An Open Letter to Pastors
On behalf of TGC leadership, I'm writing with the hope that you will encourage women in your churches to attend TGC's national women's conference next June in Orlando. We're excited about this inaugural women's conference and see it as an extension of what by God's grace is happening in many churches today, often directly through pastoral leadership. I know this because I've witnessed it. Three examples will illustrate:
1.) I recently taught a one-day women's seminar in Albuquerque, an event sponsored by a small church plant with a correspondingly small budget. The elders considered such an event important enough to be well funded. Women from several churches attended, along with a number of unchurched guests; fruitful connections were made during that day, as an extremely sharp group of women studied the Word and shared their own words. In the evening, I was invited to a dinner cooked by one of the elders (whose wife had coordinated the seminar) and attended by the pastor, who was enthusiastically interested in the day's happenings. The fellowship and conversation were lively and stimulating. I came away not just feeling uplifted myself but also having witnessed church leaders who concretely show respect and care for the women of their congregation.
2.) I'm hearing increasingly about lay training programs in local churches---some for men and women together, and some integrated with women's ministries, but almost all involving pastors in planning and leading. Leaders such as elders and deacons have traditionally received training. But it is encouraging to see more and more organized training for all kinds of lay teachers and leaders covering topics such as Bible overview, systematic and biblical theology, and effective Bible study and teaching.
During my family's years at College Church in Wheaton, senior pastor Kent Hughes not only preached faithful expositional sermons and led the younger pastors in doing so; he also created and oversaw through his pastoral staff two recurring classes: "Storyline of the Bible" and "How to Read and Study the Bible." The lovers and teachers of the Word nurtured through those classes are serving powerfully in that church today (reviving some of those same courses!); many have moved out to spread those riches across the nation and the globe. As the culture around us and even within evangelicalism shifts dramatically away from biblical thinking, how important it is to train all of God's people to know and speak the life-giving Word.
3.) Pastor-led organizations created to foster church health and growth are broadening their vision, as far as women are concerned. To clarify, the organizations to which I refer have not broadened or changed their clear commitment to the complementarian teaching of Scripture. Rather, they have broadened their ministry vision to build up more effectively the whole church, including women. Women are ready for such opportunities, and the church needs all that strong, biblically minded women can offer. I reported last spring on the first teaching workshop for women offered by the Charles Simeon Trust, which exists for the purpose of "promoting the growth of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world by training a new generation of biblical expositors." That workshop had a long waiting list of women with a heart to lead other women in study of the Bible. Another women's workshop is planned for next spring.
And of course there is The Gospel Coalition, which is developing a robust women's initiative wholly supported by its leaders. Both the Charles Simeon Trust's expansion and TGC's development of the women's initiative happened through men leaders who approached women, expressing a desire to expand these ministries and asking for help and participation. That order of events is hugely encouraging to the women involved. It's a joy and by now it seems natural, as it should, to see women's faces and voices embraced on the TGC website. It was great to see the women's seminars at last spring's TGC national conference smoothly enfolded into the schedule of events. We are excited about the women's conference planned for next June, in which Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper will participate---along with a host of women. I believe The Gospel Coalition, in concert with a multitude of biblically committed pastors and churches, is playing and will play a significant role in building up the whole church, by God's grace, according to the Word.
So my encouragement to you involves both appreciation and a request for support of next June's women's conference. It is important for women to spur each other on with the kind of teaching that will happen there. It is good for us to see the kind of ministry and growth happening in worlds similarly committed but different from our own. Voices in the surrounding culture regularly tell us "complementarian women" that we are oppressed in various ways, shut off from doing the work of the church. As a matter of fact, there is an overflowing abundance of opportunity for growth and work---more than any of us can get to! Becoming increasingly effective lovers and livers and speakers of the Word in every sphere of our lives is an invigorating calling for each one of us in God's family. Next June's conference will be full of women from around the world who embrace that calling with energy and thought. We hope this conference will bear fruit in encouraging and building up the church.
Thanks for listening! May the Lord encourage you as you encourage your congregations in the Lord.
Kathleen B. Nielson
Director of Women's Initiatives
The Gospel Coalition