Women in our churches experiencing deficient discipleship

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Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
So encountering this perceived problem of poor discipleship of women in our Reformed churches (fill in your favorite, controversial author here), I find myself growing more and more confused.

Perhaps I just haven't experienced true discipleship myself as a man, but I just can't seem to understand what I have had access to in my churches that women don't. Maybe someone can enlighten me?

My wife and I sit under the same sermon, share in the same sacraments, even join the same Bible studies, where we can both participate in the discussions freely. We often discuss them after. She tells me she doesn't feel deprived. Yet I'm regularly told by prominent, Reformed voices that women are "frustrated" because they aren't receiving the same "investment" as disciples as the men.

What exactly are women supposed to be missing out on, and how exactly has the church bungled discipleship so badly for its female members?

I realize that it can be frustrating for those of our theologically-minded sisters, that there aren't more ladies who delight in Scriptural or God-centered conversations, even in Reformed churches. But have you ever attended a rural church? How many men do you think there are that really want to think and discuss deeply on that level? I have a number of post-seminary friends who have expressed to me that very loneliness.

Anyway, I approach this subject with some amount of trepidation, but I do seem to be missing something here, and I'm curious if especially our female members would care to elaborate, if they feel inclined.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Does your church have women, mature in the faith, who are "reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that ... admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed"?
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
It seems to me that this complaint is often given from the presupposition of the evangelical pragmatic consumerism that is so plaguing (and killing) our churches these days. In other words, if women (or men, boys, girls, singles, married, college students, military, etc., name your label) aren't being given practical advice for living in their particular life circumstances, then they aren't being "fed." The problem is not the church or our ministers, though of course they are not beyond fault; the problem is often what we as Christians expect of our churches and ministers.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Does your church have women, mature in the faith, who are "reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that ... admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed"?
We seem to.

But that doesn't seem to be the focus of what I'm hearing. And I guess that vagueness is the nexus of my question.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
But that doesn't seem to be the focus of what I'm hearing. And I guess that vagueness is the nexus of my question.

So some folks are complaining because they don't like what the Bible says? They want less Scripture and more Joyce Meyers?
 

dhh712

Puritan Board Freshman
What exactly are women supposed to be missing out on, and how exactly has the church bungled discipleship so badly for its female members?

I realize that it can be frustrating for those of our theologically-minded sisters, that there aren't more ladies who delight in Scriptural or God-centered conversations, even in Reformed churches. But have you ever attended a rural church? How many men do you think there are that really want to think and discuss deeply on that level? I have a number of pospppt-seminary friends who have expressed to me that very loneliness.
I forget sometimes that some of the reformed churches don't have many theologically minded members; I think I just figure you would be able to go up to any adult member and start a theological discussion with them. My own church has probably got me spoiled since there seems to me at least to be quite a few members like that.

Maybe these women are in churches where there's like a men's theological discussion group but not a women's? That's the only thing I can think of, if that's what they mean about not being properly discipled. Other than that,they can always talk to their elders about organizing some kind of group that meets what they're looking for.

But then discipleship brings to mind like not growing personally, but much of this is usually done by meeting with our brothers and sisters in the church. My feelings at the outset are echoing your own frustration at the complaint; it doesn't seem to have a basis in how the church is organised and managed.
 

Susan777

Puritan Board Sophomore
That’s a provocative subject but I’ll give it a go since I’ve thought long and hard about it. I’ve never felt that a pastor or session exhibited any bias toward women in terms of preventing us from studying the things of God to whatever extent we might desire. But I think for most women, and as you add, most men, the desire for these things just isn’t there. In my experience most Ladies Bible studies are dreadful. They are usually geared toward the perceived interests of women and use materials that women are more comfortable with, ie, based on feelings, emotions and relationships primarily. (Bible study materials marketed to women is a small cottage industry among evangelicals.) They also seem to be written at an 8th grade reading level which is really off-putting. Frequently in ladies groups it’s a doctrinal free-for-all with all sorts of opinions and beliefs being proposed. I’ve heard Higher Life teaching, Christian mystical practices, charismatic beliefs go unchallenged, and who‘s that lady who gets special messages from Jesus, writes them into books and has made millions?

