My blog is pretty focused. I write about what God is teaching me as a mother, but I’m not writing only to mothers. In fact, my single friends who read and give feedback have taught me that they are learning in other contexts many of the same lessons I’m learning. Nevertheless, I’ve occasionally run across the idea that specifically talking about how to be a godly mother, or a godly wife is inherently divisive and exclusionary. After all, the reasoning goes, why would a single woman come to a parenting class? Or, it must be insulting for a divorced woman to sit through a discussion on loving one’s husband.
Churches have responded to this criticism by eliminating many ministries targeted toward the very things that Paul told Titus to make sure were being taught. Instead, we are teaching theology and gospel- centered materials. Who could criticize theology, right?
It’s not that theology and gospel-centered materials are inappropriate for women, but if they are replacing instruction on how to love one’s husband and children, how to be a keeper at home, how to be pure, then we do in fact have an unbiblical imbalance on knowledge without wisdom. Paul didn’t tell older women to teach theology. I would argue that the Titus 2 “list” isn’t exhaustive, but it should determine our priorities for mentoring.
I offer a few observations and cautions:
- We must acknowledge that the Titus 2 list doesn’t apply fully to every woman. A woman who is unmarried, who has no children, or who does not own a home is not a lesser Christian because those portions of Scripture do not apply to her. On the other hand, all women are called to love their neighbors, to rear spiritual children, and to use their resources for God’s kingdom. We all benefit when we learn about how women in other circumstances are fulfilling their spiritual calling in different ways.
- When introducing a class, or inviting women, teachers can help by pointing out ways that different audiences can benefit from a particular topic. Invite and welcome women to attend where they wish. Single women are not isolated from children. In fact, they have a tremendous opportunity to minister to young people in their extended families and local churches, and may benefit greatly from instruction on how to love children for Christ. As well, because our heavenly father is the perfect parent, studying parenting from a biblical perspective leads both mothers and non-mothers to a greater understanding and love of God. Other topics that appear narrow can be broadened. In fact, sometimes we gain fresh insight and compassion when examining our field from the perspective of someone with a different background or field of study. (For a thought experiment, brainstorm ways that learning how to love a husband and submit to his authority overlaps with our experiences learning to love difficult people at work, and learning how and when to submit to bosses who may not always lead how we would like.)
- Consider how you are teaching the lesser known parts of the Titus 2 list. If all of our “Titus 2” outreaches involve parenting and marriage, it’s understandable that some women are neglected in our discipleship. Do we need instruction on how to be kind, pure, and self-controlled? Maybe we can start our year with those topics.
- Women gifted and passionate about theology can help by actively connecting doctrine to application. Instead of neglecting the Titus 2 list in favor of theology discussions, godly and wise women should connect theory and practice skillfully and deliberately. Instead of forcing theology to compete with wisdom, we embrace both!
- Consider that many of the practical lessons older women teach younger women come in the context of daily living, not the classroom. When a younger woman brings her children to my house for a playdate, and shares lunch with our family, we talk and learn a great deal. When I listen to my older friends about how they are navigating their lives with their adult children, I understand a little bit better how to love my own children some day. Many of these practical lessons happen as we make a meal together, or fold laundry together, or meet for coffee after work. A class about “loving one’s husband” might very well be appropriate, but sharing life as believers should not be neglected or minimized.
- Encourage godliness through God-given personality. Sometimes we confuse our personality with our spiritual depth, and create an exclusive club of godliness, dismissing anyone who doesn’t fit our own personality type. Women who read and talk about theology are “in.” Women who don’t like to read are “out,” no matter how much she may be following Christ or learning wisdom. Women who plan craft nights or make-up parties for ladies ministry are snubbed as shallow, and their social activities for “immature” Christians. By all means we must be about helping women learn and live God’s Word, but sometimes it is helpful to take a deep breath, and ask ourselves what it means for a non-reader to follow Christ. We can learn from each other better when we welcome diversity in how we live out the gospel.
- Bring women together by encouraging texting when they are not physically close. Some of my best spiritual encouragement came when my neighbor happened to be a close friend from church. When we moved away, I realized that texting replicated some of the regular communication that we shared. Not everyone lives next door to a prayer warrior friend! I’ve been challenged to build relationships in my local church through texting, and have discovered that mentoring and community is easier with regular contact. Texting is also a way for working women to connect with their sisters in a meaningful way when they have limited time to reach out.
- Encourage initiative in serving others. Individual women should not need special permission or a special class to mentor younger women. Anyone can invite a lonely woman over for coffee, or text a mama struggling with depression, or invite a neighbor over to study the Bible together. If women believe teaching a class is the only way for mature Christians to teach younger Christians, we will either stifle growth (because there are relatively few teaching positions available in a church), or set women up for discontentment (because they are not reproducing themselves, as God intended them to do).
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels [and read all manner of Puritan theologians], but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains [and have read the Bible through more times than I can count], but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
What thoughts and cautions would you add? What are your experiences that help us apply 1 Corinthians 13 to our women’s ministry?