It was a day I’d been anticipating since the dawn of our new church plant. After years of prayer and preparation, and months of building a team, we were finally starting to feel like we had a church family—a group of people we belonged to and who belonged to us. Today was the first day of community groups. My husband and some of the men on his team had been preparing for months.
“So, what’s the plan for all the kids?” I asked my husband that morning. He looked at me a little surprised and said, “Oh, I hadn’t really thought about that.”
We had to laugh. We live in two totally different worlds sometimes. For me, I don’t go anywhere without considering my children, because I spend all day with them. My husband, on the other hand, functions most the day only needing to think about where he has to go and what he needs to accomplish.
Church planting has given us many opportunities to recognize how unquestionably different our experience is in the world, but it has also proven how much we need one another.
Women are not only helpful to a church plant, they are essential to Christ’s call to go and make disciples.
When we first began talking and praying about planting a church, the driving force behind our plans was that God had called us to make disciples. Church planting was a way we could heed that call. The decision was made together; we both serve, sacrifice, and invest in our local church in different ways, but to a similar degree and with a unified mission.
And yet, even though we’re both devoted to local church ministry, we haven’t always had the same experience. Church planting has often seemed like a “man’s world.” The resources provided, the training given, and the relationships that form tend to be tailored primarily to men.
Many of our congregations today seem to function as if the great mission of church planting and making disciples was assigned to only a faithful few. Women tend to be underrepresented, underutilized, and silent spectators among those groups.
But my husband and I share a similar conviction: women are not only helpful to a church plant, they are essential to Christ’s call to go and make disciples. Disciple-making doesn’t happen without women. Without women, the mission suffers.
When women are underrepresented or underutilized, the church cannot bear God’s image effectively, and our collective mission suffers.
After all, the Great Commission is for the priesthood of all believers—brothers and sisters alike. Apart from the role of pastor/elder, the Bible is clear: women are called to be active participants in every facet of the life of Christ’s church. When women are underrepresented or underutilized, the church cannot bear God’s image effectively, and our collective mission suffers.
In fact, the Bible assumes women are co-laborers. Paul says Euodia and Syntyche “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel” (Phil. 4:3). Rather than seeing male headship as a contradiction to women co-laboring in the gospel, Paul taught that these two things go hand in hand.
While many pastors would agree with this point, the church’s theology doesn’t always align with its practice. It’s not enough for a pastor to notionally agree that women are permitted to participate in the church; they need to see women as essential to the mission of the church.
Church-planting pastors have a unique opportunity—as they use God-given authority to forge a new culture—to put an end to unhealthy distortions that have been pervasive within many churches for decades. And women participating in the church play a vital role in helping the pastors foster this type of culture.
Pursue Women’s Participation
For the church planter this may feel like a lofty task. Resources are few, leaders are lacking, task lists are endless. While you may not yet have formal avenues for women’s involvement, there are practical things you can be doing, even now, to form and shape your church in a way that affirms the value and dignity of your sisters. Here are three.
1. Invite women’s voices to the discussion
Women were made to reflect God’s character and nature in ways you, as a male, were not. Their contribution is vital. Consider how you are creating avenues for women to provide input. God has given you authority; use it to shepherd and lead those—especially the women—under your care.
2. Identify and invest in potential leaders
There are gifted women in your church who need intentional investment. Find those women and be intentional about equipping them for the work of ministry. Be an outspoken advocate for their growth. You will depend on them in the days ahead.
3. Integrate women into your discipleship vision
Women’s discipleship should not exist on an island but as an extension of your pastoral leadership. Take this responsibility seriously. Stay informed on what the women of your church are reading, listening to, and being resourced with. Take the lead on creating healthy structures and avenues for women to invest and be invested in, and invite women into appropriate areas of leadership and participation in the life of the church.
Word to Women
The church-planting pastor cannot bear this weight alone. He needs the willing participation of the women of his church in order to help foster a culture that prioritizes this mission. Ladies, your pastor needs you. Here are three practical ways to serve.
1. Be available
Take the priesthood of all believers seriously. The mission to go and make disciples was given to you. Let your church planter know that you understand the gravity of the call, and be ready and willing to serve. Ask questions like “How can I be most helpful?” and “What are our greatest needs as a church?” Lend your voice to the discussion in humility and wield your God-given dignity with faithfulness and respect.
2. Be teachable
Your voice will not have much effect or value if it is not informed by the Word of God. Invest in knowing the Word. Pursue biblical literacy. The church suffers when women don’t know and love the Word.
3. Be faithful
The fame of Jesus is on the line. So keep God’s divine priorities for your life in mind, and give your life to making disciples in whatever context you’re in. Church planting is messy. Programs may not be in place to ensure formal avenues for participation. But you can always invest your life in making disciples.
Rather than seeing male headship as a contradiction to women being co-laborers in the gospel, Paul taught that these two things go hand in hand.
We, as God’s image-bearers, both male and female, are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). This is a conversation not so much about empowering women, but about how the whole church can be faithful to the Great Commission.
Brothers and sisters, your joint participation and unique design is necessary to the mission of the church. We cannot have one without the other. So pastors, invite women in. Women, heed the call seriously. May our churches reflect God’s image more clearly in the days ahead.