Welcome Women Who Can Teach—Don’t Fear Them
Pastors sometimes find themselves between a rock and a hard place when it comes to women teaching in their churches. On the one hand, they may have encountered women with teaching ability who weren’t happy complementarians. On the other hand, they may have encountered alarmed church members when they’ve allowed women to teach in certain contexts. Saying or doing anything to encourage women to teach might feel like a minefield. So, the tendency is to default to the status quo.
This might feel “safe” but it can be detrimental to the health of your church.
WHY YOU SHOULD WELCOME WOMEN WHO CAN TEACH
1. They’re in your church.
Although there might be a few women who see it as their mission to change a church, most are there happily. There are plenty of church options that give women carte blanche to teach and preach. If they wanted that, they would have already chosen one of those churches. Therefore, assume if a woman has chosen your church, then she’s already committed to complementarianism.
2. Every member builds up the body of Christ.
A wise pastor understands his responsibility to equip all the saints for the work of ministry. As Paul reminds us, it takes the whole body to grow the whole body, by the proper working of each individual part (Eph. 4:16). A woman who can teach is one “individual part” God wants to use to help build up the church. After all, being complementarian means that we believe both men and women, each in their way, are necessary for carrying out the Great Commission. Therefore, be on the lookout for women who have the ability to open up the Scriptures and explain them clearly.
We have examples of women doing this in Scripture. We see Priscilla, alongside her husband, teaching Apollos in Acts 18:26. Paul instructs Titus to encourage women to teach other women in Titus 2:3–5. Although churches must determine how they will remain faithful to 1 Timothy 2:12, women can teach in a myriad of settings, even in smaller complementarian churches.
HOW THEY CAN HELP YOU
1. They can partner with you in training your women theologically.
Pastors don’t realize that there’s sometimes a gap in men’s opportunities to learn theologically and women’s opportunities to learn theologically. Complementarian churches usually don’t create those gaps intentionally. They arise because theological training often takes place in ad hoc contexts. Pastors underestimate how much theological training takes place when they grab lunch with a man in their church, or catch up with him in the hallway, or explain their thinking on a particular matter at an elder’s meeting.
Women who are theologically astute can do similar ad hoc teaching amongst the women in your church. Some women can teach theological concepts in a way that’s more relatable to other women. But more than that, they’re around women and so have more opportunities to teach them.
2. They can keep you from outsourcing the teaching of your women.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of emotionally compelling but biblically suspect material directed at women. Many women see this material for what it is and long for sound teaching, but some are attracted by the emotional connection this type of material offers. A sister in your church might listen to your sermon on Sunday but then be influenced by this other type of teaching during the week. Women in your church who are able to teach can help these women see the scriptural deficiencies in this material. In its place, they can offer biblically sound teaching. In the process they’ll be partnering with the elders in teaching the women how to read their Bibles and apply that teaching to their lives. Whether they do this in a large group setting or with a few women with Bibles and coffee in hand is immaterial.
Thankfully, resources by thoughtful, scripturally sound women—books, podcasts, video teaching, blog posts, etc.—have proliferated in the last decade. I praise God for these resources, but there’s an inherent danger in relying on these resources too heavily. The women producing this material speak powerfully to the women in your church, but they don’t know your particular women or your particular context. Having women in your church who know both is gold, and God has put these women in your church.
3. Their presence should help your elders clarify and communicate your practice of complementarianism.
We all default to how we’ve done things in the past, and churches are no exception. Our churches should continually reexamine the Scriptures in order to be fully obedient. One such area might be appropriate teaching contexts for women. The presence of women who can teach might be the impetus for the elders to clarify their thinking in this area. This might be uncomfortable, but it’s helpful for everyone.
It’s also important for women to know which teaching contexts are acceptable in your church. Most women don’t want to unnecessarily rock the boat. For example, it’s as awkward for them as it is for you if they lead a mixed Bible study only to find out that your church leadership doesn’t believe that’s biblical. Clarify areas where women can teach and then look for ways to encourage them to do so.
