The Challenge of Women’s Work and the Great Commission

The Lausanne Covenant declares that the whole church is called to take the whole gospel to the whole world, and certainly Jesus makes His own intentions clear with His Great Commission.  How then are all God’s amazing daughters to respond to this invitation while also remaining sensitive to theological controversies about the role of women in ministry, observing cultural and contextual norms–and making sure everyone has clean underwear in their drawers and sandwiches in their lunchboxes?

Without taking sides or over-simplifying the complexity of the differences that exist, Mary T. Lederleitner offers the gift of a spotlight, illuminating crucial work that women are accomplishing as they serve and lead around the world. The stories that enrich Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead are based on research Lederleitner conducted among women born and raised in approximately thirty countries. They have ministered in additional nations and represent different generations and a variety of ministries. What they all share in common is that each one has earned the deep respect of her colleagues.

For the leader committed to “influence others toward God’s purpose in the world” (12), serving and leading are two sides of the same coin. The ninety-five women who shared their stories minister in the same spirit as New Testament heroines and the great women of faith who pioneered outreach in response to God’s calling throughout the history of the church. While their contribution is indisputably significant, they reject celebrity culture and offer their highly competent fruitfulness with a heart that says, “It’s not about me.”

Is Leadership the Same Regardless of Gender?

Ministry leaders around the world show up for work every day with the same slate of financial, staffing, vision, and policy issues on their desks. Lederleitner’s research pointed out, however, that a woman’s career tends to include more twists and turns, disruption and diversity. Frequently, cultural norms wholly apart from theological influences make it difficult for women to find the “power distance” and assertiveness style that works where the sovereignty of God has placed them.

A Question to Ponder:

Would you be willing to leave behind the privilege and freedom of the North American church to serve in a ministry context where you had to walk behind your husband in public and set aside much of your own personal power for the greater gift of reaching people with the love of Christ?

The Faithful Connected Leader

In her work with ethnically diverse women, serving in a wide range of roles and contexts, Lederleitner observed a model of servant leadership that was both faithful and connected.  Modeling the faithfulness of God in their goal setting, spirit of forgiveness, and commitment to the task, these women in leadership roles are also deeply connected to “their God, to the people they meet through their ministries, and to the realities present within their ministry contexts.” (53) They demonstrate humility, dependency on prayer, a collaborative style, a holistic view of mission, perseverance despite injustice, as well as a commitment to impact and to excellence.

Carmen, a Chilean leader, embodies this philosophy of ministry:

“I am a channel and not a source. I am not the fountain.” (62)

A Question to Ponder:

In your own ministry, would you say that you value relationship with God more than your work? In what ways do you seek to connect with your colleagues and the people to whom you minister?

 The Challenge Continues

Since more than half the missionaries around the world are women, it is clear that God is calling women to serve, and they are answering the call in spite of the challenges that exist. A strong theology of hope is the key to faithfulness for women who encounter unfair treatment and frustrating obstacles. Based in the recognition that God is sovereign and justice belongs to Him, they choose forgiveness over bitterness and persevere in finding ways to be effective in their calling in spite of hurdles.

Lederleitner’s research is a snapshot, capturing a moment in time in an ever evolving obedience. In the years ahead, new freedoms–or new constraints–will change the way these courageous women pour out their lives for the gospel. They will tire, grow old, and leave this earth as will we all, and yet the quality of their work ensures that it will continue in some way as those they have trained step into leadership behind them.

A Final Question to Ponder:

How would you characterize your following life?
Are you allowing petty hindrances to sideline your ministry instead of persevering and expanding your influence for the gospel? 

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Wreathed in Contentment

A toddler-sized pair of skates wired to an evergreen spray and adorned with a bow — that’s the best I can do!  But not everyone is craft-challenged like I am, and Sarah O. Maddox has made a practice of hanging a beautiful wreath on the door of her home no matter what the season as a symbol of contentment, a sign that her heart has said yes to the gift of that particular house in that particular location — a sign that her heart has said yes to God.

