In discussions about the role of women in ministry, 1 Timothy 2:11 features prominently. And yet the first four words of this verse are often overlooked entirely. Debates may continue around the precise significance and contemporary application of v11b and v12, but Paul is absolutely clear on this first point: women should learn.
Women should learn their Christian faith from whoever can teach them: older women, male pastors, parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Women should be learning how to live out their faith in their everyday lives, whether that is as wives and mothers, as employees or bosses, as church workers or in secular employment. But beyond that, women should be learning how to share their faith, how to be ready to give an answer, how to bring children up in the faith, and how to teach other women.
In fact, women may be called by God to almost any kind of ministry. There are women who serve the church by writing Bible commentaries and theological books. Some women are involved in training others for ministry. Women on church staff teams add to the collective wisdom and understanding. Women in evangelism can speak powerfully into the hearts of other women. Women in pastoral ministry apply the word of God with insight into the lives of those they serve.
But to do any of these ministries to the full capacity of their God-given gifts, women need appropriate training – just as men do!
There may not be many women for whom this means studying to PhD level or beyond – but there will be some and we should praise God for them. There will be more for whom it should mean the same level of theological education we would expect of men in similar roles. And there will be plenty of women whose service in the church or elsewhere would be greatly enhanced by the opportunity to have a basic level of training, such as a local Ministry Training Course or the Priscilla Programme.
Funding for training is not straightforward for most people, even for ordinands. But for women who are not seeking ordination, which will include many complementarian women, it is hard to fund anything beyond the basic level.
Residential training or full-time distance education is expensive. There can be logistical factors making it much harder for a woman to move in order to attend a theological college. Uncertainty about future job prospects make it extremely risky. Ironically, because it is such a small job market, complementarian churches find it hard to appoint suitable women to their staff and at the same time, complementarian women can find it very hard to get a suitable job.
The most effective way forward is for churches to work together. We need to recognise that we will all benefit from a new generation of well-trained, gifted women in ministry. The Mary Vere Fund, launched a couple of years ago by Church Society is intended to enable this to happen. Churches which might not be able to pay for a woman to get a theological education on their own can contribute to their funding by donating to the Mary Vere Fund which is already making grants to support women in various programmes of study. In time, we hope that this will expand the pool of women available to churches looking to make appointments of senior and permanent staff members.
In the ESV, 1 Timothy 2:11 is translated ‘Let a woman learn…’ Women no longer need permission to learn, but we do need encouragement and support from our brothers in Christ. All too often, women are still being discouraged from going forward for training on the basis that their ministry will not be as important or strategic as that of a man.
That is not a complementarian view. It is certainly not a biblical view. God does not count the value of a person’s ministry in terms of how strategic, public or far-reaching it is. God is far more concerned that it is faithful and godly.
Who can say but that there is a child in your Sunday school who might go on to lead a new reformation in the church? Who knows where the next great evangelist is even now learning the gospel from his mother? Perhaps there is a woman in your parish who will one day come to Christ and as a result of the discipleship she receives from a woman in your church will go on to write books that are a blessing for generations to come. And if there are none of those, still the people that women are teaching, pastoring, evangelising and discipling will be there as a testimony to the value of their ministry on the last day.
The ministry of women matters to God, and so it should matter to us. Encouraging and enabling women to seek appropriate training for ministry will bless the whole church.
Ros Clarke is Associate Director of Church Society and co-leads the Priscilla Programme, an online training course for women in volunteer ministry, in partnership with Union School of Theology. She also leads the Co-Workers network for complementarian women in Anglican ministry
Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.