Several women in our church are about to take up some theological training, which is exciting. Including me, we have five men in membership who have been through bible colleges or theological training of one sort of another. The latest group of women about to undertake some theological training will put the number of women who have done the same to about the same. Which is very encouraging, isn’t it?
I can’t think of many good reasons I would not want my people to be theologically trained. Surely, that is what we are all aiming for in our churches. Aren’t we all hoping our people will understand the Word and be able to handle it effectively so that they can teach it to others? Our church vision begins by saying we are a church of disciples who make disciples by allowing God’s Word to do God’s work by God’s Spirit. If we are expecting our members to be disciple-makers, then we need to equip them for that task.
We, naturally, do as much of that training as we are able in the church. We have various ways and means of doing it. But which of us would say to the person who want to read and handle the Bible better by going through theological training that we don’t think they should? Whilst I can think of a few occasions I might caution against it for some, there are very few instances I can see that happening.
The same is true for our women. We want to train our women to handle the bible as well as they are able so that they can most effectively teach and disciple others. And, as I judge it, the more people who are able to ask the right questions of scripture, and ask the right questions of application, the better as far as I am concerned. We want the church to handle as much of that as possible, but I have no reason to want to limit any of our women on this front. That is neither to their advantage nor to the church’s advantage.
These things are not rocket science, but they probably do bear saying. You don’t need to be an egalitarian or fear you are on the slippery slope to evanjellycalism to see the point. Yes, eldership and the main teaching in the weekly gathering is going to be restricted to qualified men because it is what the Bible says. But the vast majority of teaching that will go on is not going to come from the pulpit. It is going to come from ordinary members, to ordinary members, as they meet together and chew over the things they hear in church, the things they have read in the word and the things they have engaged with in books and online. Whether you like it or not, your people will be teaching each other. When you recognise that, do you really think it is credible to suggest that certain people in your church do not really need proper, rigorous, theological training? Which of your people doesn’t need this? They are going to teach and disciple each other on some level whether you like it or not. Wouldn’t you rather they did that well and handled the scriptures well?
Some might argue that that women won’t be preaching in your church on Sunday morning so don’t need so much theology? But, who do you think are going to be meeting with the majority of other women in your church? Who do you think are most likely to be discussing theology together (and, it’s worth remembering, everything is ultimately theological) whilst meeting up for coffee in the week? Who do you think – it doesn’t always have to be, it just often is – are most likely to be teaching your children in the church? If you don’t care about what they say, then yes, not concerning yourself with proper theological training is fine. If you don’t care what the children are taught, and have no concern at all about how the women in you church apply the Bible into one another’s lives, then sure – theological training might be a waste of time. But if that is your view, you probably shouldn’t be in pastoral ministry. For those who care about what the flock given to their care are taught, who care whether they grow, who care whether they actually understand the scriptures, you are a colossal fool if you think ignoring the women in your church – and implying they don’t need as much robust or in-depth theology as the men – will go any way towards helping that.
Others aren’t so much ignoring their women as terrified they might get ideas above their station and want to teach inappropriately. If we train them, maybe they’ll want to start preaching where they shouldn’t! Best just not to give them anything too significant. The problem with this mode of thinking is, as above, it means you don’t train your women properly and you don’t end up utilising their gifts properly either. I hate to break it to you lads, but a lot of women can do more than put the kettle on and make the food for shared lunches. I hate to shatter any further illusions, but some women aren’t very good at making the food and would do well to get their husbands to do it! At the risk of really blowing your mind, some women are very clearly gifted to teach too. We do not help them or the church by denying this and pretending they can do without anything too meaty just in case it encourages them. The answer is not to deny basic reality, it is to encourage them to use those gifts to the best of their ability in the areas scripture calls them to do so. If we are going to do that, we are going to want to train them in it.
As for ideas above their station (whatever that might mean), or fear that training women might make them hanker for eldership or something, the answer is pretty simple. If you are training them to read the Bible properly, they won’t. If you are training them to handle the scriptures rightly, then they will handle the scriptures rightly. And those who handle the scriptures rightly don’t start demanding things that the scriptures tell them not to do. Just as we don’t expect training pastors to handle the scriptures properly won’t suddenly lead them to do all manner of things the Bible tells them not to do, so there is no reason to think that training women would lead them to do that either. If anything, the better we train our people, the more likely they are to actually do what the Bible says because they will read it properly. Training our people is likely to help them understand scripture better, to handle it better and, if you have any confidence whatsoever in your own doctrine, makes them more likely to support what is plainly taught in scripture.
There is, of course, no little matter of the Holy Spirit dwelling within believers too. He helps them understand the Word and – just as importantly – to be doers of it too. Let’s not underestimate God’s power to use his Word to accomplish what he wants it to do. Let’s similarly not underestimate the Spirit’s power to keep his people doing the things he wants them to do and to keep them from the things he does not want them to do. If he also works through his Word, it seems unlikely that training our people and putting them further into the Word, knowing that the Holy Spirit is dwelling within them, that they will suddenly turn round and deny Bible doctrine as a result. This seems to be an irrational fear and one that flies in the face of the very doctrine we claim to believe. Training our people won’t give them unbiblical ideas, it will help them understand and follow what is biblical.
So, it seems to me the proverbial no-brainer. Why would we not want our people well trained? Of course, our church already provides teaching through Sunday sermons, theology breakfasts, midweek meetings as well as men and women’s groups. These are great places to get grounded in God’s Word. But giving people further training in how to handle the Word and how to apply it to the people in our community, I can see no reason we wouldn’t want to do that for our men and women alike. After all, most the discipleship will not come from the pulpit, but through ordinary members one to another. If we care about what our people will hear when we’re not there, we should care about training those who are likely to be teaching and discipling the others in all the different times and places we won’t be. Which is to say, why on earth would we not want our women trained to the same extent as our men?