sixth, the young women are to be taught to be kind. With all these young women have to do and to watch over, it is necessary that it be done in kindness. The young woman/wife/mother is to be taught to be approachable and thoughtful of others. Proverbs 31:26 says the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. How wonderful that these young women are not just to be busy and industrious, but they must do it with a spirit of kindness. Kindness is not a virtue that receives much attention today, but it is indispensable in God’s sight. He Himself is a God of loving-kindness and we are made in His image. Considerate of others, gracious toward others, compassionate, loving, gentle and good natured are some of the synonyms for ‘kind.’ These are the qualities the young women are to be taught by older women who exhibit these same virtues.
Finally, the last segment of the curriculum is that the young wives are to be submissive to their own husbands, imitating the behavior of Christ who was submissive to the Father (1 Pet. 2:21-3:6). Wives are to follow their husbands’ leadership and respect his headship. They are to exhibit yieldedness to their own husband. The word of God is honored, rather than being despised, when women obey God’s directives. Though culturally unpopular in the 21st Century, this is still God’s Word to women. The Father treasures a yielded spirit in His own people, and does not want us to develop a resistant spirit. What better place to begin modeling this than in our own homes! Godly older women will gently lead the young wives to learn to yield to their own husbands just as Christ yielded His rights and Himself into the Father’s hands (1 Pet. 2:23-24).
The Bible certainly teaches that women’s ministry in the local church is needed, and it is here to stay. These topics will never grow old. And we will build strong churches and mature believers as we older ones gently instruct and we younger ones willingly learn.