Thursday, November 22, 2012

The problem with women's ministry #3 - Model/Curriculum

I’ve appreciated reading everyone’s answers to the questions from the last post. In this post, I’ll attempt to answer my first question, which I think is the most important one.

Q - 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?

I think Titus 2 certainly confirms for us the natural model of older women teaching younger women. I don’t think Paul’s original readers would have found this to be a revolutionary idea. And it really isn’t revolutionary to us either. All of us have picked stuff up from older generations. For better or for worse, much of how I operate as a wife and mother has come from watching my own mother in action. Everyday, without even meaning to, I copy her. I just do what she did.

I don’t think that Paul’s big point here is that older women should teach younger women. I think Paul’s point is that they should teach them what is good. The older women are to be reverent in their behaviour, not malicious gossips and not enslaved to wine so that what they teach the younger generation will be good, not bad. Their good example will encourage the younger women to live God honouring lives. 

I think example is the key idea here. Why? Look down to verse 7. Titus is to urge the young men to be sensible by setting the example.

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified...”

The word ‘example’ doesn’t appear in the older/younger women section, but looking at the NASB (I’m no greek scholar!) it seems that the strongest verb in vs 3 is ‘be’ not ‘teach’. 

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good...
What the older women ARE will teach the younger women. So there is an model in view here, but the model is that of older women teaching the younger women what is good by setting a good example. 

But do these verses offer us a ‘curriculum’ for women’s ministry? I don’t think so. Three reasons.

1. I don’t think that Paul has any up-front formal teaching role for women in mind here. I think it’s much more organic than that. Older people will always set an example to younger people. The older women are to make sure that in the way they live, the younger women are encouraged to live out their faith well. 
2. I think that the list given in vs 4-5 (and 3) is possibly more situational than it first appears. The word ‘sensible’ appears many times in Titus, but not at all in any other epistle. The younger women are to be encouraged to be sensible (2.5). The older men are also to be sensible (2.2) and so are the younger men (2.6) and so are the overseers (1.8). Could it be that good sense was lacking in Crete? Now, good sense may also be lacking in our context, but since it doesn’t seem to have been such a problem in other early churches, I am loathe to put it onto a set ‘curriculum’ for women’s ministry.

Also, did you notice that older women are to encourage younger women to ‘be subject to THEIR OWN husbands’? Why is the phrase ‘their own’ included? I wonder if it is because of the Cretan situation where false teachers are upsetting whole households (see 1:11). How does one upset a ‘whole household’ except by driving a wedge between husband and wife? Is this like the situation of the weak willed women in 2 Tim 3? 

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses.” 

Instead of doing what these false teachers say, women are to be subject to ‘their own’ husbands. They are to listen to their own husbands. Not to someone else’s. This explanation is a little tenuous but I think we should think more about the inclusion of the words ‘their own’. I suspect that Paul is thinking a little differently to Eph 5 and Col 3 here. 

3. Seeing these verses as a prescriptive curriculum is dangerous. The inherent danger in seeing these verses as a curriculum is that we rip them out of the context of Titus causing us to wrongly apply them.

I think, for example, Titus 2:5 does not justify a 12 week course on how to be a ‘worker at home’. I don’t think that any theology of stay-at-home mumdom should be developed from here. I suspect that the ‘at home’ bit is in contrast to being malicious gossips going around to other people’s homes making trouble. 

As soon as we start thinking ‘curriculum’ we tend to stop thinking careful exegesis. We make jumps from the bible to the latest christian how-to book. There is a danger of reading far too much into each phrase (particularly in the name of developing a theology of ‘biblical womanhood’). We need to apply these words, but the best (and most cutting) application will come when we look very carefully at the original context, see how it would have cut in that context, and only then think about our own context.  

That’s probably enough for now. To summarize:
Model, yes.
The model is that of older women teaching the younger women what is good by setting a good example.
Curriculum, no.
It’s not helpful to see this as a prescriptive list of what older women are to teach the younger women because Paul has in mind primarily leading by example and because these things are more situational than they might initially appear and so we need to apply them with caution.


  1. So if older women are to teach younger women by setting a good do the younger women observe the older women? I'm just thinking in my current situation that if this was just done in mixed settings, I would only get 1 opportunity (possibly 2) to do this each week and then that is also in an organised setting of Sunday activities and a 'prayer meeting'. And I don't get to observe much during these times apart from what they wear, how they sit in church and chat with others after.

    Being able to observe older women and learn from their example requires spending a lot of time in each others company which in current society doesn't happen very much (not that I'm saying that this could/should change). The other way to learn by example is the hear older women talking about their 'example'/what they do...which leads us back to a more formal teaching style or at least more formal structures in general (eg. bible study groups).

  2. I've added a bit to my comments on your other post about the possibilities and limitations of using Titus 2 as a "curriculum" but just to add one point here (and I'm drawing on some old notes of mine, so I hope this is accurate!):

    You're right that the word for "sensible/sober minded/prudent/reasonable/appropriate" - "sophron" - is common in Titus, but it's also found in 1 Tim 3:2; and the "soph-" word group appears in other descriptions of godly qualities in 2 Tim 1:7, Rom 12:3, 1 Pet 4:7. It interests me that another word from this word group - "sophrosyne" - is again applied to women in 1 Tim 2:9, 15 (and you'll find it in Acts 26:25) - "appropriate", "reasonable". So yes, there might be particular application to the Cretan context (the word for "train" in 2:4 is "sophronizo", a strong word meaning "bring to their senses", so perhaps something was going on among the younger women, although it could be argued that modern women need this just as much!) but I think that "sober-mindedness" is a quality Paul wants to see in all Christians and also one that he emphasises, on occasion, for women, not just one that is relevant in the Cretan context.

    1. p.s. I meant "sober-mindedness" or "appropriateness" in that last sentence.

      Hope you don't mind me going all Greek on you, Simone! I'm no expert on NT Greek, but I chased this through a complete concordance, and I found it interesting.

  3. I came in here to ask the exact same question as Mel. And I was talking about this with a friend from church this morning as well. How does it work out in practice in our current individualistic society where the answer to any question we have is just a google search away, and our catch ups with people from church during the week are with people who are at very similar ages and life stages to ourselves (ie. the "stay at home mothers'" Bible study group).

    I've actually found that a lot of my learning in the past few years from "older" women has been from women who are more mature in their faith than I am. And who write excellent blogs about living the Christian life. People like you, Jean, Jenny, Meredith, and Nicole, who I know possibly aren't "older" than me age-wise but I feel as if I have a lot to learn from about how I can become a more godly woman.

    As I mentioned yesterday, perhaps I've never given Titus 2 the in-depth attention it deserves so thinking about it in the model vs curriculum terms you described hadn't really occurred to me. I think I probably always found the "busy at home" bit a little bit frustrating when taken at face value as it so often seems to be. But your conclusions make a lot of sense, thanks for sharing them.

  4. I have lived in two very different societies, and I think Aussie society has a big problem in this regard. I agree with the other commenters, I think that in many ways, Christian women are not only not teaching the younger women, they're not really communicating at all! It's not out of malice, just that our society hasn't set itself up that way. I think all Christian women need to be really intentional about fostering intergenerational relationships, so we can really do life together and learn from each other in much the same way as you, Simone, mentioned that we learn from our mothers. I really feel for Christian women out there who don't have Christian parents who struggle to get enough wisdom, encouragement and comfort from more mature Christian women.

  5. Hi, I just wanted to thank you Simone, and Jean for your thoughtful Bible study on this topic, it has given me good food for thought as a newly married ministers wife in a country town where I have been trying to work out how women should care for women in this setting. Really appreciate it :)