Blessing Women in Missions
Demonstrating their profound value and empowering them with strength for service.
Frontiers was founded by Greg and Sally Livingstone in 1984 for the exclusive purpose of sending teams to plant churches among Muslims. Each team is individually responsible for integrating women into the church-planting task. When my husband and I returned from the field in 1992, I started focusing my energies on the women with Frontiers. I came with three convictions based on personal experience:
- When I went out as a missionary, few people wanted to hear my story, not because I was not important, but because energy was focused on helping male team leaders succeed in ministry. I did not want the women in my organization to be overlooked.
- I wanted to mentor Frontiers women in both leadership and church-planting skills.
- I believed women were looking more for deep relationships rather than additional activities to attend.
Over time my convictions evolved into a philosophy of ministry, guided by principles and expressed through practices. This became for me a three-tiered pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the unchanging Word of God. Yet the rich diversity of God's Word can be used by any culture--and either gender--to extend the Kingdom of God. One clear way to demonstrate the vital role of women is through the study of how they have been used in Scripture. Scripture is an incredibly valuable manual--a best seller--on church planting and women's contributions to it.
The second level in the pyramid, after the Word of God, are the values which guide mission agencies in how they equip and care for their missionary women. Let me re-state that in Frontiers our focus is to have teams plant churches among Muslims, so everything I do for women is to help them be better at that. In other words, I do not value women more than I value men or children, but I do value their multi-faceted contributions to church planting among Muslims. I found during times of recruiting and mobilizing in the United States that people would ask if there was a place for women in our organization.
Doing Works Worth Valuing
Building on the Word of God, Frontiers' women have developed their mission "practices" only as they develop their core values.
I would answer, "Absolutely!" because Muslim women need women to reach out to them. Frontiers has found that Muslim women are frequently overlooked in mission strategies that focus on reaching heads of households. Women are separated and live in a very private world in most Muslim countries.
Unless Frontiers is very intentional about ministering to Muslim women, they will be overlooked. I believe one of my tasks is to help candidates see the importance of ministering to Muslim women, and that we expect them to find great joy in reaching out to these women. We are not as concerned with technique as we are about our posture--it should be one of compassion, love and friendship.
Our Value of Women's Ministries is Expressed in Our Vision for Them
In 1994 we asked Frontiers to adopt a purpose statement for women. We recognized that over the previous ten years our ministry had been developed by some hard-driving men. They earnestly hoped they would change the Muslim world in four years. The implicit advice to women at that time was for "us" to determine how much we wanted to get involved in ministry. There was no direction and no accountability. We needed a guiding principle for women. We proposed our statement in 1994 as follows:
"Frontiers will help serve and equip its women to be women of virtuous character who are actively encouraging and mentoring one another and who are effectively ministering to and for Muslim women." Our three values are:
- We value a woman's relationship with the Lord.
- We value a woman's relationship with other women in her organization/team.
- We value the ministries and relationships that she will develop over time with Muslim women.
The women in our organization liked these values because it gave them a standard to live up to. I realize this purpose statement doesn't say anything about a woman's value in the family, as a wife, or a mother. The reason all of these roles were not mentioned is two-fold: First, we have many single women. Second, a woman's relationship to her family is to be demonstrated through virtuous character. Her commitment to her family is grounded to her commitment to Jesus Christ.
The third layer of the pyramid are the practices. This layer is the visible layer--the layer we point to when others ask what Frontiers is doing. This is the most changing layer because practices are always changing. And yet this is the layer that most mission agencies focus on and that most of our women want to be advised on: What do I do when I go overseas? How should I do it? They do not yet realize how much thinking and reflection has gone before. Practices emerge from values which are based on Scripture.
Let me share with you four points of how we can bless our women in ministry:
- Blessing comes through focusing on a purpose.
- Blessing comes through looking at the lives of women in Scripture.
- Blessing comes in partnering in leadership.
- Blessing comes through relationships of friends and mentors.
A study on the word "blessing" in Scripture clearly reveals Who it is that does the blessing and why. God obviously is the Blessor. We should be careful not to lose sight of this. There is much talk today about ministry patterns and models. But for the concept of blessing, we must look in Scripture to find out why God blesses. In Psalms 67:7 it says, "God will bless us, that all the ends of the earth will fear him" (NIV). So, as God's representatives on earth, we bless as He Himself blesses. Mission agencies are to literally bless their women into blessing the nations.
