The IF:Gathering, Nail in the Coffin or a Fresh Awakening?

Two years ago Sarah Bessey rocked the women's ministry world with her blog, Why We Don't Need "Women's" Ministry (17 thousand likes). Did the IF:Gathering nail the coffin lid down tight or blow that sucker sky high with fresh resurrection power? What would Sarah say?

       Well, Sarah, there were no cute cupcake designs and decorating tips, scrapbooking parties or casserole recipes. Instead a parade of diverse nameless leaders opened with unscripted prayers to beseech God to act and empower. They were smart and they were brave and they asked God to use them to change the world. No long introductions full of accolades and sales pitches.           
       Unapologetically , they focused on the opening verses in Hebrews 12 and an assortment of other Bible passages. They didn't shy away from words like "sin" and "repentance".  But they came as fellow-strugglers, leaving their church-faces at home. It certainly wasn't a Safe Club for the Little Ladies to Play Church–not with words like Hookers for Jesus, references to pimps, one speaker accusing business-churches of prostitution, and even a few "prophetic" voices.  
       And it wasn't predictable or boring. The time was planned but not over-planned, so the Spirit could show up and change the agenda if needed. One time a pair of women from different backgrounds shared a conversation, revealing their unique yet similar God-honoring stories. Another time one speaker took center space;  later a group. Messages were peppered with worship, questions, group interaction, community readings, poetry, missional projects, keys to wear and pass along, prayer, time for personal reflection, ceremony, and challenge. Creative, casual, real, and organic.
       And look Sarah, no pink flowers on the program cover–just a simple picture of a long patio table where we could enjoy a meal together, really talk, and build authentic community. No pink flowers on the table either but simple floral decor that looked like it had been picked from the garden next door and arranged in glass vases to highlight white plates and linen napkins. The program featured natural pictures of  speakers, many with their families–in blue jeans, some color and some black and white, no air brushing, no commentaries of achievements. Just a few essential words to know each one better, and websites or twitter contact.
       Was it perfect? No. I'm sure women are still discussing whether a woman could have overseen the  communion ceremony and whether signing up to give $35 a month could be decided so quickly, without other's input. But overall, Sarah, I think you would have been blessed and inspired. I think you would have tasted what real woman-to-woman ministry can be like. And I think you would admit that it's not dead yet.
       Yes, leaders from a distance can show us how. They can illustrate the powerful influence that women can be in one another's lives. They can shine a light on what women can accomplish when they don't "let dumb things divide" us. Indeed they can fill the earth with the fragrance of God's love, rise to the questions of our time, speak to the injustices of the world, move mountains of fear and intimidation--all expectations voiced by Idelette McVicker in Sarah's blog two years ago.
      Thanks IF:Team for a beautiful vision. But ultimately conferences from a distance won't cut it. What women experienced at the IF:Gathering must occur locally and consistently for real transformation to occur, and it can. God wants it to happen.
      The idea of local gathering was genius, and that's the way I experienced the gathering–with a group of local women leaders that I serve with in our local church. We are incredibly blessed because much of what happened at IF in essence happens at our church every week. That can and should be happening everywhere. That's what it's going to take. Armies of women from all generations coming together in their communities, giving up old ways that aren't working, inspired by new ways that do. We need women leading, equipping, teaching, mentoring, serving, developing, going on mission, and praying for one another and those on the outside.  God has provided every local community with women like that–if only someone there will identify, equip, and unleash them. It might be you.
       Women across the street and around the world are dying and they need us all, in local gatherings and larger ones from time to time, doing life and ministry together, inside and out. Thanks, IF:Team for giving us a taste of what women can be and do through God's incredible strength when we come together. Sarah was honest enough to speak truth two years ago. Jenny and her IF team are courageous enough to step out and show us. But unless God's women grasp the baton together, millions of Sarahs will walk away. Really, we all  need "Women's" Ministry.  

Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.


  • Sue Edwards


    Just learned that Sarah Bessey was one of the speakers. Egg on my face. So sorry, I did not put that together. Please forgive me. Hope it won't change the general gist of the blog. Just emphasize why we need lots of young women in ministry to other women–including to us "older" women. Glad I can laugh at myself.

  • SonShine

    Now you’re talking

    Good to see that there are others who think " outside the box" to meet the felt and unfelt needs. One of the reasons I do NOT like women's ministry is that it is so canned. I think I would like the one you described, flowing with the Spirit and being open to new ideas. 

    Thanks Sue for sharing this….I think your church is very blessed to have you and these gals and perhaps there is hope beyond the doors of our churches after all.

  • Sue Bohlin

    Loved this review of IF:!

    Thanks so much, Sue! I think God's gift of technology–after all, there had to be a small army of people working together, from camera operators to audio monitors to those providing and setting up the equipment to those connecting to the internet and maintaining the uplink–is timely since the need is greater than ever!