Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, and is the author of numerous books. He serves as a council member of the Gospel Coalition, is a lead writer for 9Marks Ministries, and regularly blogs at The Front Porch and Pure Church. Thabiti also wrote an excellent article on this topic, “The Most Neglected Part of the Pastor’s Job Description”. He and his wife Kristie also gave their wisdom in a four-part podcast series on this topic of Shepherding Women.
1) What would be some of the benefits of having pastors/elders intentionally investing in and equipping older women to disciple younger women? (Titus 2:1, 3-5)
Thabiti: The benefits are too numerous to number really. But, first off, there’s the joy of obeying the Lord’s instruction in Titus 2. That joy gets compounded by the joy of getting to know the older women of the church in a spiritual way. We learn about their lives and they teach us a great deal. So there’s an exchange. As a consequence, older women feel shepherded, they have a sense of belonging, make healthy contributions to the church, and they’re no longer the “block” of members that some pastors fear will make ministry difficult. Then there are the benefits to the congregation and ministry at large. When we invest in the older women we have a multiplied force of disciple makers with younger women. The gender-specific discipleship needs of women are more effectively met. The younger women have a greater sense of belonging, of being intentionally helped, of working through their pursuit of Christ as women, and the wisdom of older saints applied to their lives. And it doesn’t stop there. If we take Titus 2 seriously, then marriages and homes will in time be strengthened, children will be evangelized and discipled, youthful conflict from gossip, etc. is limited, the pastors’ counseling docket is kept under control as the older women teach younger women, and the word of God is honored and protected by our lives. We could go on, but the benefits are legion.
2) What are some of the ways your leadership is discipling older women? Can you recommend some resources you have found to be helpful?
Thabiti: Our approach is simple. All the pastors (5) meet monthly with a group of older women (about 12 or so). We pray together and we discuss three books each meeting—a book for their own devotion to Christ, a work of theology, and a work on practical ministry. Currently we’re reading Gloria Furman’s Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full (devotion), Wayne and Elliott Grudem’s Christian Beliefs(theology), and Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson’s Word-Filled Women’s Ministry (practical ministry). We take a chapter per month in each book.
We also use this time to hear how the women themselves are doing and to hear from them about the pastoral needs they’re encountering among younger women. Some of the women lead small groups, others meet one-on-one with younger women, and some are sought out for periodic counsel. We sometimes discuss how those various aspects of ministry are going or give them counsel on particular situations they encounter. This monthly meeting is easily one of the most rewarding couple of hours I experience as a pastor.
3) Many women in the church would like to be equipped by their pastors/elders in addition to Sunday morning preaching. What steps might women take in order to respectfully invite this type of intentional discipleship?
Thabiti: Perhaps the first thing to do is commit to consistently and specifically encouraging their pastors for their current ministry. Most pastors swim in a sea of negativity. So even good suggestions for “something else to do” can feel like a weight or be received as a criticism or condemnation. It’s important that we establish in our churches a spirit of mutual encouragement and edification so that we’re strengthened for the work that remains. So, I’d suggest simply starting with encouragement, which will build up the pastors and it’ll make us more aware of what God is already doing in our lives.
Then I’d suggest passing along good articles, blog posts, and books that might introduce the pastor to this idea of investing in the older women who will in turn invest in younger women. Word-Filled Women’s Ministry is a wonderful resource. But so also is Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan’s Women’s Ministry in the Local Church. As an encouragement, pass along the good things you read that inspire you to take part in the joy of making disciples. Let the pastors know you’re there to help disciple women and show some initiative in building relationships with women.
Third, ask for opportunities to learn from the pastors. I know it might seem silly, but until asked many pastors tend to think women (esp. older women?) are not interested in learning from them beyond Sunday morning. So, suggesting that a group of women would love to meet with a couple of pastors to learn theology would be a blessing to any good pastor. And volunteer to organize it. The easier we make it for each other the more likely it is to happen.