In one of our most widely read and discussed articles yet, Hannah Anderson laid out ways the “mommy blogosphere” has become a vehicle for driving how Christian women think and talk about practical matters of the faith. She concluded the piece by arguing that in recognizing this reality, there is a necessity for local churches to consider how some of what’s encountered in that world may be generating a lack of balance or perspective in how a woman considers seasons like marriage or motherhood in the context of her identity as a child of God. She also argued that one way for churches to address this dynamic is not necessarily to dissuade women from reading or writing blogs entirely, but to encourage women in those churches who are gifted in teaching and writing, to apply those gifts to the Christian blogosphere as a whole.
The argument that women should be encouraged to engage in “digital discipleship” at a deeper and more gospel-oriented level is by no means an argument that women’s discipleship should happen exclusively online. Quite the opposite. The rise of women’s’ engagement with the Internet for spiritual nourishment speaks to the grace of God in both growing women’s hunger to become more faithful disciples of Jesus, and in giving the church an opportunity to consider how to fulfill their God-given mandate to help make them so.
This website was launched with an exhortation by Thabiti Anyabwile to pastors to become more intentional in their efforts to lead and teach women to disciple others in their congregations. That post resonated with many readers, both pastors who already felt this burden, and women who long to be ministered to this way. This year, contributors at The Gospel-centered Woman want to reinforce and expand upon Thabiti’s initial exhortation through a series of posts on the WHY and HOW of local women’s discipleship. We want to continue the conversation Thabiti started, and flesh out ways we can grow women in our congregations so that they will live out of the fullness of their identities in Christ, for the good of the local and global Body of Christ, and the world into which we are all called to go.
We hope and pray that the topics and ideas we raise will be considered and discussed here in the comments. (Yes, we’re actually going out on a limb and inviting thoughtful comments.) But we don’t want the conversation to end here, or even at the conference table at your church (if you’re blessed to have such a thing!). Our greatest prayer is that this conversation will spill out onto your dining tables, with your families, and onto local coffee tables, with other lay leaders and members at your church. It bears repeating again that our goal here is not to focus on the Internet components of women’s’ discipleship but to leverage the Internet to consider the discipleship of women in the local church in a more holistic way.
Why call out the need for discipleship of women as a distinct ministry need at all? Aren’t the collective meetings of the whole church body for preaching and worship, and small/community group meetings, sufficient? They are important, without question. But on their own, they risk the loss of the perspective that comes from the beauty and distinctiveness of a feminine point of view, contra a masculine one. Evangelicals, especially those of an outspoken complementarian perspective, call out the differences between men and women as good and necessary to the full flourishing of humanity, yet leaders within those church often don’t consider those differences and their significant value as it relates to discipleship (we encourage you to refer again to both Hannah’s and Thabiti’s pieces on why this perspective matters).
It would be unfair to say that the church has been blind to gender-related issues entirely. For some time, conservative evangelicals cited statistical data indicating that the average church congregation was 60% women as an indicator that gender imbalance was an issue requiring attention. One response was to focus on restoring gender balance by doubling down on men’s ministry initiatives. Another was to concentrate the focus of women’s’ ministries on efforts centered on collective issues like marriage and mothering. Since the 1970s, women’s discipleship in conservative evangelical churches has seemed dominated by the larger conversation surrounding men and women’s roles in the church and home. Sadly, these approaches have not always borne the fruit hoped for. Some women have looked to their roles as wives and mothers as the lens through which they view all of their sanctification, and many church ministries often reinforce this faulty paradigm. Other women have left the church altogether, embracing a “spiritual but not religious” approach to sanctification. Both the legalism and license of these results reveal flaws in current paradigms for women’s discipleship.
We need to restore the center of our efforts from focusing first on Biblical womanhood in terms of roles, to focusing first on Christlikeness (via the gospel) expressed in any stage of life. This is not because roles are unimportant, but because they are only understood when they are built on the foundation of a woman’s creation in the image of God and the good news of Jesus that equips her to live in light of it once more. Ignoring these truths renders teaching on traditional topics related to femininity pale and powerless; but built on top of them, their application to women of any age and demographic, in any place around the world, transforms not just the individual, but the home, the church, and even the world.
Consequently, the focus of this series of posts will not be about creating a new program, ministry, or movement in women’s’ discipleship. It will simply be about reorienting our thinking around making women’s discipleship at the local church level centered on the truths of the gospel, and the working out of that gospel into every season of a woman’s life.
Pastor or ministry leader, if you are willing to engage in this conversation, here are some starting points to think and comment about in terms of gospel-centered, Christ-focused local women’s discipleship:
1 Do you personally see value for you and your church to proactively disciple women currently in your congregation?
2 Have you talked lately with women in your congregation about personal discipleship? Do you have avenues in your church for conversations on this topic between male and female leaders and members?
3 In any role and at any stage of life, a woman needs to know and love her Creator God in whose image she is made. Are you discipling women in your congregation to that end? How so? If you aren’t, what are your thoughts about beginning?
4 Do you have a vision for how a broad knowledge of God coupled with the gospel can cause a woman to flourish in her particular giftings and roles?
We at The Gospel-Centered Woman value serving the local church. We want to encourage and support pastors in their ministry to the women in their congregations, and believe that encouragement can in turn bear fruit in the lives of the women to whom they minister, so that those women are both eager and equipped to minister to others. We hope you’ll consider these questions and engage with us in this conversation, if not in the comment section here, then with other leaders, male and female, in your church.
Stay tuned for more.