I’m not passing judgment on the women who attend these things. They are my sisters and very dear to me. And I’ve heard of exceptions. Years ago a friend told me that the ladies of his Reformed Baptist congregation were studying “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” and I was overcome with jealousy. But I think for the most part it’s not that men are holding women back in any way, it’s a divergence of interests between men and women, a Mars/Venus kind of thing. I’d love to hear from other theologically-minded women on the board.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Graduate
I just can't seem to understand what I have had access to in my churches that women don't. Maybe someone can enlighten me?
As a man, you have the opportunity to hold church office. Until these women have that, they will continue complaining of neglect and discrimination.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I think the best way to find out what these women mean is simply ask them.

I would also caution against assuming there are ill motives at work here until you get more information.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think the best way to find out what these women mean is simply ask them.
I'm less interested in what public figures -- who may have a significant personal stake in the matter as published authors, and may be nursing past grievances -- have to say on this issue than hearing from our sisters here.

Hence, I asked them.

The accusation that our Reformed churches are suffering from mishandling of the discipleship of our female members is a matter that obviously applies to far more people than the aforementioned authors.

My goal wasn't for this post to be about the women themselves, though; it's not that kind of post. That's also why I didn't name them. It's about the problems they raise. If this is truly such a significant failing in the church, it seems odd that I should have to reach out and ask for clarification.
 
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Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
Seems to me there are two separate things to consider as far as true needs: the means of grace, and fellowship (conversation, reading a book together, etc). Of the means of grace, preaching is primary. In too many churches a low view of preaching (and deficient actual preaching) is causing all the sheep to be underfed and dissatisfied, not just the women. If the preaching and teaching is as it should be, it’s more likely the congregation will develop a culture of godly conversation and fellowship with each other, which will be satisfying to all.

Some women of course want more power and place and prestige in the church; but others who are sincere may be starving for want of the proper means of grace. Earnest prayer for reformation is a good response in that case.
 

Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
But have you ever attended a rural church? How many men do you think there are that really want to think and discuss deeply on that level?
Really? The problems facing evangelicalism originate or predominate in a rural setting?
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Really? The problems facing evangelicalism originate or predominate in a rural setting?
No, I don't think you follow me. I mean that it's frequently difficult to find people with whom you can have in-depth, theological conversations in a rural church setting, simply due to a lack of formal education. (I say this as a country-boy. :) )

E.g., I let my old youth pastor borrow my Vos's Biblical Theology years ago, and he returned it, saying he couldn't make heads or tails of it. Same thing happened with a Sunday School teacher in my church to whom I lent my Packer abridgement of John Owen's Hebrews commentary.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Seems to me there are two separate things to consider as far as true needs: the means of grace, and fellowship (conversation, reading a book together, etc). Of the means of grace, preaching is primary. In too many churches a low view of preaching (and deficient actual preaching) is causing all the sheep to be underfed and dissatisfied, not just the women. If the preaching and teaching is as it should be, it’s more likely the congregation will develop a culture of godly conversation and fellowship with each other, which will be satisfying to all.

Some women of course want more power and place and prestige in the church; but others who are sincere may be starving for want of the proper means of grace. Earnest prayer for reformation is a good response in that case.
And I feel that's essentially what's missing.

As I moved from fundamentalism into the Reformed faith, I came to see the means of grace as more and more central to spiritual growth. In some ways, that was probably the biggest revolution in my thinking.

It's the long, slow process of water and grit polishing a stone; not the quick, heady rush of fresh knowledge and paradigm shifts that so many of us crave and find on our own in books and blogs.

I love my reading and discussion with friends and books. However, the older I get, the more I become convinced that those things aren't as important as I used to think they were, compared to God's ordained means.

Perhaps what's really operative is just a deficient understanding of Biblical discipleship itself.
 

A.Joseph

Puritan Board Junior
If there’s a church sponsored women’s group, promoted by or affiliated with a church, I think an elder should either attend (or check in once in a while) to ensure the discussion and content (which I’m assuming would have been approved by leadership) doesn’t go off the rails, theologically speaking.
 
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TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm less interested in what public figures -- who may have a significant personal stake in the matter as published authors, and may be nursing past grievances -- have to say on this issue than hearing from our sisters here.

Hence, I asked them.

The accusation that our Reformed churches are suffering from mishandling of the discipleship of our female members is a matter that obviously applies to far more people than the aforementioned authors.

