Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The problem with 'women's ministry' #2

In the last post I asked "Is it possible for a woman to be ministered to entirely in mixed settings and to thrive in her faith?"

Many of you contributed answers.

Roughly, they fell..

Yes - 30%

Yes... but - 30%

Yes... BUT - 30%

Pretty much everyone agreed that theoretically at least, a situation could exist where a woman was ministered to exclusively in mixed settings and thrive in her faith. Most people though, wanted to add a bit saying that the biblical way ala Titus 2 is for older women to be teaching younger women.

It's this passage I want to look at in this post.

3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
There are a couple of ways that people seem to look at these verses.

First, these verses are sometimes understood as giving us a MODEL of women's ministry and a CURRICULUM to follow. The model is that of older women teaching younger women. The curriculum (the content of the teaching) is loving your husband, loving your children, being sensible, pure workers at home, being kind, and being subject to your husband.

Second, these verses are sometimes understood as giving us a MODEL to follow, but not a prescriptive curriculum. The model, again, is that of older women teaching younger women. But the curriculum given in these verses (loving husbands and children etc) is context specific. In the Cretan context (Cretans, remember, were well known liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons), Christian women needed to be taught to be hard workers rather than lazy layabouts like everyone else. In our context today, older women might teach younger women different things.

Some questions

1. Do you think Titus 2 gives us a MODEL and a CURRICULUM for women's ministry, or just a MODEL, or something else or maybe neither?

2. Does how you think about women's ministry reflect your answer to question 1? For example, if you think we are given a model and a curriculum, are you following the curriculum? (ps. what is the older single to do with this curriculum?0

3. What do you think this would have looked like in titus' context?

4. What do you think this passage says to the formal structures of 'women's ministry' that we set up in our churches and denominations?

Your answers, then mine.


  1. It feels too late to be coherent, but I wanted to observe that (here I am again, bucking the system...)

    a) the passage doesn't necessarily imply a direct discipleship process - I can be encouraged by seeing another living well, without them having to talk to me. So I guess that means I don't think it necessarily gives a MODEL, or at least, I'd want to see other passages making the same point

    b) even if it does imply some element of CURRICULUM, then it is neither exhaustive nor controversial. Yes, I know, you can't really say that submission isn't controversial these days, but what I mean is that it's consistent with what is said elsewhere in the NT. None of the list strikes me as radically new or even edgy. I read it as bog standard examples.

    I guess that makes me 1. Neither.

    2. I'm a first principles kind of guy. I like to see people ministering to particular people as suits them, rather than implying a cardboard cutout ministry model.

    3. Little bands of Christians in a pagan world, supporting each other. I imagine it all would have happened fairly organically.

    4. I don't think it's sufficient for answering the question. It's one data point among many.

  2. I think I like Anthony's thoughts.

    For me, off the top 'o me head:

    1: My paraphrase is "teach the older women to live holily and teach what's good, so that they'll encourage young women to live holily too." So I don't think it's a model or a curriculum, it's a responsibility. "Women, God will hold you to account for whether you've lived holily and sought to teach younger women to do the same."

    2. I think practice matches exegesis at this point. Happy to have it pointed out otherwise.

    3. Um, does what it says on the tin? How they organised it isn't really the issue for Titus, in Paul's mind. Or so I gather from his lack of instruction on the matter.

    4. I'm probably not too familiar with any kind of 'normal' structure for women's ministry, but I guess that all you could do with this passage is work out whether your ministry structures are promoting or preventing women fulfilling the responsibility that this passage lays on them. If it's encouraging women to take up this responsibility, then it's a good bit of trellis. If it's inhibiting them from doing so, it's just choking the vine.

    Or so it seems to me on this first reading.

  3. Meant to be up writing the last 1000 words on the semester's assessment.

    Titus 2 is often taken as the Model and Curriculum for women's ministry. I reckon mostly because taken at face value (face value being of little value here) it seems to have the answer. Women's ministry = this" xxx". I'm more comfortable tracking the 'structures of a ministry' (any ministry) from Titus 2:1 'teach what is in accord with sound doctrine' - and other broader passages.

    1. Titus 2 gives a plausible description of women encouraging each other in godliness in reference to Titus' context. That gives us neither a Model nor a Curriculum, but is still of value in shaping our thoughts on ministry.

    2. I think ministry is broader - the work of some to build up others in perserverance and maturity, yes, including the 'every member' stuff of encouragement in holiness but with more pointy Word focus. I'm vibing off from Eph 4 and the whole of Titus here.

    still pondering 3 and 4.
    should be back to essay.
    more thoughts after due date.

