Where Should Our Women be Discipled?
November 29, 2016
Women are a prime target market for Christian publishers and bookstores. In 2014, a global consumer study found that during the previous year Christian book sales grew four times as fast as those of the secular market. And women are reading more than men, buying 72 percent of Christian fiction and 59 percent of Christian nonfiction books. Barna’s research in 2015 continued to show that women read more than men do, revealing that almost twice as many women as men read Christian nonfiction (No Little Women, 114).
Christianity Today is now reporting on the doctrinal integrity of resources marketed to Christian women and how they are looking outside of the church to their favorite movements, speakers, and authors to be discipled. This reveals a pervasive lack of knowledge of the primary ministry of Word and sacrament, how any initiatives for laypeople fruitfully outflows from that, as well as a great need for elder-led women’s initiatives in the church to help women to disciple women under this ministry. And yet pastors are not always able to keep up with and be aware of what the women in their congregation are facing these days and what is in the so-called Christian market for them to read. This is why I wrote No Little Women, directly addressing both women and church officers throughout the book. We need to be listening to what we are saying to one another. I do hope this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities. Here is one excerpt that I write addressing church officers:
Pastors and Elders, What Kind of Women Do You Want in Your Church?
Pastors and elders want thinking women in the church, right? And yet popular beliefs that came out of the nineteenth century’s cult of domesticity still seem to linger in the evangelical culture today. Back then, people taught that women’s brains were inferior to men’s intellectually and that women needed to reserve their energy and blood flow for reproductive purposes. These are ideas we usually joke about now, even to provoke a woman in innocent fun, because we know them to be scientifically proven false. And yet, even as the Reformed church is known for its more robust, theological teaching, there still seems to be some residue from the nineteenth-century worldview of a woman’s physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities. While we pay lip service to the importance of competent women in the church, there doesn’t seem to be much outrage over the quality of their resources. How can the officers of the church engage with the market of theological material for women? Here are a few suggestions to begin with.
Realize That Women Are Thirsty to Learn—the Market Has!
More women than men are buying Christian books. Over six thousand women gathered for the first True Woman conference. The Gospel Coalition has also joined in to host biannual women’s conferences with big numbers. Also capitalizing on this momentum, another “movement” has sprung up, with the promise to disciple women of the new generation, called the IF: Gathering. Best-selling women’s author Jennie Allen “sensed God telling her to disciple a generation,” which led to other best-selling authors Ann Voskamp and Jen Hatmaker joining her in the establishment of the IF: Gathering. There are also the popular Women of Faith conferences that began back in 1986 and are well marketed and attended by thousands of women. They also have conferences for teens now. [Recently, Jen Hatmaker’s new Belong Tour made the headlines, with guest speaker Glennon Melton.] While this book has raised concerns about the commodification of women in publishing, movements, and coalitions, the impressive size of their events and resources points to the fact that women are eager to learn more as Christ’s disciples. That is really great news.
Church officers should be paying attention to this, because the primary place where discipleship should be taking place is in the local church. Along with the conferences and events, there is another trend that has grown in women’s ministries, exemplified by Community Bible Studies (CBS) and Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). These are interdenominational, global organizations that focus on equipping Christians in Bible study. CBS and BSF started as a women’s Bible study but is no longer restricted to women. Many women who desire to be more disciplined and to go deeper in their Bible study have joined a local CBS or BSF group. While these are international organizations, local churches generally host their regular meetings. There are many benefits that can come from being a part of these organizations. The lessons are Word-centered, and they aim to equip leaders with Bible study skills to serve in their local churches. Since these organizations have the more narrow focus of studying the Bible in a local context, there isn’t as much of a problem with celebrity personalities and branding, which can easily overshadow and corrupt parachurch operations. The local leaders are volunteers, so there isn’t a financial factor that can cloud their judgment.
Without discouraging women from being a part of these groups, I do want to ask some questions about how we can utilize the resources of and involvement in an interdenominational community study, parachurch ministries, and Christian publishing, while keeping the local church and its doctrinal distinctives as a priority in discipleship. Women are thirsty to learn and be discipled—so much so that we have looked outside of our local churches for help. That’s not a horrible thing—churches cannot do it all! Church officers need resources too, and parachurch organizations can help to provide them.
With the mission of the local church in mind, we can look at these resources in their own context. The church is commissioned to make disciples through the ministry of Word and sacrament. You don’t want to outsource your discipling privileges and responsibilities to parachurch organizations, but you do want to encourage and incorporate the use of helpful resources and opportunities to further teach the women in your church. Capitalize on this wonderful desire that women have to learn, but help to equip them to be discerning, even within the evangelical culture around us. Parachurch organizations are supposed to serve the church and, in many cases, the outside community. It’s imperative that we keep the right perspective there, because they do it without the oversight of the officers of the church.
Women Need to Have the Same Theological Standards as Men. (No Little Women, 126-129)
If you’re interested in reading more, No Little Women is now available to order and begins shipping tomorrow!