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Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church

Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church

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Laying a robust biblical foundation and addressing a host of practical issues related to women’s ministry in the local church, this book features contributions from a number of prominent Bible teachers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433545238
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 07/31/2015
Series: The Gospel Coalition
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional Motherhood; Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full; and Glimpses of Grace.

Kathleen Nielson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.

Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.

Susan Hunt is a mother, grandmother, pastor’s wife, author, and the former director of women’s ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America. Hunt has written a number of books, including Spiritual Mothering.

Gloria Furman (MACE, Dallas Theological Seminary) lives in the Middle East where her husband, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai. She is the author of many books, including Missional Motherhood; Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full; and Glimpses of Grace.

Kathleen Nielson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.

Read an Excerpt


The Word at the Center

Hearing God Speak

Kathleen Nielson

What pictures do the words "women's ministry" bring to mind? We come from different contexts, all of us. Some will picture a small circle of jean- clad women gathered at a friend's kitchen table or maybe sitting on folding chairs in a church meeting room. Others will recall crucial conversations one-to-one at a local coffee shop. Others will think of regular visits by a younger woman to an older one too feeble to leave her cramped, old-photo–filled apartment. Others will be carried back to times of crisis, with a few women gathered in a friend's living room, prayers and tears flowing. Others will see lovely teas with flowers on tablecloths and perfumed women dressed in colors that match the flowers. For some, the scene may be a church kitchen, where women with flushed, focused faces are wearing oven mitts to handle steaming pans. Others may envision classrooms, with women leaning over chattering children in little chairs around low tables, or auditoriums filled with rows of attentive women listening to a woman up front standing behind a podium. And others will have entirely different sets of pictures — these are just a few from my set!

How can we gather all our varied pictures into one album we might legitimately title "women's ministry"? There would never be enough pages — or gigabytes. And that is a good thing. This book addresses women's ministry not simply as specific ministry programs but also as an ongoing flow of ministry happening in diverse ways among women in local church congregations. Our question: How can we encourage that flow to be strong and full of life — and how can we begin to talk about that flow in any way coherently? How? Only through a central focus on the Word of God.

All our various snapshots will come together if we see each of these scenes as a place where Word work is happening. Might we imagine each of these pictures of women (and many more) superimposed on a background page filled with the words of Scripture? Women's ministry must be first and foremost grounded in the Word. We must not start with the needs of women — although we must get to those needs. As in the case of any church ministry, in women's ministry we must start with the Word of God at the heart of everything we do.

To talk about the Scriptures as central, I will start with and keep returning to Isaiah 55, for that chapter tells us why we need God's Word. This will not be a thorough exposition, but as we move through the sections of Isaiah 55, my aim is to let its powerful words point us to basic truths about God's Word that must shape all our lives and ministries, as followers of Jesus Christ.


Let's start at the center of the chapter. I don't think there are any more beautiful verses than Isaiah 55:10–11 to help us grasp the foundational truth that the Bible is God speaking to us. It might seem hard to believe, when we think about it: here we are in Isaiah listening to a prophet who brought God's Word to God's people more than seven hundred years before Christ, in a divided kingdom that was in decline and heading for disaster. These words are thousands of years old, written down by a prophet who is long gone. And yet we believers claim to stake our lives on these words and others like them, putting our hope in the clear central message of Isaiah's book: the Lord saves his people. How do we so trust these ancient words? Here is God's Word on God's word:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:10–11)

The first truth to affirm about the Bible is that it is God speaking. It's not just a book about God. What's the picture Isaiah uses for God's Word? It's a picture of rain and snow coming down from heaven, giving life to the earth and making things grow. It's a picture of a heavenly gift — a gift that comes, remarkably enough, fromGod'smouth.

Isaiah's picture corrects a lot of misconceptions. So many voices these days tell us that in order to get at truth, we have to look deep inside ourselves, or at least we have to start there. But this picture shows us something originating from far outside ourselves — like precipitation from the sky, something we desperately need but don't have in ourselves — so that we're called not to look inward to receive it but to look outward, to look up and hold out our hands.

Many reading this book may be noticing a growing general tendency these days to focus on our own personal experience in our thinking and in our speaking — and even in our Bible study. That tendency, of course, is as old as Eve, who was attracted by the tantalizing taste of that fruit in her mouth, the delight of that fruit right in front of her eyes, and the allure of that fruit that would make her wise (see Gen. 3:6). Eve was drawn by the Serpent into evil through a focus on her own sensations, desires, and self-perceptions — as opposed to a focus on the clear word of God that he had spoken.

