How can complementarian churches mentor ministry gifts of women? The same way as for men

I saw this tweet the other day and thought it warranted an attempt at an answer:

I should say from the outset, I’m not sure my church does do this well particularly. But then, I’m not sure my church does ‘mentorship’ for blokes particularly well either. In fact, I’m not really sure we do ‘mentorship’ at all, at least not in any formal sort of way. We don’t have formal ‘pathways’ for anyone exactly.

We really don’t have a ‘bloke worth watching’ thing going on. We generally just have a church, with stuff to do in it and some people who show themselves faithful in character and service over time. They are the blokes who ultimately end up being looked at for eldership. For a whole host of reasons to do with the particulars of our ministry, it is high input and often high disappointment. It is slow going most the time and people who have been poured into think nothing of upping and leaving without so much as a wave goodbye. It is simply the ministry we have been given.

Faithfulness over the long haul is what our church values and it is often quickly tested. Some are in a huge hurry and are impatient in these things. Others simply cannot cope with the realities of the ministry here. They either don’t get on with the slowness of the work, cannot deal with the emotional reality of yet another person you poured into leaving or cannot cope with the realities of what any gospel ministry might entail in practice. But faithfulness both in character and to the work over the long haul is what is required. Those who exhibit these things are the ones to watch.

But because of the nature of what we are doing, we watch women and men in broadly the same way. We don’t have a defined pathway into eldership. I know this may be counted as heresy, but I wonder how healthy exactly that is anyway rather than simply looking at whoever is qualified and making them elders. But because of that unspecified route into eldership – we’re always looking for qualified men willing to do the role – we also look at women who are doing much the same sort of things as the blokes and seeking to utilise them in similar ways.

It is my hope that one day we will see discipleship between members of the church as the norm. The principle way I expect both men and women to utilise their bible handling skills, their teaching gifts and to fulfil the ‘one another’ commands is in discipling relationships with other church members. Wouldn’t it be great to hear that every member was in such a relationship, with one training the other who would go and do it with another again?

That means the blokes and the women one might be watching are those who are discipling others already. It means the ‘pathway’ (such as there is one) is to become a disciple-making disciple. Those who are faithful disciple-making disciples, who are exhibiting godly character, are those who will likely end up as your elders, deacons and whatever worker you might appoint role. Eldership, as we judge it, is best a recognition from the church that someone is doing eldering already. Women’s workers, as we judge it, is best a recognition from the church that someone is working to disciple women already.

Which brings me back to the question in the tweet. The answer lies in being a church of disciple-making disciples. The ‘mentorship’, if you want to call it that, is what I would call discipleship. It is meeting with other believers and reading the Bible with them, reading Christian books together, listening to one another and helping each other apply the scriptures of their everyday matters of life. Those relationships ought to be happening as much among women as among men. And those that are doing it are those you are most likely to appoint as elders, who are likely to preach for you apart from that, who might lead studies and home groups, who might lead men’s or women’s ministry meetings and all manner of things like that.

I don’t want to bat away the serious question of if your church has a pathway to these things, whether it has a similar pathway for women to exercise their gifts. But I wonder whether that is altogether backwards at any rate. Rather than the church having any sort of pathway, it seems to me men and women alike ought to be disciple-making disciples who are keen to reach the lost and teach the saved. If you know the gospel, you know more than the person who doesn’t. If you have known the gospel a year, you know more than the person who has known it a week. if we dispensed with all the business-cum-educational talk of pathways to progress and focused on the biblical concept of discipleship, it seems to me that is something men and women can do equally and is something that doesn’t require a formal pathway or form of progression setup by the church for anyone to do it. And it seems to me those that simply get their heads down and get stuck into doing discipleship are those for whom more formal ministry roles are likely to open.

So, without wishing to duck the question – because I sympathise with what I suspect lies behind it – my answer is that perhaps it is the wrong question altogether. Talk of ministry pathways is not how the Bible frames matters. Let us talk about discipleship. And such as you want a pathway, those who are engaged in actively reaching unbelievers and discipling other believers may well find that they are the ones who end up formally recognised by the church as being people who can oversee wider areas of ministry designed to reach the lost and grow believers. If everyone sees it as their role to disciple other believers, we shepherd each member of the church to exercise their gifts and ministry through the same means: by being a disciple who will disciple others.