Sunday, November 25, 2012

The problem with women's ministry 4 - Over-reaching?

Okay. This one will be controversial. I'm going to bounce off something that Jean said to get us started, but I'm actually not just talking about what she says. It's a much bigger issue. Once again, feedback (especially strong, negative feedback) is welcome.  

In this post, Jean states:

Titus 2:3-5 makes it pretty clear that Paul gives the responsibility of teaching and training younger women to older women (rather than to male overseers like Titus).

I disagree. I think the responsibility for teaching ultimately rests with the overseers of the church.

As I said in my last post, I think Titus 2:3-5 sets up a model whereby older women teach younger women what is good, by setting an example that encourages them to love their husbands and kids etc. The scope that Paul has in mind for older women teaching younger women, seems to be practical areas. Older women are to set an example of practical living that brings honour to God.

An older women who is irreverent in her behaviour, a malicious gossip and often drunk will not be able to teach what is good. Her example will not encourage younger women to lead sensible, pure, kind, hard working lives, loving their husbands and kids etc. An older women who is reverent in behaviour and not a gossip or drunkard will be in a position to do this.

It's fine for women to meet with one another to teach and be taught the scriptures. It's great if you want to do that, but that's not what Paul has in mind here. This verse doesn't compel you to do it. The responsibility for teaching the faith still remains with the overseers. It's an over-reach to say that older women are ultimately responsible to teach younger women doctrine. 

Why have I bothered to write about this. Why does it matter? Three thoughts.

1. I think that this interpretation of Titus 2:3-5 is another legalistic load that women put on each other. Meeting with younger women and teaching them is just another thing we are all failing at. I've been encouraged to think of myself as the 'older woman' since I've been 18! In conference after conference I've been told that I need to be meeting with younger women and reading the bible with them. It's suggested that instead of going back to work, women should spend their time 'fulfilling' Titus 2:3-5.  What I don't hear half so often is what Titus 2:3 really says to me as a (somewhat) older woman - I should be reverent in my behaviour and not gossip! Just about every woman I know who has had kids is interested in hearing younger mums' experience and offering advice. This comes pretty naturally for most women. The tough thing is hanging out with a young mum, then not going and gossiping about her with the next woman you see. If I can be reverent and not gossip (and keep sober!) then I will be an encouragement. 

2. Perhaps we overplay the teach thing in Titus 2:3 because we are deep-down dissatisfied with the idea of not being able to teach men and run churches. Thoughts?

3. I think we ought to be talking about every member of the church being involved with ministry, but the ministry that Paul seems to want from every member of the church is that of doing 'good deeds'. It is mentioned 9 times in Titus! Good deeds are what we are saved to do (2.14)! 

That's enough for now.

Comment away! 


  1. I half agree with you. I think.

    My fear is that there seems to be a real divide here between teaching the Bible and being an example in practical areas. I'd argue that both are tightly related. Is not an older woman 'teaching' if she encourages a young mum with some Bible passages to persevere through hardship? Or if she prays with a younger woman according to the promises of the Bible? Or if together they talk about application from a sermon?

    I wonder if what is more the issue is the concept of doing 'formal' teaching according to a set pattern, i.e. one woman meeting up with another for 8 weeks to do a bible study, etc. Like you, I don't think we should be putting legalistic burdens on women to do this. But I do think that any woman who wants to train younger women (and really, this should be all older women) should be thinking biblically about the example she sets. It bothers me when women have an attitude of "leave it to the men to be Biblically literate, while we just talk about the touchy feely stuff or sleep training babies". I don't think this is what you're saying, but I wonder if divorcing setting an example from teaching the bible encourages this behaviour.

    1. I'm a fan of female biblical literacy. A big fan. I'm just not a fan of tying it to this verse.

  2. Well that makes sense then! When I hit post, I did think that my comment was more a comment on women's ministry in general, not your reading of Titus 2:3-5. In that case, I do see your point. Titus is talking about example, not necessarily actively teaching.

    1. I should clarify a little further... I'm a big fan of biblical literacy among women because I'm a big fan of biblical literacy. It's not a gendered thing. The bible is what God's given us.

      The trouble with having verses that we always throw around (like this one) is that we often miss what it's actually saying.

