Many years ago, I was part of a church that developed a particularly troubling women’s ministry. It had been founded with noble intentions and was meant to address the unique concerns of women. Before long, though, the leaders became enamored with a problematic author, and their theology began to diverge from that of the pastors. Soon they were functioning almost as a church within a church, even occasionally holding their own worship services and performing their own baptisms. The ministry turned into a force for destruction and eventually seceded from the church altogether, taking quite a few women with it. It was women’s ministry at its very worst.
I found myself thinking back to this sad situation as I read Aimee Byrd’s No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. To be fair, her book is not about women’s ministry as much as it is about the broader topic of equipping women within the church. Yet she, too, has witnessed unhelpful, unbiblical, and downright destructive ministries by and for women. “Women’s ministries have become a sort of separate entity in the church, and this is one of our biggest problems.” Therefore, “This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations—the women.”
It is important to note that the book is written to help the whole church. Byrd writes equally for men and for women, equally for pastors and laypersons. Her book is for women pursuing a deeper understanding of issues related to women’s ministry, but also “for pastors and elders who would like every member of their church to be well equipped in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” “Pastors,” she says, “you need to hear what I am saying to the women, and women need to hear what I am saying to pastors. The whole book is meant for both men and women, laypeople and church officers to read.”
She begins by highlighting a danger in women’s ministries, focusing on 2 Timothy 3:6-7 and Paul’s warning about false teachers who creep into congregations to “capture weak [literally “little”] women.” If false teachers particularly target women, it makes sense to particularly equip them, right? Yet “in many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church.” The solution simply feeds the problem. Yet Byrd doesn’t call for churches to ditch women’s ministry altogether. Rather, she calls for “both the officers and the women in the church to evaluate their women’s ministries according to Scripture and also to encourage biblical women’s initiatives in the church.” It is the lack of discernment, not women’s ministry itself, that is the main source of the issues.
This requires women and their pastors to pay attention to theology that women are being taught even (or especially!) within a Christian context. Otherwise, the faulty books with their faulty ideas often work their way into the church through the gateway of the women’s ministry. This is especially true at a time when women are known to be heavy buyers of books and when thousands of titles with pretty covers but ugly doctrine are marketed to them every year.
For several chapters, Byrd examines our context and introduces key concepts: The woman’s role as “helper” (which she defines as “necessary ally”) and the “household” motif that is key to an understanding of the functioning of the church. Within God’s household, qualified men are to lead, but women are to serve as necessary allies. With their wisdom, godliness, and abilities, they are key to its healthy functioning. She even teaches that perhaps the word “ministry” confuses the matter, so that it may be better to speak of “women’s initiatives” (or “men’s initiatives,” for that) in order to better distinguish between the church’s central ministry of Word and sacraments and all the other forms of service or learning that flow out of it.
In the final five chapters she begins to work toward a solution. She interacts with popular Christian books, showing some of their prominent (but often overlooked) weaknesses. She helps develop skills in exercising discernment and in reading well. Always she speaks both to women and men, both to laypersons and pastors.
No Little Women stretched me in helpful ways. I found myself agreeing with Byrd’s assessment of the problem and, in general, with her conclusions and solutions. She has written a tremendously challenging and helpful book. Still, there are some times I would like to see her propose a more substantial solution to the concerns she identifies. There are times her critiques may have focused on a concerning word or two but without giving due credit to a whole person or whole movement.
Byrd’s hope is that No Little Women “will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” I am confident it will help in both of those ways, and am glad to recommend it. Men, women, pastors, and laypersons will all benefit from reading and considering it.Buy from Amazon