Frontiers has begun to make deliberate efforts to bless their women. When I teach at candidate school, this is first and foremost on my mind. I want them to have compassion and commitment for this cause rather than their own happiness. Many married women in our organization struggle with knowing their role. Are they first a mother and wife or a minister of the Gospel? I encourage them to study and see what the Word has to say. In an article written by me for EMQ (Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 1997) titled "What the New Testament Taught Me About Models for Ministry" I began a study on family with I Timothy 5. The passage deals with how we are to value and care for our family. Then it talks about a widow who has lived her life of 60 years and has done everything from raising her children to being involved in all kinds of good deeds. I then point to Romans 16 where it talks about the hard-working woman. In Philippians 4 Paul mentions "the hard working women who labored at my side." This is not an either/or situation. It is the family and it is the church depending on where you are on the spectrum. If you are taking care of small children, I Timothy 5 says God values your work with the family. If you are working very hard in the church, God values that. The Word of God affirms both ministry to the family and for the church.
How to Bless Women in Missions
First we can bless our women by helping them focus on a task. God blesses us with purpose. Paul said in I Corinthians 9:23 "I do all this for the sake of the Gospel that I may share His blessings." If I could paraphrase: focus your women on the tasks and they will be blessed. One way I believe we can focus on the task is by studying our history. I highly recommend any of Ruth Tucker's books-- such as Private Lives of Pastor's Wives, Daughters of the Church and Guardians of the Great Commission. Dana Roberts wrote a book entitled American Women in Missions: A Social History of Their Theory and Thought. It is a phenomenal history book of women in missions. We find that the issues we face today are what women faced 100 years ago. Knowing our history as women is very important. We are being passed the baton and we need to pass this baton on!
The second way to bless women is to study how God loved and used women in the Scriptures. We encourage women to go to the Bible with ministry questions: What can I learn about God? About ministry? About the church? How can I apply that to Muslim women in my area? Can an all-women meeting be a church? Can we have elders in this all-women's gathering? What is that going to look like? When we integrate with the men, how will that look? Knowing the lives of women in Scripture is a good place to start. At candidate schools, I give a Bible test of 20 questions. I describe a woman in one sentence, and then ask the question, "Who am I?" Example: We worked side by side with Paul in establishing a church and he commended us for our hard work. Who are we? Euodia and Synthyche. They have always been held up to me as the women who caused problems in the church. Sad! These people totally miss the fact that Paul also commended them for their hard work.
The third way we can bless women is to partner with them in leadership. I have two reasons why I believe this blesses the organization. First, the charismata reason, or because the Holy Spirit is being poured out on all people, regardless of gender (Acts 2:18). The full use of spiritual gifts bestowed on men and women alike by the Holy Spirit glorifies God (1 Peter 4:11). I want Frontiers to glorify God.
Second is the complementary reason--because men and women are different they will always bring balance to leadership. In Genesis 1 when God tells the woman and the man to rule the earth and to fill it, we see that rulership and family is for both the woman and the man, these are not gender-exclusive domains. Nevertheless, each brings a unique strength to the mandate of family and ruling. There is a deep need for the mission organization to partner from the family level to the leadership level. We want leadership that balances the strengths of both men and women. Since women comprise over half of our mission organizations, we need their input and perspective at the top levels of leadership.
We also train the wives of our team leaders. Presently, Frontiers does not allow women to be team leaders. However, this has not stopped men from opening leadership opportunities for our women, nor has it stopped women from seeking the leadership skills necessary in so many of our church planting ministries. We recognize the Biblical injunction for older women to mentor the younger (Titus 2:3-5). But seldom do Christian organizations see that actually Paul gives this responsibility to Titus--a man and a church leader--to make sure this is happening. This is deliberate and intentional leadership by men and the leaders of any organization or church.
I train women for two reasons: First, to pass information; second, to build relationships. One difference in male relationships and female relationships was illustrated clearly when a ministry issue became a personal problem for three women at a training meeting. It took us three hours to discuss this. Staff males chuckled because it took us so long to solve one problem. But we don't want to relate to women in 15 minute segments. We desire relationships in which we can mentor and network together with other women. Wherever I live in the world, I always ask God to bring me new friends. I tell our women in candidate school that being able to make and maintain friends is one of the top ministry skills we can have. I'm surprised at how many women don't have close women friends, especially younger women in their 20's and early 30's. It is up to us older women to try to encourage them in their friendships with other women.
I enjoy mentoring because I am giving away ministry to other women. I look for opportunities to give other women ministry opportunities. If we are not training and mentoring younger women to take our place we are not doing our job.
Perhaps one of the most practical ways we in Frontiers bless women is through what we call "coaching." Team leaders select coaches they believe will hold them accountable for the team's spiritual growth as well as for their church planting tasks. Coaches make yearly visits to their teams and communicate regularly through E-mail. In the beginning of our history, Frontiers did not send out women coaches. Over time, as we saw that the woman's sense of well-being as well as her fruitful ministries were vital to effective church planting ministries, we began to train women to be coaches for our teams.
In conclusion we bless our women by:
- Focusing on a purpose. Point them back to the purpose of blessing all the earth.
- Studying the fertile soil of the Word of God.
- Partnering with them in leadership.
- Encouraging friendships and mentoring to take place in network structures.