In You Can Learn to be Content, a book that incorporates both memoir and devotional inspiration, Sarah describes her discovery that she had an uneasy relationship with contentment, and then shares her journey toward living in the light that Isaiah speaks of:

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.  (Isaiah 50:10)

Hebrews 10:35-38 reminds believers that the root of discontent is a mindset of doubt and fear, admonishing us not to “cast away our confidence” in Him.

While there’s nothing wrong with having an eye for improvement, Sarah shares three common obstacles to contentment that steal our joy:

  1.  Unmet expectations lead to disappointment, frustration, and regret, and “when the circle of regret becomes [our] resting place, contentment flees out the door.”
  2. My response to others gives them power over me.  Poet Fran McDaniel shares this wisdom:  “Choose not to be offended; rather, seek to understand.”
  3. The truth is that “what’s down in the well may come up in the bucket!”  When under pressure and plagued with uncertainty, walking in the way of contentment has to be a conscious choice that comes from within.

From Jehoshaphat’s prayer in the midst of what looked to be a losing battle, Sarah encourages her readers that even when we feel powerless in the battle for contentment, the answer is to look to God for guidance.  Peppered with examples of her own struggles through perplexing circumstances, she shares homely wisdom from her museum of memories:

  • “Because God wants you to trust Him, He will see to it that you have to.”
  • “God:  Vacate and let me occupy.”
  • “A contented woman is not dependent on anyone else for her satisfaction.  She has not made her house, her financial situation, her husband, her children, or her friends slaves of her expectations.”

Psalm 62:5 gives words for the heart of the woman who desires contentment in her bones:

“My soul,
Wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him . . .”

With this wisdom, even in the midst of changing circumstances, the woman who believingly follows Jesus Christ can live with a heart that is wreathed in contentment.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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Divine Design

“As Christian women, we desire to honor God by living countercultural lives that reflect the beauty of Christ and His gospel to our world . . .”

These powerful words lifted from the True Woman Manifesto are a wake up call to women, an invitation to enter into a life based on truth, and to view womanhood as a glorious gift that puts the creativity and wisdom of God on display.

In True Woman 101:  Divine Design, Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth), share their own very unique stories of following God into ministry —  Mary as a wife and mother, Nancy as a single woman at the time of the book’s publication.  Certainly, marital status is no barrier to active and meaningful ministry.

While many in the church waste valuable time quibbling over what women should do or may do, the word of God is clear in its teaching that, although marred by the fall, the role of a godly woman is to exhibit wholehearted devotion to Christ, to display purity of heart and a quiet spirit in her use of the unique ministry gifts that God has granted.

When Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper, he forever exalted the role of those who come alongside to assist. This is a powerful message for women who want their homes to be launching pads for the next generation of world-changers, for women who are called to meet the needs of others outside their family circle, and for women of all ages and of all giftings who desire to be intentional and purposeful in living a countercultural life that puts others first.

The words of Elisabeth Elliot are a magnificent mission statement:

“We are called to be women.  The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman.  For I have accepted God’s idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be.”

True Woman 101 is an eight-week study that serves as an invitation to throw away the cookie cutters and delight in the differences between men and women as well as the differences among women of diverse temperaments, at various stages in life, and with different callings.  We live our lives before God “to the end that Christ may be exalted and the glory and redeeming love of God may be displayed throughout the whole earth.”

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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The Gentle Art of Discipling Women

Getting older seems to level the relational playing field — at least that’s what I’m finding.

The past ten years have been enriched by relationships with women of all ages who have come to my Sunday school class or have attended our women’s group.  I’m always surprised to find common ground with younger women with whom, if it had been possible for us to have met when I was their peer, both of us in our mid-twenties, I would have been too intimidated to speak to them — beautiful, confident, married when I was blah, awkward, and single.  The silence would have been deafening, but now, in my fifties, I’m finding that there is plenty to talk about with women of all ages — especially if we’re actively nurturing an authentic faith.

In The Gentle Art of Discipling Women, Dana Yeakley draws upon her years of missionary and leadership experience with the Navigators to lend structure and focus to women’s innate tendency to form meaningful relationships.  Her focus is two-fold:

Part One lays a foundation of being.  Only one who authentically follows Jesus Christ herself can lead others into a closer following.  Dana lays this groundwork upon four realities of the Christian life:

  • We are forgiven – and we are “spiritually destitute” apart from God.
  • We are safe – God is trustworthy.
  • We have access – Cultivating intimacy with Christ is imperative.
  • We are becoming – God has begun a work which He intends to complete.

