(This blog will take the average adult approximately six minutes to read.)
I don’t think I’ve managed to keep it a secret how I feel about women’s ministry. Like. Ever. I’ve probably erred on the side of being a total arsehole when it comes to my opinions of women’s ministry.
And I want to be clear, before I go any further, that I fully acknowledge that women’s ministry is a huge blessing for many women—for some women, the various forms that women’s ministry is extremely helpful and edifying. I get that. But I also want to be emphatic that much like pants—yoga or otherwise—women’s ministry is not, and I don’t think can be, a one-size-fits-all ministry. I’ve seen it treated largely as such.
I went to Liberty University.
(I don’t own up to that much, because quite frankly, I am not a #ProudLUAlum. And I feel like that statement could precipitate a blog in and of itself.)
In my time at LU, I encountered a women’s ministry that I hardly knew existed growing up in the PNW in a small town at a small non-denominational church attending non-denom youth groups. I don’t think I had actually even heard the expression “women’s ministry” until I was 19 and at a Baptist university in the Bible belt.
It started with noticing the difference in design (I was a graphic design student.)—”co-ed” ministry had neutral typefaces, neutral colors, neutral imagery. Men’s ministry had distressed, bold typefaces (it was 2005-09, mmmk?), dark and earthy colors, and dirty, earthy imagery. Women’s ministry had swashy (generally poorly kerned) script typefaces, light or pastel colors—usually with a palette centered around pink or purple—and clean imagery, often bokeh’d to the high heavens. From the get-go, I was disinterested because the design said “stereotypically, socioculturally feminine”—and I knew I wasn’t that.
On the occasions that I reluctantly attended said events (usually because I was voluntold to go), they measured up to every ounce of the design work that advertised them. Every women’s ministry event I’ve ever been to has been built around emotional response. And I’ve got a feeling the women organizing these events will argue that it’s built for spiritual response—and for many women (probably the ones organizing), those two things seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, often I’ve pushed back when invited to these events, citing the emotional response, only to be promised that “this event will be different”. Women’s ministry events—and women’s ministry groups—are largely marked by emotive responses to emotive women openly emoting all of their emotions.
Women’s ministry is made for women who more-or-less fit a number of sociocultural feminine stereotypes. And for the vast majority of women who can somehow identify with at some (not all) of those stereotypes—women’s ministry is helpful. But—there is a solid assemblage of women (in every Christian community I’ve ever been in) that don’t function that way. We are not particularly emotive (to clarify, we have emotions, but we don’t express them “well”)—we don’t necessarily process things quickly enough to have an on-the-spot response—and most women are very quick processors. (That’s why they can seemingly have multiple conversations at once.) (<- I can’t do that.)
And we are the women who fucking hate women’s ministry. We are the women who avoid women’s ministry like the plague. We are the women who other women think need to repent of our opinion of women’s ministry. We are the women who constantly get told to “give it one more chance” and “this event will be different”. We are the women who don’t raise our hands with tears streaming down our faces, but instead feel awkward and out of place, while the all-woman worship band leads a moving round of “Ashes to Beauty”. We are the women who can’t talk about the takeaways from the event immediately after it and other women ask us if we were even listening.
We are the women who feel rejected by women’s ministry every time we dabble in it because it wasn’t made for us. We are the women who feel guilty for not “properly” emoting when the rest of the women in the room are. We are the women who leave women’s ministry feeling wrong, not redeemed. We are the women who see women’s ministry as anxiety-inducing, not relaxing or freeing.
And this isn’t intended as an indictment against women who function that way—by no means. (May it never be!) I have so many female friends who I love deeply who love women’s ministry and get a lot out of it… and honestly—I walk away from them when conversations turn to a gaggle of women talking about multiple topics that I have no interest in—and can’t keep up with anyhow because I’m still processing what was said about topic #1 by the time they’ve reached topic #4. (You can ask the women in my community group about this. I regularly get up from the women’s conversation and join the men’s because I’m totally fucking overwhelmed. And my female friends are gracious with me because most of them understand that about me. Because they know me.)
Women’s ministry is designed for quick processors, who process simultaneously with their hearts and heads. But we’re not all that. And I really do believe that it’s high time that the women who get something out of women’s ministry stop guilting those of us who don’t into trying it over and over and over again.
I thoroughly believe that real love does not result in shame. Scripture even alludes to that—perfect love casts out all fear—and I think shame and fear go hand-in-hand. Being a woman who just doesn’t get women’s ministry comes with heaps of shame—shame for not understanding—shame for not reacting—shame for not coming—shame for “not being in community with women” (and to that I throw both my middle fingers in the air and make a loud pterodactyl screech).
By the grace of God, I’m currently blessed with a church that proclaims the whole Gospel and preaches from the whole Bible—in and out of women’s ministry. But I want to address one other trend I’ve seen in women’s ministry over the last 12 years…
I think roughly 75–80% of the women’s ministry events and groups I’ve attended were focused on Titus 2 and Proverbs 31:30. It breaks my fucking heart that my soul reels and rebels when I see or hear those verses—and it’s not because they’re hard to deal with—it’s because for so many years that was the brand of Christian womanhood that I was force-fed. Womanhood was reduced to a warning against vanity. When I stop and think about those verses—in their full immediate context—and in the full context of scripture, I love them. But when I see them separated out for the sake of defining (and limiting) womanhood I want to fucking scream.
Ya know which group of women Titus 2 kind of excludes? Young single women. It talks about older women encouraging younger married women. And I do see the implied practicality for all women, but to build any sort of women’s ministry off of this verse is to exclude young single women.
Then there’s Proverbs 31:30 women’s ministry. “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” This is clearly just a personal opinion—but I’m pretty sure that’s the worst fucking verse in that chapter of Scripture to be what that passage is reduced to. To me, it takes this totally badass woman and reduces her to her vanity. The Proverbs 31 woman is a total fucking badass. She works hard for her family—in and outside of the home—she is both a producer and a saleswoman in her local economy—she isn’t fearful or weak—she is compassionate and giving with the needy—she is loved by her family because she loves them well through her actions. Verse 30 isn’t even the conclusion of that chapter—there’s another work beyond it that says, “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” The verse chapter has 30 verses about what she does—and women’s ministry has managed to volatize it to the one fucking verse about charm and beauty. To reduce that chapter to that verse, in my opinion, degrades the Word of God.
All that to say—please stop guilting women into being involved with women’s ministry—and calling it sin when we’re open about the fact that it’s not the same worship experience for us as it is for you. And maybe choose some new verses to build your women’s ministry efforts around. This one might be a good idea. We can still be in community with women—doing the crux of Titus 2—without being actively involved in organized women’s ministry. (And if that’s not a possibility in your church, might I suggest that your church is not welcoming to all women. And if you think it’s impossible to be in relationship with other women without being involved with organized women’s ministry—might I suggest you check your opinion of women who don’t fit the women’s ministry mold. I know I have to repeatedly check my opinion of the women who do.)
Women don’t need any sort of encouragement to be at odds with one another—and that means being ok with the fact that women’s ministry is not one-size-fits-all—but that it does fit some.
And maybe we can start going out for burgers and drinks instead of brunch. Just sayin’.