ACR: Watching EQUIP women this year, I was struck by the centrality of God’s word in everything that happened. Your first EQUIP conference was back in 1999; what led you and others to start this ministry 25 years ago?
Back in 1999, there wasn’t the bounty of Christian women’s events that exist today. So, EQUIP began as a joint venture between seven friends. We were theological students, ministry workers and ministers’ wives. We’d all completed ministry apprenticeships at the University of New South Wales, so we shared a common understanding of discipleship, and central to that was faithful Bible teaching. We each invited twenty young women along, and on August 14, 135 women turned up at Moore College for Bible talks and small group discussion, finishing with dinner and a testimony by an older woman.
Even though we were pretty green, we planned the program and did the preaching ourselves – inviting along women who already knew us enabled that opportunity. We nervously reviewed all the talks together as a committee, which was the genesis of our infamous ‘EQUIP practice day’, which occurs 2 months before each conference.
EQUIP has been on-the-job training as Bible teachers for us. Over the years, seasoned preachers (including our parish ministers and husbands) have critiqued our talks and helped us develop the skills of preaching – and as we grew, we sought to pass on those skills to the next generation of women preachers. That aim of passing the baton is why EQUIP continues to have Australian women speakers and it’s why we have a modest pool of speakers who we invest in training.
It feels a bit surreal that many of the women who watched EQUIP this year weren’t even born when it began!
I’ve heard you say that EQUIP is a Bible-teaching conference for women, not a women’s conference that teaches the Bible. What do you mean?
Before our second conference, we made a decision that profoundly shaped EQUIP.
On the advice of a ministry mentor, we decided to preach chapter by chapter through whole books of the Bible – which is conventional practice for a church program but was and still is out-of-the box for a conference. So, if you look through our history (equip.org.au/history), you’ll see we’ve worked through 2 Corinthians, James, 2 Peter, and 1 Corinthians – consecutively teaching one or more chapters each year.
I don’t think we appreciated the significance of that decision at the time, but we have benefited from its legacy.
Instead of starting with a topic or a speaker, we always start with the text of the Bible. The number of talks, who speaks, and any other accompanying elements, are all governed by what best serves a faithful engagement with that text. Although we were convinced that every part of Scripture is relevant to women, exegetical teaching has forced us to embody that belief, like the year when we did a whole conference on 2 Peter 2 and the destruction of false teachers! I think this pattern has kept our teaching fresh.
How has EQUIP evolved over the past 25 years?
In many ways, EQUIP has ‘grown up’ with us.
We moved through a series of locations as EQUIP grew by word of mouth – from a small group of friends at Moore College (1999) to a large conference at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC) at Darling Harbour (2005). In 2006, we started running a double-shift conference (Daylight and Twilight Sessions), enabling more women to attend, and then started offering a simple livestream, in conjunction with the in-person event. We also added a concurrent conference for teenage girls at the same site and on the same Bible passage. There were several years at other venues whilst SCEC was being rebuilt, but it continued to be our ‘home’ until COVID-19 propelled us to a fully virtual conference.
People often ask me if EQUIP will go back to Darling Harbour. I don’t think we know! Even just a few years ago, we could not have imagined what EQUIP has become today. It’s now a virtual community of local hubs – the content is delivered virtually but the women gather locally to watch together, usually at their church.
EQUIP-day is a bit lonelier now. I’m in a small studio, surrounded by cameras and computers. But seeing the photos of the groups watching EQUIP is deeply encouraging. This re-invention of EQUIP has made it more accessible to women of different ages, life-stages, geographic locations, and demographics. This year, a group watching from Townsville shared that some of the women had driven 3 hours from Airlie Beach to join them – and that story is repeated all around regional Australia. Now we have more than 8,000 women hearing God’s word and a strong partnership with so many local churches – it’s very humbling.
As the format of the conference has changed, what are the ingredients that have not changed?
We started with the aim of building up the young women in our own local ministries by faithfully teaching them the goodness and sufficiency of God’s word.
I recently found a photocopy of the minutes from one of the first team meetings. It said our aim was ‘to encourage young women to trust the Scriptures’ and ‘to provide a context for growing their vision of women’s ministry’.
This year, one of our delegates, Alison, sent us this encouragement:
‘I love the way you’ve now anchored EQUIP in the ministry of the local church, resourcing local churches with a quality day of Bible teaching for women that many local churches would otherwise struggle to present.’
25 years later, I think we are still about encouraging women’s discipleship in the local church by faithful Bible teaching.
In what ways have you seen EQUIP keep forming the minds of women to the word of God, so that we are not conformed to the world?
Personally, EQUIP has considerably formed my own mind.
Each year, there’s a new part of the Bible to marinate in – I have it on the ‘back-burner’ for months (as do the speakers). It’s a slow and deep engagement with one part of God’s word. EQUIP13 was on the women in Luke – as I read the Gospel of Luke over and over that year, it became familiar in a way it hadn’t been before. Years later, when I was involved in evangelism via storytelling, it was Luke’s words that came to mind again.
One of the perks of being online is having the capacity to provide tools for other women to also marinate in the text beyond the conference.
As local groups partner with us by taking up the important and necessary work of setting-up, catering and other logistics, the planning team’s time and energy have been freed up for creating Bible-reading resources to accompany each conference. This year, we had a pre-conference video on ‘How-To-Read-Haggai’, a manuscript of the text with discovery questions, and a post-conference set of Bible studies to assist women in looking more deeply into the text themselves.
It takes courage and humility to teach the whole counsel of God’s word, especially in the face of cancel culture; the temptation to avoid certain Bible passages and to protect our speakers is real. Even more basically, the renewing of our minds, by God’s Spirit through his word, is at times painful due to our sinful nature. But since we are convinced that all the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16), we should not be afraid to teach all of it. And God continually encourages us to persevere in this when we hear each year about women who have learnt something at EQUIP that has changed their lives.
What have been some highlights for you throughout the 25 years of EQUIP?
Every year, we hear stories of women becoming Christians through their friends inviting them to EQUIP – praise God.
A constant source of joy has been the many godly women who I have worked alongside on the planning team. They are mostly invisible to the EQUIP delegates who they pray and work so hard for.
Finally, seeing God’s provision for 25 years. We often feel out of our depth, but He always provides exactly what or who we need, to keep us going.
We’ve started reading Revelation 1-5 🙂