Last year, I noticed that—like many writers in the Christian blogosphere—I spent a lot of time analyzing and criticizing the things I was against. I was reacting to things I was seeing more than proactively putting forward ideas I wanted to support. Finally, I asked myself, “What am I for?” I want my focus in life and ministry to be more than the sum of my disgruntlements.
I know what I am for when I am not distracted by the things I am against. I am for understanding how the gospel changes everything, and I am particularly burdened to see that understanding grow among my sisters in Christ. I want to understand who God made me to be and how Christ has made a way for me to live once more in that identity. I want to understand how each book of the Bible puts forward the story of Jesus so that, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, my heart will burn within me with the power of those truths, believing that those truths will empower me daily.
As I answered this question for myself, I realized how many men and women, like me, are burdened for gospel-focused holistic discipleship of women.
While women’s ministry looks different today than it did decades ago, the church still focuses much of its programming for women based on their life stages or roles in the church or home. Holistic discipleship, though, addresses the whole woman as image bearer of God. It transcends age or other factors of our identity. Without minimizing the specific needs of women at certain stages of life, it emphasizes the virtues that apply equally to the unmarried woman in college, the older single in the workplace, the young mom of multiple toddlers, and the grandmother in her 70s.
Like holistic medicine, which considers the body as a whole, holistic discipleship recognizes that while all believers need overarching biblical truths, some need discipleship that focuses on a particular area of need. One size does not fit all. Therefore, holistic discipleship can’t happen through institutions alone. True discipleship, as Jesus demonstrated with his twelve, is born out of personal relationship.
In my own life, particularly as a mom of young toddlers, I benefitted greatly from spiritual wisdom from women at other stages of life. Single friends wrestling to find their joy and satisfaction in God himself pointed me to the same thing I needed with small kids to find joy in the mundane. Older women who had suffered and endured much in life spoke into my experience with young children as they also called me to see a bigger picture for my life and that of my children.
Through each, I realized that the things that sustained me at a particular stage of life were the same things that sustain us all regardless of roles in life, pressing into the Holy Spirit and the Word to know God and rest in his promises. I benefit greatly when those writing about motherhood or singleness don't write in such a way that the final focus is motherhood or singleness but the Savior we share regardless of circumstances.
This kind of holistic discipleship among women of all ages is best lived out in the local church, but we online can support those efforts. We can equip and help male and female leaders alike to promote the discipleship of women. Last year, I joined up with some likeminded Christians to create a resource online that would call others to value and invest in the discipleship of women in their churches. Our new site, The Gospel-Centered Woman, encourages leaders that their communities will be blessed when they proactively seek to equip women to live out their giftedness as image bearers of God.
When the site launched a few months ago, our debut post came from Washington-based pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, underscoring part of our message to church leaders as he exhorted fellow pastors to value and proactively disciple older women in their congregations, an often neglected resource in the church. He wrote:
I’ve come to believe that the most neglected aspect of a pastor’s job description is the command for pastors to disciple older women in their congregations. It’s a massive omission since in nearly every church women make up at least half the membership and in many cases much more. And when you consider how many ministries and committees depend upon the genius, generosity and sweat of our sisters, it’s almost criminal that most any pastor you meet has no plan for discipling the women of his church apart from outsourcing to a women’s ministry staff person or committee.
The Gospel-Centered Woman has gone on to address gospel-centered living, marriage, and the good news as revealed in the Old Testament. There are many more resources that need to be gathered, but we hope to be a resource for leaders who seek to grow and equip women in their congregations to live out their giftedness as image bearers of God.
Though the Bible doesn't give exact methods for such discipleship, it does give us glimpses of the results in Mary of Bethany, Phoebe, Priscilla, Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, Lois, and Eunice.
When we see these types of women rising up in our congregations, humbly but confidently speaking into and serving the lives around them, we will know that we have begun to do this as Paul exhorts of pastors particularly with women and as Jesus himself modeled for us.
Wendy Alsup is an author and math teacher living in Seattle, Washington. She has written The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel and Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in our Daily Lives. She blogs at theologyforwomen.org.