Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Advocating for the Ministries of Single Women in Your Church

Advocating for the Ministries of Single Women in Your Church

We need not question Paul’s theological consistency to affirm his confidence in this brave woman. For Paul, Phoebe’s leadership [1] was grounded in the person God created her to be, not a position she could or could not attain. In other words, her personhood as a child of God and a minister in his Kingdom comprises her identity, rather than her position in a local church.

No doubt, you have a Phoebe in your congregation. She’s a woman with the aptitude for leadership. She’s dependable and faithful. And as a single woman, she’s ready and able to devote herself to serving in ministry with a greater focus and commitment than most married women can devote. That the unmarried woman in your church will never serve as an elder need not preclude her from serving as a trusted deaconness in your church

That she will not be entrusted with the position of an elder doesn’t preclude her from trustworthiness. If she has teaching gifts, encourage her to develop those in biblically appropriate ways, of course with the same dedication as your male congregants. If she shows an inclination or aptitude for doctrinal discussion, direct her to the same theological resources you would a man—because as wonderful as many of the books by and for women are, we need to read the great theological works as well.

2. Family-based support is incongruous with fear-based suspicion.

In Acts 16, we meet Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who received the gospel then immediately devoted herself to serving others. Luke tells us that Lydia was not only an unmarried homeowner—a status that often entailed employing servants—but that she was also an assertive woman: “She prevailed upon us” (Acts 16:15). Lydia was persuasive, strong. She had chutzpah. She saw a practical need, and she knew how to fulfill it.

We get no indication that Paul was embarrassed to receive her help. And we certainly don’t see that he disparaged her determination as somehow “unfeminine.” Even more, it’s likely that the first church at Philippi met in Lydia’s house. Rather than view the strength of her personality through the lens of suspicion, Paul welcomed her as a sister in the Lord. She was family. And since they were members of the same body, Paul could welcome her gifts and abilities as contributions to their common mission.

You probably have a Lydia or two or three in your church. She responds to the Word with zeal and readiness for action. She identifies a need and fulfills it. She has a strong personality, a determined work ethic, and administrative competence.

Regrettably, such women often find their vision for Kingdom ministry extinguished by the steady drip of suspicion. Some might reason: she’ll take the proverbial mile if we give her an inch. Others might say her involvement would portend a drift into theological error. In an effort to curtail her potential overreach, some leaders restrict beyond the boundaries of Scripture the ministries available to her. And yet, is not the dedication and enthusiasm of a “Lydia” precisely what Paul had in mind when he said single women could devote themselves to the Lord? To commit the totality of their time and energy to serving Christ?

What might happen in your church if the single women in your congregation sensed pastoral support, rather than suspicion, for using their gifts in the Church?

A Sponsor, Not a Mentor

The single women in your church don’t need you to be their mentor. Instead, they need you to be their sponsor, to identify their potential, to encourage and shepherd them toward developing their gifts, and to make their success in ministry part of your own success in ministry. For the Apostle Paul, advocating for the ministries of single women harmonized with his teaching on church order. May it be so in our churches as well.

[1] By “leadership” I don’t mean elder leadership or oversight over the whole congregation, but leadership in the whole range of diaconal ministries within biblically appropriate boundaries that support the mission of the church.

This article originally appeared here.

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Katie McCoy is the editor of BiblicalWoman.com and is pursuing a PhD in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not reading for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. You can follow her on Twitter at @Katie_McCoy.