A Women’s Gathering of a Different Kind

Editors’ Note: Kathleen Nielson will be leading two workshops for women at The Gospel Coalition national conference, April 12 to 14 in Chicago. The topics will be “Old Testament Narrative: Letting the Literature Speak” and “Literary Beauty and Gospel Truth: Celebrating the Biblical Union.” The conference is less than one month away, but you can still register now. Nielson recently led a workshop for The Charles Simeon Trust on biblical exposition for women. We asked her report on her time, and we hope you’re as encouraged as we were.

March began for me with one of the most encouraging women’s gatherings I’ve ever been part of. When The Charles Simeon Trust decided to offer their first workshop on biblical exposition for women, they were launching a new phase of their ministry. After years of offering expositional preaching workshops for pastors, they came to see a huge need in the church for women well trained in expounding the Scriptures—especially in women’s Bible studies, but also in church classes, children’s and youth ministry, and on and on.

As they explain it, The Simeon Trust operates according to the “conviction that the health of the church depends on the faithful proclamation of God’s Word”—so they’re out to “promote the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by training the next generation of biblical expositors.” I joined the board of this ministry having witnessed its powerful effect in the lives of preachers young and old, through intensive workshops consisting of three basic components: instruction in principles of exposition, model expositions, and small group practice with the aim of sharpening each other’s teaching. The mostly three-day workshops are offered around the country and the world—in recent weeks in Oklahoma and in Southern India. An online curriculum, the Simeon Course on Biblical Exposition, has been developed in partnership with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It’s all growing fast.

But would this work for women? Would there be enough interest on the part of Bible teachers and those leading others in study of the Bible? The first women’s workshop (in Chicago) aimed for 50 but sold out at 60 in a matter of weeks with an extensive waiting list. Women came from nine different states, as well as from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

Among groups I usually find those several like-minded women who passionately love the Scriptures and want to talk about how to dig into the different genres, the themes of the books, the shapes of passages. But here was a remarkable concentration of such women! We did not represent a particular age group or denomination or set of experiences; we simply shared an ongoing passion to know and teach the Bible better. We did exchange stories of life and ministry around meals and in ongoing conversation. But especially in the small groups we shared our love and study of the Word together, as each woman briefly taught several pre-assigned passages and received feedback from the group, directed by a trained leader. In both our small groups and our model expositions we were working through the rich little epistle of Titus.

Now, it’s not unusual for a woman to cry at a women’s conference. It happens all the time. However, even though the fellowship was deep and sweet, this was not in general a weepy sort of conference. But one moment stood out to me. It occurred in the small group I was privileged to lead. We had just diagrammed one of those long Pauline sentences on the white board, in order to get straight the logic of the argument in Titus 2:11-14. One of the young women in our group suddenly had tears running down her cheeks. Often, she said, she had studied passages and asked for help and sort of made progress—but this picture made sense to her! She could see and grasp the shape and flow of the words laid out there on the board, as they encapsulated the flow, really, of the whole book’s argument about God’s saving work and training work in Jesus Christ. I’ve seen women cry for lots of reasons. I must say it brought me to tears to see a woman cry over a diagrammed sentence from the Word.

David Helm, executive director of The Simeon Trust and pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, led this teaching workshop for women, training the group leaders, advising the speakers, and speaking himself in a few sessions. He’s done workshops many times, and he’s a masterful teacher and preacher. Five different women taught various sessions, including all the expositions, and women led all the small groups. We women speakers and leaders needed leadership, but we also needed to model the leadership of women for other women within the church, as Titus makes clear. What a blessing it was to participate and teach and lead with the gracious leadership of Pastor Helm, and with a real freedom to lead the women at the same time.

Something’s happening here, and it’s good. Faithful church leaders are doing a better job of seeking to train up women in the Scriptures and encouraging them to use that training for the building up of the church. Women themselves are increasingly looking for and embracing that training. The Gospel Coalition’s relatively new women’s initiative is a great example, with women’s voices blogging and women offering seminars at this year’s conference and a TGC women’s conference planned for 2012 (details to be announced soon!). The Simeon Trust’s workshops for women have begun and, by God’s grace, will grow and serve the church in profitable ways. (Planning for next year’s ST women’s workshop is underway and involves much greater capacity!) More and more women are seeking seminary training. These are only representative examples of fruitful progress. We should all be encouraged, both men and women, to see this Word-based gospel work happening with Spirit-led cooperation in the body of Christ.

Here is the workshop audio if you’d like to learn more:

Instruction 1 The Need for Biblical Exposition Nielson mp3 mp3 43min 24mb
Instruction 2 Traveling Instructions D. Helm mp3 mp3 56min 32mb
Instruction 3 Text and Framework Short mp3 mp3 43min 24mb
Instruction 4 Bone and Marrow (degraded audio quality) D. Helm mp3 mp3 54min 31mb
Instruction 5 Melodic Line Gallagher mp3 mp3 32min 18mb
Instruction 6 Staying on the Line D. Helm mp3 mp3 18min 10mb
Exposition 1 Titus 1:1-4 Lorentsen mp3 mp3 29min 16mb
Exposition 2 Titus 2:1-5 L. Helm mp3 mp3 31min 18mb
Exposition 3 Titus 3:1-11 Nielson mp3 mp3 35min 20mb