‘I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8).When the prophet Isaiah encounters the glorious holiness of the Lord, he is humbled, aware of his complete sinfulness. But God cleanses Isaiah and calls him to take the Lord’s message to the nation of Israel, and promises to bring men and women into his kingdom as a result. The same is true of Christian women who respond to God’s call to serve him in their family and community, in the UK or overseas.
We need to know deeply the holiness of God; be aware of our own sinfulness; be completely dependent on the work of Christ for cleansing; and be ready to respond to God’s call to take the gospel to all people, confident that he will use us to build his church.
But what can I do? What should I be doing? What roles in church and mission are biblically open to me? Christian women have asked these questions over the last 50 years, as women’s roles and opportunities in society have changed and grown.
As a Christian student from 1984-1989 and UCCF staff-worker from 1991-1994, I was involved in discussions about the role of women in the church. In 1987 the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) was formed, and they published their response from a biblical standpoint to the big questions of gender-based role differences in society and the church.
The CBMW held to the complementarian position explained in the Danvers statement on biblical manhood and womanhood (http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-danvers-statement). Whether to be egalitarian or complementarian was a hot topic for evangelicals in the early 1990s. Did the Bible permit women to preach and teach publically in a mixed church gathering?
As I pored over John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s book Recovering biblical manhood and womanhood — a response to evangelical feminism (Crossway, 1991), I was convinced of the complementarian view that did not permit women to be pastor/teachers or elders in the local church (Women in ministry statement, FIEC 2012; https://fiec.org.uk/resources/article/women-in-ministry-statement), but also I was challenged, excited and encouraged by the many ministry roles that are open to women.
Cindy Cochrum writes: ‘In complementarian circles, when we’re clear about the few things God has not called women to do, God’s people can pursue wholeheartedly the support and encouragement of the countless things women can do’ (Word-filled women’s ministry: loving and serving the church, Gloria Furman and Kathleen B. Nielson; Crossway, 2015, p.110).
To enthuse you with these ‘countless things women can do’, let me introduce you to some Christian women I know (names changed). I hope their lives will spur you on to love and good deeds, as you think through how you can serve the Lord each day.
Pam has a responsible job in NHS management and is well respected. She is married, with three children, and has sought to balance her family’s needs alongside her career. In church she has a wealth of experience in children’s work and is able to ensure that her work commitments are managed so she can still lead the children’s outreach club at church.
On Friday evenings, she leaves work promptly to ensure she is at church to lead the youth group, but her focus on the club has begun much earlier in the week, with persistent prayer, thoughtful planning and practical preparation.
Deborah has taught Sunday school for 25 years. The children love her and she knows them by name, knows their families and prays for them faithfully. Deborah expresses the awesome responsibility she believes God has called her to: to teach young children God’s precious Word, supporting the work of Christian parents and reaching out with the gospel to children from homes where God is not honoured.
Janet is a grandmother. Forty years ago, she was a young mother with four lively boys under the age of five. In the late 1970s there wasn’t a church parent and toddler group to attend. Janet’s boys now have children of their own and Janet sees the benefit of mums and carers being able to get along to the church-run toddler group.
Janet has served faithfully over the 30 years of her church’s toddler group, thinking of craft activities that illustrate the Bible story told to the children each week. Janet prays for many she has befriended at the toddler group and keeps in touch with them. She takes the long view, trusting the Lord to work in the lives of parents and children.
Discipling younger women
Jill is in her 40s, married, with two children. She has responded to the request for older women to disciple younger women, as outlined in Titus 2. She doesn’t feel ‘older’ or particularly mature, but meets with Sandra, a young mum who at times is overwhelmed with the demands of mothering lively boys and whose husband works long hours. They meet to pray and study the Bible, and Sandra is inspired by Jill’s quiet confidence and trust in the Lord.
Sylvia and her husband have struggled to conceive and Sylvia has suffered two miscarriages, which have added to their sorrow. Sylvia doesn’t hide away, but she meets with Margaret to do a one-to-one Bible study, and encourages Margaret to work through her questions regarding serving the Lord overseas.
