Bunko gatherings, sewing circles, tea parties and crop nights. What do these activities all have in common? They are all stereotypes of women’s ministries in churches. And as a woman, I’m hurt by these common misconceptions.
It is amazing to me how pronounced such stereotypes have become in the Christian subculture. Prominent blogs rail on the superficial and shallow nature of women’s ministries—“Glitter and Glam Fashion Night, anyone?,” Christian magazines declare that women’s ministries contribute nothing to the church body except for the opportunity to socialize, and according to a seminary-graduate in her early thirties, “As soon as I hear that an event or Bible study is being hosted by the women’s ministry, I stop listening. Why would I want to participate in something so ridiculous?”
The really sad thing is that my friend admitted that had not even attended a single women’s ministry event at her church. However, the stereotype was so deeply rooted in her mind that she wasn’t even willing to give the women’s ministry at her large, urban church a chance. By simply being labeled as a ministry run by women for women within the context of the larger church, all of the activities and ministries of those women were automatically written off as “trivial” and “insignificant.”
As a conference planner dedicated to researching and understanding ministry trends and as a seminary student passionate about ministry to women, may I offer the following points in defense of your church’s women’s ministry?
1. Is the stereotype accurate?
While I am willing to admit that some women’s ministries do match the description above, it is probably not as common as you think. After all, what gets reported and repeated? The women’s ministry that raised $1,000 to help women to leave the degradation of the sex industry or the Bible study kickoff where each lady in attendance had to wear a plastic tiara and pink feather boa in honor of her status as a “Daughter of the King?” Unfortunately, the unusual, the extreme, and the sensational are usually what we tend to remember and retell, thereby contributing to the caricature of women’s ministry.
If you have never participated in your church’s women’s ministry, I encourage you to attend at least one event or Bible study before making a decision about the quality of the ministry. If you enjoy the program, consider attending more regularly and be sure to let the leaders and volunteers know that you appreciate their efforts. When asked, share with others what specifically you enjoy about the ministry and any personal spiritual growth that you’ve noticed as a result of attending. By speaking openly and honestly about your positive experience with your church’s women’s ministry, you are helping to tear down false stereotypes and freeing others to participate in a ministry that may be the very drink that their thirsty soul needs.
2. Be the change you want to see.
If you have attended two or three of the women’s ministry activities and are still disappointed with the quality of programs, pray about how God might use you to respond to this felt need. If you feel that the Bible studies are “fluffy” and light on theology, volunteer to research Bible studies and DVD curriculums that are biblically-accurate and more theologically-deep.
If you sense that the women’s ministry is only targeting a certain segment of women, brainstorm the cares and concerns of women in other life stages. For example, women in their twenties may be concerned with advancing in their career. Women whose children are no longer at home may be wondering what God has store for their future, and women in their seventies and eighties may struggle with feeling irrelevant and that they have little to contribute.
With the cares and concerns of others staring you in the face, now pull out a second sheet of paper and brainstorm possible ways to help meet those needs. With concrete suggestions in hand, make an appointment with the leaders of the women’s ministry and respectfully suggest that you would like to help broaden the efforts of the ministry by personally heading up an initiative focused on women in a certain life stage. There is nothing leaders appreciate more than volunteers—especially volunteers who are dedicated, innovative, and respectful of those in leadership.
3. Embrace the common goal.
No matter how successful the women’s ministry, there will always be differences of opinion as to how Bible studies should be conducted (DVD or live teaching?), who the retreat speaker ought to be, and whether or not the women are spiritually mature enough to handle the study of controversial topics (such as the role of women). When tempted to casually remark to your small group how much you disagree with a decision or action of the women’s ministry, first ask yourself:
- Do I disagree to the extent that it is worth sharing? If so, is this an opinion that would be better served if I voiced it to someone in leadership instead?
- By sharing this opinion will anyone or any ministry be built up and strengthened, or am I only saying this to blow off steam? Will sharing this opinion be perceived as gossip or as constructive criticism that is genuinely helpful?
Finally, remind yourself that all of you, yourself and those with whom you disagree included, are united in a shared commitment to see women flourish in their relationship with God. This shared goal should therefore prompt a desire to work together as a cohesive whole and the commitment to support one another and the ministry in prayer.
In short, women need theology, and your church’s women’s ministry is one of the most accessible avenues of biblical instruction outside of the sermon every Sunday. And that makes women’s ministries very valuable indeed.