The Problem of Accidental Feminism (Part 6 of 8)

Hopeful Steps Forward

In the last decade there have been some attempts to address the issue of pastors and elders discipling older women. In 2006, Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt wrote Women’s Ministry in the Local Church.[1] With Duncan’s experience as a pastor and Hunt’s extensive involvement in women’s ministry, they work together to offer a unique and biblical perspective on this topic. Hunt argues that the church needs an apologetic on biblical womanhood as it gives women a framework for women to live out our intended design as helpers.[2] In addition to arguing for the complementarian position as foundational, the book draws five emphases from the pastoral epistles for establishing a women’s ministry: (1) 1 Timothy 2:9-15: Submission; (2) 1 Timothy 3:11: Compassion; (3) 1 Timothy 5: Community; (4) Titus 2: Discipleship; and (5) 2 Timothy 3:1-17: Scripture.[3] Hunt affirms that each of these principles must be done under the oversight and in submission to the authority of the church elders. While this resource gives an excellent start to the discussion, there is much more that could be explored on the intentionality of pastors and elders equipping older women. There has been some further discussion, albeit limited, on this relationship specifically.

In 2010, the 9Marks Journal published an issue entitled, “Pastoring Women: Understanding and Honoring Distinctness.”[4] There are a number of valuable contributions in this installment which will now be outlined. Owen Strachan draws attention to the distinction of gender roles in creation, the fall, and the curse as an apologetic for the function of women in the church.[5] He writes, “Men have been created and commanded to lead the church’s mission, expose Scripture, shepherd, and give oversight. Women have been created and commanded to submit to the church’s mission and to buttress the ministry produced by the male leaders.”[6] In “Why Complementarianism is Crucial to Discipleship,” Jonathan Leeman affirms gender specific discipleship and adds an important emphasis on the intentional equipping of biblical men.[7] He writes, “With faithful Christian men in place, Christian women can more easily adopt a posture of helping, assisting, and facilitating the work of the Word in the church. They do this by following the leadership of worthy men.”[8] This is an important contribution to the discussion on women’s discipleship that merits much further attention in future field research.

In the same 9Marks Journal issue, Deepak Reju keenly identifies the need for pastors to equip women in their congregations to disciple other women in his article, “Discipling Men vs. Discipling Women.”[9] He argues that the church must build a culture of discipleship by teaching on it from the pulpit and other venues, and by inviting older women to these opportunities.[10] Furthermore, Bob Johnson contributes a unique perspective on this topic in the article, “How Pastors Can Equip Women for Ministry.”[11] He outlines three main aspects: (1) why equipping women for ministry is important; (2) what type of church is best to equip women; and (3) how to equip women for ministry.[12] Johnson rightly affirms that it is part of the pastor’s calling to equip all believers, affirms the mandate in Titus 2 to instruct the older women that God’s Word may not be reviled, and argues that there is a desperate need for women in ministry.[13] In summary, this 2010 issue of the 9Marks Journal offered much valuable insight to the topic of discipleship and the relationship between pastors and women.

There was one article in particular that raised awareness of the specific calling for church leadership, not just pastors, to equip women to disciple other women. In her article, “Wanted: More Older Women Discipling Younger Women,” Susan Hunt identifies the disconnect between the biblical mandate for the equipping of women and the practice in the church today.[14] She writes:

In verse 1 Paul addresses his instructions on discipleship to Titus, the pastor. Since women training women is an integral part of the church’s ministry, Titus must equip the women in his church to do so. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every church leader to see that women are equipped for this calling.[15]

Hunt effectively draws attention to a significant aspect of the role of elders in the church. They are to teach what accords with sound doctrine to the older women in order to equip them to teach what is good to the younger women (Titus 2:1, 3-5).

In 2014 this mandate was assessed by Thabiti Anyabwile as he suggested that elders in the church are failing to prioritize the discipleship of older women in an article entitled, “The Most Neglected Part of the Pastor’s Job Description.”[16] He considers the exhortation in Titus for qualified elders to train their congregants in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Anyabwile writes:

I’ve come to believe that the most neglected aspect of a pastor’s job description is the command for pastors to disciple older women in their congregations. It’s a massive omission since in nearly every church women make up at least half the membership and in many cases much more. And when you consider how many ministries and committees depend upon the genius, generosity and sweat of our sisters, it’s almost criminal that most any pastor you meet has no plan for discipling the women of his church apart from outsourcing to a women’s ministry staff person or committee.[17]

If this is in fact true, it would offer much insight as to why younger Christian women are falling through the cracks in most discipleship models of the evangelical church.

Arguably the most hopeful development for the intentional discipleship of women happened in the summer of 2015, when The Gospel Coalition released a book and a vision entitled, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church.[18] Their goal is for congregations to consider how to engage in women’s ministry that is grounded in Scripture within the context of the church, and their prayer is for God to raise up godly women to teach and disciple other women.[19] In the forward, Don Carson states that he hopes some pastors will read and profit from this book and encourage the suggested practices in their own congregations.[20] Furthermore, in the hope that church leadership will get more involved, they are planning to offer regional training programs for women in ministry which are pastor-led and Bible-based.[21]

While many of these resources and visions are leading the church in a scriptural direction, there is one crucial aspect that demands much further attention. The intentional involvement of pastors and elders in the equipping of older women and their oversight of women’s discipleship in the local church is absolutely essential for the church to respond to the emergence of accidental feminism. It is only then that older women will be identified and equipped to teach the younger women what is good and train them in godliness.

[1] Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006).

[2] Ibid, 32-36.

[3] Ibid, 69-144.

[4]Pastoring Women: Understanding and Honoring Distinctness,” 9Marks Journal (Jul-Aug 2010).

[5] Owen Strachan, “The Genesis of Gender and Ecclesial Womanhood,” 9Marks Journal; (Jul-Aug 2010).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jonathan Leeman, “Why Complementarianism is Crucial to Discipleship,” 9Marks Journal; (Jul-Aug 2010).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Deepak Reju, “Discipling Men vs. Discipling Women,” 9Marks Journal; (Jul-Aug 2010).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bob Johnson, “How Pastors Can Equip Women for Ministry,” 9Marks Journal; (Jul-Aug 2010).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Susan Hunt, “Wanted: More Older Women Discipling Younger Women,” 9Marks Journal; (Jul-Aug 2010).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Thabiti Anyabwile “The Most Neglected Part of the Pastor’s Job Description,” The Gospel Centered Woman; 28/10/2014.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

[19] Furman and Neilson present an overview of the vision in the introduction, which is then explored more thoroughly in the ten chapters which follow. Ibid, 13-16.

[20] Don Carson, “Foreword,” Ibid, 12.

[21] Kathleen Nielson, “Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: A Book and a Vision,The Gospel Coalition; 08/07/2015.

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