Natasha is a younger lady who enjoys craft. She has set up a craft club at church, as a means of connecting with ladies in the local community. It is hard going; sometimes numbers are small. Nevertheless, Natasha is facilitating this group, recognising that many women in her community enjoy an evening out, and all have spiritual needs whether they acknowledge them or not. Natasha seeks to take every opportunity to talk about the Lord and invites the ladies to evangelistic events at the church.
Heather hasn’t had an easy life. She became a Christian after her husband left her and has brought up her children as a single mum. She sometimes gets depressed. She describes herself as ‘ordinary’, but to many she is a treasured friend. She is a quiet encourager. She asks questions, empathises with other women and prays for them.
Ann would say she doesn’t do much in the church, but she is regularly at the prayer meeting and clearly her prayers reflect her private times with the Lord. She prays for young and old, believers and those not yet believers, church ministries, those in leadership and those on the mission field. She is a prayer warrior.
Sandra watches the news. She likes current affairs, but she always looks at things from a spiritual and theological point of view. The local MP knows her name. She writes emails and lobbies government, wanting to see Christian morals upheld and our freedoms protected.
Mission trustees board
Rachel is working in human resources and has expertise to share on employment practices. She has recently joined the trust board of a mission society. The other trustees are so thankful for her up-to-date knowledge and insight, as she offers invaluable advice.
Charlotte is in her 30s. She is a paid women’s worker at her church. She works hard in pastoral work with students, young mums and older ladies. She is a gifted communicator and mobilises others. Often she is asked to use her administrative and organisational gifts to kick-start new initiatives. Charlotte has a vision to see women equipping other women, in the home, in the community, and in the workplace.
Many other women come to mind as I think of those serving in church life. Simone, a sensitive musician happily enabling worship; Clare, a qualified accountant running a Christians Against Poverty course; Honor, who loves cooking and bakes for the community café run by the church; Catherine, a UCCF staff worker; Michelle, who gives hospitality; Sophie, who is a biblical counsellor.
Women reach out naturally to other women as part of everyday life. Women generally are looking for ways to build friendship and share interests. Women can build relationships with women that would not be appropriate for men.
At our church we have an English language school, ‘Bridges’. Records show that, since 2008, 723 students from 49 countries have come to the language school — in some of those countries it would be difficult to speak openly about the Lord.
As is it a daytime provision, it is predominately women who are students and it is largely staffed by women. What we see in Reading is mirrored in many communities across the UK. World mission has come to our doorstep in the last 50 years.
Historically, women who have been called to serve the Lord cross-culturally have gone overseas. In UFM Worldwide, 90 of our 180 missionaries are women. They are committed to student work, medical work, children’s outreach, mercy ministries, IT ministry, and both established and pioneering church work.
Sixty women serve alongside their husbands; 30 are single. We only have two single men currently serving with us, and it is hard to say why proportionately more women than men are serving overseas.
It is my privilege to see the spiritual depth of these women. Opportunities abound and we need to be praying that the Lord of the harvest will challenge and equip more women to fulfill his calling to take the gospel to all nations.
The unreached women of the world need to be reached and, in some contexts, it is only women who can reach them. Mission Frontiers states: ‘While there is an increasing number of Muslim women pursuing studies and employment, the majority remain isolated from outside contact and hidden within their homes … Particularly, being separated from male contact, the mobilisation of women missionaries is vital’ (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/women-missionaries-hold-key-to-reaching-muslim-communities). Muslim women, both in the UK and overseas, need Christian women to befriend and share Christ with them.
No woman willing to serve the Lord should feel under-utilised in the church at home or overseas. I have only given a flavour of how women can use their gifts and skills. If you have a ‘here I am, send me’ attitude for service, doors will open and you will have the joy of serving the Lord, in accordance with his Word, at home or oversees.
In our culture much emphasis is placed on being a woman of outward beauty. The qualification we need to serve the Lord is beauty of the heart; the kind of heart described in Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘O for a heart to praise my God’: one that is humble, full of love, tender to the needs of others, a copy of the Lord Jesus’ heart. It then follows that we will have not only a beautiful heart but also beautiful feet.
‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God reigns!’ (Isaiah 52:7).
Elinor Magowan is UFM women’s pastoral worker and wife of David, co-pastor at Carey Baptist Church, Reading