Certain kinds of phrases float regularly by women in particular these days, calling women to pay attention to who they are, release their God-given potential, listen to their longings for significance, embrace their doubts, dream the dreams in their hearts, and so forth. Such inner journeys can sometimes be good and necessary. It is perhaps important to say that such an emphasis might represent a pent-up reaction to older generations' overemphasis on outward propriety as opposed to inward transparency and transformation.

The call not to neglect our inner experience is a valid one, but everything turns on the question of whose voice is directing us, whether it be our own or the voices around us or the voice of God given to us in his Word. In our thirst for deeply personal meaning, we can forget how deeply personal are the Scriptures. Sometimes the voices around us talk about the Bible as a textbook for theological formulas that we have to learn, as if for a test in school. And so we might think of taking in the Scriptures as a dry, academic thing — and we'd really rather do something warm and personal.

This is a perennial struggle in women's Bible study circles. Two distinct sorts of camps seem to develop: Shall we be warm and welcoming and personal, or shall we be academic and study the text? What an unfortunate distinction! Here's the question: What could be more personal than feeling the very breath of God — actually hearing him speak? According to 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired, or breathed out, by God. Isaiah, in delivering God's word, proclaimed this very truth about the very word he was delivering: it goes out from God's mouth (55:11). Indeed, all the words of the collected canonical texts are the very breath of God's mouth — breathed by his Spirit through the minds and imaginations of the authors who wrote them, who "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). This is about as personal as it gets: the very breath of God from the mouth of God, received by the people of God. In the Old Testament the very same Hebrew word is translated both "breath" and "spirit." God's word is alive with his breath, his very Spirit.

I love the way respected theologian John Frame puts it at the start of his theologically weighty work called The Doctrine of the Word of God. To understand how the Bible works, according to Dr. Frame, you should imagine God standing at the foot of your bed at night talking to you. Imagine — the God of the universe speaking right to you. It's that personal.

Our God is a speaking God. How did God create the world? By speaking. He said, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3), and there was light, not after but in the speaking of the words. God's word gave form and shape to the earth; his word holds everything together — including us. You and I were made to take in God's breath, through his Word, and so to live in relationship with him. That relationship was broken in the fall — as sin came in and separated us from our holy creator God. But he restores that relationship by giving us his Word, ultimately his Word made flesh; we'll see Isaiah 55 pointing us toward that restoration found only in Jesus Christ.

Why does Isaiah use all these pictures like rain, snow, seeds, and bread? This is not abstract theology, is it? This living Word is as real as the bread we enjoy for breakfast and through which our bodies are energized. This is personal truth — as personal as feeling someone's breath on your face, or looking up into a pelt of snowflakes from the clouds, or watching the rain fall on your wilting flowers and seeing them straighten up and stretch toward the sky. These vivid pictures communicate the wonder of the way God speaks to us from heaven, sending his own word from outside us, in order to give us life we do not have within ourselves.

If the Bible really is God speaking, then it follows that each of us human beings needs more than anything else in the world to look up and receive this Word, every day of our lives. This is our logical response and our most basic need, both as individuals and as God's people together. We need to stand under the preaching and teaching of the Word like the parched earth waiting under the heavens for rain to come down. It is beautiful to look over a church congregation attentively listening to a sermon and to sense the life-giving watering that is happening as the Word is preached and people's souls start straightening up and stretching toward heaven. Ideally, this process of watering happens in every part of church life: in small groups, classes, one-to-one conversations and counseling — at the heart of all the various ministries of a congregation of people who acknowledge the Bible as God's Word that comes from God's mouth. This is an urgent truth, that God's Word is God speaking. This truth must shape the lives and ministries of God's people.


The second truth to affirm about the Bible is that it is powerful. It must be, if it is the very breath of God, the breath that made the whole world. This is what Isaiah 55:11 is talking about when it says that God's word will not return to him empty but will accomplish that which he purposes; it will do everything God intends it to do. Unlike our words, God's words are always linked with actual reality; in fact, they make happen everything that happens. Many of us memorized the apostle Paul's words to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:16, where first we hear that "all Scripture is breathed out by God," and then right away we find the most amazing claims about all the areas to which God applies the power of his Word: teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness — making the man of God competent, equipped for every — think of it, every good work! God's Word is powerful enough to be comprehensively equipping; this is his intention, and he will accomplish it. On that truth we can build our ministries in the church.