      I've been reading Titus closely lately and have a few other ideas that I'll share at some stage.

  3. I agree that I overstated my case - I shouldn't have said "rather than". I agree wholeheartedly that "the responsibility for teaching ultimately rests with the overseers of the church". Thanks for clarifying this!

    Nonetheless, it's interesting and instructive that "younger women" is the only group in Titus 2 where it's not Titus, but "older women", who are told to "teach" and "urge" the group in question.

    But the word "teach" (in the form "teach what is good") is still in there, and yes, it is a responsibility Paul give to older women, under the oversight and teaching of male overseers. (The word, for anyone who's interested, is kalodidaskalous, "teach what is good", a compound word from "kalos" - good, excellent - and "didáskalos" - teacher, instructor / "didasko" - "to discharge the office of a teacher".)

    I agree that Paul probably doesn't primarily have in mind formal teaching (though it's fine for it to include this), but giving an example, praying with, mentoring, encouraging and admonishing, urging, training...older women "teaching" younger women can take any number of forms depending on our opportunities and gifts. Mostly it will happen naturally and organically; sometimes it might be more formal, but it doesn't have to be.

    "Just about every woman I know who has had kids is interested in hearing younger mums' experience and offering advice." - that's a great example of this kind of teaching.

    1. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." Col 3:16. The word for "teach" is "didaskontes", and clearly it's not formal! Not just example, but word; but not formal words, mostly, just everyday encouragement and admonishing.

    2. pps but yes, it is a "word-y" activity, not just example. And yes, it is something we need to be encouraged to do, as well as something we do naturally and organically. It's one of our responses to the gospel, and part of "doing good". We're all teachers to one another. Older to younger women is just one important aspect of this.

      I suspect Paul gives this responsibility specifically to older women partly because only older women can put "flesh on the bones" of what it means to live as a godly woman. Not to give us "frustrated teachers" an opportunity to teach! But older women teaching younger women is a good thing, however it happens, formally or informally. For most of us, informally.

      If we feel any burden, it should be the everyday Christian burden of teaching and admonishing one another in love, including - and perhaps particularly, since Paul takes time to give older women this responsibility - younger women in the faith.

  4. "Perhaps we overplay the teach thing in Titus 2:3 because we are deep-down dissatisfied with the idea of not being able to teach men and run churches. Thoughts?"

    I'm one of those women who does a fair bit up front, public teaching (to women). I wouldn't justify it from Titus 2 and I don't do it because I'm dissatisfied that I can't/won't run a church. But I do love to exercise those gifts when the opportunity arises.

    My experience is that women are often very excited by my teaching. They feel it helps them to connect with the Bible is a different way to their male pastor. I don't have a Bible verse to say that's how it should be (perhaps it's an indictment on their male pastors!) but I'm happy to teach them since it's helpful to them.

    1. Speaking God's word is a good thing to do. I don't think we need a verse to justify it.

  5. I think the type of ministry - older women to younger - outlined in Titus 2 is wonderful. But that doesn't mean it's the ONLY type of ministry a woman can have. Likewise, the list of topics in Titus 2 are great things for women to learn about, especially if they happen to have husbands and/or children and/or homes to manage. But, again, that doesn't mean that the Bible is saying that is the ONLY thing that Christian women should be concerned about. It's like the list of various spiritual gifts - given that the lists are not identical, we know that they are not a complete list but a sample of the range of ways in which God's people serve one another. Likewise, the teaching and topics given in Titus 2. I get really uncomfortable when Titus 2 is stretched to become the only list of things Christian women should be attending to. We are Christians first and male and female second! That's not an outrageous statement; it comes from Gal 3:28.

  6. I like your thinking about all this. It makes sense to me. I've tried to write down what I think in response but I can't get it to sound right. So maybe I'll just leave it at that.

    Oh, and what Deb said was good too.

