Monday, June 29, 2020

Women's Ministry

This week (yes, all week), I want to talk about women. And ministry. And women's ministry. And let me say right up front that this is not an invitation or an excuse for male readers of this blog to tune out. There are some things coming up that you need to hear...maybe all of them.

But let's start with women's ministry as a touchpoint for this greater discussion.

Women's ministry has become its own thing in the past several decades, formalized into programs and events centered around making sure that the women in the church are having a true Christian experience in community and so forth. Some of this came as a reaction to understanding how women have been marginalized in the Western church. Some of it is a reaction to understanding how male preachers tend to masculinize everything (not intentionally, of course, but just as a product of being male themselves). Some of it as a concession to the outcry of women who have refused to be silent in their churches for very long. And listen, women's ministry is an important outreach.

But it is so very, very shallow most of the time.

Women's ministry is centered on a feminizing of the Christian experience, rather than on a theology that is specific to the needs of the feminine creation. Oh, for sure, many have attempted to wrap theology around it, but at its core, it's all about beauty and gentleness and flowers and frilly stuff. Women's Bibles are printed with pretty pink covers and swirly writing on the cover, even though the content inside is largely the same - maybe with a few inset 'inspirations' about beauty or motherhood or 'the Proverbs 31 woman.'

When I was coming of age as a woman, I was part of a number of Bible studies for women about being the bride of Christ, complete with planning our weddings and designing our dresses. Yes, really. At my undergraduate college, the girls in the dorm chose a semester-long study of what it means to be a lady in waiting, which was all about trusting in your own beauty even if there wasn't a man in your life yet to tell you how beautiful you are. I listened to a number of female preachers and read a number of female authors who wanted me to know that I am beautiful because God made me beautiful, and that that should be enough for me.

Following on the footsteps of books attempting to get at the heart of men's theology by declaring all the things that make men who they are and what they desire from God, more than one book came out about the creation of women and guess what? The main argument of every one of these books that I read is that God created women to want to be beautiful and to want to be desired. And then, of course, spent the entire book explaining why it's good if you want to be beautiful and desired and even have chapters on how to dress and how to apply your 'spiritual' make-up.

You know what women's ministry doesn't talk about? Women's ministry doesn't talk about our sin. Women's ministry doesn't talk about our need for Jesus. Women's ministry doesn't talk about that ache in our heart that remembers Eden and longs for Heaven. Women's ministry doesn't talk about single women - women in women's ministry are always in relationship, either with a husband or with Jesus. They are never on their own. Women's never actually about women. Take that in for a second. It's never about women. It's about women in connection with something else, whatever that something else is, and it is very seldom, if ever, her own heart, her own sin, her own brokenness, her own need for redemption, her own longing for home, her own hurt, her own crying out from the side of the road for a chance to meet Jesus. It's very seldom, if ever, actually Jesus. What is sadly, sadly missing from most women's 'ministry' is the heart of the Gospel itself, the real Gospel.

Oh, silly Christian women. You don't need Jesus. Here, let me polish your nails while we talk about the church for a bit.

Yes, really. Women's ministry is designed to make you feel better about being a woman in the church, but it stops painfully short of helping you understand yourself at all as a woman of God. As a woman who wants to know more, learn more, understand more, live more, love more. As a woman who wants to bear God's name into the world and not just bear children to take to church with you.

And this is one of the reasons that many women's ministries go through cycles of engagement. Women come, hoping for something of substance, and then they leave, having not found it. We can only hear we're beautiful so many times before we realize that our hearts long for more, that there is an entire story of God woven through the very fabric of creation that is unfathomably deeper and more fulfilling than how beautiful we are. And yet, a few years later, we'll sign up for the women's ministry again, hoping it will be different this time, but finding that we're still just beautiful and well, isn't that most deeply what God wants for us?

Not once in all of Scripture does God say that His deepest desire for us - for any of us - is to know how beautiful we are. His deepest desire for us, for all of us, is to know how loved we are. By Him. And that requires us knowing Him. And God loves us for so many thousands of other reasons than that we are beautiful.

Perhaps we would know that if we studied more of Him and less of us.

So women's ministry has been a good start in recognizing that there are needs of women in the church that must be identified and addressed, but the execution is far from where it needs to be to actually meet and matter to the hearts of Christian women.

Stay tuned this week. We have much more to talk about. 

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