But we need to read the previous verse as well, 2 Timothy 3:15, where Paul makes the huge claim that the sacred writings God inspired are "able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." God's words actually call us from death to life, first of all; they have that much power, as God's Spirit applies them. This makes me think of the words of Jesus to his friend Lazarus who had died. Do you recall the scene, as Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus and said two little words: "Come out!" (John 11:43)? And Lazarus came out, from death to life. That's how God's Word works. It accomplishes what he purposes. It succeeds in the thing for which he sends it. It calls people to life in Christ and then trains them, comprehensively, how to live in Christ.

If this Word is that powerful, then it follows that we can trust it. We can trust this powerful Word to do its work among God's people. This means we will make our plans based on the fact that this Word is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword." We will not sheathe this sword in the various ministries of our churches, but we will draw it eagerly, exposing young and old to those sharp edges that pierce "to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, ... discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). We have no such power in ourselves; we need "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17), whose cut is life-saving and life-sustaining.

What might it mean to sheathe (cover, put away) this sword among God's people? Perhaps this happens most often when we simply don't take time to hear and study its words or to help others do so. Maybe we're just talking about its principles, or simply using various texts as jumping-off points to talk about our own ideas or about what we think the people we're addressing need to hear. Maybe we're spending more time together reading books about the Bible than reading the Bible itself. Maybe we think a lively video will draw people more regularly than the live teaching of the Word. We often simply do not trust the power of God's breathed-out Word to bring people to life, lead people to healing and hope, and train them comprehensively for godly living.

What will it mean, more positively, to unsheathe this sword? How can we draw it out into the open and let it shine and do its work, as we minister to and along with others? We know we must trust that by his Spirit, through his Word, God will accomplish his purposes without fail. Our trust must certainly be a respectful trust — like we have for a powerful weapon such as a sharp, two-edged sword that we'd better learn how to handle rightly. We have to learn how it works. For the Bible, that means learning how it speaks — in whole books, from Genesis to Revelation, and in distinct genres, from narrative to poetry to prophecy to apocalyptic. The penetration of the Word surely happens most deeply when we allow it to speak in the form in which it has been given to us, rather than dicing it up and extracting segments or bending it to our own purposes. Not only from the pulpit but in every area of church life and ministry we can aim to let the Word have its full say as we listen fully, not neglecting any part of all the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.

Do we think our youth need to learn about marriage and sex from a biblical perspective? Well, then, of course it is fine and good to have topical seminars and invite in expert speakers on the subject. But how crucial to address such issues in the context of a steady, purposeful teaching through the books of God's Word. Our youth will be better prepared through receiving not just answers to certain hard issues but a way of dealing biblically with hard issues, as we spread out the fabric of biblical thinking and see all the issues of our lives as threads in the Bible's story of redemption centered in Christ. If the Word is a dry set of propositions we have to enliven, then of course this will not work. If the Word is God speaking to us personally and powerfully, then of course this will not only work but will be our only reasonable course of action.

For women, it is good indeed to have studies and seminars on all sorts of topics related to sex and marriage and womanhood and roles of men and women in the church and on and on. But how crucial to be addressing these important topics also in the context of a steady, purposeful teaching through the books of God's Word. If that kind of teaching happens on every level of a church congregation, then we dense human beings (I address myself!) might begin to get it — to get the way the sword of the Word penetrates deeply into all of life. We will begin to understand the Bible's teaching about women and men as part of a whole story of God's redeeming a people for himself in Christ. We will understand Titus's instruction about older women teaching younger in the context of a unified epistle celebrating the necessary connection in the church between good doctrine and good works. We will take in the Word more comprehensively as we hear it prayed and taught and studied in the voices of not just pastors but also other men and women and children.


Excerpted from "Word-Filled Women's Ministry"
by .
Copyright © 2015 The Gospel Coalition.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Don Carson 11

