When it comes to sexual role relationships in the church today, we are so far gone that if we all got back to the status of “severely compromised,” more than a few people would call it a great reformation. One of our issues is the result of our gradual dismissal of biblically-assigned roles for men and women. We have done the same with creational roles, along with traditional roles, saying that they are all simply “outdated stereotypes.” This is a datum that is so self-evident in our confused generation that if you even want to discuss it, we can only attribute your perverseness to a secret desire to relegate women, with all their hopes, dreams, and aspirations, to the drudgery of making quilts.
We have gotten to the point where, in ostensibly conservative churches, we positively celebrate our diseased condition. As long as somebody on the premises affirms inerrancy, and as long as Suzy Q stays out of the pulpit between 11 am and noon on Sundays, she can do anything an unordained man can do. Perhaps someone might wonder how that got to be the standard, which I call a reasonable question. But if you persist in being a troglodyte, you will soon find there are three women on staff with M.Divs to wrap around your neck, who will explain to you why kephale really means something other than that icky feeling we all get whenever someone suggests what it might have actually meant back in Paul’s day.
The central thing I am talking about, of course, is the pestilence that we, for some reason, want to call women’s ministries.
Someone will no doubt object and say that the way I introduced this subject, I am making women’s ministry sound like a bad thing. And far from this being the place where I violate my NQN rule against qualifications, I will simply nod and say that yes, women’s ministries were a terrible idea, and have already been the destruction of numerous churches. Whoever thought it up should have been flogged in front of the synagogue.
So yes, women’s ministries have been a disaster. And don’t get me started on women counselors.
Attention, please: Regular readers of this blog are invited to compose their own set of qualifications and insert them here. This is where they go. This exercise, if you choose to conduct it, may then be compared with the paragraph at the bottom of this post, which is distinctly separated from the body of this post, and thus fully in keeping with our very strict November rules.
The Nature of the Problem
Women’s ministries have rapidly become the third rail in ecclesiastical politics. Many church leaders don’t even know they have a problem, while those who do know they have a problem have no idea how to address it without electrocuting the entire session.
The church leaders who don’t know they have a problem are in this situation because they are not really the church leaders any more. If they were, they would know about the problem. If they sit on the session, serenely ignorant of how the church is really run — i.e. from the control room of the women’s ministry — then this blog post is arriving for them about thirty years too late.
But what about the churches that are still alive enough to know they have a problem? They have a she-wolf by the ears. It is not safe to let go and it is not safe to hang on.
Women ministering is one thing. But women’s ministries are something else. What kind of something else are they? I will tell you. They are a complicated tangle of sentiments and grievances and emotions and rage and resentments. Please note that it is not really an adequate reply to say something like, “Sure, our women’s ministry is just like that, but surely not all of them . . .”
In the olden days, women were ministered to the same way the men were — through Word and sacrament. When the women got together as women, it was to conduct some kind of outward facing ministry to others. But today, a better description of women’s ministries, and the kind of thing I am talking about, would be the common practice of gathering all the women in the church together so that they can form a weekly impromptu ICU ward, and then all take turns playing doctor and nurse for one another.
In other words, the women of the church, considered as a class, considered as a group, are being treated by the church as an oppressed class, as a victimized group. If you are wondering how intersectionality got into your otherwise healthy church, a good place to check would be the women’s ministry. All the doors down there are left unlocked, almost all the time. And lo, the serpent got in. On his account, who are the oppressors? Well, husbands, of course. And the elders. And the finance committee. All the women in the church are gathered together and are treated as a small tribe of needy buckets with grievances. When this happens, because you always get more of what you subsidize and less of what you penalize, you find the needy buckets proliferating, and the grievances metastasizing.
But the women are not supposed to form their own little segregated church within the larger church, with their own (woman) pastor and everything. That director of the women’s ministry, aka the women’s pastor, then becomes an apostle “to the women,” which means that the elders are not really responsible for the women. As Peter was apostle to to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, so also the elders are the ministers to the men. For the time being.
The very last thing in the world that the women of your church need is feminine pastoral care. Men, women, and children, all together, need to be shepherded by qualified men. The women who will be extraordinary in their ministering are those who are more than good with this. They are the women in your church who recognize that whining is not a spiritual gift.
So suffice it to say, if you have any arrangement even remotely like this, you are already in trouble. If the mere existence of this blog post causes a stir in your church, you are already in trouble. If a civil conversation about these or any related issues is already an impossibility in your church, you are already in trouble.
And at the very least, it is a trouble that should move to the very top of your prayer list
Helpful Exercise Answer Key
Someone will come back with a charge, or perhaps an accusation. When you utter such sweeping generalizations you condemn all women everywhere, no matter what they might be doing. No, not really. There is a stark difference between women’s ministry and women ministering. There is a difference between women counselors and women with wise counsel. The women in our church are top drawer, first rate, world class, and right up there with Tryphena and Tryphosa. But for the others, woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! Having introduced that theme, let it be said there were good Pharisees in the Lord’s Day. They could be identified through their agreement with the Lord’s sweeping generalizations.If you wrote something very much like this, good job on you.