By Tara Barthel and Amy Laverman
The phrase “let me be a woman” provocatively incites preconceived ideas of what kind of woman one is to be. The onslaught of feminist culture brazenly takes hold of our daughters and persuasively tells them, “Why shouldn’t you use your gifts and be rewarded? You deserve pleasure, prestige, money, and power!” Third-wave raunch feminism assaults us daily. This tsunami confronting our covenant children is such that without the faithful proclamation of God’s design for male and female role relationships, we will fail in discipling the next generation.
The need to talk about biblical womanhood roused two women in a small PCA church in Billings, Montana, to develop and offer a summer Sunday school class for teen girls. Years ago, older women had taught Tara Barthel and Amy Laverman the joy and freedom of biblical womanhood, and this past summer, they did the same for thirteen young ladies ages 12-22. Together, they delved into the rich theology of “equal but different” and the proactive beauty of “helper,” all while enjoying deep conversations over fancy coffee with creamers to help set the mood.
“I learned far more from these young women than I could ever imagine they learned from me,” Tara says in reflecting on the class. “It’s one thing to believe these theological truths in theory. It’s another thing entirely to actually live them out in a world that rejects and scorns such ideas and ideals.”
Using the core CEP Women in the Church materials as a springboard for their class content and discussions, Tara and Amy challenged the girls to think biblically. “And they met the challenge,” Amy explains. “Even at their young ages, the theology of what God says about biblical womanhood and manhood resonated and made an impact. Their eyes were glued on us as we taught. They pushed back when concepts were hard to grasp or difficult to accept as biblical truth. And week after week, they not only came back wanting more; they brought along new friends, too.”
When Amy was in her late teens, her pastor’s wife started a discipleship study with several young women in the church. She led the group through a rigorous, in-depth study of womanhood and marriage. “It was a pivotal time in my life. I longed for Christian friends so I joined the group, but the challenge of reading difficult books containing biblical truths, like Bible commentaries and Puritan writings, turned my gaze away from the allure of the world only to then see a glorious God with a glorious purpose, authority, and mission for my life,” reflects Amy. That watershed class for Amy propelled her on a trajectory of living out her helper design.
“I started learning about biblical manhood and womanhood pretty much as soon as I was saved by God as a teenager,” Tara explains. “Thankfully, God put me in a church where servant leadership gave me a sweet introduction to the blessing of submitting to ecclesiastical authority. Male headship was a gift to me-for the first time in my life, I had fatherly protection and fatherly care.”
“But I also had to wrestle with some hard questions as I continued to grow in grace and mature in the Lord,” Tara continues. “I didn’t have a family that would take care of me until a suitor would come along a la Jane Austen and move me from one home to the next. If I didn’t work, I wouldn’t eat. So I sought counsel from wise, spiritually-mature men and women as to what biblical womanhood would mean in my specific life situation.”
“Thankfully, I learned that God’s Word is sufficient! And real-life may look a little different for each person-for me it meant learning about things like piety and domesticity at the very same time I was earning my law degree and MBA-but God’s principles remain the same,” Tara continues. “Because of the patient love and generational discipleship I received through relationships in my local church, I learned to delight in getting to be the girl! Even when I was still single, I began to learn how to encourage and support the leaders in my life. I no longer wanted to live up to the feminist ideals that indoctrinated me during my 1970′s childhood. Instead, my heart was turned toward Christ, his Kingdom, his Bride, my home, and my opportunity to serve my community and the world-as a woman.”
At Rocky Mountain Community Church, generational discipleship is a priority. “It takes a church to raise a child,” says one pastor, “not to overstep the bounds of parents but to come alongside and assist parents as they bring up their children in a greater love for God and others.” Over the years, RMCC has provided activities and classes for parents and teens, as well as discipleship relationships between adults and young adults. One parent commented, “It’s so important for my girls to have relationships with other women in the church. The more they are connected to our covenant family through authentic relationships, the more likely they are to work through issues of faith, unbelief, temptations and trials right here, in our church family.”
This generational emphasis spurred Tara and Amy to be even more deliberate in discipling young women in their church.
To do so, they first sought counsel from their husbands and pastors as to the possibility of offering a class for young women during the summer weeks. Then, modeling the very principles they taught in the class, Tara and Amy asked the pastors to oversee both an introductory meeting and a conclusion meeting at the close of the class. The parents of class participants were strongly urged to attend, but everyone in the covenant family was invited-single, married, young, and old.
“I was so happy that the pastors wanted everyone in the church be invited to learn more about this important topic,” explains Tara. “We had some new, adult-convert, believers in our women’s study this spring and they were very interested in learning more about what the Bible says about manhood and womanhood, authority and submission. And even my husband, Fred, is trying to be more proactive in using biblical terms as he encourages and leads our two daughters.”
At the first church-wide meeting, only a small group of people showed up. But by the end of the summer, even more people were interested in the topic. The girls themselves asked for more studies and mentoring relationships, and the parents of the girls asked for future training as well. One mother said, “It’s not enough to talk to our girls about the worldly, idolatrous desires in their hearts and how they have to repent. They know a lot of that truth already. What they need to hear is the glorious calling and purpose God has for them. This will give them a vision for the mission God has planned for their lives.”
“This is our goal,” both Tara and Amy agree, “not to argue or become bogged down in the details of daily living, because each of these girls are faced with a unique, complex future that God’s Word will guide them through. Instead, we hope to show them what proactive devotion looks like. We strive to hold forth God’s Word with winsome humility and blessed happiness, with the hope that these young ladies will see in our lives a cheerful, intentional desire to help our leaders-in the church, home, and community.”
By all accounts, this inaugural summer biblical womanhood class was a huge success. Even the young ladies who didn’t agree with the principles taught in the class kept coming back. “We really tried to be safe, humble, friends to them,” Tara explains. “We wanted to teach these principles, of course. But more so, we were just thrilled to be invited into their hearts and lives. We wanted them to know that we loved them and we were committed to them.”
Tara and Amy shared a comfortable method of co-teaching, and the girls were engaged and vulnerable in their participation. They did the hard work of looking at Genesis 1-3, and then reflected on their redemption in Christ and its ramifications. Head-nodding and easy agreement was not accepted. Hard questions were encouraged. Even “embarrassing” and “unmentionable” topics like sexual temptations were discussed with candor. Without hesitation, they talked about the virtues of biblical womanhood and the beauty of words that sound so demeaning in our culture.
Most of all, they reveled the intoxicating beauty and purity of the Lord Jesus who, though we have not seen him, we love him … “and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). In the final class, Amy and Tara were thrilled when the girls enthusiastically said, “We wish this class would never end!”