March 31, 2009

How to Do Titus 2

Thinking about how to accomplish transition from event-driven women's ministry to a Titus 2 framework, I realize I ought to define "event-driven."

Churches and women's ministries will always have special events, and they should. But large scale affairs generally do not lend well to relationship building, an element essential to discipleship. Event-driven ministry is best understood as a majority of activities that take away from relationship building. In other words, if your ministry has one dinner function a year, but most of the Bible studies are video-based, my view is that relationship building is inhibited. This is where Bible study becomes a series of events and, voila, you have an event-driven ministry.

A Titus 2-based women's ministry is focused on getting women to talk to each other, where there is teaching and learning--not just about God, but about each other. Where there is no conversation, no learning, there is no mentoring.

So how do you move from event-driven to a Titus 2 ministry?

1. Group Bible studies that invite encounters with God in scripture and opportunities to share with each other about its meaning and application.

2. Activities that reveal common interests. These need not be formalized, it can be as basic as attending Little League games together or going to a teacher's convention if that is your occupation.

3. Casual sack lunch gatherings with or without a planned topic. Every women's ministry event need not be a regal affair.

4. "Cake and Conversation." Again, be deliberate about the cake, and see where the conversation goes.

5. Yes, I'm going to say it. Online social networking takes some of the work out of it, but you can make yourself available, knowable, and reachable with an online presence. The world is changing but we can still be a part of even the busiest person's life through Facebook, Ning, Twitter, and other similar sites. It takes less time to read messages than it does to cater an event!

This is a short, obviously non-exhaustive list. If you have some ideas or insights, leave your comments for everyone to read.

March 19, 2009

Obama: Clergy in Chief?

When President Obama recently signed the Executive Order that would provide federal funding for embryo-destructive research, the ideological floodgates were opened. Obama said the new order is “about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda—and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Science does not make decisions, ethics and the theories that support them are where decisions are made.

There are two significant issues that arise from this whole discussion. The first is the fact that science can only provide us with an “is.” Science can only describe what we can do or what we might be able to do, but science will never, on its own, answer the question, “what should we do?” Simply because the progress of science and research allows us to do something does not necessitate that we ought to. This IS-OUGHT dilemma is so extremely elementary, yet escapes Obama and his left-leaning ideologues. Indeed, he has answered the ethical question that was previously “above [his] paygrade,” but tries to disguise it as a matter of science.

The other significant issue is that Christian conservatives are catapulted again into the discussion of what is an embryo, when does human life begin, what does it mean to be created in the Image of God, and what are the implications of this research on the character of American society? But oddly enough, while Obama is allowed to bring ideology to the teleprompter in his IS-OUGHT charade, the church is a bit more temperamental about bringing so-called political issues in the pulpit. The fact is, most issues of politics are issues of faith and matters for the church to engage, yet there is nothing inherently political about embryo-destructive research that should make it off limits from our pastoral leadership and communicated from the pulpit. Embryo-destructive research is first a matter of ethics and is secondarily political. In fact, it’s only been politicized because of the desire to appeal to the wants of a very vocal and left-leaning segment of our society. And aversion to these discussions from the pulpit is based on the idea that they have great potential to cause division inside the church so we, for our own good, should abide by the so-called Wall of Separation. Is this evidence that the church is really as political as government, and government is really as faith-oriented as the church? An interesting reversal of roles.

March 17, 2009

What Embryonic Stem Cell Research has to do with Women's Ministry

Sounds strange, but the repercussions of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) are going to be especially serious for younger women. The research will cause a decline in womens health and objectify women in a way never imagined.

For ESCR to be pursued, cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer/SCNT) science will need to be perfected, research the requires human eggs, harvested from women of reproductive age.

Womens ministry is in a unique position to educate these young women about the harms of ESCR/SCNT to their bodies and to communicate their worth, their human dignity, and that it should not be violated in treating them as a commodity--an egg farm.

Harvesting eggs even for IVF (same method) can be extremely painful and have long term health implications...including infertility. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome has been known to result.

Feminists aren't interested in protecting women from the harms of this research because their agenda demands that whatever can be done to deconstruct reproduction ought to be done. Christian women mentoring younger women are in a key position to communicate a vital message of human dignity that can not on protect women's health, but draw them closer to the God who defines dignity in the first place.
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March 16, 2009

Women's Ministry: Spiritual Anemia Requires Spiritual Meat

Recently, I wrote a piece for the GFL blog that was titled "Does 'Complementarian' Equal Anemic Women's Ministry?" I'm thrilled with the comments it has received and the encouragement it has provided to women who want to bring a certain degree seriousness to their call to ministry. I cannot count the times that I meet women who, with me, joyfully identify with the complementarian perspective, but wonder how they can bring more meat to the table of women's ministry when it is overflowing with so much dessert. The answer to that question is going to depend on the kind of support that exists in the local church and the willingness to work together toward the same purpose and goal that is God-centered and gospel-driven.

I was honored to discover that the folks at the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood thought my commentary had a sense of good "direction," but I'm sad that they responded to an article that simply was not the one I wrote. If you have not read my commentary, please read it before you continue reading here. In fact, read Brent Nelson's as well, then come back.

Welcome back!

