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Equipping Women for Ministry

An interview with Sue Edwards, associate professor of educational ministries and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary

Tell us about your role at Dallas Theological Seminary.

I've been there full time about 10 years now. That's been a wild and crazy journey, something I never, ever expected. When I got my doctorate, I didn't ever think I would do this.

I teach, but I am a practitioner. I teach how-to courses: how to create ministries that are transformational, how to teach the Bible in Sunday school context, how to use resources that are not just lecture, that engage particularly younger audiences with a variety of methods. I teach "Women Teaching Women," which is a preaching course for women. In other words, how you prepare to teach the Scriptures. Pull truth out of Scripture and connect that with what women need to hear for the word to really transform them. And then I teach courses in adult ministry. It's a variety but all pretty practical.

What did you do before you taught seminary students?

I was living in Dallas, had a couple kids, and somebody said one day, "There's a good seminary down the way." I was teaching Bible at the time, so I knew I could be a better Bible teacher. So I went to seminary in the 80s and was one of the first women there. I never dreamed that I would ever be–oh my goodness–teaching there.

I spent about 30 years in the trenches, as a minister. I was a pastor to women in a large church. My heart has always been working with women. I didn't grow up in a Christian home; I came to Christ in my mid-twenties, through women's Bible study. I was an absolute wreck, a mess, and women came alongside and mentored me for about 15 years. I know the power of women in other women's lives. I think you're naturally drawn to what you see can really make so much difference. I wanted to give that gift to others.

What are the most important things you want to accomplish in helping prepare women and men for ministry?

First of all, I want to help them understand the grace of God and to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, really walk tight with Jesus, get what it means to be dependent on the Lord. That you do ministry with Jesus. There's nothing more important than that. Then I want to give them tools to help them create ministries that really change people's lives. Learning is so much more than just getting information in your head and vomiting out a bunch of facts. It's changing your life so you can then lead well to change other people.

What do women in seminary most need to know about church ministry?

They need to know to really depend on God. We need to help them learn how to walk people through change and conflict. We have to help people in their relational skills, help people know how to lead well. And about shared leadership, how to do leadership with others and really empower them so we create authentic community where real issues are being dealt with and we're not playing church, which is a lot of what we see today. I think that's what they would get in my classes. We've got to be real about things that are going on, create an ethos of honesty. Too many churches are just creating people who are legalistic, playing the game. I'm trying to help people move away from that.

You co-wrote a book called Mixed Ministry, about men and women doing ministry together. What do men and women need to do to work better together?

The struggle that keeps a lot of women out of ministry, to be able to serve alongside brothers, is that we have walls that are so high because of sexual fears. So many men have been taught by other men to just be afraid of women, that women are the enemy, women are temptresses. So we don't have a community as a result. Sixty percent of people in our churches, and the majority of people doing ministry are women–and overseas it's more–and yet we have this huge wall dividing us when we are called to work together as brothers and sisters. The whole picture in the Bible is family. We are family. So the book tries to say, "Look, we want you to see these men as your brothers. We want men to see us as sisters, not as sexual objects."

I've had students read this book in my elective courses, come in and say, "Oh my goodness, I see that I need to change the way I think about women." But our whole culture, everything in it, is giving us a different message. Yes, we have to have wisdom, so half the book is really about lowering the walls, working together, changing how we see each other and how we think. The second half is having wise walls–but you can't make rules about this.

Why do we all have to have these huge boundaries? What it does is close doors for women: can't serve, can't be hired on staff, can't use their gifts. We shut down 60 percent of our gifts, our labor force, out of fear because they're women, and Satan is just doing the happy dance.

Guys will go, "I'm fine, I don't need this book." A lot of them will not even talk about it. I have them read the book, and I think it's eye-opening for an awful lot of them, trying to create a different kind of thinking toward women, a healthy thinking. The biggest boundary is health within my own soul, my own mind toward others. And if that's there, then I can work with anybody and I can even go in a room and close the door. We need to see each other as sacred siblings, as brothers and sisters.

You've also created a new Bible study series for women. What's that about?

It's called the Discover Together series. My conviction is that women need to get into the word for themselves. It's not a commentary that I wrote of what I learned, but it's questions and just enough information that women can actually get into the word for themselves. I have little QR codes that you can scan to watch short, one- to three-minute videos that complement something in the lesson. I want real teachers to teach and I want it to be more discussion and conversational. And then I have a website, where women can do a study together, one lesson every week.

I hear you're also working on a book about older women mentoring younger women. Can you share an insight from that project?

The name of the book is Organic Mentoring: A Mentor's Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women. It's scheduled for release in July 2014. I'm writing with Barbara Neumann, who did her doctoral research interviewing younger women about what didn't work with mentoring relationships. The kind of mentoring that my generation is comfortable with is very formal: it needs to be every week, we choose you by matching you up with interests, we study something together because we as mentors don't feel like we've done our job unless we teach you the Bible.

What we found was this: Women said, "We want biblical truth, but what we are searching for is for you to help us, journey with us. Help us apply truth from Scripture to our own lives, but help us process it and figure it out for ourselves. And we don't have to meet every week, and it doesn't have to look a certain way, and we don't need you to be the Bible answer woman or the woman on high who tells us what to do and tries to mold us into another you. We're looking for something very different."

The exciting thing is that the reasons our generation says we can't mentor–too much time commitment, I don't know enough about the Bible, I've made mistakes in my life–are the things younger women don't want anyway. So we're hoping to encourage an army of older women to get in there and walk beside younger women who are hungry, who are wide open, but not with the style or approach that my generation assumes is best because that's the way we were mentored.

To learn more about Sue's new Discover Together Bible study series, see DiscoverTogetherSeries.com.

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