  4. My comment doesn't actually relate to Titus but to other passages/thoughts the discussion has provoked.

    Thinking Genesis, male and female are created equal but different. So although ministry can occur in a mixed context, a single sex context can allow freedom to minister to aspects of our 'femaleness'

    Other thought is Paul being 'all things to all people'. Different women are best helped by different forms of ministry. Some feel uncomfortable in a small group, so a large conference style setting would suit them better. Some are good at organising their own ministry to other people, some need to have signed up for something. (just like the discussion about the sugar/diet discussion)

  5. A little nervously (I was hoping some others would have stepped in by now!) I will go out on a limb and offer some tentative answers to your questions.

    1. Yes, Titus 2:3-5 gives us a model. I like your summary: "The model is that of older women teaching younger women." I wouldn't see this as culture-specific. And obviously the ministry of women to women isn’t limited to older to younger!

    Yes, it gives us the beginnings of a curriculum (and one for older women as well as younger women – Titus 2:3 not just 2:4-5) but by no means a complete curriculum.

    It's a curriculum no doubt shaped by context – not just the Cretan context, but the wider context of a culture in which marriage was more normative for women (and men) than it is in our culture. But it’s not limited to context: if you trace the Bible's teaching on womanhood, you'll find a similar emphasis on marriage and motherhood as key spheres in which most women serve God at some stage during their lives (Genesis 1-3, Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2 & 5, etc...). So yes, older women should cover these topics in their teaching of younger women – especially if these women are married and/or have children – but not to the exclusion of other life situations and seasons.

    Other topics mentioned in Titus 2:3-5, like purity and how we use our speech, are relevant to all women (including the older singles in your p.s.). And other parts of the Bible, both those addressed to women and those addressed to all Christians, expand the curriculum: 1 Timothy 5:9-10 adds ministry/service outside the family; Proverbs 31 adds paid work and helping the poor; 1 Corinthians 7 addresses singleness; 1 Timothy 2 talks about women’s relationships within the church; Colossians 4 adds evangelism; and so on and so on.

    Most importantly, any and all of these topics need to be grounded in the gospel, as they are in Titus 2. The heart, foundation and motivation of any curriculum is the gospel and the character of God. We have to be careful not to limit godly womanhood to a certain season/situation in life, and we have to emphasis the gospel, not a certain set of “qualities of biblical womanhood”.

    2. Yes, in the women’s ministry at our church I make a deliberate effort to follow the curriculum (we're slowly working through the Titus 2 qualities, both 2:3 and 2:4-5) but very flexibly and with plenty of additions, so as to make our teaching and training relevant to women in all kinds of situations.

    For example, in our bi-monthly teaching sessions for women I deliberately started with the topic of “reverence for God” (Titus 2:3) rather than with a topic like marriage or purity, and I concentrated on the attitudes at the heart of godly womanhood. And yes, I addressed the topic of marriage, but I made sure that I emphasised the “greater marriage” to Christ and the greater gift of singleness, and addressed my applications to all kinds of different life situations. We’ve also had a session training women in evangelism; and next month, we’ll be discussing work and outreach at work, since we have lots of young women in this life situation. So you can see we cover the topics in Titus 2 (in a way that's relevant to all) but lots more besides.

    3. No idea!

    4. It doesn’t say anything about formal structures, expect by giving us a pattern we might like to follow if we do set up formal structures: that, at the very least, hopefully our structures enable older women to teach and train younger women in the congregation.

    1. p.s. I should add that I don't see Titus 2:3-5 as a necessary or prescribed curriculum, just a useful set of pegs to hang a series off. I could have chosen something else (and certainly I wouldn't want to stop with Titus 2, which is why we have women giving talks on all kinds of different topics in our training time). For example, I love the 1 Timothy 5:9-10 list, and wish we were more familiar with it instead of jumping straight to Titus 2, as it seems to me to be a little broader in its application to different life situation. Or I could have picked Proverbs 31. Or I could have ignored the "women's passages" and gone with Colossians 3 or something else entirely. But I do think Titus 2:3-5 is one useful set of topics to cover, especially with young women. And I do think the things on the list aren't just situation-specific, as these themes and words spring up all over the New Testament, often (but not always) particularly with reference to women. When I do a "talk" on one of the qualities, I trace it through the Bible and work out its broader application and context (exhaustive and exhausting, that's me!).

  6. Sorry...was a bit exhausted after all the dietary argument ;) And I was waiting to see what others thought since I'm not sure I'm up to being the first cab off the rank here...

    Will try to get back in here tomorrow after the digestion and poo talk has been given to answer the questions. Probably not ready to answer just yet because I've never given this passage such detailed thought before.

    Can I just say that I really REALLY like the sound of Jean's women's ministry. Thanks for stepping up and answering.

  7. Thanks everyone, for your replies.

    Jean - in particular - I'll pick up on a few things that you've said in future posts.

    My answer to the first question is up now.