How can we train women better for ministry? - part 2
As we continue to look into what it means to train women better for ministry, lets explore the issue of diversity.
Training tailored to women in their diversity
The uniqueness of Priscilla and Flourish isn’t limited to their recognition of the difference between women and men, or between women’s ministry and men’s ministry. Both courses are designed for women in their diversity from one another. Of course, that must be reflected by the range of people teaching, in background, experience, interests, personality and skills. It must also be reflected in any course’s expectations of its students.
Linda reflected that there are (and especially in London and the university towns) plenty of women who would consider themselves capable of doing any sort of theological training. But there are also many women who, as Linda said, have ‘lost confidence in their own ability’ (perhaps because they are older and are less well-educated), and are therefore unlikely to feel empowered to go to theological college. And yet they have a huge heart for ministry. For women in this second group, Flourish serves as a stepping stone – an accessible way of working out whether theological study suits them.
The same is true of Priscilla. A number of students, Ros told me, come to Priscilla with a lot of anxiety about whether they can manage the course. But when they finish, these women have a whole new confidence – and they are out evangelising and they are starting Sunday schools and they are taking on all kinds of things which, in the past, they would have thought beyond them.
That is not to say that either Flourish or Priscilla is only for women with less confidence in their abilities or about their suitedness for ministry. But both programmes provide a vital place where women who need more encouragement can find it.
Does my admiration for Priscilla and for Flourish mean that I would dispense with bible colleges or with ministry training courses?
Definitely not. For one thing, it would be both hypocritical and ungrateful! I owe a great deal to Oak Hill for my own training. I am immensely thankful for all that I learned through formal study and through being part of the college community. Similarly, after five years of engaging with ministry trainees at 9:38 conferences, I am firmly persuaded of the value of ministry training courses. None of them are perfect – any more than Flourish or Priscilla are – but they still have so much to offer.
But – and perhaps more significantly – it would be a tad ironic for me, with one breath, to praise the diversity of Flourish and Priscilla and then, with the next, to suggest that all courses and programmes be remade in their likeness. We need diversity of courses as much as we need each course to ensure its diversity of people, format, content and expected next steps.
Instead, I would like this post to be a reminder that training can come in different shapes and sizes – just as women and churches can. That does not mean that we should use courses like Priscilla and Flourish to get cheaper training for women when they (not to mention the church) would benefit from their spending three years at bible college. Nor does it mean that churches should not be developing in-house training programmes for the women in their congregations. But where Flourish and Priscilla are the most appropriate option, let’s take advantage of them. Let’s enjoy and appreciate what they have to offer. Because great training will not only benefit the students. How could it, when we’re one body? After 1 Corinthians 12, if the eye gets better at seeing, that can only help the foot in judging where to step – and so on. And that means that your investment in training one woman will go far beyond her. It will, God willing, be the means of grace for the whole of his church.