Readers are invited to Go Deeper by wrestling with these concepts as they occur in Scripture through a series of well-framed and insightful study questions.

Part Two addresses the why and the how of making disciples for Jesus Christ, and Dana assumes nothing.  With helpful detail, she examines the process of curating a life-giving atmosphere that includes the security of confidentiality, that fosters relationship, that affirms the value of individuals,  and that provides structure for communicating Biblical truth with intentionality.

A discipling relationship will include the tough love of exhortation combined with unconditional acceptance; therefore, it is imperative that care be given to the question of whom to disciple.  Compatibility as well as eligibility are both concerns — not everyone is at a place in life where she is ready for a one-on-one discipling relationship.  Look for a heart for God, faithfulness, and teachability.

The focus of the process is growth through deep interaction around the Word of God.  The first four chapters of Dana’s book are a great option for foundational content and could be covered in four to eight weeks.  Other alternatives are the Gospel of John or Paul’s epistles to the Philippians or Colossians.

The work that Dana describes is deeply spiritual, and her standards are high.  Even so, she communicates realism, urging simplicity and reminding her readers that there are practical details that will facilitate a smooth beginning.  For instance, expectations on both sides should be voiced and scheduling details ironed out; however, even after laying this foundation, there still may be discipling relationships that simply will not work out.

Having read the book and received its encouragement, my response is:  I can do this!  Dana’s gentle teaching at the outset, alongside her wisdom-and-experience-based guidelines make The Gentle Art of Discipling Women a valuable primer for the woman who is ready to take the challenge and trust for grace to enter into joyful obedience to Christ’s command:  “Go and make disciples!”


 

This book was provided by NavPress, published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishing,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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10 Critical Concepts for Women’s Ministry

So, it turns out that stroller wheels still run pretty well over hummocky, leaf-strewn garden pathways, and that the thud of a tiny muck boot still makes the same satisfying “bong” against the metal bed of a wheelbarrow.  When the going gets desperate with a little guy, the desperate go outside — just as I did with this little guy’s dad a couple of decades ago, and the truth is that there are some weeks when the only “women’s ministry” that happens in my life is this offering of respite to my daughter-in-law who needs to go to the dentist or spend some time with her husband.  Then, there are the weeks that include space for planning events and projects; for scouring the Bible, listening for God’s voice in preparation for a class or a devotional or a blog post.  Over the past couple of decades of my involvement with ministry to other women, I’ve spent more than a few moments wondering:  “Exactly what should be the focus of a women’s ministry in the church?  Is it to help women know and serve women, or is it to help women know and serve God?  Can it be both?”

Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman have compiled a series of ten essays in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, and they have addressed many of my questions as well as concepts I had not even considered. The ten essays could each stand alone in their focus on a particular aspect of ministry, but what emerges from the whole is a way of thinking about women’s ministry (or ministry in general) that exalts the Word of God, identifies contexts in which women’s ministry occurs, and addresses specific issues relative to women’s ministry.