Introduction 13

Part 1 The Heart of Women's Ministry

1 The Word at the Center: Hearing God Speak Kathleen Nielson 19

2 The Word on Women: Enjoying Distinction Claire Smith 40

3 The Word Passed On: Training New Leaders Carrie Sandom 64

Part 2 Contexts for Women's Ministry

4 The Local Church: Finding Where We Fit Cindy Cochrum 89

5 The World around Us: Practicing Evangelism Gloria Furman 113

6 The Ends of the Earth: Thinking Global Keri Folmar 133

Part 3 Issues in Women's Ministry

7 Older and Younger: Taking Titus Seriously Susan Hunt Kristie Anyabwile 157

8 Sexual Wholeness: Affirming Truth with Compassion Ellen Mary Dykas 178

9 Gifts and Giftedness: Finding the Place to Serve Kathleen Nielson Gloria Furman 201

Part 4 The End of Women's Ministry

10 Ultimate Goals: Heading for That Day Nancy Guthrie 227

Acknowledgments 245

Contributors 247

Notes 251

General Index 257

Scripture Index 259

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Out of both biblical conviction and years of experience, these women think seriously about discipleship, evangelism, intergenerational mentoring, and compassion. Their strength is evident, their commitment to Scripture robust, their joy in the gospel intoxicating, their anticipation of the consummation providing a lodestar to their lives and service. Although this is a book by women to foster “Word-filled women’s ministry,” much of it will be read with equal profit by men. I hope that some of those men will be pastors who in consequence reflect on what they can do encourage such ministry in their own churches.”
D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; cofounder, The Gospel Coalition

“Women’s ministry is ultimately not about women. Nor is it about programs. It’s about the glory of God and the health of his church. Word-Filled Women’s Ministry is a much-needed resource for both men and women to consider the necessity of ministry among women as well as the centrality of the Word for cultivating a church in which women flourish.”
Melissa Kruger, Women's Ministry Coordinator; Editor, The Gospel Coalition; author, The Envy of Eve and Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood

“There is no question that the women in your churches will be discipled. The only question is whether they will be discipled by the world or the Word. That’s why I’m so excited about Word-Filled Women’s Ministry. It’s more than a book. These contributors represent a movement of teachers guiding women to find hope and freedom and salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in his Word. I couldn’t more highly esteem these writers, and I pray that you will take up their charge to take up the Word.”
Collin Hansen, Editorial Director, The Gospel Coalition; author, Blind Spots

“Here is a book that focuses on the possibilities and not just the problems of ministry among women. It is written by women from a wide range of ministry contexts, but all with hearts that beat with a common gospel rhythm. Every chapter is grounded in Scripture and wonderfully practical. Women and men of the Word, read it and be encouraged by all the gospel possibilities.”
Jenny Salt, Dean of Students, Sydney Missionary and Bible College

“This is a significant subject that I have long been interested in, and the voices of my sisters in this book are as edifying as they are encouraging. Pastors, teachers, elders, and women’s ministry leaders alike will benefit from this Bible-based, gospel-centered, local church–focused work. I so resonate with their central thesis—“Profitable ministry among women is grounded in God’s Word, grows in the context of God’s people, and aims for the glory of Christ”—that I anticipate with joy the flourishing of this vision in the churches.”
J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

Word-Filled Women’s Ministry is written for the bustling daughters of Christ, who need God’s Word to train and sustain them in their various labors. It acknowledges the vast diversity of women’s ministries in different churches while calling them to a unified commitment to God’s Word. Women grow best as they learn from Scripture, first as it is preached to the gathered church and then as it is explored and explained in the company of other godly women. This book is an incentive to the latter, casting a vision for what can and ought to happen when the Bible takes its rightful place at the center of women’s ministry.”
Megan Hill, writer; speaker; pastor’s wife; author, Praying Together; contributor, The Gospel Coalition and CT Women; editorial board member, Christianity Today Magazine

“A marvelous resource for thoughtful Christians, male and female, who long to see the power of the gospel unleashed in their own lives, in the church, and throughout world.”
Colin S. Smith, Senior Pastor, The Orchard, Arlington Heights, Illinois

“Full of careful biblical teaching and many helpful applications, this book is an invaluable aid for all Christian women to think through their own ministry possibilities. But it is also a highly useful tool for pastors and elders to understand and then activate much-needed biblical opportunities for every ministry in the local church. I hope it will be on the must-read list of every church leader.”
David Jackman, Former President, Proclamation Trust, London, England

“Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson, along with a host of other talented writers, help us explore a vision-guided practice of our theology. Too often in church ministry, gender is received as a problem to be solved rather than as a beautiful gift from God to be explored. This book is a marvelous map to enjoy God, lead in God’s church, and explore God’s world, whether a woman is stepping into ministry for the first time or is a seasoned veteran.”
Daniel Montgomery, Lead Pastor, Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky; Founder, Sojourn Network; author, Faithmapping, PROOF, and Leadership Mosaic

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