Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series of posts about the shepherdess ministry in the local church. To read part one, click here.

I remember one of the first times I helped someone journey through the pain, suffering, and shame that is associated with abuse. What happened to my sweet, young friend was awful—but as common as abuse is, her experience was unique to her. So, I did everything I could think of to prepare in order to help her. I read books. I looked up articles. I sought the wisdom of those who had spent way more time counseling the victims of this dreadful sin than I. And yet, when it came time to actually speak with her, the Lord ever so gently redirected me back to His all sufficient word. The passages the Holy Spirit brought to my mind did not deal directly with abuse, however God’s words did not go out to my friend and come back void. His word did all He intended it to do (Isa. 55:11).

Recently, I heard Nancy Guthrie speak at a conference. She said she was on a mission to bring the Bible back to Bible Study. Similarly, I am on a mission to bring Scripture back to one another care. Suffering originated in the Fall, so all of life’s problems from that point forward are, at their root, matters which highlight our broken relationship with God.[1]

Scripture Shapes One Another Care

Caregiving in the context of the local church is the personal ministry of the word. It is bringing God’s truth, God’s promises, and God’s commands to bear on life’s problems (2 Pet. 1:3). It is God’s word that compels the Christian walk. It is knowing Him and His ways that propels us on the path that He ordains. But what exactly does that look like for a caregiver?

Well, the responsibilities of a woman in the church who helps women in crisis can be found in the passages Paul wrote to Timothy regarding the office of elder. I just made a bunch of you itchy by associating women helpers in the church with the office gifts, didn’t I? Bear with me a moment…

There are numerous commands in the New Testament for both men and women in the church to “imitate their leaders” (2 Thess. 3:7, 9; Phil. 3:17, 4:9; 1 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3). Paul articulates the standards of godliness for a leader, and then the body is called to follow their way of life. Women don’t reproduce these standards for the purpose of qualifying for an authoritative office. Rather we do so to grow in godliness. Godliness is a universal calling. Therefore, it is right for women who desire to help other women to aspire to live according to the guidelines Scripture articulates for church leaders, and then mirror and teach these same principles to those they serve.

So, back to the specific duties…

Paul tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:1-2 to be prepared to “preach”[2] both in season and out of season.

To preach simply means to share the gospel (i.e. the Word of God) in care for one another. The Word of God is the primary authority in counsel, so women who help others should faithfully and consistently learn how to “proclaim the word” in-season and out-of-season. Preparation involves spending time getting to know, love, and comprehend God’s Word.

Be Prepared through the Word

Further, Paul instructs Timothy by saying, whether or not he is scheduled to preach; he must be prepared. People will be easily led away from sound teaching, so Timothy must be ready to redirect God’s children back to the word.

When the caregiving ministry at our church was in its infancy stage, there were several women serving who had not yet been assigned to a case. These women felt like they were not participating in a meaningful way and wondered what they should be doing. What Paul is telling us is that there is never a time when a participant in a caregiving ministry is not actually doing something. This includes ladies who are actively involved in an official caregiving ministry, ladies inactive in a caregiving ministry, and ladies who have no official caregiving ministry at all. Like Timothy, we all await an assignment. When crisis appears, God will strategical place us on the frontline of caregiving. Our responsibility in those assignments will be to turn sufferers away from their circumstances and toward God through His word. Proficiency is imperative.

It’s important to remember, however, that words without action are dead (James 1:23-25). In part three of this series I want to help you recognize that preparing to caregive is accomplished in both word and in deed.

In the meantime, think about the qualities of a leader in 2 Timothy 3. Who has influenced you on your journey? Consider writing them a note and share the specific characteristic you saw in them that inspired you.

[1] Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I love my brothers and sisters who serve as physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors and I am indebted to their wisdom and expertise. But I am confident that the church is equipped to serve troubled souls (either because of their sin or their suffering) at a spiritual level regardless of their medical/mental care needs. In my perspective, shepherding is a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” type of ministry as it relates to medical care.

[2] If you also feel a bit itchy about the word “preach,” remember that all of God’s children are called to proclaim openly what God has done—which is the actual meaning of the word “preach” (kay-roos) in Greek.

About the Author:

Ann Maree Goudzwaard

Ann Maree Goudzwaard serves at her home church, Christ Covenant in Matthews, NC, counseling those in need and training in one another care. She is the co-author of Help[H]er, A Churchwide Response for Women in Crisis. Ann Maree is a biblical counselor, has an MDiv with a counseling emphasis from RTS Charlotte, and is a DMin candidate. She is married to Bob, mother of three, and grandmother to eleven.