  1.  Where ministry happens and what it looks like are peripheral.  Of central importance is a steady and purposeful focus on the Word of God, His deeply personal and powerful message of truth.  There is no need to distinguish between having a warm and welcoming fellowship and having an academic and enriching study of a God-breathed text. Through the Word, women will find connections with others through understanding their own stories in light of the Big Story of God’s creation of a people for Himself through His Son.
  2. What it means to be a women and also a Christian is tied up in our having been created in God’s image.  “The perfect unity and differentiation of the eternal Person of the triune God [is mirrored by the unity and differentiation of] the non-identical but equal parts of humanity” — male and female — with roles and responsibilities that are unique and not interchangeable. Colossians 3:16 is a joyful job description from Paul to the faithful men and women who worshiped at Colossae.  “When we come together, everyone will participate!”
  3. The model for biblical leadership training found in II Timothy 2:2 represents four generations of gospel workers:  Paul, Timothy, the faithful men, and “others.”  From this verse flow two qualifications for leadership in women’s ministry:  faithfulness and the ability to teach.  Furthermore, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry offers a sound strategy for training future leaders which is based on another of Paul’s letters to the disciples in Thessalonica.  He emphasized fluency with the gospel message, transparency of life, a parental urgency of purpose, and integrity before God.  Chapter 3 is a gold-mine of suggestions and resources for leadership development.
  4. Ministry to women within the context of the local church provides the rich resource of a broad palette of giftedness and a ready-made community in which to begin living in relationships of accountability and to begin utilizing gifts for the strengthening of the church.  “Until the day when ‘the city’ comes down from heaven, local churches will be outposts of that city, colonies of heaven.”
  5. Grounding a women’s ministry in Bible study is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission.  This does not mean that every devotional has to be lifted out of the four Gospels or include an overt invitation.  Gloria Furman asks (and then answers) some excellent questions with the central point being that Bible study will not only fuel evangelistic zeal and equip healthy ambassadors among believers, but it will also put all of life into perspective within the narrative arc of the history of God’s Forever Kingdom.  The mind-blowing truth is that mortal women may behold the face of God and live.
  6. It’s a treat when the sweet women of our Ladies Missionary Fellowship gather each month.  We love our missionaries, and although our feet are firmly planted in mid-coast Maine, our hearts travel to the ends of the earth in prayer. Through praying for women around the world, we are absorbing the truth that women’s ministry is as diverse as the different cultures where women minister.  Essentially, however, we cannot assume a level of biblical literacy or a gospel mindset anywhere in our post-Christian age, and should be continually asking ourselves if we are centering all our most important events around fellowship and cute snacks or if we are making them into “occasions for rejoicing together in the Word and for celebrating the occasion in the light of its truth.”  This notion will affect the way I go forward with planning baby and wedding showers and other group celebrations.
  7. As women search the Scriptures together, relationships are a natural outcome, resulting in a ministry of mentoring for those who are mature in the faith.  This “life-on-life” discipleship is demanding, and it is tempting to shrink from the opportunity when it comes.  Through the creative use of letters between an older woman and a younger woman, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry explores the relationships of trust, intimacy, and unity that can develop among the women of a church through Paul’s discipleship model found in Titus 2:3-5.
  8. The call for women to be transformed into the image of God must address every area of life, including women’s struggle with sexual sin.  Ellen Mary Dykas presents a masterful analysis of the Luke 13:10-17 account of Jesus’ healing of the bent woman.  Women’s ministry is the ideal context in which to recognize those who are bent by/in bondage to sin; to respond in non-judgmental love rather than intensifying the bent-woman’s sense of shame; and to offer hope and freedom from their captivity to their bodies.  A wealth of practical implications follow, and Ellen describes these using actual examples of young women from her own ministry.
  9. As a Christian Education major back in the 80’s, I graduated full of zeal and fervor into a world in which the only churches who would hire a 21-year-old female as their C.E. Director were so far-removed from my own statement of faith I wondered why they even bothered to interview me.  And those who wondered very politely if I wouldn’t be willing to fill the pulpit during any of the senior pastor’s vacations.  Undaunted, I eventually found employment with a parachurch organization working with children, but it was not until I was able to volunteer my time that I became involved in women’s ministry.  Gloria and Kathleen offer encouragement to those with a heart for ministry.  Learning to work effectively with male leadership and humbly waiting for God to open doors and build bridges are essential.  However and wherever it happens, women’s ministry is at its best when “women reach out to help one another, [providing the] “safety and understanding that the presence of another woman brings.”
  10. Equipping women as co-laborers in Christ should include adequate training in theology, church history, and practical ministry with an eye toward the day that the prophet Habakkuk foresaw when the “earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.”  The highest aim of all ministry is to prepare both men and women for “that day,” and this wisdom takes us back to the gospel without which we would have no hope ourselves, or hope to offer the world.

Word-Filled Women’s Ministry elevates the conversation about women and our service to the body of Christ a Dubai high-rise above the usual menu of “who gets to do what and under what circumstances.”  With our hearts yearning for the coming of Christ, our egos, our goals, and our boots-on-the-ground labor must all be focused on a harmonious striving for “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”


This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to Living Our Days to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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