The Bible speaks of distinctive and complementary roles for women and men in ministry, but what might that look like in practice in a parachurch setting like university ministry? We chat to Tim Earnshaw and Julia Bollen. Tim is the Campus Director and Jules the Senior Women’s Staff Worker with the Christian Union at James Cook University (JCU).
Julia, what does your role involve?
I work with Tim to proclaim the gospel at JCU and encourage Christian students to mature in faith. This can involve meeting one-to-one to read the Bible and pray with women, leading (women’s) and co-leading (mixed) Bible study groups, running training courses in evangelism and leading Bible studies, meeting and planning as a staff team and with the student executive, helping students to organise meetings and events on campus, coordinating camps/conferences and developing partnerships with prayer and financial supporters.
Tim, when Julia came on board in 2014, were you looking to employ a woman in particular? What benefits have you seen from having men and women working together on your staff team?
We’d been looking to employ a women’s worker for a number of years. The campus population is more than 60% female and our group reflects that. It made good sense that we employ a woman to help pastor the women on campus but also to help the whole group as we model godly leadership as men and women.
It’s been terrific for me to have Jules on our team as she helps me teach the Bible better. Her insights and understanding about where people are coming from, what they hear when I teach and how they feel about it, has helped shape my preaching and my leadership in our group. Her teaching of the Bible to the women has grown them in a way that mine, on its own, didn’t. She is able to know them on a level that I don’t and to apply the Bible to their lives in deep ways that have brought profound change. In our group this has meant our teaching roles complement and compound each other as I can teach from the front in a way that she wouldn’t but she is able to walk with the women in applying and living it in a way that I can’t.
I think it has been helpful to model valuing each other and our different strengths and the different ways we serve the group. It has helped the students see that though we don’t do the same things, we both serve in really important ways for the health of our fellowship.
What do you see as the strengths of a complementarian approach to ministry on Campus? What are potential difficulties?
Julia: It is great to recognise and rejoice in our differences as we seek to build up the fellowship at university. Having men and women leading younger men and women gives us the opportunity to model relating well together, and show what it looks like to take different gospel opportunities and responsibilities. It gives us opportunities to help students through issues—for the women I serve, there are some things that it is easier to talk with another woman about, and there are some similarities of life that mean that when we learn together there are particular applications for us. I also get to model what it looks like to be teaching women the Bible in various contexts. We’d love to see more women encouraged to be taking every opportunity to teach the Bible to other women who need the gospel.
Ministry training apprenticeships are another way that we can encourage the church in north Queensland (and everywhere) to grow—by equipping women to serve and giving them an opportunity to suss out full-time vocational ministry. For some it will lead to further studies, for others it is about being equipped for different seasons of life such as secular work and perhaps motherhood, such that they’re able to serve in their church and community wherever God sends them. For example, one student I’ve been discipling didn’t realise before coming to CU that women could be involved in vocational ministry apart from mission work. So she had assumed she would take a secular job. She is now considering undertaking a ministry apprenticeship further down the track.
This is not to say that complementarian ministry is not without its difficulties. We meet students from lots of different church and cultural backgrounds. There are sometimes difficult issues to work through, and assumptions that need to be addressed through the lens of Scripture. For some, the idea of women in ministry ‘jobs’ is very foreign. For others, the fact that my role is different to Tim’s is equally confronting. Sometimes people haven’t read much of what the Bible says about men and women. Instead, they have been more influenced by their experience. As we meet people at different stages and perspectives we can read together what the Bible says about who God has made us to be. It’s great to be able to work that through together.
Tim: I really want us to rejoice in and love the way God has made us as male and female. I think that a complementarian approach to ministry recognises our differences and helps to express their great value to us as a body. My goal is that we don’t resent each other over what we can or can’t do, but rather delight in God’s good design and joyfully serve together. I think one of the ways we’ve seen this in our group is the way it has helped the blokes to take responsibility rather than wait for others to do things for them or to tell them what to do. I think it has also helped us value each other even when we sometimes serve in different ways.
I think one of the difficulties is to not reduce complementarianism to a set of rules of who is allowed to do what. A list of rules can leave people resenting each other, resenting parts of the Bible, and using the Bible to push their agenda.
Have there been instances when you’ve particularly appreciated having Julia on board?
Tim: Two obvious instances come immediately to mind. Firstly, we have had several women go through significantly difficult things over the last few years. To have Julia here to walk with them and keep pointing them to Jesus has been invaluable. I suspect there were just as many things going on in the years before Julia joined us; it was just that I didn’t always know about them.
The second obvious instance has been the women who have come to see that serving Jesus can mean more than teaching Sunday school or being a medical missionary. I love Sunday school and want lots of our students teaching it, but for women to see that there is also a place for them to be Bible teachers of adults has helped them take studying the Bible more seriously. Jules has given them a model of what that might look like.
What have you particularly appreciated about working with Tim?
Julia: I am very thankful for the trust of working with someone who is eager to see God’s kingdom grow. I’m thankful for Tim’s thoughtfulness about how we can use our energy and resources to encourage the students, reach out to the campus and serve the broader church in north Queensland.
I am very thankful for his faithful teaching of Scripture at our Bible talks, and for the care he has for the students, encouraging them to take opportunities to serve the gospel. This meant that when I joined the team, there were already women eager to do a ministry apprenticeship, and I have been able to see the fruit of his ministry in a culture of good Bible teaching, prayer and encouragement amongst the students.
I’m grateful to God for the way Tim leads and encourages our team, and also for the way he (along with his wife, Katrina) encourages the women in our fellowship to grow.
Our thanks to the ACR online for their partnership in releasing this article.
Tim Earnshaw and Julia Bollen are the current staff team of the Christian Union at James Cook University in Townsville. Tim is the Campus Director and Julia is the Senior Women’s Staff Worker.