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A previous post answered the question of why a church should have a women’s ministry. Now the question is: what should a women’s ministry do?

A pragmatic answer can fill every woman’s calendar with an endless list of tasks, but a task-driven ministry lacks gospel passion and power. Tasks become wearisome and divisive when the task-doers begin to resent the non-doers. We find a biblical answer in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. In his first letter, he states his purpose:

I am writing these things to you so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim. 3:14-15).

Paul is not suggesting self-generated good behavior. His magnificent descriptors of the nature of the church focus on our new status—we have been adopted in Christ into the household of God. Then he makes it even clearer that he is talking about a humanly impossible code of conduct.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness (v. 16).

Godliness is a mystery because it is gospel-generated. It is inspired, motivated, and empowered by grace, not by guilt. It springs from a redeemed heart that is being transformed by God’s Word and Spirit, so Paul becomes doxological about the Source of godliness.

He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (v. 16).

These letters tell us ways God’s family is to “behave” as we live out the marvelous mystery of godliness so that our community life reflects our redemption. Not all of Paul’s directives are gender-specific, but the five passages that specifically mention women give principles to guide us as individuals, and collectively as women in the church, about our covenant privileges and responsibilities in God’s household.

(1) 1 Timothy 2:9-15 Ecclesiastical submission

(2) 1 Timothy 3:11 Compassion

(3) 1 Timothy 5:1-16 Community

(4) Titus 2:3-5 Gender-specific discipleship

(5) 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 14-16 Scripture

It is stunningly significant that these principles correlate with God’s creation design (helper) and redemptive calling (life-giver) of women given in Genesis 1-3. What He designed and redeemed us to be is what we are to do in His church.

Ecclesiastical submission means that a women’s ministry (as well as all ministries in the church) should be under the protection and oversight of the elders. Women have a unique capacity to help cultivate a culture of covenant compassion and community in God’s family. Gender-specific discipleship trains women to understand biblical submission, compassion, and community and to pray for grace to live out these gospel imperatives. And everything we do is grounded upon and flows out of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

The beautiful interdependence and symmetry of this framework will help to connect all the parts of a women’s ministry so there is unity of purpose and plan. It also connects the women’s ministry to the entire ministry of the church so there is cooperation, support, and unity between the various ministries. And, it connects women’s hearts to the gospel.

This is not a formula. It is not five-easy-steps to a fantastic women’s ministry. This is a life-giving, biblically principled approach that gives over-arching guidelines for everything we do in women’s ministry. Make a mental list of what your women’s ministry does. It is likely that everything on your list falls under one or more of these categories. One responsibility of leadership is to make the connection between this theological framework and everything our women’s ministry does so women know why we do what we do.

The following questions can help a leadership team use these principles to pray for, plan, and promote every study, event, project, and activity.

Why are we doing this? What is our purpose?

How is our purpose connected to these principles?

How will we communicate our purpose so women know why we do what we do?

How will women be inspired and equipped to celebrate our union with Christ and to live out the mystery of godliness as women in God’s church?

Will what we do, and how we do it, be life-giving or life-taking in our church?

My sisters, may the marvel of our mystical union with Jesus unite our hearts and hands so we gratefully and joyfully live out the mystery of godliness as life-givers in our covenant family.

(For more explanation and application of the five principles, as well as more planning questions, see Women’s Ministry in the Local Church.)