What future for women in ministry?

Narelle Jarrett

Archdeacon for Women's Ministry in the Diocese of Sydney Narelle Jarrett assesses the state of women's ministry in Sydney Diocese today and charts the way forward.

Women were significant players in the proclamation of the gospel in the ancient world. The New Testament writers called them great helpers, life-riskers and hard workers. They were described as struggling alongside Paul and others in the work of the gospel and even, in one instance, as being outstanding among the apostles. 

Their contributions are mentioned throughout Acts and were cause for Paul to rejoice in Romans 16 and also, at times, to grieve as in Philippians 4:2,3.

The present-day challenge in Sydney Diocese is to reach 2.5 million women; nationally, to reach 11 million women and globally, to reach 4 billion women "so that everyone will hear his call to repent, trust and serve Christ in love, and be established in the fellowship of his disciples while we await his return'.

This is the task for the whole church but it is also the particular task for women. 

So how are we placed as a diocese to meet this challenge?

Our strengths

Firstly, there is a lot to celebrate.

There are the many lay women in Sydney churches who display great Christian maturity and have a deep desire to reach out to their friends and neighbours.

Many Christian women have great sensitivity to the issues that concern women in the general community.  They are keen to interact with their concerns while at the same time seeking to build their understandings of Jesus.

In our diocese today, there are more than 130 theologically trained women in significant leadership roles.

Christian women are often initiators who have led, and have often set up, children's and youth ministries and women's groups over many generations. Women have always been the key players in Scripture teaching. And women continue to evangelise with great patience and faithfulness.

Also highly significant is that women pray. For example, do you know that the members of Mothers' Union pray for the Christian work of women throughout the world daily?

The way forward

However for outreach to women to continue to be effective, what things as a church do we need to address or change?


Many lay women have had limited opportunities to develop theological depth and may fail to understand that justification by faith alone is the foundation of, and framework for, all ministry. Until we are able to provide women with real opportunities to grow in theological understanding, we have failed to equip them to be able to answer questions truthfully, clearly and persuasively.


The Sydney Diocese offers many training opportunities for women. PTC provides good biblical equipping; Moore College offers a one-year full-time Bible and Missions course and a two-year part-time Bible and Ministry course. Youthworks is also well placed to provide women with part time diploma-level study, as are MAC and the School of Christian Studies. 

Developing a church culture that expects female leaders to complete at least the biblical subjects and doctrine would greatly strengthen lay women's ministry.


As a diocese, we neglect to encourage women to take their place on Synod, councils, boards and committees. Women, who make up more than 50 per cent of the church, are under-represented at all levels of church government and development. At General Synod I argued against a motion for a mandatory 50 per cent of all such bodies to be female. I argued this way because I believe that a truly Christian community is well able to recognise that the inclusion of suitably gifted women is an imperative.

The gender imbalance can be redressed by welcoming and by inviting women to take their place on the boards, councils and committees of the Diocese.


Non-Christian young women may feel alienated by a theology and practice that appear to be male-centred.


We need to recognise how the theology of headship and submission can be misinterpreted and misunderstood by those outside the church. Young women, and often also young men, are highly sensitive to discrimination and inequality.  We should be completely onside with them here. Indeed we need to clarify that Sydney Anglicans are not affirming:

"¢ that men are "the boss' of women
"¢ that man alone is the decision maker
"¢ that submission to a male spouse or male minister means never expressing an opinion
"¢ that women in the church are to be neither seen nor heard in public meetings.

It is imperative then that we explain clearly and sensitively what the great biblical doctrine of headship and submission is and how it translates into loving thoughtful practice.

In association with this, we also need to clarify and publicly affirm the leadership roles that women indeed may take up. Are we able to move beyond the strictures of the ordination debates to affirm the public place and role of women in church and ministry?


Some rectors believe that women's ministry is just about pastoral care. This is unhelpful. Pastoral care that is loosed from a foundation of biblical learning is merely palliative. It will be neither restorative nor reformative.
This attitude can also result in a reluctance to give evangelism of women by women priority in terms of the resources of leadership and the financial support it needs.


Connect09 should play to women's strengths. On the whole women are natural connectors, genuinely interested in others and particularly concerned for other women, young people and children. If local churches could recognise the dynamic mission resource they possess and unleash it, it might be surprising how many significant entry points to the community would be discovered. Connecting with women often provides access to husbands and children.


The recent exciting and forward step of church planting has resulted in rectors placing a lower priority on employing women in ministry. While this is to be readily understood, equipping women for evangelism and follow-up, for befriending others and discipling may then become a second-order priority, ultimately reducing the evangelistic effectiveness of 55 per cent of our church members.


Church planting is an exciting mission development. Breaking new ground has led to all sorts of reforms such as where churches can be housed, the forms of services used and how church plants are to be recognised.

That said, women make excellent missionaries and a church plant is a mission environment. Therefore, what thought are we giving to women's involvement in planting and in assisting the leadership?

There is at least one church that has planted a number of churches, yet has only employed one woman whose task is to manage the ministry to and by women in the mother church as well as in each of the church plants. This is shortsighted. Each church plant, wanting to impact men and women for the gospel, surely needs to employ one woman even if it is only half-time or part-time.