Below you’ll find the transcript for episode 37, Discipleship and Discernment, from the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast.
EP 37: Discipleship and Discernment
Intro: Welcome to the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast. I’m Cyndee Ownbey, your host and women’s ministry mentor. I’m the founder of Women’s Ministry Toolbox and the author of Rethinking Women’s Ministry. The Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast is a podcast for women’s ministry leaders and team members of all stages (from new to seasoned) serving in their local church community. If you’re looking for hope and inspiration, you’ve come to the right place! In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of women’s ministry, I’ll be asking seasoned women’s ministry leaders to share their best tips and the lessons they’ve learned. Together we’ll learn to build a flourishing, Christ-focused women’s ministry.
Today’s blog post (and podcast episode) is a little longer than usual. I didn’t want to rush through the topic of discernment. I pray you’ll find this discussion helpful.
In episode 29 we talked about selecting Bible study and discipleship materials. I wasn’t initially planning on expanding on this topic, however, several online discussions in the last week have prompted me to publish this post.
As I’ve spent time wrestling with the Lord about what to share and how to share on this topic, I came across these four words “developing a discerning heart.”
My goal in this podcast episode is for us to continue to develop discerning hearts.
As mentors, Bible study leaders, and disciplers we have a responsibility to encourage the development of a discerning heart in those God has placed in our path.
After I share a bit of the backstory for this post, I’ll share my discernment process and advice for gracefully and prayerfully sharing concerns we may have with others. Please hang with me until the end even if you don’t agree with everything I say – that’s okay – that’s part of the work of using discernment.
I was offered the opportunity to preview the movie Redeeming Love before it was released into theaters. I initially posted a strong content caution inside the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Facebook Group as I knew many church groups had plans to see the movie on opening weekend. I knew there was a strong possibility women could be triggered or uncomfortable with the content.
Many leaders asked if I would make that post public. I spent a lot of time in prayer, wrote several different drafts, and sought godly counsel before posting publicly.
In case you haven’t seen my post, I’ve pasted it below.
I know many women and many of you serving in leadership positions love this book. Please hang with me.
The focus of this post is not to debate the content of the book (which I’m re-reading) and the movie. We can agree to disagree.
What I want is for us as leaders to develop discerning hearts ourselves and encourage our women to use discernment.
Let’s talk first about ways we can seek to be discerning.
Here are some of the steps I take when trying to discern if a resource is biblically sound.
As I review and research the resource or person:
- I heed the Holy Spirit.
- I check the content against Scripture.
- I look for a clear presentation of the gospel. Do they talk about sin, the cross, the resurrection, and repentance?
- Does it/do they align with core biblical beliefs? Where do they land on secondary issues?
- I ask women I know who are spiritually solid. What do they think about it? I’ve found processing my concerns out loud with another believer to be incredibly helpful.
- I will search online for reviews. I’m not only looking at what other people are saying but WHO is saying it. What are the pastors and authors I trust saying about it?
- I read negative Amazon reviews. I know from experience that some reviews are written by angry people who haven’t read the book or watched the movie but hidden in those negative reviews I often find issues I want to investigate further.
- If there are red flags, I look for a better resource that I can recommend.
Even when I’m fairly confident about my opinion, I ask the Lord to show me if I’m wrong. Though I can have some strong opinions, I’m not an expert on all topics. I don’t always get it right.
I mentioned having a list of people, authors, and pastors that I trust. I may not agree with them on everything, but I know they are solid on certain topics. I also encourage you to keep a mental list of those you differ from theologically.
In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment. He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Loving the Lord with all our heart includes heeding the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Convictions are personal. God may convict me of something that seems silly to you. Regardless, convictions should be respected and supported.
As a child, I remember sneaking into our parent’s bedroom to lie on the floor while my mom watched her afternoon soap opera. In college, I scheduled my classes around Days of Our Lives. One of my roommates introduced me to Guiding Light. I continued to watch soap operas as a stay-at-home mom though I didn’t let our boys watch them with me. Over time these stories began to have a negative impact. I found myself comparing my husband to the characters in these stories and he was falling short. Our marriage didn’t measure up to the love story I was watching on tv. I didn’t see the connection at first, but eventually, God opened my eyes to see that watching soap operas had led me to set unrealistic expectations in our marriage and I needed to stop.
I left behind soap operas, but the Lord wasn’t done refining my viewing habits. About 9 years ago, I was convicted to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy. In some ways, this was harder. My best friend at the time and I would talk at length every week about the latest episode. She was disappointed and I don’t think she completely understood. It had a weekly impact on our almost daily phone calls.
My conviction was not hers. I did not tell her she couldn’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, but I did share why I felt God said it wasn’t healthy or good for me.
Sharing our personal stories of conviction can encourage other women to be obedient when God asks them to remove something from their life.
We need to include testimonies that highlight sanctification at our women’s ministry events.
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There are times, especially as leaders, that we will become aware of concerns about a book, author, speaker, movie, or other Christian resources.
How do we know when we should speak up and how do we speak up in a way that doesn’t come across as condemning or self-righteous?