My goal wasn't for this post to be about the women themselves, though; it's not that kind of post. That's also why I didn't name them. It's about the problems they raise. If this is truly such a significant failing in the church, it seems odd that I should have to reach out and ask for clarification.

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I was thinking if there were women in your church voicing concerns about lack of discipleship to ask them what they mean.

Without details of what these public figures are saying and citing as examples to back up their claims, it is hard to know how to address what they are saying.

Biblically, Titus 2 is obviously the best place to start and is the foundation of our own women's ministry. In my experience, older women helping the younger women is more of an exception than a rule (same on the side of the men).

Also, in my church experience, except for eldership training, most of the training and equipping opportunities (adult sunday school, small group studies, etc.) have been open to women alongside men.
 

bookish_Basset

Puritan Board Freshman
I appreciate you asking these questions, Andrew! I don't know that I have anything to add which others haven't said, but I can talk about my experience.

I can't speak to what's being argued in the controversial books because I haven't been terribly interested in reading them, and I've avoided those debates. I don't doubt that other women have had worse experiences elsewhere. And maybe I've been especially blessed in my churches; I don't know. But in the two PCA churches I've been a member of, I believe I've been discipled well -- and yes, primarily through the means of grace and fellowship with other believers. And when I've expressed theological interests and questions, I've felt taken seriously by pastors and elders.

The main discomfort I've experienced has been related to the fact that until five years ago, I was pursuing graduate work in theology. I should note that I started on this path when I wasn't yet Reformed or even fully orthodox, but I attempted to see it through to the end. (It's something I've felt more conflicted about in later years.) When people expressed surprise about my work in this area, it mostly seemed to be motivated by curiosity, not hostility. And I don't blame them -- it was a strange path in many ways! Even though it might be harder to find other women who like to read Calvin and Puritan sermons like I do (and I can't always identify with the more "typical" experiences of other women, for that matter -- I don't have children, for example), I've tried to take the attitude that I have so much to learn from older women in my church that's just as important or even more so. I've also been granted opportunities to use my training to write articles on women in church history for my congregation.

I've heard much about poor resources for women's Bible studies, though it seems to me (anecdotally) that this is changing. At my old church, we did Nancy Guthrie's Lamb of God, which I found -- at the time, at least -- to be pretty solid. Unfortunately, by the time we left that church, it seemed the offerings for women's groups were going downhill (Enneagram and such :(). I haven't joined the women's Bible study at my new church, but they've been using studies by Sinclair Ferguson for the past year, which have been enthusiastically received. At my church, my sense is that the elders pay attention to the leadership and content of the women's Bible study. Though, honestly, I haven't made it a priority to join -- if I did so, my primary motivation would be to get to know other women (which I'm not very good at), not necessarily the study itself. Sunday morning is far more important to me, and I get the sense that's generally true at our church.

I did have an awkward moment upon joining Providence. I was very excited to learn that there was a reading group for Calvin's Institutes. When I asked one of the leaders about it, it turned out that it was for men only. Later, I came to understand that our pastor started the group specifically to encourage younger men in the congregation in their roles as husbands and fathers. It wasn't because interest in Calvin is somehow a "guy thing." Actually, I'm thrilled that my husband has an opportunity like that! As for me, if I really want to study the Institutes with other women, I don't think there's anything stopping me.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Andrew, if the complaints you've heard are coming from authors/speakers, then we probably ought to consider more than the local church when we think about their complaints. Is their concern generally true in the world of Christian books marketed for women, or published Bible studies aimed at women's groups, or Christian conferences, etc. marketed for women?

Looking at it from that angle, I think it has been true to some extent. And I don't have a problem with anyone standing up and saying, "Enough of this fluffy content! We want serious Bible teaching." If you look at much of what gets published, even for men, there ought to be people clamoring for richer content. And don't get me started on the content that often gets published for teens and children. They too ought to be complaining much of the time.

As for individual churches, it depends. If a church has women's groups and just grabs a Bible study from whatever woman author is most popular, until recently it was not likely to be a very deep study. A number of Reformed-leaning women and their publishers have been trying to change that, and this certainly is a good thing. I don't have any problem with these women pointing out that there's been a problem.