In What Makes for a Strong Women's Ministry?, Brett Nelson writes that my commentary "wafts an air of chronological snobbery" in response to this statement I make in the GFL commentary:
These are women who want to fulfill the Titus 2 mandate, to mentor and minister to other women, who want to play a significant role in Christian education, but also want to escape the culture of women’s ministry that they inherited from their grandmothers.
I am unclear how this is "chronological snobbery," and Brent Nelson is unclear as well, because he follows up my statement with his own question.
what is it about their grandmothers' culture of women's ministry that must be escaped from just because it was two generations back?
He rightly states that every generation has their blind spots, and that every generation has something to teach each other. I couldn't agree more! But my own commentary does provide an answer his question. As you have already read, I point out many examples of fluff n' stuff we have inherited from previous generations of women's ministry that are becoming obstacles to discipleship and in developing future women's leaders. Perhaps it was short-sided of me to not pay tribute to the legacy of women from the past, but that wasn't the purpose of the commentary. Brent Nelson is right to point out that it hasn't all been fluff n' stuff, but he commits a logical error by suggesting the desire for escape is based on ageism.

In developing his argument, Brent Nelson asks yet another rhetorical question,
Are those who reject their grandmothers' kind of women's ministry sure of what they reject?
Well, that was the point of my commentary, and it was long enough and specific enough for that detail to be located by the reader. Yes, we are sure! We, the silent critical mass mentioned at the beginning of my commentary, reject the fluff n' stuff that inhibits discipleship and takes up our time in needless event planning. I certainly should offer a caveat here, not all event planning is needless and many of the activities serve as instruments for discipleship. It is when women's ministry becomes event-driven and programmatically set in stone that we lose opportunities for discipleship and actually keep women away. But then again, that was detailed in my commentary.

In something of an answer to his own rhetorical questions, Brent Nelson rightly states that
some who led women's ministries in the 1950's may have lived the scriptural ideals of ‘self-control, purity, working in the home and submission to their own husbands' far better than some today.

The real danger here is not my disappointment with the fluff n' stuff of women's ministry, but the belief that there is little wrong with the intensity of the traditions that have been inherited, the poor examples of biblical interpretation offered by some women's ministry leaders, the weak materials marketed by Christian publishers who know that women represent a large majority of church attendance, the self-esteem/self-centered therapeutic methodology that is said to be God-centered, and the unwillingness to see women's ministry for the significant role it can play in the advancement of God's Kingdom. But then again, if women's ministry is primarily about fellowship with discipleship flowing out of that, then perhaps my view that it can play a role in advancing God's Kingdom is unwarranted.

Women's Ministry: Part of His Story

Occasionally I receive requests on how to successfully launch a church women's ministry. Well, I'm not sure any of us know how to successfully do anything, though we are pretty good at messing things up. With all the ways the contemporary church tries to measure success, what I am confident of is that we have mastered leaving God out of the process at times. This, of course, does not mean there are no practical tips for launching or growing a women's ministry, but we need to be reminded that what we might perceive as success or failure may not be the same as what God sees. So our ministries are to be prayerfully God-centered and doctrinely sound, with a vision for glorifying God as both the purpose and goal. Ultimately, we need to remember that His story is for His glory, not our own.

What follows is some basic wisdom that comes from both research and the experience of myself and other leaders in ministry. As we all try to learn more about doing women's ministry in this 21st century context, please consider participating in a women's ministry survey at my website. Will these results yield a perfect plan for ministry? Surely not, but quite possibly we will discover some trends that can be more closely examined and praise God for all the awesome work being done through him and in him.

1. Women's ministry is vital to the life of the body. Barna has reported that 60% or more of people who attend church are women, and around 25 % of that number attend without their husbands. Many women are functionally the spiritual leaders in their homes because they are single parents, their husband is not a believer, or they are single. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. These women need to be equipped to understand what they believe and why, because they have a ministry and responsibility to so many others in their lives. A women's ministry that is able to come alongside and unite in purpose with a church's pastoral ministry will be able to make an impact in these women's lives.

2. Women's ministry must be cross-generational. Whatever the ethnic make-up of your church, women's ministries face what I believe is the greater challenge of how to do ministry across generations. There is no magic cure for this particular issue, but some are finding that common ground exists among most women as it relates to biblical studies rather than social events. While the mature women of the church ought to be training the young women in the things of the Lord (Titus 2), the younger women have less and less time to participate in women's ministry functions due to the demands of the era. They want to make the most of their time and many are likely to choose Bible studies and book discussion groups. The message of scripture is timeless and never goes away as a worn out fad!

3. Be deliberate about the youth and college aged women. The women in the congregation with a greater propensity to be influenced by the whims and philosophies of our culture are women between the ages of 15 and 25. This is where youth and college ministry must meet women's ministry, and relational and educational opportunities must be developed to minister to this age group.

4. Teach. Women's ministry leaders need to model for women not only how to properly interpret and apply scripture, but that the process is to be sought after and enjoyed. While our faith ought to be lived in community, understanding it is a also a matter of personal responsibility.

5. Pastors must be involved in women's ministry. Teaching materials and other resources must be held to a standard as high as what is preached by the pastor on Sunday morning. Typically, this is the case with church Sunday School materials. Because Christian publishers and resellers understand female buying power, and they also know the church population statistics, women are a target market for all kinds of resources, An example of why this is important is the controversy over a popular women's bible teacher several years ago whose theology was not closely examined until she had staked a claim in thousands of evangelical churches with her message of godly eating. The fact that she rejected the deity of Christ did not become an issue until a few years into her ministry because no one had taken the time to closely examine her beliefs up until that point. As a result, many woman and their families have abandoned biblical Christianity to join the church this woman currently leads.

March 1, 2009

Womens Ministry Leadership Survey

In an effort to identify and assess the needs of women in the Church, a helpful approach is to discover what is currently available through the church women's ministries. If you are a women's ministry leader or a member of a women's ministry team, please take the time to fill out the survey at Women of Faith in Culture. After the survey ends, an analysis of the results will be made available. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.