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August 20, 2013

Australia: A Way for Women

A TEAM missionary's quest to empower women to serve in the church and encouarge churches to help them serve.

  • Coming Together

    A community of young mothers find support, love, and solid Bible teaching at Edwardstown Baptist Church.

  • Leading the Way

    Marti Williams facilitates the women's ministry at church and also teaches women's ministries at Adelaide Bible College.

  • Next Generation

    Training the next generation of women leaders is an important part of Marti Williams' work.

Several years ago, following the death of her second child and the discovery that she was pregnant with twins, Caroline Barry slipped into a deep depression. The young woman from Adelaide, Australia, felt isolated.

Barry sensed that clinical depression was a taboo subject in her Christian circles, so she didn’t talk about it with her friends or family. During that difficult season, with infant twins in tow, Barry attended a Christian women’s conference in Sydney. That’s when God met her in a real way. Barry realized she could not wait any longer to find healing and go deeper in her relationship with God, despite her busyness and stage of life as a young mother.

“For a lot of us (young mothers), we say…I’ll do that when my kids get older, or I’ll do that when my kids get into school, or when they finish school,” Barry says. At the conference, she realized God had so much more for her in the present, and she yearned to experience more of Him. “I realized it’s about me participating daily in my relationship with God and expecting Him to infiltrate every part of my life.”

Upon returning home from the conference, Barry turned to her church, where God began to transform her life. Edwardstown Baptist Church offered her a community of young mothers, solid Bible study and teaching, and fellowship with other women. Barry met with TEAM missionary Marti Williams, the church’s director of women’s ministry, and together they launched a Bible study group for young mothers.

Equipping Women in the Church

Williams and her husband, Ray, have served with TEAM for more than 29 years in several different ministries and countries. For the past 13 years, they have worked alongside Christians in Adelaide to help train and develop church leaders in South Australia.

In addition to her church role in women’s ministry, Williams also focuses on women as a faculty member at Adelaide College of Ministries, encouraging women to discover and use their God-given gifts in service of the church. Some call her a pioneer in women’s ministry in Australia, a distinction she brushes off with humor. “I see myself as being faithful to what God asked me to do. I don’t want to be a statue with pigeons sitting on me,” Williams says. “God put me in roles that I never aspired to be in…the reward I want, besides God’s approval, is for others to step in to serve the women of Australia.”

During the past three years of overseeing women’s ministry at Edwardstown, Williams has helped to develop Bible study groups, mentoring networks between older and younger generations, programs for practical helps, and events centered not on activity but on relationship with God. Williams’ passion is simple: “Helping women to become all that God wants them to be…and helping them to grow in their confidence to accurately handle the Word of God.” Women’s ministry events at Edwardstown have grown from an average attendance of 30 or 40 several years ago to often more than 120 women now. Williams attributes the growth to an intentional focus on the Bible. “Women’s ministry is more than getting together for high tea. It must be built on the Bible so that women are growing personally and spiritually,” she says.

Williams has enjoyed working with Barry in developing the Bible study group for young mothers. Interacting with Barry today, one would never guess that she struggled with depression only a few years ago. Barry is a vibrant and energetic woman who exudes a passion for life and Jesus. Though her life is just as busy as before, working part-time as a physiotherapist at a teaching hospital while navigating the daily challenges of marriage and motherhood, Barry seems more in love with God than ever.

“For me, discovering and believing who I am as a daughter of Christ and a co-heir with Him…(it has become) a deep element of my faith and my belief,” she says.

What ignited the transformation? Barry points to the Edwardstown Bible study for young mothers.

“The relationships that have formed within the Bible study are so much more than what you can form after a Sunday service,” Barry says. “The Bible study has (also) really helped in my relationship with my husband. I’ve able to talk to my husband about what I’ve learned and then apologize for my behavior.” The group has grown from four women who regularly attend to 15. For all of them, it’s a highlight of their week.

Training Women at Bible College

Adelaide College of Ministries (ACM), founded by a consortium of evangelical churches and schools, has become a Bible college that trains pastors and lay leaders, many of whom are women. In her six years of teaching there, Williams has pioneered a curriculum for a bachelor’s degree with a women’s ministry emphasis. She is working to create a culture in the local Christian community where women who are trained in the Bible answer the call to use their spiritual gifts in service of the church. This year, ACM is graduating the first women to complete the three-year women’s ministry program.

In the women’s ministry courses, male and female students alike explore practical issues like biblical parameters for women in ministry, what women face in ministry, and how women can fit in and serve the church. “We don’t decide what our biblical parameters are based upon tradition, but rather based on the Word of God,” Williams says. As someone with spiritual gifts of teaching and shepherding, Williams doesn’t want just to shift the traditional mentality of the Australian church, but also wants to provide avenues for women to fully exercise their spiritual gifts in the church by ministering to other women.

To be sure, changing traditional attitudes in the church that have been entrenched for generations does not happen overnight, and it takes no small measure of diplomacy. Williams is sensitive to that. When the women’s ministry program at ACM was launched, Williams shared her course curriculum with the pastors of every woman in her class to disarm potential critics. After all, she says, she wants to partner with local churches and grow them, not be divisive. “(My goal) is preparing women to function in the church using their spiritual gifts within the parameters of the church and under spiritual leadership,” Williams says. “Women understand other women, we understand how we function…women ministering to women in the church complement men in ministry.”

Why is ministry to women and the training of women leaders so significant for the Australian church? According to Williams, “If over 50 percent of the congregation is women, and they’re just sitting in the pews, you have a church that’s half weak. The women of Edwardstown Baptist are starting to realize that they can have a part in building up the body of Christ.”

- Written by Taina Luhtala 
- Photography by Robert Johnson

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