Women's Ministry: Friendship and Discipleship
written by Stephanie Womick, Women's Ministry Guest Author (March 20, 2023)
Hannah More, a Christian poet and champion of the British Sunday School movement in the early nineteenth century, is not widely known today, but in the many letters she left behind, we gain a glimpse of a woman blessed with wry wit, eloquent language, and “fierce convictions.” We also find another of her blessings: many meaningful friendships with women young and old. On the death of Sarah Wilberforce Stephens, she writes, “For thirty years there has subsisted between us the most entire and cordial friendship.” She characterizes this woman as having “a great flow of wit and humor with strong reasoning powers,” who delighted to hold a “religious debate” but was also “one of the humblest Christians” she had ever know and one who had “for many years conquered entirely her love for the world.”
While Stephens had clearly had an impact on More, in other letters, we can see More leaving her mark as a mentor on younger women. To the daughter of a friend and correspondent, Lady Olivia Sparrow, she recommends reading “Holy scriptures which I know she is in constant practice of studying,” and works that “may teach her the wisdom which is from above.” When young Miss Sparrow was facing a “fiery ordeal,” More encouraged her to see how her circumstance “furnishes her with more and higher opportunities of glorifying her heavenly father” and acknowledge that “divine grace…directs in difficulties, sustains in calamity, and sanctifies in prosperous circumstances.”
Friendship and Discipleship
More was a woman engaged in a life of intentional discipleship. This is the kind of life Christian women today can live. Our relationships can be a foundational help in following Christ ever more closely and leading others to do the same. We all need someone in our life who is farther along than we are who can help us to grow in our walk with Christ. We can reach out to someone coming along behind us that we can help. We are encouraged by friends who are in a similar season of life, with whom we can stand shoulder to shoulder. We should also be pursuing relationships with lost friends, prayerfully persisting that they might become followers of Christ as well.
The Christian mission is to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19). We desire to see people transformed through a saving relationship with Christ and then to see them becoming ever more like him (Romans 8:29). Discipleship is the work of the whole church and should be central in each moment and ministry, from Sunday morning worship, the preaching of the Word, teaching in group contexts, evangelism and missions outreach. What role, then, does Women’s Ministry play in discipleship in church life? Certainly, it is not to replace any of these other venues for discipleship. Rather, the goal of Women’s Ministry is to help equip women for lives of intentional discipleship in their individual spheres of influence and unique relational capacities.
As You Are Going: Time, Topics, and Togetherness
How do we find the time? One way that forming a discipleship relationship can seem daunting is the perception that entering such a relationship means committing to weekly meetings with the other person for the rest of your life. An ongoing, decades-long discipling relationship is a beautiful testimony of the Lord’s work, but you can also start small. You may commit to reading a book of the Bible with another believer over the course of a few weeks. You may ask a spiritual warrior to meet with you once a month for four months to talk about prayer. As you reach an end date for your season of discipling, celebrate together and then make plans--that might mean starting again together on a new topic or new book, or it might mean going out separately to form new discipling relationships.
What do we talk about? Discipling can cover the full range of aspects of the Christian life, but at its core, it’s going to be Word-based, encouraging each believer to know God and to grow in Christ-likeness. Intentionally pursuing sanctification is the difference between a discipling relationship and mere friendship. A good place to begin is reading the Bible and praying together, discussing what it means to faithfully live out the truth of God’s word in your specific life circumstances.
What might these lives of intentional discipleship among women look like? It looks like forming meaningful relationships as you are going about your life. “Doing life together” has become a bit of a catch-phrase in Christian circles, but in the context of discipleship, it makes sense. Your discipleship may involve some more formal meetings, but it can also happen over coffee, on a walk, or during a mission trip. It may look like a young mom inviting a college girl she’s discipling to fold laundry and talk about Jesus. It may look like co-workers getting lunch and praying together. In some seasons, it may mean phone calls and text messages, but the goal should be to live out the Christian life together.
Fruitful and Multiplying
Hannah More provides an insightful model for discipling friendships among women. Although she lived what many considered a quiet life, she formed relationships with a wide swath of society, from aristocrats to actors, politicians to poor farm girls. She enjoyed her friendships, but she seemed to have always been conscious of the role that such relationships could play in each being conformed to the image of Christ. Although she never married, More was what we should all strive to be: fruitful and multiplying. Women who live lives of intentional discipleship will bear the fruit of the Spirit and they will multiply themselves through their relationships. May they also be seasoned with “wit,” “humor,” and reminders of the Lord’s “divine grace.”
The Women’s Ministry page on the church website has more information on discipleship, including helpful resources. Please visit it at coatsbaptist.com/women.
 More, Hannah. Letter to Lady Olivia Sparrow. 20 Oct. 1816.
 --. Letter to Lady Olivia Sparrow. Dec. 1812.
 --. Letter to Lady Olivia Sparrow. 23 June 1819.