Friday, May 6, 2016

book review: Word-filled Women's Ministry

Two months ago, I became the part-time women’s worker at our church. I prepared by reading Word-Filled Women’s Ministry, edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson. I’m glad I did.

I recommend this book to anyone, male or female, involved in ministry to women. The list of the ten writers from across the globe may be enough to whet your appetite: it includes Kathleen Nielson from the US, Claire Smith from Australia and Carrie Sandom from the UK. Together, they have written a generous and gospel-hearted book that will remind you to centre your ministry on the Bible, give you a wealth of practical ideas for women’s ministry, and help you think through how to encourage women to grow and serve in your local context.

The book opens with an outstanding chapter by Kathleen Nielson about how the word of God lies at the heart of all women’s ministry. Reading this chapter reminded me of drinking in JI Packer’s Knowing God: as this is my favourite Christian book after the Bible, there is no higher praise. I finished it with tears in my eyes, thrilled again by the wonder of God’s word and determined to build every aspect of my ministry on this strong foundation. I strongly suggest you read this chapter together as a ministry team.

The second chapter is by Claire Smith. Her book God’s Good Design is a brilliant, brief and readable alternative to “The Big Blue Book” (which is what we used to call John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), and this chapter packs the wealth of her knowledge and teaching on this topic into an even smaller space. If someone had questions about what the Bible says about men’s and women’s roles in the church, I’d copy this chapter and hand it to them.

The third chapter is another gem: it’s about how to train women for ministry, and it’s packed with practical ideas gained by Carrie Sandom through years of experience. For me, the highlight is her description of the year-long program she follows with women one-to-one, looking at books of the Bible that will prepare them to meet with others, thus multiplying this important ministry. It’s a plan I hope to use soon.

These three chapters make up Part 1: “The Heart of Women’s Ministry”. Part 2 is about the contexts of women’s ministry—the local church, evangelism and mission. Part 3 explores issues in women’s ministry and includes a valuable chapter on sexual wholeness and how this needs to be talked about more openly among women. The book concludes with a chapter by Nancy Guthrie on the ultimate goal of women’s ministry.

There are two more chapters I want to highlight. The first is a fascinating dialogue between an older woman (Susan Hunt) and a younger woman (Kristie Anyabwile) that puts flesh on the Titus 2:3-5 command for older women to teach younger women. What do younger women long for? What do older women have to offer? This chapter helps readers think through how to encourage cross-generational relationships and discipleship.

I also appreciated the chapter by the editors on gifts and giftedness. It’s easy, in a complementarian context, for this topic to arouse resentments: why can’t women do this or that? Why aren’t there more pathways for women? But this chapter turns these questions on their heads and asks instead how women can be equipped and encouraged to serve. It explores themes like the ways men and women can support each other in ministry, the different forms that women teaching women takes, and the many contexts open to women that are closed to men. The servant-hearted tone of the chapter—indeed, of the whole book—is summed up in this quote:
There is a place for women to serve. It will not always be the perfect place we envision. We might be called to do things we didn’t plan or want to do along the way … But we must indeed serve—with quiet, submissive, prayerful, relentless strength—because we are serving our Lord. We are serving the church he loves, for whom he died. (p. 212)
If you’re a pastor or leader of a church or ministry, a woman who ministers to women, or a woman considering pathways for service, I encourage you to read this book. In my opinion, it’s one of the best books for women that’s come out in recent years.[1] I plan to pull this book out and read it again, taking notes this time; that’s how good it is. I warmly commend it to you.

[1] Another recent book for women that I highly commend is Jen Wilkins’s Women of the Word, which I reviewed here.

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1 comment:

rosie said...

Wow Jean, This sounds ideal. I have just been 'googling' ministry resources/ pastoral care study, when I happened upon this topic.
As a mature woman, I would like to be able to offer more practical advice and/or help to people in our congregation and community. However, I do not think ministry is an option for me at my age.
I will try and find this book as a beginning.
Thank you and any other ideas you may have, will be welcome.
Our church is without a minister at present. And we seem to be floundering without a visible leader to direct things.