A local church-planter recently asked me about how his church can better care for women. As I've reflected on this question since that conversation, several concrete things came to mind that, in my opinion, are often overlooked when it comes to caring for women.
Do not fear the women in your church.
In some churches, it seems that women are considered intimidating creatures that should either be avoided or tightly controlled. What happens when women are considered dangerous, volatile, or purely sexual is that treating women as friends, colleagues, and sisters is made difficult, even impossible. Where fear reigns, 1 Corinthian 13 love will not be present. But as John reminds us, love comes from God and “whoever abides in love abides in God” (1 Jn. 4:16). Fear of others breeds only hate and resentment and violence. Love in Christ brings forth respect, honor, and gentleness. Paul teaches Timothy this when he writes: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity”(1 Tim. 5:1 emphasis mine).
Paul exampled this when he called Priscilla a fellow worker and greeted many other women whom it was clear he knew personally and considered his allies in ministry (Rom. 16:1-12). He treated them as family, greeting them by name in his letters (Col. 4:15), addressing them as fellow co-heirs with Christ, attributing to them equal standing before God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Be actively involved in shepherding the women in your church.
Women need theological shepherding just as much as men. In fact, many women crave the deeper more robust theological discussions commonly associated with men’s groups.
If there is a woman in your congregation leading women’s Bible studies and discussion groups, then work closely with her to make sure she has theological guidance, if she needs it, and also to help her grow in knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual maturity. If there is not a woman who is able to lead a group, please find a way to include or teach the women of your congregation.
Just like men in the church, women need shepherding and guiding in how to do this, they need encouragement to read books that push them to grow in their theological knowledge and understanding, they need to be reminded that God’s Word is as much for them as it is for men, and they need the pastor to be their pastor too.
Preach texts that involve women carefully and conscientiously.
As a woman, I notice how a preacher handles texts that involve women, especially accounts of injustice and violence done to women. These texts are difficult texts for me to read and are often even harder to understand. These texts bring up questions of God’s justice and love for women. Does God really love women when the Bible is filled with accounts of oppression and violence? Does God care about the women in the Bible who were raped, kidnapped, and used?
These passages need to be dealt with carefully and sympathetically. Leader’s need to be sensitive to how many women in their congregation will hear these texts, especially if they have been abused. Sermons and teaching on these texts need to be filled with hope and grace, explained carefully and thoughtfully, and in a way that takes into account that women will be identifying with the women in the narrative rather than the men.
Encourage women to study the Bible and theology.
If there are women in your church who express interest in deeper or more formal study of theology, encourage them to pursue it. All Christians should pursue wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, growing up into spiritual maturity (Heb. 6:1; Eph. 4:13-16).
The Bible is full of examples of women who pursued knowing the Lord and these women ought to be the biblical examples for women to follow (Lk. 8:1-3). Sometimes, this includes going to seminary or a Bible college and getting the more formal education outside of a church. Other times, it might mean getting mentored by someone within the church. Either way, in a culture that often subliminally tells women theology is for men, women need the encouragement of their church leaders to pursue training, especially if they have a desire to teach and mentor others in the faith.
Listen to the women in your church.
As stories of sexual abuse perpetrated or covered up by leaders in churches continue to come out, it reminds us of the need to take what women say seriously. Even if the situation ends up with the woman being wrong, it is always worth handling with humility and compassion, believing that she is telling the truth and investigating thoroughly. Women need to know that the leadership in their church cares about their well-being and won’t protect even those in power when those in power sin against them.
The women need to be taken just as seriously as the men, for their opinions, advice, counsel, and experiences. The church needs to be a safe place for women because Scripture is clear that God welcomes women into his family, making them co-heirs with Christ just as he does with men. This means women are entitled to the same blessings of salvation as men, including the benefits of being an equal member in the family of God and body of Christ, the church.