March 12, 2008

Women's Ministry: Raising the Bar

I know I've written on this in various ways in the past, but this time of the year necessitates talking about it again. Believe it or not, it's the middle of March and a lot of young people are preparing to leave high school and enter into university campus life. For young Christian men pursuing higher education to serve the church, their options are many...more so than for young women. As the young men enter into college and seminary, they have the blessing to pursue various pastoral positions ranging from youth pastor to associate and sr. pastor within the evangelical context. It's also clear that many of these men will find themselves quite lucky (I'm a Calvinist, that's just a figure of speech) to become college and seminary professors-with greater ease than women. I'm glad that these young men are pursuing these and other avenues to serve and I'm not about to argue for a liberal perspective on gender roles. But I do think the church needs, at this time in history, more women on staff and in full time ministry.

Young women today are extremely interested in the life of the mind and the study of theology. This isn't to suggest that she never has been before. But today's young women are inspired and have a serious passion for engaging culture and sharing the gospel, being a part of the transformation of hearts and minds. The culture of women's ministry in evangelical circles has largely been focused on women's survival....getting enough encouragement to get by. Because of the complexities of today's world, in the areas of worldview and activism, its becoming more urgent for seminary-level trained women to enter the evangelical community vocationally. The needs of women in church and culture are well beyond the scope of what traditional event-driven women's ministry can address.

I've read a lot about how the church has or is becoming feminized, that worship music and styles of preaching have led to the disenchantment of men to such an extent that he isn't interested in going to church-it's for girls. And yet the expectations of girls-women-is to remain as they are, and not pursue more manly things. I realize the big metaphorical broom I have here, but its time to stop sweeping this under the rug and place it where all can see. Our Christian culture expects to train young people to be able to cope with whatever society throws at them, yet young Christian women are often held back from higher theological education. We need to not only encourage them to pursue philosophy and theology in the seminary context, but the church needs to recognize their role in God's Kingdom and how they can and should serve. Let's stop business as usual in women's ministry and raise the bar for its leadership. How can we do that?

1. Expand your view of women's ministry to see the opportunities for engaging the women not in church. How can you use elements of today's culture to reach women? Oprah's book club is a key example.

2. Excite women about the life of the mind. Provide a context for women to excel theologically in their studies; the lowest common denominator shouldn't be the primary focus.

3. Reconsider the solution to feminization. If this is a problem in your church, a solution might actually reside in the ministries to women. Develop those ministries beyond the clich├ęs, raising up leaders who see the church as more than a place for group therapy and personal survival.

4. Develop a vision for women in ministry that encourages young women to seminary and invites women as an appropriate member of the pastoral staff. She has an important place in ministry to women.

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