4. They will provide you with a different perspective.
Women who are well versed in Scripture will have insights into a biblical text that you might not have considered. A pastor friend recently told me that he was struck by Nancy Guthrie’s insight into the implied threat that Lamech’s wives would have heard in his boasting. (Help Me Teach the Bible Podcast, Richard Phillips on Teaching Genesis). These women can also let you know of particular concerns or sensibilities other women might have with a passage and how they’re hearing your teaching as women. So, be intentional in talking and listening to the women in your church and getting their feedback on your teaching. Some pastors even gather a group of biblically astute men and women before they begin a new series in order to go over the passages to be preached on.
HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM
1. Tone matters.
I was reminded of this recently when I heard one pastor speak contemptuously of a woman whose views he didn’t agree with. Men don’t realize how demeaning and undermining it is to all women when respected pastors talk about another woman in this way. There must be a way to disagree with a woman, and yet do so with gentleness and respect, right? You will speak volumes to the women in your church if you are careful to talk with them and about them with dignity and respect. As a woman, I would much rather be in a church with a pastor who holds more restrictive views about women teaching but respects women than to be in a church with a pastor with less restrictive views but who is not respectful.
2. Invest in them theologically.
Here are a few ways you can do that without a lot of extra time or programming.
- Periodically, gather women leaders and provide theological training. Maybe in your church the women leaders teach in children’s ministry, or lead Bible studies, or do a lot of discipleship. Consider gathering them to read a book or article or for a one-off discussion on a particular theological topic and its relationship to their sphere of ministry.
- Are there times when the men in your church gather formally or informally for theological training? Think about whether those opportunities could be opened to women. Maybe they already are but no women come. Try specifically inviting a few women whom you think would benefit. For example, my husband encourages women leaders to attend the weekly review of the service. Remember, Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the “good portion” by sitting at his feet and learning. We should want to provide the same opportunities to women.
- Don’t feel that you need to do all the training yourself. Make funds available for women to attend conferences such as Simeon Trust, The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, or The Women’s Training Network. The training doesn’t even have to be focused on women. Together for the Gospel will benefit any woman who attends. A carefully chosen on-line seminary course can also help a woman grow in her teaching, even if she never pursues a degree. Making the training of women a priority in your budget communicates your values.
- Encourage collaboration among like-minded women in your church. Women are often better than men at collaborating. Put good resources in their hands and encourage them to get together and discuss them.
3. Clearly communicate your church’s practice of complementarianism.
Explain how your church came to those views and where you see them in Scripture. If women understand your position, chances are they will be better allies. They might not personally agree with every decision, but more information will allow them to live more happily under the leadership of the church. Isn’t this the case for all of us? I don’t agree with every decision my church makes—and my husband is the pastor! But as a church member, I strive to promote unity in the body, even when I don’t agree with a decision.
After you’ve clearly communicated your position, a woman can decide if your church is a good fit for her. If she feels that she must teach in ways that are contrary to your church’s policy, you might be able to help her find another church where she can do that. You remain on good terms and division in the body is averted.
4. Find ways to utilize their teaching in your church.
Women who can teach might be hesitant to create opportunities for fear that they might come across as pushy. So, come alongside them and identify opportunities for them. Here are some possibilities: women’s Bible studies, children’s ministry, one-off or periodic women’s events, discipleship, and curriculum writing for women’s or children’s ministry. Those are just a few. Additionally, if women in your church are flourishing under a particular woman’s ministry, consider whether or not your church could hire her to train other women and so extend her good work.
Women who want to build up the body will be content to teach in any appropriate context. They might not feel comfortable in front of a large crowd or with a group of 3rd graders but if they know it’s for the good of the church as a whole, they will consider doing it. I’m always wary of a woman, just as I am of a man, who is eager to teach in the “high profile” settings but is reluctant to ever disciple one-on-one or teach in children’s ministry. Heaven is going to reveal a host of saints who worked quietly to advance the kingdom.
5. Look for ways to utilize their teaching outside your church.
Look for ways to promote their teaching outside of your church. A retreat at another church is one possibility. Pastors trust other pastor’s recommendations when it comes to women teachers. But the opportunities don’t have to be limited to the church context. Encourage them to start evangelistic Bible studies in their workplace or neighborhood.
Be honest with yourself. Women who can teach might make you nervous for a myriad of reasons. But consider what might happen if you adopt an attitude of thankfulness rather than anxiousness. In place of fear or frustration, you and they might experience the joy and satisfaction of watching God use women for the good of his church and the praise of his glory.