As a woman, I’m becoming weary of the ongoing discussion concerning women in ministry. Why, I hear you ask, would a director of women’s ministry not be interested in this important discussion? Well, I assure you, I’m very interested in the topic itself. I think it’s extremely important. But, in many of the discussions I observe, it seems that there are some crucial aspects missing.
We spend an awful lot of time on the egalitarianism/complementarianism debate. Sadly, these debates are often carried out with an air of smug superiority or mind-boggling hypocritical misrepresentation. I find it laughable, for instance, that I can attend meetings with ministry leaders and listen to accusations of sexism and inequality as the only woman in the room attending in a leadership capacity. Further, it’s tragic that, in many cases, this discussion is carried out in places that are largely removed from the brutalities of our context.
In short, we need to move the discussion on. There are wider issues at stake here. When it comes to women in poor communities, here are three particular areas we should prioritise.
1. Pastoral Care
Single parents make up approximately one-quarter of all families living in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, nine-out-of-ten of these are women. In Scotland’s poorest communities—many of which are schemes—52% of all the residents are single parents. Those statistics account for a lot of vulnerable women who are facing multifaceted problems.
Within this demographic, 27% have a long-standing health problem or disability. Millions of women across the UK admit to having taken prescription drugs non-medically during the past year, and millions more have used illegal drugs in the same period. Tragically, 45% of women in the UK have experienced at least one incident of inter-personal violence in their lifetime, and a staggering 54% of all UK rapes are committed by a woman’s current or former partner.
The statistics are heartbreaking. But sadly, they are easy to gloss over. We cannot let it be lost on us that these statistics represent vulnerable and needy women with complex physical, psychological, and spiritual problems. In poor communities like ours, we can be certain that some of the women we know—those who sit in our pews, those we interact with on the streets, and even women in our congregations—have faced, or are facing, some of these tragic situations.
Caring for such women requires wholehearted commitment. We must be ready to walk hand-in-hand with them. And here’s an important point on this: I think it needs to be women primarily who care for these women. It’s simply not wise or prudent for a man to counsel or invest serious amounts of time into vulnerable women’s lives.
Hear me out. I do think that it is important for women to have godly men in their lives. And in the local church, elder involvement is also important. However, the type of support, friendship, mentoring, intimacy in prayer, counsel, and care many women in the church need must come from good, biblically solid, mature, godly women who are closely involved in their lives and are in it for the long haul.
The debate here is not over complementarianism or egalitarianism. These women are fighting to stay alive. They’re fighting to keep their heads above water. They’re fighting depression, juggling work and home life, sexual integrity, how best to be consistent with their kids, being single, paying the bills, getting their man (if there’s one in the picture) to visit the children, and trying to stay out of jail. The list is endless.
This is why, here at 20schemes, we’re working hard to release more women into this ministry. We want to train, develop, and equip women to come and care for the untold silent sufferers in our schemes. We’re trying to put more women on the ground, not hold them back. We recognise that there’s an alarming shortage of biblically literate, mature female gospel workers in our churches. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Titus 2 clearly outlines the need for godly, mature women to teach and be an example to younger women.
So, you can disagree with our theology, but please stop misrepresenting and caricaturing our motivation when it comes to women in ministry.
2. Sexual Integrity
Church leaders are not immune to sexual sin, and many pastors have fallen in this area with a church member they were counselling. Counselling vulnerable women in the schemes—a large proportion of whom have been sexually abused—is a minefield. Any form of tenderness or willingness to listen can easily be misunderstood sexually (from both sexes). For some, temptation can be very hard to resist.
I realise that there are many ways pastors can counsel members of their congregation safely, but we would strongly suggest having a gifted, trained, and mature woman who can do this. It may also be more appropriate to allow a woman to deal with the situation from the outset, because women think and respond differently than men. In crisis situations, a mature woman can continue the relationship on into deeper friendship. A pastor simply could not have the depth of ongoing relationship with another female that a mature woman could have.
3. Next Generation
At 20schemes, not only do we advocate the importance of the role of women in our ministry, but we are one of the few in the UK who are actually training the next generation of women’s workers for this context. The harvest is great, and the workers are few (or non-existent). This is not tokenism. This is serious theological and practical training.
We need to invest in our women, which means we need to invest in women’s ministry. The Bible is crystal clear on gender roles, in both the church and the home. So, for the purposes I’ve outlined here, we need to move the conversation on—beyond the roles women have not been given biblically and focus on the depth of the glorious, God-ordained parts we can play in the life of the church. Of course, the discussion about women and their role within the church needs to be had. I’m not saying it’s unimportant. But, can I urge you—whether complementarian or egalitarian—to move beyond theological point scoring and into some concrete action? Women, especially those in poor communities, deserve that.