Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Are We Meant to Cross the Threshold of Every Open Door?

Since Nathan began classes at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in August 2009, we've received many blessings--friendships with his fellow students, a free Christmas dinner from the President's Council, Nathan's expanding knowledge in preparation for greater ministry opportunities--but the greatest benefit to me has been the Student Wives in Ministry (SWIM) organization. Led by Carolyn Hannah, wife of professor and respected scholar Dr. John Hannah, SWIM's purpose is to "equip [DTS students'] wives to be competent servants alongside their husbands in ministry" (quotation found on most SWIM literature). This equipping comes through Bible study groups, seminars, retreats, and an independent study program known as Triple S (SWIM Self Study). To receive a Triple S certificate, the seminary wife selects sixteen books (four per category--Bible/Theology, Ministry Skills, Personal Development, and Marriage and Family Skills) from a lengthy bibliography. After completing each book, the wife writes a summary and application which she presents to her faculty adviser (a professor's wife) for review and discussion. Additionally, the enrollee completes a project of her choosing for each of the four categories. As soon as I learned of this program, I jumped in with both feet. What an opportunity to expand my knowledge and skills and delve into areas of study I may never have otherwise been motivated to investigate! For three of my Ministry Skills selections, I read books on developing women's ministries within the local church. Below I've reproduced my paper on one of those books. Though I'd originally planned to post only the paper, I became aware of additional information just this morning that I feel needs attention. I've included my further comments below the text of the paper.


Edwards, Sue and Kelley Mathews, New Doors in Ministry to Women: A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002.

I. Summary

Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews assert in New Doors in Ministry to Women that the "transformation model" is the best form of women's ministry, be it in the church, on a college/seminary campus, or on the mission field. Traditional women's ministries are not geared to the postmodern woman's needs, but the transformation model seeks to attract the postmodern, without losing the moderns. Edwards and Mathews discuss implementing the transformation model, including the suggestion that a church consider a paid position for the women's ministry director which would allow the woman attendance at pastoral staff meetings.
Additionally, the authors describe the team approach to women's ministry.

Bible study is the core of the transformation model. Advice and examples from Edwards's own program at Irving Bible Church (in Irving, Texas, a DFW metroplex suburb) vividly demonstrate how a well-run Bible study functions. Though Bible study is the most important element of a women's ministry, churches should offer other events such as retreats and meals. Suggestions are offered for organizing such events. The book ends by explaining how the transformation model can be adapted to a campus or overseas setting.

II. Evaluation

Though I appreciate the excellent information about developing Bible studies, I take exception to much of the philosophy behind this book. Without meaning to attack the motives or integrity of a respected member of the DTS faculty, I believe that Sue Edwards's title at IBC, "pastor" to women, is dangerous. The term connotes certain duties and authority reserved in the Bible for men alone. Some may argue that I am straining at a gnat of semantics, but I believe (whether a church's motivation or not) that getting people comfortable calling a woman "pastor" may be the first step in weakening their opposition to a woman assuming a true pastoral role within a church.

Additionally, I disagree with the logic of Vickie Kraft in an incident recorded in the book:

On one occasion, while addressing a seminary class at the invitation of the professor, [Kraft] told the men, "Women can teach and apply the Bible to women better than men [can]." As the men struggled to understand her argument, she continued. "How many of you understand your wives completely?" No one responded. "How do you expect to understand half of your church's population if you can't understand your wife?" (86).

At first, this logic seems valid, but applying it to another situation shows that it just does not hold up. For instance, if a pastor married at twenty-two, can he really understand the struggles of a fifty-year-old bachelor? Probably not, but should the church hire an "aging-singles pastor"? Surely, Vickie Kraft and Sue Edwards would find such a position unnecessary. Clearly, God thinks men can effectively teach the Bible to women, for he gave the role of pastor to men. Can women be used as Bible teachers? Certainly. (See Titus 2.) But is the female Bible teacher an essential member of the church leadership? No, because God did not command that she be present in the church.

Lastly, I was troubled by the suggestion that communion could be served in a women's Bible study (141). While the Bible does not specify who should officiate communion, it is an ordinance of the church; thus, the implication would seem to be that it is reserved for pastors/elders to officiate. If one ordinance is allowed to be performed by women, what is to stop a women's ministry director from performing the other ordinance, baptism? And from there, where would the woman's role ever end? Again, I think Edwards's philosophy is a slippery slope with potential damage to the Biblical doctrine of male-only pastors.

* * *
When I wrote this paper a few months ago, I was unaware that Edwards's church, Irving Bible Church, had already moved toward an egalitarian position. (Egalitarians believe equal ministry opportunities should be open to both men and women. Those who believe the Bible forbids women to assume certain roles are known as complementarians. I proudly claim the complementarian title.) Though IBC's position at this time states that the New Testament "seems" to limit the role of elder to men (, in 2008, their current pastor to women (I have yet to learn when and why Edwards ceased to fill the position or if she still attends the church: I hope to interview her eventually) was permitted to preach to the entire congregation, thus disobeying Paul's command "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (I Tim. 2:12, NRSV). IBC's word choice, "seems," seems to leave the door open to further development/amendment of their position. After all, you don't throw a frog into boiling water.

Reading Dr. Edwards's book sparked my interest in the changing ministry roles of women. I plan to research the issue (which will expand to include a study of feminism) for a lecture series as a project for Triple-S. I believe every Christian woman must be concerned about feminist interpretations of the Bible's clear limitations for women. This problem is not isolated to IBC or the Dallas area. If it can infiltrate a church that was theologically sound for decades, we cannot assume that our evangelical (fundamental, if you prefer) churches are secure. The undermining of the Bible's authority on the issue of women teaching men in the church can never be taken lightly, for who knows what other biblical doctrines will come under attack as a result. What is really at stake is the Bible as our authority in faith and practice.

I do believe the staff position of a women's ministry director beneficial to churches large enough to warrant and financially support it. Our church, Scofield Memorial, has a paid director of a vibrant women's ministry and shows no signs of egalitarianism. (I hope to hold a similar position someday once Nathan returns to full-time ministry and am preparing myself theologically and practically for such a task.) I plan to blog more on this pertinent issue as I continue my research. Who knows? Maybe I'll present my lecture series to your church's women's ministry someday.

(I include the following quotation lest my readers associate IBC's policy with DTS's: "The Dallas seminary, which supplies pastors to Bible churches around the country, has long had close ties with Irving Bible Church. But Dr. Bailey [DTS president] said that he and his wife, Barby, were amicably distancing themselves for 'personal convictions and professional reasons' [Sam Hodges, "Woman's Turn in the Pulpit at Irving Bible Church Brings Buzz, Beefs," Dallas Morning News, 23 August 2008, (accessed 9 June 2010)].


Melody said...

I liked your review:) Like you pointed out about the quote by Vicky Craft, I also think it's funny that in Titus 2 where it's often emphasized that women can teach, the point is that Titus should be teaching the older women...funny since he couldn't really understand them ;)

AllRusty said...

I find in interesting that you and I always seem to be researching similar topics. :) I've recently been interested in doing some research on feminism and how it's affected the roles of women in light of what the Bible says. I started reading a book by Sally Clarkson in which she touches on this topic and how the feminist movement took women from being keepers of the home (Prov 31) to being co-breadwinners and career makers. I've set that book aside in order to read a discipline book that is more important to me at the moment. But I want to go back and finish reading what she has to say! But I think I'll leave the research paper up to the expert! :)