Are the women in your church fully exercising their God-given gifts? I will stab a guess that the answer is ‘no’. So can I offer a simple suggestion? Women need encouragement!
When it comes to children’s and women’s meetings and catering, it seems that women need little encouragement, because that’s what they do! We are very grateful but aren’t we selling them short and selling our churches short too, when there are many more gifts and ministries available to women?
On the basis of biblical complementarianism, men and women are equal in value but different in role; complementing each other. The only explicit restriction is that women cannot exercise authority over men by governing or teaching the Word to a mixed congregation (1 Tim. 2:12). Churches may differ on the specifics but it is helpful to focus, not merely on what women can’t do but rather on what they can do.
Here are some of the main biblical categories of gifts (cf. Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:8-10) followed by some suggestions of how women can exercise those gifts.
The gift of interpreting and expounding God’s Word faithfully and clearly in the Spirit’s power to women, children and young people in the church. Women can also share in mixed groups both formally and informally (cf. Acts 18:26 when Aquilla and his wife Priscilla taught Apollos).
How many women do you know with a teaching gift? How many are using it? Could your church provide training for women to study the Word and teach other women? Is your church exercising the Titus 2:4-5 principle of ‘spiritual mothering’? That is, are the older women in the faith teaching and training the younger women? Why not encourage your women to invite a younger woman to meet with them regularly to read the Bible and pray? Should our church be prepared where possible to show how much we value women’s ministry by employing a women’s worker full or part-time?
Pastoring or ‘shepherding’. The gift of listening, empathising and caring for the needs of others, using good interpersonal skills and the ability to apply the Word through encouragement (1 Thess. 5:14), exhortation (Rom. 12:8), admonition (1 Thess. 5:12) and counsel.
Women naturally excel in nurturing, but is your church enabling them to be formally involved in pastoral visiting of women by recognising and appointing gifted women for this? Can we ensure that, where possible, women are called upon in pastoral situations involving women? In some sensitive cases it would be inappropriate for a man to pastor a woman.
The gift of proclaiming the gospel clearly, engagingly and winsomely to unbelievers. Philippians 4:3 and Romans 16:3 show that several women served alongside Paul in gospel work. Women can naturally connect well with people. They are a key in reaching out and drawing people into the church but are we encouraging women in their personal evangelism? Are we equipping them and enabling their involvement in local church outreach? Men and women within the church need to work together in order to reach men, women and families outside the church.
Word of knowledge and discernment
The gift of understanding God’s Word and his will (knowledge) and skilfully applying that understanding to life (wisdom). These gifts overlap with the gift of discernment, which distinguishes truth from error and recognizes spirits and different situations.
God has gifted particular men and women with biblical wisdom and insight but are we tapping into the unique and different perspective of such women, which is essential to complement that of the men? It is very important that women (who usually make up more than half of the church) are represented and listened to in church decision-making.
Prayer and faith
The gift of prayer and faith is an ability to lay hold of God in persistent prayer and a steadfast trust in God. Can you think of women in your church who are prayer warriors? What about the ones who lift a prayer meeting? How about those who shine because they know and trust God through thick and thin? How we need these women! We should encourage them to press on and draw others alongside to learn from them.
Leading and administration
The gift of directing and coordinating, like a conductor of an orchestra or a captain of a sport’s team. The best kind of leader is a servant. I can’t see that a woman leading a mixed team for a Holiday Bible Club or Seniors’ Lunch is undermining male headship. Women can and must be leaders in certain areas of church life. Seeing women in leadership encourages other women to lead. There is of course a danger of women domineering in churches, but the other danger is that they hold back too much. We should enable gifted women to lead confidently and well. Some churches encourage their men and women to take a Learn2Lead course. We need capable women leaders who can flourish within the context of male headship.
Practical help, hospitality, giving and mercy
The gift of cheerfully and generously using one’s resources and time to help and encourage others.
These gifts can sometimes be overlooked, but are of vital importance. Showing love and encouragement in practical ways can build up the saints and win hearts to the gospel like nothing else. Helping a young mum, for example, or supporting the elderly or having an open home. May we thank our women and spur them on in their sometimes costly and unseen labours of love.
The key to women exercising their gifts to the full lies with the men in church leadership. The encouragement must primarily come from them in some of the following ways:
- The elders should clarify the church’s position on the roles and gifts of men and women and then provide specific teaching for the whole church.
- Endorse women’s ministries by mentioning and praying for them publicly.
- Ask women to share about their ministries in the prayer meeting or church newsletter.
- Recognise the gifts of individual women and give opportunities for them to be exercised.
- Provide and encourage training.
- Personally express support and gratitude.
This will give women validation before the whole church and so increase confidence to exercise their gifts and ministries.
If we love our church, we will want her to be beautified in Christ-likeness. This can only happen if every member is using the gifts God has given them for the edification of the whole body. So let us be practical complementarians! Let us equip, support and enable both men and women to serve one another fully with their gifts and watch his church thrive! Please remember – women need encouragement!