September 12, 2007

Amy Simpson on Women's Ministry

It seems I missed this awesome post by Amy Simpson on August 28th, titled "Why I Don't Do Women's Ministry." Like the Invisible Christian Women post at the TCW Editor's Blog, this also addresses the complicated culture of women's ministry. And while you might not agree with Invisible Christian Women or this particular post, it's definitely worthy of your consideration.
It’s been a long time since I attended a women’s Bible study, luncheon (why don’t they just call them “lunch”?), or anything else just for Christian women. I’ve spent enough of my life feeling bored, self-conscious, and out of place (think junior high gym class).

In my experience, the people who plan these events make all kinds of assumptions about who I am as a women. For starters, most assume I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom (and the best time of day for a meeting is, of course, 10:00 in the morning). They also seem to believe I enjoy making refrigerator magnets, spend most of my time thinking about fashion and chocolate, and can think of nothing better than getting away from my husband and kids (even though I’ve been at work all day) and hanging out with my “girlfriends.” This isn’t me—at all.

I used to think I just didn’t fit. Somehow I wasn’t like most women, and this probably had something to do with my spiritual life, so I should try harder to fit in. Now I realize that’s not true. In fact, the funny thing is, I don’t really think I’m a misfit. Most women I know feel the same way I do about women’s ministry programming. I know that women’s ministries do connect with many women and provide important opportunities for growth. But they seem to be focused on serving a relatively small segment of the population. So I wonder: Why do so many of our women’s ministry efforts treat women as if they all have the same lifestyle, schedule, goals, affinity for June Cleaver, and penchant for pink roses? And why are we expected to call ourselves “girlfriends”?

I don’t mean to undermine the importance of women’s ministry, or trivialize the effective ministry that’s happening in many churches. But by and large, I believe our churches are running shallow, one-dimensional programs that miss important opportunities to minister to many women.

I more than identify with this post....I've made the same complaints, same assessment and have asked the same questions. Are we taking the next step? What is the next step? I want to see this discussion continue because it will help to free more women who participate in women's ministry, to know that they don't have to conform to a certain image. Biblical or Christian womanhood, or whatever you want to call it, necessitates a high view of Scripture, an understanding of Christ's holiness, man's sinfulness, the precious gift of redemption, etc., but it doesn't require that we all take an interest in similar things and lead similar lives. I believe the culture of women's ministry in the local church is shifting. More are being stirred to speak out on the blogs about this culture, more Christian women's writers are doing more than supplying fluff, and more and more women are entering seminary and phd programs in order to serve women in the church(not a requirement of course, but quite refreshing). What are you doing to include more women and shatter the stereotypes?


Rosalie Garde said...

These posts have challenged me to contemplate my own angst. I once turned down leading a book group because I described myself as having a "rebellious streak". But why? What made me jaded? What kept me from wanting to join the club?

Just now I think I have gotten some clarity. A clue is in your post where you have written..."one-dimensional programs that miss important opportunities to minister to many women".

The key phrasing here is "minister to". That is what is often missing. Organizers of women's events sometimes focus on an event, a speaker, a book, etc., rather than seeking to address "need".

All women arrive at events having unique needs. We come as takers rather than givers. When our need isn't addressed we become jaded or hurt.

The next step is to take bold moves in listening to each other, identifying needs and changing our formats to target the vulnerable needs of women. This doesn't just mean selecting the right books for studies. Reading a book together isn't what is transformational. Linking the sentiments of the book to what is actually going on in a woman's life is. Giving a woman a forum to share her life is as well.

I recall one leadership team had taken a survey from the women at the end of the year about what they wanted in a study. The results from the meagre pages actually handed in showed things like 1) a book of the Bible 2) The Holy Spirit 3) Women in the Bible.

I felt the survey didn't jive with what I had observed through private conversations with women. I discovered that "Life Purpose" or "Significance" were at the top of the list with the women I'd spoken with. Yet those didn't make it into the top 5 of the survey results. When the studies started in the fall, the Holy Spirit, and book of the Bible groups only had about 3 women in them. The one on Life Purpose had 13! So, were the women surveyed just trying to give the "right answers"? You know...God, Jesus, or the Bible?

Anonymous said...

I got this from a friend:

My advice is to surround yourself with advisers at different stages of life - singles and marrieds, with and without kids, grandmother, senior...

One will raise issues concerning the struggles she is familiar with another represents issues she sees.

The needs range between woman crushed under the weight of raising her kids to woman crushed because she just miscarried or can’t get pregnant.

There's the young mom and the new older mom.

There’s the woman struggling because she feels like the only one without a man in her life, while another is trying to figure out how to deal with a husband she despises.

There's the woman who is doing well and looking to be spiritually uplifted, and the woman who doesn't know what it means to be a Holy Woman of God.

There's the woman with breast cancer and the woman dealing with depression.

There’s the 65-year-old childless single, the 65-year-old grandmother, and 65-year-old widow whose kids live across the country.

The question - how can we be responsive to the variety of needs?

Does ministry mean "entertainment" or does it mean "meet needs"?

Kristine said...

I feel EXACTLY the same about the typical "women's ministries" culture. It's like I made a wrong turn and wound up at Home Depot instead - in the "How To" aisle. There's very little going on in the average "women's ministries" realm these days that interests me. This seems to be exacerbated by the fact that much of what DOES interest me is academic and scholarly. Most "women's ministry types" don't have a clue what to do with that.

Sarah J. Flashing said...

What do you think are some practical steps toward ministering to different kinds of women? I think firstly that the Word understood purely without the "what does this mean to me" attached as well as understanding the place of doctrine is an important place to start because these areas will be shared by all women. Secondly, I think looking at when studies and other events are scheduled will speak to the women who are getting missed at the local church, and thirdly, developing a team mentality in your church's women's ministry will allow space for different kinds of women to participate in the ministry to different kinds of women.