Question received: Since pastoral oversight is so important, but my pastor sees women’s ministry as “fluffy” and activity driven, how can I help change his perspective while also honoring him as my pastor?
In the course of ministry and editing Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, co-editor Kathleen Nielson and I heard many women grieve over their pastors’ lack of support for women’s ministry. But we’ve also heard many cheerfully report ministry among women is thriving because of their pastors’ involvement.
I appreciate how this question has been asked. There’s a desire to honor the pastor and submit to his oversight, as well as to facilitate biblically grounded ministry among women. Godly pastoral leadership is crucial for the health not only of a congregation, but also of every organized ministry and individual member. The need for women’s ministry to be biblically-grounded has been demonstrated elsewhere in this series.
Here I want to speak to the “help change the pastor’s perspective” part of this question and offer some practical suggestions, all of which spring from the foundation of God’s Word. In Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, Cindy Cochrum writes about Scripture’s admonition for us to honor our leaders:
But what if . . . this strong connection between church leadership and women’s ministry is not a reality? How does God’s Word inform our approach to ministry in that setting? The writer of Hebrews addresses the relationship between church leaders and those under their care: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
Our pastors and elders shoulder an enormous responsibility before the Lord. As members under their care, we are called to pray for them and to submit to their leadership in a way that brings them joy and not “groaning.”
This perspective on leadership is countercultural. I can easily think of several fleshly alternatives to Hebrews 13:17: manipulation, deceit, grumbling, and outright rebellion, to name a few. And though the world will affirm these sinful responses, our attitude toward our leaders is defined by Scripture. The submission of all church members—men and women—should be marked by humility and respect. Before we seek to change our pastor’s perspective, then, we must first discern whether or not we need a change of heart. Not only does a Christ-contented heart carry untold benefits, but Hebrews 13:17 also teaches there’s an advantage we’ll enjoy when our leaders find it a joyful thing to watch over us.
Women in various ministry paths can express their humble submission to church leaders in concrete ways, including when they ask questions about growth and change. To any woman with this kind of heart I’d offer three avenues of practical counsel:
1. Commit to Your Leader’s Vision
First, commit yourself—and encourage those around you to commit themselves—to furthering ministry vision the pastors/elders have set for the whole church. Think local and then move outward. Set up a meeting where you can ask an elder questions like:
- How can we, the women in the church, best serve the church?
- How can we serve as an extension of the body of Christ in our neighborhood?
- How do you envision women’s ministry participating in the call to make disciples of all nations?
No doubt specific faces and names will come to mind when you ask your pastor about the needs in the church, community, and world. Most pastors are eager to see their church’s ministry vision executed through its members, and they will likely be delighted at the opportunity to further equip the women to these ends.
Sometimes the conversation takes time to develop—often more time than you’d prefer. A first meeting may grow into months of prayer and discussion. It’s great to initiate this process if necessary, and it’s vital to participate humbly and patiently, asking the Lord to work first in your own heart and then in the hearts of all concerned.
2. Embrace Your Privilege
Second, embrace the “women’s privilege” aspect of God’s good design for his daughters. There are women and children in your community (and the world) who cannot, for various reasons, be reached easily by the male leaders of the church. In various cultures, for example, women can’t join mixed company for something like a Bible study or church service. Or consider ministry to women who’ve been sexually abused or hurt—or who are simply lonely. These women are often drawn into the church body most effectively—especially at first—by strong, loving, caring women. In a chapter in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry titled “Gifts and Giftedness: Finding the Place to Serve,” Kathleen and I observe:
Mission agencies have practiced for years what churches in Eastern contexts do instinctively. When certain situations are presented as ministry opportunities, they send the women. . . . Christian women are gifted by the Spirit to serve these women in ways that men cannot—through their affirming presence, nonthreatening physical touch, and gentle faith with a backbone of steel. (222)
Under the oversight of your pastors, seek out those women-specific ministry opportunities in your church and community (and then go global!). Again, you don’t need a title to engage in such woman-to-woman ministry, for Christ calls every woman to make disciples.
Your pastors will likely have women in mind who have needs that could be best met by women in the church. Pastors often know well the value of this “women’s privilege” ministry they can’t do, and are eager to see women in their church cared for.
3. Help Your Leaders Really Help You
Imagine an elder came to you and asked, “What can the elders do to support ministry among women in the church?” What would you say? It’s wise to be ready with answers that address the deepest needs. You may have a need for a bigger meeting space or ladies’ brunch budget, but the most urgent need concerns the spiritual food being served up. I’ve seen serious ministry among women done in the humblest of settings without any budget to speak of. The reason such ministry is effective is because the Holy Spirit unites his profitable, God-breathed Word with faith. That’s the kind of ministry both you and your elders can pray and labor for by God’s grace.
Be ready (and pray for opportunities) to discuss ways of seeing more and more women equipped to handle, share, and live out the Scriptures. Gladly submit to your elders’ oversight—and honor their charge to guard the church’s doctrine—by seeking their ideas and counsel on the teaching women receive and offer to one another.
Editors’ note: This continues a series addressing your specific questions related to ministry among women through the local church. We have a team of women eager to respond to a select number of questions. Please send all questions on the subject of women’s ministry to our coordinator for women’s initiatives, Mallie Taylor (mallie.taylor [@] thegospelcoalition.org).
Then make sure to pick up a copy of Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church (Crossway, 2015) [review]. This new book casts a vision for ministry among women that’s grounded in God’s Word, grows in the context of God’s people, and aims for the glory of God’s Son. You can also now register for our 2016 National Women’s Conference, June 16 to 18, in Indianapolis.
Previously in this series:
- Why Women’s Ministry? (Kathleen Nielson)
- 5 Ways to Minister to Women in Crisis (Kristie Anyabwile)
- 5 Questions for Choosing Bible Study Material for Women’s Groups (Mary Wilson)
- 3 Ways to Incorporate Group Prayer Into Your Bible Study (Melissa Kruger)
- How Can I Help Women Struggling with Sexual Issues? (Trillia Newbell)
- 7 Ways Women Can Grow in Studying and Teaching Scripture without Seminary (Nancy Guthrie)
- How Do Busy Women Serve in Women’s Ministry? (Jen Wilkin)