What might discipling women look like?[i]
Here are some suggestions, interpretively culled from a recent When Women Speak… webinar with Evelyn Hibbert. You will find more excellent material in Evelyn and Richard Hibbert’s book Walking Together on the Jesus Road, which is also rich in examples including women.
- Discipling women is Life on Life
Discipling is not about going through a programme, but about sharing life deeply, spending time, long hours, together.
It can mean that the time is also shared with her children, and maybe yours also, with all the interactions and interruptions that are part of daily life. It’s characteristic of many contexts around the world that, whereas men fit life and family around work or study, women fit work and study around family and life responsibilities. This is the context in which she will be living out her discipleship, so it’s an appropriate place to be learning about it.
It means that you share also how you’re going, when you’re not coping as well as the good times, and how you live those times in Christ. Her prayers for you, and seeing God answer, become part of her growth, as well as yours.
It means that much of the time will be about listening deeply to her, the challenges and issues she is facing, then reading passages in the Bible that relate to those concerns, and praying with her for them. Discipleship speaks into the immediate issues of daily life.
- Discipling women is Word-based.
We seek to ground women in the Bible. In doing so, materials that offer a helpful (and visual) overview of the gospels or the whole Bible can be really helpful. The Jesus film gives an excellent visual overview that can be referred back to constantly. And it is hard to overrate the usefulness of children’s Bibles in offering an accessible, and illustrated, overview of the whole Bible for people.
Alongside choosing passages from the Bible that speak into our friend’s immediate concerns, as we meet we can maintain a pattern of reading through the Bible consistently, starting with the Gospels, continuing through the New Testament, and then the Old Testament. This pattern respects the narrative integrity of the Biblical text, and at the same time means we are not limiting our reading to selective passages that we consider relevant, but allowing the Spirit to speak through the whole text into the particular world and needs of our friend.
As we go through the Bible, we can draw on all the stories of women in the gospels and throughout the Bible (and there are lots of them!). These stories tell women of a God who both speaks to and cares deeply for women and what is happening to them. As well, the Genesis stories are foundational and widely relevant. Stories of King David are also helpful and easy for readers to relate to.
For some communities, the Old Testament or even the New Testament may not be available in their language. In that case, we can tell them the stories, so that they become part of their whole understanding of Scripture.
We can encourage them to memorise (and retell) stories, and also passages from the Bible. In many contexts, this builds on a strength of their educational context, where memorisation was prioritised.
- Discipling women is Training leaders
The women we will seek to disciple are those who can be effective disciplers of other women and people in the community. Women are the ones who traditionally are the main purveyors of faith to the next generation. Paul’s admonition to Timothy to entrust his words to faithful people competent to teach others (2 Tim 2:2) is in the immediate context of Paul’s recollection of how Timothy learned his own faith through his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim 1:5).
What are the characteristics of these women? They are women who love God, love the Word of God, and are willing to obey. My own experience suggests that for challenging life and relational issues, this obedience may be learned and lived over weeks or months. Even if not demanding an immediate application, we should expect to see the work of God’s Spirit through the Word being evidenced in concrete action and relationships over time.
- Discipling women is about Creative relational engagement
We will look for ways to creatively meet and engage with women in the community to which God has called us.
This creative engagement can include use of poetry and songs in learning the Bible and new material. This aids memorisation. Also developing worship in local tunes is linked to rapid church growth in many contexts.
The Bible is given to us not as predominantly a textbook of instructions, but in creative relational forms. The majority of it is stories, followed by poetry: and then we have the epistles, letters which are grounded deeply in the relational context in which they were written.
Seeking places to meet women calls for us to look creatively and relationally. Doorknocking is a practical way to meet women and be invited into their homes. Other places may potentially include schools, markets, doctor’s clinics, or community gatherings, including credit associations. Facebook can become a place to connect with women in the diaspora, offering a place to contribute weekly devotions.
Discipling can often be associated in the western church with programmes or course books to work through. We need to rethink it as life- and word-centred, based in the immediate context, life and community of those being discipled.
[i] See also https://whenwomenspeak.net/issue/vol-1-no-1-september-2017/ for a webzine with further material on Discipleship and women
(c) When Women Speak… February 2020
Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specializing in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and supervises students in Islam and cross-cultural understanding, with a focus on Muslim women.
Moyra holds a PhD in Education (La Trobe University) and DTh (Melbourne School of Theology).