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‘As good stewards of God’s varied grace’

Churches may debate gender roles but must encourage and energize women in the mission of Christ

As I speak to Churches of Christ across the country, it is obvious that in many places wonderful options for women are opening up. Thousands actively serve the Lord — in traditional ways as well as some new ones. 

I also still run into capable, well-educated and spiritual women who struggle with depression and feel discouraged due to the lack of opportunities and attitudes of leaders of their churches. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive an unloving atmosphere where they are under-challenged and unappreciated.  

Views | Joy McMillon
They fear even trying to initiate a conversation on the subject of women’s role in the congregation. To do so would be to put them at great personal risk of being labeled a troublemaker.

Churches of Christ reflect a spectrum of beliefs and practices when it comes to women’s functions in the church — as we do on other challenging questions. Some allow women to serve communion, to sing on praise teams and even to preach sermons. Others believe that Scripture forbids these practices.

I leave that controversial, complex discussion for other forums. I would simply like to share a few thoughts on my own journey as a woman in the Churches of Christ and humbly offer some thoughts for congregations seeking to help all believers best use their talents.

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Growing up in the church, I fell in love with Jesus. 

I was inspired to serve the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind. I eagerly participated in our informal youth group, took part in service projects and summer Bible camps. I looked forward to graduating from a Christian college, marrying a Christian and finding a place of service in my congregation.

I also discovered certain unspoken messages for women in the church. 

We were supposed to attend baby and bridal showers, staff the nursery, teach children’s Bible classes and bring food to grieving families. We were not to speak in adult Bible studies. We would best serve in the background. 

My husband would study the Bible. It wasn’t necessary for me because I would be busy taking care of my highest calling — being a mother. 

Although I gladly became involved in many of these activities, I longed for and quietly pursued my own  study of Scripture. I found I loved it just like I love Jesus and the church. 

Yet I sometimes struggled with the feeling that the church’s focus seemed to be more on what women could not do rather than what they could .  

Then, in the mid-to-late-1980s, our church’s elders made a concerted effort to give more people an opportunity to serve. They appointed nine spiritually minded men as ministry directors. 

Church involvement mushroomed, and soon attendance grew. A few years later the elders established a formal women’s ministry and selected me as director.

Our church now has 30 ministries. Women lead three of them: a women’s ministry, a medical clinic and a care and counseling ministry. Three more have women as co-leaders, and most of the rest have large numbers of women involved. Five women serve on the church staff, and more than 100 have served regularly as leaders in women’s ministry. 

More than 200 women have trained as small-group leaders for women’s Bible classes. Our church mentors young women, some of whom serve as two-year missionary apprentices around the world. 

Churches, may I encourage you to survey the general mood of women in your congregation? Are they happy, fulfilled, frustrated, perhaps even fearful? Ask for input from women of all ages. 

Are respect and appreciation for women’s contributions evident in your church’s culture? Is your organizational structure unnecessarily keeping women from contributing to the mission of the congregation in a meaningful way? 

Women have so many creative ideas, thoughts and suggestions that can go unheard. If you don’t have one, please consider beginning a women’s ministry and appointing a leader who will work under your supervision. Give the ministry a budget. I believe you soon will see many more women becoming involved. If you have such a women’s ministry, continually survey its members about curriculum, special programs, fellowship and outreach. 

I implore you to make every effort to encourage and energize women in the mission of Christ in your congregation. Both genders are part of the priesthood of believers — the full body of Christ — and both are charged with using their spiritual gifts as well as understanding and respecting the relationship God wills between men and women.  

I pray that we all strive to emulate the words we find in 1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

CONTACT: [email protected]

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