  7. Sorry that was so rambly yesterday! Wrote it off the top of my head. To summarise...

    - I think you're absolutely right to qualify my earlier statement: it’s not “rather than” but “under the leadership and teaching of” overseers

    - I don't think Titus 2:3-5 is just about example: it's "teaching what is good" not just "teaching what is good"

    - I agree Paul probably doesn't primarily have in mind formal teaching (though I’m sure he’d be happy for it to include this) but the kind of informal teaching all Christians do to one another – we’re all called to “teach and admonish” each other (Col 3:16)

    - this kind of teaching is, however, a word-y thing (speaking the truth in love) not just a life-y thing - example is part of it but it's words too

    - older women have a special responsibility to do this kind of everyday teaching of younger women

    - yes, the list in Titus 2 isn't comprehensive, but that doesn't mean we can say "it's just contextual" - everything in the Bible is contextual, which doesn't make it irrelevant - and the list is actually pretty representative of the rest of the New Testament's teaching on women, as long as we add in what God says about other seasons and situations (e.g. widows and young mums in 1 Timothy 5) - so we do need to teach the things mentioned in this list, especially to young wives and mums, though we will teach other things too

    - this teaching of younger women will look different for every woman, depending on gifts (for some it may be more formal, for others more informal – e.g. mentoring vs. a chat over coffee)

    - teaching younger women is general responsibility for all older women (example, encouragement) but some will give their time and efforts to this role in particular (e.g. formal teaching, mentoring) while others may concentrate on other ministries (e.g. evangelism, children) – indeed, many of the gifts fit the category of “we all do them but some are particularly gifted in them” e.g. service, acts of mercy

    - teaching younger women should neither be a legalistic burden (for the unwilling) nor an excuse(for women busting to teach); it's just part of the call we all share as Christians to speak the truth to one another in love as we build each other up in Christ, including women younger than us in the faith

    - oh, and I’m very grateful to older women who have both “formally” and “informally” taught me to be a godly woman. I praise God for them!

    Hope that helps.

    1. Oh, and Simone, I meant to thank you for sharpening my thinking on this. It's good to think hard about the issues, so thank you!

      I do wonder if, at points, you're attacking a position that I've never heard defended (though yes, at times it's implied - although I've noticed a bit of a backlash against this in American blogs recently): that Titus 2 gives a complete curriculum for women's ministry; that we have to teach this curriculum formally; and that every women should feel the burden for this kind of formal ministry. This is an easy position to attack, and I wouldn't want to defend it (e.g. I like the qualifications Deb added).

      But to undermine the most extreme form of the position isn't to undermine the general point that older women are responsible, by both word and example, to teach younger women how to live godly lives as women in response to the gospel.

  8. I can't help but agree with Jean here. I don't think we can avoid the specific command of older women 'teaching' in Titus 2. Yes, it involves being living examples, but given the context and the overarching theme/purpose of the whole epistle "Truth that leads to godliness" 1:1, surely women must minister both the word and the example of living that living-word. Like many have said above, that can take as many formal/informal shapes as there are unique people (all of us!) in the family of God, but it's got to be both. Thanks, Jean for helping us out with the greek here too.

  9. I think this has been said before, but I find it helpful to place Titus 2 in context to the whole book. As Jane said, Titus 1:1 tells us that truth leads to godliness. In Titus 3:8, Paul urges Christians to insist on "these things" - that is, the truth of the gospel outlined in 3:4-7 - so that they may lead to good works. Truth is key here. It's what leads to godliness and produces good works.

    Yes, Titus 2 doesn't specifically tell women to read the Bible with each other, but I do think that any practical encouragement offered by older women *must* include some ministering of the Word. It doesn't have to be a formal structure, but it has to be included. I think that to neglect word ministry amongst women is to set aside Paul's entire thrust in the book of Titus.

    And I think this is what's been niggling me about your post, Simone, and what I tried to haphazardly express in my first comment. While I agree with your commendation that older women are to set an example and we aren't to be legalists about *how* women minister, I worry that by taking away the teaching of the Bible from women's ministry, we remove the true power for change in our lives. How are we to be godly women? To love our husbands and children? To be sensible and sound in faith, love and endurance? Yes, through older women's example, but ultimately it is the truth of the Gospel, as revealed in God's Word, that has the power to change us and make us like Christ. Take away that ministry and we cheat ourselves of what we really need to live a godly life.

    Simone, I agree that Titus talks heaps about good w

  10. P.S. sorry for that last random line! Sloppy editing!!