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Do you recognize these women?
Sandy loves people. She’s gifted in making someone feel like they’re the only person in the room. Not only does she ask insightful questions and listen well, she remembers conversations and follows up later. Because of her warmth and kindness, women in the church to gravitate toward her.
Joan is a gifted leader. She also has a knack for teaching the Bible to women. Church staff come to her about recommendations for resources and seek her guidance about the direction of women’s ministries. She loves leading Bible studies and small groups, and takes great joy in seeing women grow in knowledge of and love for God’s Word.
Cynthia’s wheelhouse is hospitality. She isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, yet she’s a spiritual mother to many. There’s rarely an evening during the week when someone from church isn’t spending time at her home. The women know Cynthia’s door is always open, so they take advantage of her standing invitation, gaining wisdom and life skills in the process.
Who are these women? They’re the women of your local church, designed and gifted by God for specific purposes. They’re the women who, alongside the men, are fulfilling God’s plan for his church:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:11-14, emphases mine)
Two important truths stand out here about the church:
The highest measure of a church’s life and health is Christlikeness. When we talk about the “life and health” of a church, we aren’t talking about its size, programs, or leadership, at least not in isolation. These may be indicators of a church’s life and health, but not its foundation. Rather, Paul says a healthy church body is unified in the faith and in the knowledge of Christ, both of which cause the church to reflect him in increasing measure – which is its highest goal.
Christlikeness is attained as men and women do the work of ministry. How does God bring about Christlikeness within his church? Partly through the gifts of its congregation. God intends to use sinful, flawed, undeserving people – men and women alike – for “the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” All our varied gifts and efforts in serving the church aim toward God’s goal of Christlikeness.
Knowing these truths, what are the unique and varied ways women contribute to the life and health of the church? What are some facets of their “work of ministry” that build up the church toward the goal of Christlikeness?
(Disclaimer: Each of the below points could apply to men as well (except the first), but many women are particularly gifted in these areas.)
This fact must be acknowledged—women literally build up the church by adding to it through childbearing! By having children, we grow the church’s population, ushering in tiny earthly lives that we pray will be born again into Christ. A friend once said, “Pregnancy is the ultimate measure of hospitality,” as we lay down our bodies for another human and welcome them into the world.
Speaking of hospitality, women are uniquely gifted by God to nurture and create home. We love to include people, welcoming them into our lives and through our doors. This doesn’t mean we’re Martha Stewart; hospitality is more than HGTV perfection. It means we share whatever we’ve been given by God with others, trusting he’ll use our hearts and homes – however flawed – to build up his people and do the work of maturing the church.
Women have a unique emotional capacity for care, empathy, warmth, and sensitivity. Of course, men demonstrate compassion too, but not in the same contexts as women do – especially as we minister to other women. Through our mercy, gentleness, and desire to serve women’s needs, we build up the church in the knowledge of Christ, who’s all these things for us.
As God has called men to pastor churches, to preach and teach in a specific context, so he’s called women to the unique role of teaching his Word to other women (Titus 2:3-5). What might this look like within the local church?
These are teaching roles women can fill for the good of their sisters, as we grasp and enter into women’s questions, struggles, and joys. In this way, we also help pastoral staff by pouring into women. We’re teachers, and God uses this work of ministry to build up the body of Christ in faith and knowledge.
Whether introverts or extroverts, women in the church tend to be relational, naturally gravitating toward people and especially other women. We invite women to church. We disciple other women. We share wisdom in our conversations through submission to God’s Word. Older women are mentors and spiritual mothers to younger women, while younger women seek out older women to speak truth and wisdom into their lives. These relationships lead to Christlikeness.
Women bring all of the above qualities to bear within leadership roles. They head the children’s ministry; they direct the hospitality team; they lead service groups; and they work as church staff (among many other positions). Because of the way God has wired women, they bring perspective, ideas, and help for the church that men may not necessarily bring. Women add to the church’s life and health as we exercise the gift of leadership in various capacities and contexts.
“The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” is the church’s goal – the life and health of the body. What “work of ministry” is God calling you to right now? How will you build up your local church and pursue its growth in Christlikeness through your unique gifts?
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Kristen Wetherell is a writer, Bible teacher, and the content manager of Unlocking the Bible. She is the author, along with Sarah Walton, of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering(The Good Book Company, April 2017). She blogs at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter. She and her husband, Brad, are members of The Orchard in Arlington Heights, Illinois.