Thinking Outside the “Women Box”

It surprises many people to hear that my ministry work rarely involves exclusively female audiences. I think there’s a pervasive (and mistaken) assumption that women working in any theology-related field are (naturally!) active in women’s ministry. The truth is, the vast majority of the teaching and training I’ve done has been for mixed audiences of men and women, from young adults to post-retirement seniors. (After all, apologetics and worldview education are not gender-specific disciplines.) This hasn’t been an intentional thing on my part; it’s simply a direct reflection of the nature of ministry invitations I’ve received. I confess that this has led me to what I have come to recognize as an unfair conclusion: that women’s ministry leaders haven’t realized the urgent need for training women in the basics of apologetics as part of focused Christian discipleship, and that women who often participate in the women’s activities at their church aren’t particularly interested in such things, anyway. I also admit that I have experienced a measure of cynicism and pessimism on this account, but I’m glad to be able to say that God has done some heart surgery on me over the course of this year, and my attitude and outlook is being transformed.

A  few weeks ago, I conducted a 2-day apologetics training event for a large group of women leaders at a Bible church in southern California. When the invitation to teach had first come months before, I was quite surprised by the description of the event, and in the weeks leading up to it I wondered how well-received the material would be.  It turned out to be one of the most deeply satisfying ministry experiences I’ve ever had. After each of the five sessions, the women posed excellent, insightful questions and spoke about conversations they’d had with unbelievers in their families and with women they’d encountered through the outstanding community outreach ministry they’ve developed. They were enthusiastic about becoming better-equipped to defend the truth in love. They clearly understood the importance of relationship-building when it comes to authentic evangelism, but their conversational experiences in such a secular region of America has also taught them the necessity of having answers to higher level questions about things such as moral relativism, religious pluralism, science-faith integration, and the reliability of Scripture.  Hence, the reason for the training event. At the end of the weekend, I was so inspired by these culture warrior women that I honestly didn’t want to leave!

open-cardboard-boxI keep imagining the revolution that could happen in other communities across the nation if more senior pastors were persistently outspoken in their exhortation to women congregants towards developing the intellectual skills that have become indispensable to the evangelism of unchurched, well-educated women. The fact is, many of today’s non-Christian career women and mothers on a career hiatus are seeking knowledge of higher truths…but perhaps their search is not always emotion-driven and perhaps they have no deficit of close, loving relationships in their lives. How do we appeal to those who are instead drawn to rational, thoughtful dialogue about God, religion, morality, and hot social issues?  As ambassadors of the greatest teacher who ever lived, we need to be able to meet these women where they are, in a manner that honors their minds. This requires focused training in the context of women’s ministry, yes; but simply offering educational opportunities isn’t sufficient. There needs to be an ethos of intellectualism in the church as a whole, fostered by higher leadership, with emphasis on the need for both genders to develop their minds as a living sacrifice.