Editor’s Note: Chrystie Cole is the Women’s Ministry Advisor at Grace Church in Greenville, SC. She has helped develop curriculum for the women of her church that seeks to focus on key areas women struggle with most. She talked with Courtney Reissig about how their women’s ministry functions in their church.
What is your role at your local church?
I am on staff as our Women’s Ministry Advisor. My role has two main functions. First, I advise our Campus Pastors on the implementation of women’s ministry on their campuses. Part of that job (and probably the most challenging aspect of it) is to champion the mission of our women’s ministry and be sure that each of our campuses are being true to our understanding of what God is leading our church to accomplish in developing the women of our congregation.
A second aspect of my role is to research and develop our women’s ministry discipleship resources. I help identify areas of struggle for our women and create catalytic resources that empower them to have effective conversations with one another. We want to equip women to follow Christ in all areas of their lives. To that end, we have created resources addressing the issues of role vs. identity, sex and sexuality, and body and body image. We feel that by helping women grow in these key areas of struggle they can become more effective, more powerful in their churches, homes, workplace, and communities.
At your church, what is your vision for women’s ministry?
Our vision for women’s ministry is women doing ministry. We’ve moved away from the traditional women’s Bible study paradigm. By and large, we found that it was not an effective way to help women grow in spiritual maturity. We’ve taken a more laser-focused approach – focusing instead on creating mature disciples.
We are not an event driven church. The responsibility entrusted to us by God is to help women look more like Christ. We want to help them be freed of the sins that so easily entangle and hinder them in their spiritual maturity so that they can be powerful, effective ministers of Christ. We want them to be intentional in their personal Bible study, growing in their particular areas of weakness, and then out serving in the church, in their communities, the schools, the prisons, and working alongside their neighbors.
In your curriculum, Biblical Femininity, you say you want women to be free from rigid constructs of womanhood. How have you seen this true in the women in your church as a result of this study?
The more I talk with women the more I see that we are the ones creating these boxes for ourselves and for one another. I remember a conversation I had with a young church leader who was struggling with the way other women in his church were treating his wife. She had a full-time job as a teacher, which meant that her children were in daycare during the day. But in this particular church, the women had created a false construct of femininity and held one another to those standards. In the eyes of these women, all women needed to stay home, home school their children, and make their own baby food. Their hyper-traditional view doesn’t allow for any expressions of femininity outside of their particular construct. But on the other end of the continuum, are women who believe that being a stay-at-home mom is a waste of your potential and something no well-educated woman would choose on her own. But this view doesn’t allow for varying expressions of femininity either. More often than not, I find that women create this rigid construct of femininity as a form of self-righteousness, as a way to believe they are doing it right, and to avoid having to trust Jesus.
Since we implemented this study, our women are more empowered to be who they are, to embrace their distinctiveness as individuals created in the image of God. They are also learning what it means to live faithfully in their season of life and life circumstances.
With all of the discussion surrounding women and calling these days, how does the paradigm you teach your women of calling, season, and individuality them navigate these waters?
We live in a highly narcissistic, self-actualizing society. Even within the western church, women tend to be focused on rights, justice, and personal freedom. While some of this mentality is a response to some of the false religious constructs imposed on women over the years, some of it is just our own sense of entitlement and desire for personal autonomy. I think the recent focus on a woman’s calling is dangerously close to falling into that trap.
We believe that a woman’s calling will be consistent with who God has made her to be, both as an individual and a woman. She is free to serve as a minister/deaconess and freely exercise her gifts within the ways scripture describes, but we do recognize that there are some unique roles and functions that are gender specific within the home and the church. If a woman believes God has placed a specific calling on her life we believe that will be confirmed or denied in the same way as a man – through the reading of scripture and prayer, and in the context of community – the local church is the proving ground for men and women. The scriptures are our standard, not our desires for self-actualization.
You talk a lot about the Hebrew word for helper (“ezer”). How do you hope to reclaim this word among your women as one of strength, not a caricature of a doormat?
Women are powerful. The corruptions of that power are very evident in today’s society – both inside and outside the church. We want to help women recognize the power they hold, as well as help them understand what it looks like to wield that power in a way that honors God and serves others in love. Women tend to corrupt this power in one of two ways: self-protection or self-promotion. Women who are more self-protective tend toward passivity and abdication – not being an active contributor or carrying any weight. But women who are more self-promoting tend toward domination – instead of bringing strength and their unique contribution, they try to control. We want to help women move off of that continuum altogether and learn to bring their strength alongside others in a way that helps others to flourish.
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