We should expect that there will be times that we need to lovingly redirect our women. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV) tells us, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
We may not want to take action, but Galatians 6:1 (ESV) is clear, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
If we truly love others, we will warn them if we see them heading toward something that could be dangerous.
So this brings us to prayerfully and gracefully sharing concerns we may have with others. To be clear, I’m talking about the women that God has placed in our path that we have influence over. We are shepherds over the women we mentor, the women in our Bible study group, and the women in our church.
Whenever possible, I address concerns one-on-one, face to face. There will be times you may need to make your Bible study group or the women of your church aware of a concern. Someone in your Bible study group might bring up a resource, author, or pastor, that does not align with your church’s beliefs.
Before I say a word, I take into consideration these four things:
- Is the Holy Spirit prompting me to speak up?
- What relationship do I have with this person?
- What is the level of concern? Is the person or resource unbiblical? Will this resource bring clarity or confusion?
- Have I been approached or am I responding to something someone has said or shared?
Our approach must be motivated by compassion and not conviction. Speak or share from a place of concern.
Tips for prayerfully and gracefully sharing our concerns:
- Pray before approaching.
- Share your personal experience if you have one.
- Focus on facts and not emotions.
- Be specific. What is the biblical issue?
- Address ways in which it could be a trigger or a temptation.
- Let them choose what to do with the information you share.
If you know of a solid resource that explains your concerns, ask if you could send it to them. I have a few experts in my back pocket that are my go-to people on specific sticky subjects that come up repeatedly. I encourage you to build a list too.
It’s quite likely you’ll get some pushback.
The more attached they are the more resistant they may be to your concerns. Arguing with those who are devoted rarely ends well. People see what they want to see. But God can open their eyes to see a different perspective. Pray He does.
I’m not suggesting you hunt heretics and out them to protect your women. Address concerns as the Holy Spirit leads. Most of these conversations will be reactive – addressing a resource that’s not biblically sound because it was mentioned in your Bible study or discipleship group or you hear women in your church are planning to see a movie that could cause some of them harm.
However, I want us to be proactive.
- Be aware of repeated concerns for a specific resource.
- Investigate those concerns to see if they are valid.
- Thoroughly vet every Bible study book you use and every movie you show.
- Most importantly teach your women what God’s Word says so they can be discerning.
In the positions of influence God has placed us in, we can help others make informed decisions.
I pray we will be willing to be bold when those opportunities arrive. We can offer biblical advice and bring awareness, but ultimately, we are not responsible for the choices other people make.
One of the trickiest things about this topic is that what may bother you, may not bother me. What may be meaningful or impactful to me, may be harmful to someone else.
To protect our women from harm, we need to learn to view the book, author, movie, or resource through the eyes of the most vulnerable women we serve.
We don’t know the details of every woman’s past. We don’t always know the strength of another women’s spiritual walk. When we share a recommendation with someone else we want to lead with Romans 14:21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
The first time I read Redeeming Love (it’s probably been more than 10 years), I didn’t think too much about the content. I thought it was good, but it wasn’t one of my favorite books. A couple of years ago my perspective shifted. I came across a post by Phylicia Masonhiemer about the book. Phylicia was sharing about how it can be a stumbling block for many women – especially those who have been abused and those who struggle with sexual sin. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t ever considered that, but it made sense. Phylica recently compiled her thoughts in this podcast episode and this blog post. I encourage you to check it out.
Another angle I want us as leaders to consider is emotionalism.
Do the women in your Bible study only want to do studies by a specific author? Consider why. Many feel like they know her. They may be emotionally connected because of the stories she’s shared on the pages of her books or via video.
Many, many resources targeting women use emotion to elicit a response. Our emotional attachment to a person, a book, or thing can cloud our ability to be discerning. Shanda Fulbright’s has a blog post here and a podcast episode here that you can check out to better understand the impact emotion can make.
Faith that is rooted in feelings may not survive a season where God feels distant or seems silent.
As we wrap up this discussion on recommendations and discernment, I want to share a few verses you might find helpful.
Ephesians 5:11 (ESV), “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”
Colossians 3:2 (ESV), “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV), “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19-23 (ESV), “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today’s Toolbox Tasks:
- Create a personal list of trusted authors, speakers, pastors, and other resources.
- As a team, role-play how you would lovingly share concerns with another believer.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will be quick to convict us when we’re watching, reading, or listening to something that is not good for our souls.
While we have freedom in Christ, as 1 Corinthians 10:23 says “not everything is beneficial.” May we desire to fill our minds with things that glorify God.
Thank you for hanging with me today through this tough topic. Please note resources shared are not blanket endorsements. Use discernment.
Outro: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Women’s Ministry Toolbox podcast. Leading in women’s ministry can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be! You’ll find support and ideas you can use in the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Community Facebook Group. We’d love for you to join us! Search for us on Facebook or visit womensministrytoolbox.com/groups to access the link. May the grace of God carry you through difficult ministry seasons, may He direct your steps as you seek to make Him known, and may your love for the LORD be apparent to every woman you serve.
You may also want to read:
Selecting Bible Study, Mentoring, and Discipleship Materials
Creating a Schedule for Discipleship, Small Group, and Bible Study Meetings
Great Discipleship, Bible Study, and Small Group Meetings