In Praise of (and in Defense of) Women's Ministry
“Women don’t need their own Bible study. They need to be a part of the larger church Bible studies.”
“Women’s Bible studies are fluffy.”
“We shouldn’t divide the body of Christ.”
“How can the elders know what’s going on in women’s Bible study?”
“It’s too risky.”
“It’s too busy.”
“It’s too social.”
“It’s a waste of time.”
Since moving back to the States I’ve heard all of the above criticisms of women’s Bible study, or women’s devotional groups or discipleship groups, or women’s ministry in general. Overseas I wasn’t even aware that there were so many views—especially the negative ones—of women’s ministry. I had only experienced the tremendous benefits of such groups, so it surprised me.
Three years back now, and I’ve continued attending and leading women’s ministry groups almost weekly. Of course I feel strongly that weekly corporate worship is essential to a thriving Christian life. If someone must choose between anything else and going to church, I say pick church. But there are undeniable and irreplaceable benefits to gathering only women together to study God’s word, to pray, and to encourage one another.
Here are some of my top joys and reasons for persisting in women’s ministry:
1. Being with my sisters in Christ lightens my spirit like nothing else. We laugh from the belly and share from the heart in ways that do not happen when our brothers are around. You just can’t replace the nourishment provided by an all-ladies setting.
2. It’s an ideal setting for women whose husbands do not want to participate in Christian community. For many families participating in Sunday school or a weeknight small group is impossible because the husband just isn’t interested. Women’s groups are a great place for the wife to gain fellowship and edification without frustrating her husband.
3. Same for single women—women’s groups are a great place to gather and not feel isolated or different for not having a husband by your side.
4. It’s a great place for Titus 2 mentoring to take place. As older women spend time with younger women in an all-women setting, we can share freely, ask deeply, and be vulnerable and transparent with one another. These are the settings where women really sharpen women. This is the place where one woman can ask another about how to handle a hard marriage, a difficult child, moving beyond a husband’s affair, avoiding her own affair, handling sexual harassment in the workplace, and myriad other sensitive subjects.
5. Women are more likely to engage in deep thinking and discussion when the guys aren’t around. For whatever reason, in mixed groups women tend to be more quiet. In all-women’s groups there’s less fear or anxiety or whatever keeps us from going out on a limb when the men are around.
6. All-women’s spaces foster accountability. In an intimate, single-gender setting women can share sins and temptations with one another and seek accountability at the next meeting. We aren’t likely to do that with our husbands or our friends’ husbands nearby.
7. When women gather together they bear witness to one another of what Christ can and will do through each woman present. The setting is encouraging and spurring. It’s like working out with other women—when I see an older woman lift heavy weights, I try that too. When I see an older women in the faith dig into the Word of God, I try that too. While that can happen in mixed groups, it’s more likely to surface and make a difference in an all-women setting.
If you are new to church or new to the possibility of women’s ministry, do be advised that not all women’s ministries are equal. There are valid reasons they are looked down upon by many in the church. There are indeed many women’s groups that are fluff and purely social and not worth your investment and time.
Here’s what to look for if you want to give women’s ministry a try:
1. The women in leadership clearly prioritize the Bible over other books. Look for women’s groups that actually dig into the Bible and not just good books (though there’s a time and place for that too—but not a higher priority than studying the Word). I’ve written on this before, here.
2. The group time and structure allows for confession, accountability, and sharing burdens and joys. Look for a group where the table is set for women to really share deeply. Of course small talk and breaking the ice are necessary, but look for a group leader who goes first in confession and vulnerability. Look for women who really want to share their struggles with one another—women who go beyond the surface.
3. The group prioritizes praying together. Sharing burdens and confessing sins is really important. But that process is made impotent if prayer isn’t included. Look for women who know they need the Holy Spirit to help them, for God to intervene, who know that they are not enough.
4. Any woman who has spent any time with any other women, know that girls’ nights can easily devolve into husband-bashing. Find a group that avoids this at all costs. Look for women who genuinely love you, your husband, and your marriage. Look for women who will never bash your husband or encourage you to leave him, but who will lock arms with you, and walk whatever rough road you’re on. (I’m not encouraging here that women never help others to flee abusive situations. Certainly in a loving, Biblical women’s group abuse should never be overlooked for any reason. I’m speaking here of the typical, everyday hard marriage for which we all need encouragement.)
5. Look for women who are eager to grow and not gossip. Look for women who are self-reflective, use words to build up others, and who do not engage in slandering others.
6. Ideally, your women’s group should be directly connected to your local church. Ideally, the women’s leadership would be joyfully under the submission of the church elders. The elders should know what the women are studying and freely give their support and encouragement and resources to make the group thrive. If you go to a church that doesn’t have a women’s group and you need to look elsewhere, check out the leadership and make sure the group is somehow submitted to Biblical leadership in a healthy church. Women’s Bible studies outside the church setting can be a good option too (for example Community Bible Study or Bible Study Fellowship—which I’ve never participated in, but I hear they’re good), though I think it’s best when they’re connected to a local church.
7. Finally, look for an atmosphere of grace. Find a women’s group where the commitment to the doctrine of grace has fostered a culture of grace. This is a group of women who know they need the Lord every hour. Women who are eager to confess, repent, and grow in the Lord and help other women do the same. Avoid groups that champion either legalism or licentiousness.
If you think God may be leading you to start a women’s ministry or Bible study, you might like to read, Opening Your Heart and Home to Women’s Bible Study, or What first steps would you suggest for a church just starting a women's ministry?
If you’ve never tasted the joy of healthy, Biblical women’s ministry, I sincerely hope you get a chance to try. It has been the setting of great growth and edification in my Christian walk and the place I have made my best friends. Truly, the Spirit of God is at work through his Word and his people in women’s ministry. May you have the chance to see for yourself!