If you don't know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women's ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups. If you're a pastor and you don't think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I'd beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson's words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”
Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can't agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does "one big good deed" as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.
It's easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, "The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her." The problem is the circumstances haven't really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn't be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, "Equality and Distinctiveness." We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal "air-time" to women in the church. When we don't, or when we outsource our women's events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they're a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It's easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here's a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.
Practically, if you're scratching your head thinking you've done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:
1. Many young women put off seminary because they don't have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman's seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.
2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I've seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves "counselors" who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they're counseling. A certification doesn't mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.
3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don't expect her to be the women's minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don't mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.
4. Don't thumb your nose at women passionate about "women's ministry." It's gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you're staffed to do.
5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don't skimp.
6. Ask women what they're reading or who they're listening to and then do your homework. Don't dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don't utilize them as your women's ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.
One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,
“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.”
You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don't make them fit into little molds of children's ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.