When she said the words, I cringed.
“I stayed in youth ministry for 15 years full-time, because I never wanted to graduate to women’s miseries,” joked popular Bible teacher Christine Caine during the launch of Liberty University’s new leadership initiative called Propel Women.
It’s a sentiment shared by many women these days. As an increasing number of women spend the majority of their day outside the home, traditional women’s ministries framed solely around home and hearth can miss the mark.
“We are hemorrhaging a generation of women,” lamented Caine, quoting a study that has been circulating my Facebook feed recently outlining the reasons women are “unplugging” from church.
“Women are underutilized at church because their gifts are not recognized or respected,” she surmised. “So…some of these women can run Fortune 500 companies, but the most [they] can do at church is bake a casserole.”
The message of Caine’s speech was clear. For the next generation of women in the church, casseroles and children are out. Leadership and spiritual gifts are in.
Leading in Titus 2 ways
While I worry about establishing a false dichotomy between working in a nursery and being a leader, I agree with Caine to some degree. A woman’s role in the church should include more than potlucks and nursery duty. God gives each believer vast opportunities in which to use their gifts to serve his church.
I also believe that Titus 2 is not and should not be the exhaustive passage on women’s ministry in the church. In the New Testament church, women prophesied (Acts 21:7-9; 1 Cor. 11:5), taught alongside their husbands (Acts 18:26-27), provided gifts out of their own financial resources (Luke 8:1-3), and served in other notable and important ways (Rom. 16:1; Acts 16:13-15).
This is a lesson I’ve learned 10 times over as the core member of a Southern Baptist church plant in what is considered a pioneer area of the United States. Of Pittsburgh’s 2.5 million residents, 42.3 percent claim no religious affiliation according to the North American Mission Board. Our church currently averages 50 adults and 30 children on Sundays, further illuminating Jesus’ Matthew 9:37-38 statement that the “harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
Effective and healthy church plants rely on the service and investment of both men and women. And while this is true of any church old or new, personally, I have discovered more ways to serve and utilize my spiritual gifts in our church plant than in any church I’ve previously attended.
And while we bake our fair share of casseroles (everyone’s got to eat!) and crawl on the floor with the preschoolers, the women in our church plant are a stout group. They teach youth, care for babies, disciple other women. They open their homes, share meals with visitors, and foster discussion alongside their husbands in small groups.
They are idea-makers, servants, strategizers, evangelists, theologians, and teachers. They are administrators, encouragers, mentors, and wisdom sharers. For this reason, I look forward to what Liberty’s Propel Women initiative offers members of my gender who truly desire to integrate their faith, work, and church life.
Discipling in new ways
But here’s where I’d like to offer a word of caution.
I don’t believe women are leaving the church simply because they can’t find adequate ways to use their unique spiritual gifts. I believe women are leaving the church because the church isn’t fully discipling them.
Across the board, women’s ministries must implement better discipleship strategies that help women perceive needs around them with missional eyes and then train them how to employ their spiritual gifts in those areas.
Considering there are no “children’s ministry” spiritual gifts or “casserole maven” gifts (although, hello, that would be amazing), a true disciple will find a way to utilize her spiritual gift in any context. This is where my church planting context kicks into over drive, because a younger congregation typically has more needs and service opportunities than workers willing to serve. And no place is this reality more reticent than in church nursery and preschool rooms.
Women’s ministries, then, must help women connect the dots between the gospel and the Titus 2 activities that typically appear in women’s ministries. What is gospel activity about hospitality? How does the gospel underscore the importance of smart, gifted women serving in the children’s department or any area of the church for that matter?
Our church plant is only one of 68 other SBC churches serving a city of 2.5 million people. That means there is only one church in my city for every 43,754 residents. So, when I serve in our children’s department, I’m giving lost Moms and Dads a chance to hear about Jesus in the worship service. On numerous occasions, the children who hear our Bible stories go home to “teach” the truth to their parents. That’s important stuff.
Often, the first place we ask new believers to serve (after receiving a background checked) is the preschool class. Why do we do that? Because we aren’t just discipling children, we’re discipling new believers who serve in this capacity as they learn Bible stories in simple ways and then learn how to teach them for themselves.
Serving in the nursery is a gospel activity. Teaching women to see the missional aspect of serving children and how to utilize their spiritual gift in that capacity takes intentional discipleship.
Now, let’s talk casseroles and the gospel.
In the first year of our launch, our plant met in a two-room office building. Our homes became the central hub of our church’s gospel activity. The homes of Living Faith Community Church have welcomed lost neighbors, hurting community members, and even international students who had never heard the name of Jesus. And whether casseroles actually made an appearance or not, the point is food and the preparation it requires forms a bridge over which the body of Christ is strengthened and its mission more easily achieved.
Recently, a family in our church was struggling. Our church family surrounded them by delivering meals to their home. It was a living picture of the gospel nourishing the body of Christ. Last week, I attended a discipleship group where a Muslim woman attended for the first time. We dug into God’s Word and prayed together over sandwiches. That’s gospel stuff, but it took an older woman demonstrating to the young women around her table how Titus 2 intersects with the gospel as she orchestrated the meeting, opened her home, prepared the food, and led in Bible study.
So, here’s my point. Can women do other things in the church besides care for children and cook? Of course! However, in a day when our culture is already hard at work whispering in the ears our women that activities like serving a meal and teaching children are trivial exercises, let’s not fuel the fire by suggesting Titus 2 activities can be executed with the least amount of spiritual giftedness.
The missing element of most women’s ministries isn’t an adequate place to serve – it’s communicating what is gospel work about Titus 2.
When women’s ministries clearly connects the gospel to some of these very important, yet often under-valued ministries, discipleship happens and true leaders emerge. In this way, women’s ministry will cease to be a “miserable” or irrelevant experience and become a place of gospel empowerment.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be unpacking some ideas for getting women’s ministries realigned with its true goal – discipleship. Subscribe to follow the conversation.