When I think about the things that helped shape me into a woman, I cannot help thinking about the church. My husband and I had been married about six months when we made a cross-country move to Phoenix, AZ. We were expecting our first baby and had one car. My husband worked full time and was working on his master’s degree full time as well. For the first time since I was 14, I was not working. I was trying to figure out what it looked like to be a wife while stranded daily without a car in our apartment in a new city of millions. I’m not sure how my husband survived those first several months. On top of his heavy workload, he had to listen to me cry myself to sleep every night, not knowing who I was, what use I was as a human, and desperately searching for my identity.
Enter church women’s ministry.
We were a part of a new church plant that wasn’t terribly big, but there was a women’s Bible study group. Bible study had always been a part of my life, but what was new was relationship with other generations of women that would add their perspectives into what God was saying in his word. It did wonders for me to have a group to be a part of in a new town, older women loving me into adulthood, and comradery concerning marriage and parenting.
Over the years, we’ve been a part of churches that had full scale women’s ministry programs with mom’s ministry, monthly brunches, and retreats and churches that simply had a women’s Bible study or two. What was offered officially and unofficially has looked a little different in every environment, but there was always ministry to women...which is why I am perplexed when I hear women tell me that their church does not have any women’s ministry. But I’ve heard it. A lot.
In my early blogging days, I heard from countless women who relied on internet chatrooms for connection because they felt they had no connections with women in their church. We’ve recently watched the phenomena of Christian, female celebrity speakers arise in the para church sphere, and women of the church are so grateful because no one is addressing them on the local level. In one sense, I am very thankful that we have the world wide web to connect us. I am also heart-broken that this virtual ministry is not just a nice addition, but essential to many women who cannot find anything available to them in real life.
It is important to address some of the reasons why churches may not officially offer women’s ministry, because those reasons may be misunderstood at first glance. Here are a few that I have observed.
Poor Organization - Churches do not always have a refined mission statement that drives their ministry model. Pastors continually have people coming to them with ministry ideas. One reaction is to let anyone with an idea start something. The complete opposite reaction is to not let anyone start anything. This is a problem from the very top that will cripple a church if not solved, but it will not be solved by the individuals who are begging for a new ministry.
Prioritization – Some churches may intend to offer women’s ministry one day, but it is easy to put off because women can take care of themselves - unlike the children or the youth.
No One to Start It – Recently, a pastor asked me to come work with the women at his church. There were several young women in the church who were new in their faith, but no one available to work with them. This can happen in a newer church full of baby Christians when no one is further along to disciple them. Or it can happen when the older Christians have become complacent about investing in younger believers. The women have lost their understanding of their biblical responsibility to invest in the younger ones. This can result in a cyclical dilemma. In other words, how do we raise up someone to do ministry when there is no one here to raise them up to do ministry?
A Church Model that Doesn’t Do Programs. Period. I currently belong to a church whose ministry is community groups. We do weekend services and community groups. Almost all other ministry happens in small scale in life on life discipleship through community. It is the intent of the church and discriminates equally among all ministries. I personally think it’s awesome.
Life on Life Discipleship is Not a Part of the Church Model. Some churches focus on a weekend teaching ministry and do not focus on life on life discipleship. Similar to the model above, they simply do not do programming. However, their lack of programing is not based on doing ministry in community, but a belief that weekend pew-sitting is enough.
Gender Discrimination - Though I honestly believe this reason is not common in today’s culture, some churches do not have ministry to women because they honestly believe it is unnecessary. A church with discriminatory leadership will combine this perceived lack of need with extremely gender defined service opportunities, such as only encouraging women to serve in the nursery or organize potlucks and baby showers, while only men may serve on boards and teaching teams.
It can be tempting to assume the last reason is always the reason. I’d like to encourage you to decide with me to get past that. Allowing a victim mentality to get the best of us doesn’t do anyone any good. Something I’ve noticed recently is that churches that equally value women and their roles feel less of a need to establish a separate ministry for women over in the corner somewhere as women are invited into the same spaces as men. As the world becomes more globalized, we learn that roles assigned to genders are often more cultural than biblical, and gender roles in the western church are often birthed from a western cultural theology (but this is another post entirely). Churches that are becoming more globally minded are not focusing so much on gender roles. Whether you agree with that theology or not, just recognize that the lack of gender specific ministry isn’t always coming from a place of discrimination – but exactly the opposite.
Now that we’ve looked at some reasons churches may not have women’s ministry, it would be good to define the kind of ministry we are looking for. We will do that in part 2. See you soon!