As a complementarian woman in the church, the temptation can be to see my ministry role as rather bleak. Through a long journey of prayer, study, and providential experience, however, I have come to see the sweetness of the biblical roles of men and women as laid out in the Bible. Sadly, though, these roles for women in the church have been crippled by the fear of overstepping God-given boundaries. I have even had someone say to me, “Well it’s great that you’re learning a lot about God and want to share it, but be careful not to go outside of what God has commanded women to do!”
Don’t misunderstand me; I have no desire to be a pastor and I understand what the Bible says. My desire is to serve my church and use my gifts.
In the midst of my confusion and discouragement, my friend Sam Bierig, said these words: “We get so caught up and focused on the one tree that women can’t eat from that we forget that there is a massive garden to enjoy and lay hold of.”
He was talking specifically about those conversations regarding the role of pastor-eldership, and his statement was so encouraging to me that it has helped shape my thoughts about women’s ministry. In return, I want to encourage the church to point women to the garden, not simply to what they can’t eat.
Why do we focus on the tree?
I don’t think it is a bad thing to talk about how the God-appointed elder role has been given only to men. Christians desire obedience to God’s Word and we want to handle it rightly. Things that are hard, unclear, or disagreed upon in the Word should be talked about, dissected, and shared with love. I’ve greatly benefited from conversations about male and female roles in the church.
Sometimes, though, we entangle ourselves in and dwell on the restrictions and forget the permissions and commands. Yes, God calls men to be pastors, not women, but God has commanded all believers to the same ministry of the gospel—the same Christian life.
Here’s the exciting thing about the garden to which Sam was referring; it’s the same garden for men and women.
There isn’t a different Bible reserved for women. There isn’t a separate Great Commission given to women either.
I think since we have belabored the aspects of the church that women aren’t called to, we have forgotten to encourage them to answer all the other calls in the Bible. The Great Commission doesn’t encompass every single aspect of the life of women in the church, but I think it helps paint a picture of sort of ministry women should be pursuing.
Matthew 28:18-20 is a command to all believers and each element of the command should bear fruit in men and women’s lives. Men, encourage your sisters to actively obey the Great Commission (and the whole Bible). Women, enjoy and pursue the fruit of the ministry of the gospel that comes from heeding God’s Word!
How do we encourage women to lay hold of the garden?
1. Teach others to obey
To be able to teach others to obey implies that you know what the Bible says. You can’t teach what you don’t know. This doesn’t mean that you should wait to teach until you feel like you’ve got the Bible figured out. It does mean that you must be familiar with who Jesus is before you can introduce him to others.
I think this aspect of the Great Commission is the possibly the most important one for women, which is why I am putting it first, though it comes later in this text. Here’s why: when women are encouraged to think deeply about who God is, study the Word of God thoroughly, and proclaim boldly the WHOLE council of God, “women’s ministry” will look a lot less like a “Pink Bible Study” and much more like the New Testament. What I mean by this is that many women’s Bible studies revolve around “pink passages” like the Titus 2 passage, Ruth, Esther, or Proverbs 31. These are beautiful parts of the Bible, but the Word of God is from Genesis to Revelation. Women, meditate on the whole Bible! Don’t be constrained to the passages that tip a hat to your gender; the Bible is not to be divided up and studied according to what’s relevant to you. The whole council of God exists so that you can know and love God more, so read it all and teach it all!
Church, encourage your women to read, study, obey, and teach the fullness of the Word of God.
Women are called to evangelism, and this is to their neighbors and to all nations. I’ve met many ladies who are passionate about and obedient to the call of missions, and we need many more. Women can risk their lives so that the gospel can go forward. They can share the gospel with their coworkers, family members, and neighbors. They can give generously to those who are on the field. They can pray fervently for the persecuted church. When women in your church are asking how they can be used, or when they are being complacent in their faith, point them to this truth:
Church, encourage your women to be evangelicalistic everywhere they go.
3. Make disciples
The call to make disciples is to all believers, including women. What does making disciples look like for women? The same as it does for men! Women can teach others to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. Titus 2:3-5 is another call, specifically to females, that strengthens the Biblical mandate for women to make disciples. Press in to the relationships around you and remember that the gospel is not for you to tuck away into a secret part of your life. Put your life on display for the church so that others may be built up! Ladies, find women you can teach and also find women who can teach you. Every person in your church should be making disciples, and women are not exempt from that.
Church, encourage your women, young and old, to make disciples.
4. Trust in the One who is with you
When Jesus said that he would always be with the believers, he was promising his Spirit (which was then given in Acts 2). Men and women who belong to Christ share the same Spirit. This is important because it is a reminder of the equal value men and women share. If we share the same Spirit, this means we all have spiritual gifts that can be used for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). Women, if you’re gifted in teaching, then teach those around you all that you can about who God is. If you’re gifted in service, then “out do one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Whatever it is that God has empowered you to do by the Spirit, use that gift ardently.
Church, encourage your women to use their gifts by the Spirit for the glory of God and the good of the church.
There is so much opportunity to see the church flourish as men and women obey the Great Commission. Let’s pursue opportunities to equip women to taste all the ripe fruits of gospel ministry.