August 20, 2007

Invisible Christian Women - Today's Christian Woman

This has got to be one of the best pieces I've read from TCW. From the Editor's Blog, read Invisible Christian Women.
My mom and I were attending a women's ministry event—a weekend retreat dubbed an escape. To us busy career women, this sounded like just what we needed—time away from the daily grind. And connecting with one another on this getaway was the biggest draw of all.

So on a Friday afternoon we flew to this national conference anticipating encouragement, togetherness, and a sense of belonging to the larger community of Christian women.

But by Saturday night I simply felt invisible.

The event was certainly well planned and executed. I enjoyed the great worship music, the chit-chat with women from around the country, the chance to hear some top-notch speakers. But the entire weekend seemed geared toward young married moms. And as a single 30something with no kids, I felt like an outsider. Even my mom, an empty-nester nearing retirement, felt a bit out of the loop.
I don't think this evening would've bothered me if its narrow focus had been an isolated instance. But I've been to many women's ministry events over the years—teas, luncheons, weekend retreats, national conferences—and many of them have had a very homogeneous demographic in mind: young married moms.

The editorial ends with a series of questions, many of which I have been asking for a few years myself.

Is your women's ministry group inclusive and diverse? If so, how do you accomplish that accepting atmosphere? If not, how can you help make it more welcoming to all?

I consider myself something of an expert on this topic because I have been on the outside since I first became involved in church women's ministry. For awhile, I tried to fit in trying to look like everyone else. But my life and my personality were not like everyone else. For example, being "functionally single" at church makes it really hard to find a Sunday school class to fit in (I'm not single, widowed, college aged....but the married group is full of couples!) and in women's ministry, it's even more challenging. And it was one thing if I didn't fit into the group, but when the focus was on happily married young moms with Christian husbands, I felt worse than invisible...more like an alien. Now I'm a functionally single woman with great kids, a great husband (who is still an unbeliever and doesn't attend church with us), and on top of that, I am an academic of sorts.

The bottom line is, I know, it's not about me, but I do have a passion for the women who are on the outside like I once was (and still am) and I want to be part of the solution. We want everyone to have a sense of belonging, to be nurtured and discipled. The church really needs to take serious the different kinds of women inside and outside of the church. What can we do to reach them? Today's women are extremely diverse in age, experience, career, parenting, etc. Understanding that this diversity exists is the first step towards creating opportunities through bible studies, discussion groups, target specific conferences, etc, to minister to all kinds of women. Yeah, we'll miss some - we can never be so target specific that we'll always hit the nail on the head, but we can do more to try. Find out what the diversity of gifts are in your ministry and see what you can do to expand the influence to the women already in your church, and then look at the women who aren't in church but are a part of your church's community, and see how the diversity of gifts in your ministry can be used by God to further the growth of the Kingdom and have a real impact on women's lives.


Collin Brendemuehl said...

Some follow-up comments here:


Anonymous said...

One problem I've come across is intentional or unintentional exclusivity and self-protection. It stands in the way and blocks real ministry. Let me give you some examples. A few women have been "running the show" for some time "Old=Timers". They include newby's that fit into their need but more or less dominate the ministry(even though they are upaid). They are seen as dedicated and ardent workers who are lauded regularly. Newcomer comes along with bright new ideas as she sees untapped niches, and has Holy Spirit inspired questions. Old-timers are reserved out of fear, intimidation,self-protection and an inability of what to do with Newcomer. She is coddled for a time, and her ideas eventually die. Niches remain untapped, questions unanswered. Newcomer moves on while Old Timers enjoy their position.

Another is self-protection. There are rumblings in the church. Someone is mad at someone. Oldtimer is "in" on the rumour and includes other old timers in the clique. There become "those that know" and "those that don't know".

Out of self-protection (rather than authenticity) positions are buckled down. Only those in the know are put in leadership roles. Outsider Leader has no clue what is rumbling but remains in her position because she was assigned it before the rumbling. Old timers purposely don't let Outsider leader become part of the inner clique. She is watched though. Problem is, so much of Oldtimer's energy is spent on "the rumblings". The mood is dark and tentative. Soon, Outsider leaders sees something isn't right. When she discovers what has been going on, she knows she was intentionall excluded. She knows the focus has been wrong as an air of self-protection has pervaded the entire ministry.

Thirdly, is staff run leadership. Paid Leader does all the Bible studies, retreats, mentor groups, etc. to the exclusivity of other capable women. She takes on groups as large as 70, afterall, she is paid to do so. But is that really truly effective? Does she really dumb down lay leaders to the level of not recognizing the Holy Spirit's enablement?

Paid Leader feels threatened when a passionate lay person puts forth a proposal. Passionate Lay Person is seen as "suspect". She is BLOCKED.

Business continues as usual. MEDIOCRE.

Anonymous said...

I can really relate. I am functionally single as well. I also have planned women's events and had only a few show up as it was viewed as "another night" the young and mid-marrieds and singles had to be out. You see they both have groups. On Sundays those group people talk pretty much with each other and give me a hi and brief chat. I feel no one really cares about me - I feel invisible. I sing in the worship team but when we are done everyone goes their own way. Sad isn't it. I am not sure demographic groups are the best thing for a church unless it is so huge, but, even then I think mixing it up is the way to go. You can't please everyone I know but the church of all places should be inclusive.

j a n said...

I have to agree with Anonymous. I've seen many churches where the women's ministry is dominated by "long-timer's" who like things a certain way - and since they are experienced women/wives/mothers - think they know how things should be for all women.

I also think there's a conflict inherent in traditional church: marriage is seen as "God's plan." So while we've become more accepting (forgiving) of divorce, we still don't quite know how to include and minister to single moms, step moms, functionally-single moms, childless married women or mature, never-married women.