But even before these better published materials arose, churches that are concerned for sound teaching have often found ways for all their small-group meetings, Sunday school classes, etc. to get good teaching, and sometimes the women even fare better than the men. In my church, a randomly-selected woman is probably more likely to be active in a theologically sound Bible study than a randomly-selected man is.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
Just the past couple of years I’ve become aware of the women of some churches
reading books together and finding time to discuss on the Lord’s day. That way the pastor is available to help with certain theological questions that may arise. This may only work when there’s a lunch and fellowship time together between services. It provides a nice way to get to know each other and bond!
I don’t think taking on private theological studies is a good idea for any group in the church, whether men or women.
 

ChristianLibertarian

Puritan Board Freshman
I think there are two issues at play. The first is that women in reformed churches have adopted worldly views of feminism and then get mad when the church doesn't cater to feminism and give women more leadership, power etc.

I think the second problem relates to Bible studies, which my wife dismissively refers to as "ladles and teaspoons." There are two ends to this problem. The first is the problem my wife has, which is that women's Bible studies devolve into a no real theology hour full evangelical inanity, gossip and personal feelings. The other end comes from evangelicals who may view theological studies as boring and without emotion.

Ultimately I think the problem is two fold. First is a failure of the church to adequately preach against feminism. The second is the failure of the church to offer women enough service opportunities, which would give them something to do without plotting to usurp power from the men God has put in charge of the church.
 

RobertPGH1981

Puritan Board Sophomore
I used to attend a church and felt that discipleship was lacking. In my view discipleship is more than sharing in the sacraments, studying the scriptures and hearing the sermons. Its more than just passing knowledge. It is all of the above but the missing part generally speaking is living life together, and bearing one another's burdens as a family would (loving one another). Some people are very needy and we shouldn't shy away from those who need more help than others. For example, it would include helping a young new mother and father on how to parent well. Providing mentorship to a young woman from and elderly woman within the congregation. Things like navigating difficult decisions, or something like learning new skills. Its something a mother would do for her children. It is not just the responsibility of the elders. It is everybody's responsibility!

In my opinion most people who complain about this are most likely lacking this type of connection. :2cents::2cents:
 
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RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Andrew, if the complaints you've heard are coming from authors/speakers, then we probably ought to consider more than the local church when we think about their complaints. Is their concern generally true in the world of Christian books marketed for women, or published Bible studies aimed at women's groups, or Christian conferences, etc. marketed for women?

Looking at it from that angle, I think it has been true to some extent. And I don't have a problem with anyone standing up and saying, "Enough of this fluffy content! We want serious Bible teaching." If you look at much of what gets published, even for men, there ought to be people clamoring for richer content. And don't get me started on the content that often gets published for teens and children. They too ought to be complaining much of the time.

As for individual churches, it depends. If a church has women's groups and just grabs a Bible study from whatever woman author is most popular, until recently it was not likely to be a very deep study. A number of Reformed-leaning women and their publishers have been trying to change that, and this certainly is a good thing. I don't have any problem with these women pointing out that there's been a problem.

But even before these better published materials arose, churches that are concerned for sound teaching have often found ways for all their small-group meetings, Sunday school classes, etc. to get good teaching, and sometimes the women even fare better than the men. In my church, a randomly-selected woman is probably more likely to be active in a theologically sound Bible study than a randomly-selected man is.

It's a joke between my wife and I (and yes she takes it as a joke) that whenever she buys a book for herself I sum it up by saying, "Be happy, and don't worry that your house is messy."

In reality, she reads some rich materials.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Andrew, if the complaints you've heard are coming from authors/speakers, then we probably ought to consider more than the local church when we think about their complaints. Is their concern generally true in the world of Christian books marketed for women, or published Bible studies aimed at women's groups, or Christian conferences, etc. marketed for women?
That's a good point. I hadn't really considered it from that point of view; was instead thinking of exclusively within the church context.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
If women are able to hear the preaching, and if their husbands are conducting family worship, then they're being discipled.

In addition to this, older women should help younger women to understand the practical aspects of their feminine role (Titus 2), but that's not an ecclesiastical function.

I think the assumption in the broader evangelical community is that if people don't have classes or study groups for their particular age and sex, then they aren't being discipled. That's not the Biblical model, though. If their pastor is preaching/teaching the word to them, they're being discipled (Matthew 28:19-20).
 
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