A Pepper Grinder Post

Ministry for the Average Person - Part 2

we started an investigation of Titus 2:1-5 in attempt to see what ministry should look like for the average church-goer. We saw that Paul's ideal for older men presented a picture of something like a sober elder statesman. Here's my translation of the passage again:

Speak what is appropriate for healthy teaching. Teach the older men to be clear-headed, honorable, and self-controlled--sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, teach the older women to be reverent in their behavior, not slanderous, not addicted to lots of wine, and teaching what's good, so they can encourage the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, busy at home, kind, and to submit to their own husbands, so people won't speak against the word of God.

What about older women? Does Paul want them to dye their hair champagne blonde and exercise lots, so they can have slim bodies and toned arms? If so, he forgot to mention those qualities to Titus. Paul asks Titus to teach the older women to be reverent. This is a word that paints a picture for me of a woman sitting up very straight in a church pew with her head bowed, eyes closed, and hands folded demurely in her lap. However, the Greek doesn't really convey that. Literally the Greek word used here (and nowhere else in the New Testament) means, as befitting something that is holy.* You'll remember that "holy," in the Bible, conveys not just the sense of perfection, but also of something or someone who is completely different from the standards of the world. These are women who don't follow the standard pattern of the world--they are special, or weird (depending on your perspective).

mountaintopThese older ladies are also supposed to be taught not to be slanderous.** The Greek word used is diabolous, from which we get the words diabolical and devil. It carries the sense of accusing or attacking someone, which is why Satan is referred to as the "accuser of the brethren." There is absolutely no doubt that slander is something done with bad motives. Someone who accidentally mentions Agatha's osteoperosis when Agatha had wanted to keep it secret may be indiscreet, but she isn't being slanderous.

Paul gets even more specific with the older women than he does with the older men about alcohol. He doesn't want them to be alcoholics. Notice that he does NOT say they aren't to drink at all, but that they shouldn't be addicted to lots of wine. It's hard to argue with that. Once again, this tells us something about the culture the Cretan Christians found themselves in.

Paul finishes off his list of what the older women in Crete should do by mentioning that they should be "teaching what's good." And who are they teaching? Paul has elsewhere specifically said that he doesn't allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man (for more on this see ), and this passage makes it clear that these older women aren't giving the Sunday sermon. The people they are teaching and encouraging are the younger women. I'm not going to say it would be wrong for older women to teach younger women in a classroom setting, but I really don't believe that's what Paul has in mind here. The word I've translated as "encourage" could also be "advise" or "urge," and it carries the sense of bringing someone to their senses. I don't believe Paul has something institutional in mind, but something very personal.

What should a young woman do who has a fussy baby and is scraping by on not enough sleep? What should a woman do who fears she is not as attractive to her husband as she once was? What if a woman worries that she is not connecting to her teenage daughter anymore?

One option is for her to be in a class with other women in similar circumstances. This could be encouraging, I'm sure, but it won't give the same perspective as talking with someone who has gone through what the young woman is going through and come out on the other side. Another option is to have our young women sit at the feet of some woman who is a gifted teacher. While I'm sure that the women could pick up some valuable wisdom by doing this (as long as the teacher was someone who had actually walked what she talked, and wasn't just good at telling others what to do), I still don't think it's as personal as what Paul is talking about.

I think Paul is thinking of someone more like a mentor, whom the young woman can call repeatedly for advice and who can show her, in a hands-on kind of way, how to be a wife and raise kids in a Biblical way.

pine treeUnfortunately, from what I've seen, this is not something most churches encourage. Everyone is supposed to learn from the pastor, but he probably won't be able to help you with your breastfeeding struggles. Beyond that, women are pushed to look to Sunday School curriculum publishers for wisdom, with some help from the teacher or facilitator of the class. If the woman happens to have a shy baby and she doesn't feel comfortable leaving her to "cry it out" in the nursery, she is out of luck. I think most churches would just try to convince her that it was her duty (both for her and her daughter's sake) to leave the sad baby in the nursery, so mom can be "fed" and encouraged in the young mothers' class.

What about Paul's wacky idea of having all the older women in the church helping and encouraging young women? They could do that anytime, anywhere. Instead of feeding into our culture's idea that older people have nothing to offer younger people, Paul's subversive plan might actually encourage young women to have FRIENDS who are older. Imagine that. And the older women would be providing a crucial service to the congregation, instead of being relegated to the ghetto of "senior activities."

I can understand why the church has gravitated to programmatic ways of doing things rather than personal ways. It is safer. It is not too hard to watch over your Sunday school teachers and the materials they use to make sure someone isn't teaching people to get in touch with their inner goddess or something like that. It is also (and I think this is the BIG factor) more efficient.

I think the modern American church has decided that what works in the business world will also work in the church. The pastor becomes a CEO. The elders or deacons become the board of directors. Whenever possible, problems are dealt with in a programmatic way. This ensures that you deal with an issue once rather than over and over. When all is going as it should, the church becomes a well-oiled machine, chugging along and cranking out new Christians.

There's a problem with this efficient way of doing things: It isn't how Jesus did it. I don't think this was because he wasn't as smart as modern corporate gurus. I think Jesus did things through personal relationships because what God most cares about is our relationship with him. He may be happy about some of the things we do, but, at the end of the day, the burning question is whether we know HIM or not. Why else would Jesus tell the people who came before him with stories of the great works they had done in his name, "Depart from me. I never knew you." If we are in a relationship with him, works WILL come out of us. But if we try to do great things for him instead of focusing on relationship, we are on a perilous path. I believe that the modern American church is often headed in this direction. I think we need to stop, step back, and start over, this time thinking about how we can encourage people to relate to God and to each other, rather than on how to get a big, thriving church corporation running.

, I want to look at what older women are supposed to teach younger women. This will help us understand what Paul's idea of ministry for them looks like.


*How, you might ask, can I act pretty sure that the word I've translated as 'reverent' means what I say it does, when it is only used once in the New Testament? Good question. First, it is a compound word made from two common Greek words, one meaning "fitting," and the other meaning "holy" or "temple." Thus, we get some idea of the meaning of the word just from the meaning of its pieces. The other thing which helps is that the word is used a number of times in Greek literature before the New Testament, as well as in Greek literature from around the same time. Together, that gives us a pretty good picture of what the word means.

**If you were to read this passage in the New American Standard Version, you would notice that it says the older women are not to be "malicious gossips." The fact that they throw "malicious" in there does do a pretty good idea of getting across what Paul is talking about. The problem I have is that there is another Greek word which most translations render as gossip, and I really don't want to confuse the two. It seems to me that the word "gossip" in English can convey anything from some nasty secret divulged to make someone look bad to saying something innocent or even positive about a person when he or she isn't present. Personally, I am not at all clear what comprises "gossip" or not--this is something I'd like to study another time. However, the word I've translated as "slanderous" is clear and unambiguously BAD.