Titus 2 is one of my touchstones for women’s ministry.
Most women live quite different lives now than they would have in Titus’ time, but we still need to be self-controlled, pure, kind and submissive, adorning the word of God in our daily lives. The women on a staff team are to help the women in the church to do this.
Church ministry is a family concern. I don’t believe church is a professional organization with portfolios, or an institution with traditional roles. We’re a family where men and women, younger and older, married and single, all serve the Lord together. In families, fathers are different from mothers: the two parents offer different things to their children. Women on a staff team are the mothers and sisters, personally ministering to their part of the church family in a way only a woman can. On my staff team, I’m a woman serving in ministry doing the bits that I can do and that Sarah can do, that Phillip and Chris and Rob and (the other) Chris can’t do.
Ministering to the women is only one part of my current ministry, of course. I’m aware that I am in a very particular context, as I am serving in a cathedral church in central Sydney. Actually, I sometimes talk about ‘doing cathedral’ as a different thing to ‘doing church’. The Cathedral is an amplified parish experience, an amplified city church, with a few out-of-the-box formal occasions, like last Easter when royalty attended.
Other unique questions we deal with are: How do you work with potentially meeting 50 new people every Sunday? How do you get people who think church should be an anonymous experience to get involved (people love to hide behind the columns that come with cathedrals)?
As well as the ‘spending time teaching women’ bit, my ministry also involves such roles as:
- helping with the Sunday gatherings
- training the team of student ministers and ministry apprentices
- getting our anonymous fringe and our newcomers known and involved (the role I was brought in to specifically do).
So now that you have my background, what obstacles do I face in my ministry, and what do I do about them? What are the ‘corruptions to the ministry DNA’ in my world, especially as a woman in my particular ministry?
There are two obstacles peculiar to women’s ministry that I’ve been reflecting on.
The first one is a big one that’s pretty common for women in ministry, and especially single women in ministry. It’s when the women you’re meeting with assume you’re there to socialize, and it’s very hard to get them to open their Bibles with you. It can be very easy to end up as part of their social calendar and nothing more.
However, I’m paid to teach the Bible, not to hang out with women. And while I’d love to sit and relax over coffee with them, I don’t have endless time, and there are endless numbers of people who have just joined the church whom I want to make time to meet. I want to be running groups, and doing walk-up evangelism, and looking for opportunities to have outreach events and to speak at some of them.
Some women are hoping we can spend hours together every week, but my limited time means I can’t use all my time with the lonely women in the congregation. But for a lot of women, ‘caring’ to them means spending lots of time, talking through their issues. It can become complicated, balancing expectations and reality while still faithfully serving.
And that can lead to another obstacle to gospel ministry: I’m a Bible teacher. I’m not offering free counselling. I’m not trained to do that. But a lot of women hope that’s what I can give—solutions to their problems.
When I meet with a woman one-to-one, I’m offering them the Word, and there’s not often a proof text for how to deal with their current issue. There’s only the slow discipline of growing their trust in God by persistent study of his Word. That’s disappointing to women familiar with self-help philosophies and the latest improvement tricks and techniques.
Titus 2 describes women’s ministry as women serving other women by helping them not to revile the word of God through their lives; helping them to be self-controlled, godly and upright; and helping them to wait for Jesus while actively growing in good works.
I try to keep these things in mind, and help the women I meet with to see this bigger picture of both great need and also the solid ground of God and his word that’s available.
So how do I put this into practice? By using the majority of the time that I spend with women as time spent over God’s word.
I need to be setting that up as the expectation. I need to be clear that although the nature of our meetings is personal, they are structured around the Word and prayer, not around our problems.
In the end I also have to analyze the nature of the particular relationship between us. There’s no end to the women I could be meeting with. Unfortunately, if all the woman wants is a friend to spend lots of time with, that’s a role I can’t fulfil, and sadly I have to get that message across to her—that I don’t have the same amount of free time that she has. It doesn’t mean I don’t like her, but I have a responsibility to bring God’s word to lots of women, which is time consuming… but very good!
And I need to be raising up others to do this too.
I need to invest time in training fellow workers in the congregation so that more women can be taught. As I focus on a lot of one-to-one meetings and small group ministry, I need others to also be doing one-to-ones and leading groups, in order to reach all the women at church.
Those are obstacles reasonably peculiar to women’s ministry, but there are also obstacles to the ministry DNA that are peculiar to the female minister herself. I’ll just pick two brief ones.
The first has to do with the role that we female ministers try to fulfil.
We’re not the ones who must find the solution to every problem, the makers of all happiness, or the models of perfection. That’s Jesus. But the pressure we women put on ourselves to have everything under control can lead us to do things in ministry for the sake of appearances.
We have this picture in our heads of what the women’s minister should be, and then we fall agonizingly short of it. Not only do we have these expectations of ourselves—we know that the women in the congregation have these expectations of us too!
I’ll give you an example. I know of women in my congregation who are going through big life issues, and I also know that several of the other women in the congregation are caring for these women. But I feel the pressure to be seen to be talking to them fairly regularly to show that I, the women’s minister, am caring, and integrally involved.
This is despite the fact that I know they’re being looked after, and I know of women who aren’t known and aren’t being helped, or who are new and not Christian. I know where the gospel priorities lie, and so I have to go with the gospel motive when using my time and picking my opportunities, not the appearance one. I have to bury that sense that the women are wondering why I’m not meeting with so and so; sometimes they even ask me if I have been to see them, whether I know what’s going on, and what I am doing about it.
But my ministry is before God, not the women’s committee, and I must battle to use my time rightly in the light of that reality.
The second thing we women do, which is again connected to the first, is to waste time and energy beating ourselves up about it all. Just in general, even as a response to these reflections, I want to urge all the women reading not to put too much pressure on themselves! Because you most likely do.
As you make the decision to help Mrs X and not Miss Y, don’t then fret that Miss Y or the friends of Miss Y will think you’re incompetent or lazy or uncaring. Don’t go home from work each day worrying over whether you’ve got your ministry all wrong. Work on a couple of changes to make, sure, but also just get on with it! No-one gets it right all the time. I certainly don’t. We get stressed and overworked and distracted. But we need at least to aim at the ministry DNA or we’ll always be distracted.
Titus 2 calls the older women to be ‘teachers’. Let’s remember that: we’re not merely friends, counsellors or Mrs Fixit.
And there’s only one thing to be teaching: the grace of God that’s appeared, bringing salvation to all people.