Something… More?

   Have you seen it?  Felt it?  There may be something afoot within the pearly pillars of Christendom.  Female Christendom, specifically.  Boredom.  Monotony.  Round pegs in square hole-itis.  A soul-longing for something….. More?

 

What is “Christian womanhood,” anyway?  I have my own view on that question, and it’s this: there are as many answers and examples of “Christian womanhood” as there are woman to exemplify them. If you’re following this blog regularly, I’m gong to assume you’re already familiar with the biblical examples.  I’ll give you a short list of examples from more recent times:

 

n      Corrie ten Boom

n      Elisabeth Elliot

n      Shirley Dobson

n      Gladys Aylward

n      My mom

n      Amy Carmichael

n      Joni Eareckson Tada

n      Eleanor Jermain, my third grade Sunday school teacher who led me to Christ

n      Ruth Bell Graham

 

This is a mega-short list.  You probably have your own.  Note that some of these Christian women were/are married.  Some weren’t/aren’t.  Some were mothers.  Some weren’t.  Some were missionaries, evangelists, teachers, authors.  Some weren’t.  Know what I think they all had in common?  They belonged wholly to their Lord – heart, soul, mind, body.  They followed his lead – whether to the mission fields of Ecuador or China, a Sunday school class, or a Master’s degree and a professorship at a state university (my mom, who was promoted to glory years ago). 

 

Clearly, “Christian womanhood” isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition.

 

Which leads me to another question: if there’s no “one size fits all approach” to Christian womanhood, then is the traditional “women’s ministry” paradigm – a weekly Bible study with a fill-in-the-blank workbook focusing on wife-ing and mothering* – relevant?  If it is, then why do some Christian women yearn for something…. Deeper?  Or do they?

 

Do you ever sense that something’s….. missing?

 

What?

 

***

* For more on this topic, visit:

http://hevencense.wordpress.com/womens-ministry/invisible-christian-women/

 

- More later.  Stay tuned –

 

Nuggets and Nudges (Ideas for Women’s Ministries)

dscf0086-cropped-2.jpg

05/04/10 update:

Check out Love & War: Finding the Marriage You Dreamed Of, a new release from best-selling authors John and Stasi Eldrege of Ransomed Heart Ministries.  This is NOT the typical “tips and techniques” or formulaic approach to Christian marriage.  It’s isn’t the usual “how-to” book that reduces marriage into a to- do list.  This is different.  I love the part where John wisecracks, “We hate books on marriage.”   So do I.  But Love and War is different.  Check out the trailer here:


6/13/08 Update:

It’s been six months since this thread was originally posted and time for an update.  I plan to launch a series exploring “Christian femininity” (“Proverbs 31 and beyond”) in the near future.  While the meme doesn’t intend, purport or presume to be the final word – or even an exhaustive rendering of the subject – hopefully it’ll generate some additional thinking, musing, digging and growing.  “Some Total is where we started.

***

We’ve been in and out of threads concerning women’s ministries, events, and retreats.  Let’s keep in mind that women’s ministry leaders have their work cut out for them.  It’s not possible for “women’s ministry” leaders to meet all of the varied needs and demographics out there: stay at home moms, working moms with children at home, working women with no children, single women, divorcees, widows, women who like frills, women who don’t, those who like sports, the outdoors, quilting and crafting, light social gatherings and “fluff” vs. deep Bible studies, academic subjects, and more scholarly pursuits, etc.

No one can design a single program or ministry to meet all those needs all the time.  Likewise, ALL women need to step up and serve where they have passion, gifts, and calling.

My point: If you’re dissatisfied with what constitutes “women’s ministries” at your church, would you prayerfully consider that God may be nudging you to fill that hole, bridge that gap or start something new?  How is He calling you?

Here are a few nuggets I’d like to see in women’s ministries:

– I’m a cerified bibliophile.  While this may not be everybody’s cup of sunshine, I’d give my eye-teeth for a Christian Women’s Book Club at my church that met regularly to discuss life-changing books – everything from Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Bonhoeffer, ten Boom, Eldredge and Elliot.

Practical Service –  Service and ministry are a vital part of who we are in Christ.  As believers we need to be regularly “giving out” as well as “taking in.”  (Too often the alternative is bloated, stagnant faith.)   What about helping out at a local crisis pregnancy center, library, or food bank?  If your church supports missionary families, adopt one.  Remember their special dates.  Organize a Christmas in July activity for those who are far from home.  Do likewise for a military family.  If you live near a military base, meet with the chaplain and check into getting together a group of ladies to host a Christmas party for military kids who moms or dads (or both) are deployed overseas for the holidays.  This can be a great opportunity for outreach.  Don’t forget Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse, a personal favorite.

Women’s Sports Leagues and/or exercise classes.  Some options: organized hikes, round-robin tennis, volleyball, softball, flag football, basketball, badminton, raquetball, table tennis tournaments.  Anyone up for chess?  Aerobics?  I’ve always wanted to learn how to fence.  What about a group membership or a class at the YMCA?  How ’bout getting a few interested and able ladies together twice a week or so for some power walking – elevate the heart rate and the conversation.  (I personally am not especially comfortable with co-ed sports/athletics, but teaming up with some women?  That’s different.)

Biographical studies on selected saints.  A few for starters (list not exhaustive): Corrie ten Boom, Gladys Aylward, Elisabeth Elliot, Eric Liddell, Husdon Taylor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Saint Augustine, George Mueller, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Amanda Smith, John Bunyan, Bernard of Clairvaux, Elizabeth Fry, Cameron Townsend, David Zeisberger, Festo Kivengere, Jim Elliot, etc.

Who were they pre and post-conversion?  How did they come to Christ?  When?  Where?  How?  Why?  Character qualities?  How did God use them?  How did He prepare them?  Personal applications within a Biblical framework?  The sky’s the limit in discussion questions!

A study of church music and hymnologyA Mighty Fortress was originally a tavern tune! What else can we learn from the composers, lyricists, and rich doctrine evidenced in so many of the great hymns of the church?

– A topical study on The Theology of Suffering.  Start with Job and go from there.  A choice resource?  A Path Through Suffering: Discovering the Relationship Between God’s Mercy and Our Pain, by Elisabeth Elliot.

– I would love to join some other ladies and learn more about classical art and music, including life studies on the artists: Michaelangelo, Vermeer, Monet, Manet, da Vinci, etc.  I’m a sucker for all things Puccini  and Bach.   I love Italian opera.  I’m starting to get the hang of Gustav Mahler.  If an artist was a believer, how did it affect his or her art?  How about getting a group of women together and taking a night (or other) class on the subject at a local community college?

– A monthly or quarterly “chick flick” night.  (Somewhere in Time, Sense and Sensibility, Sleepless in Seattle, etc.)  Take turns choosing favorites.  Bring finger food or munchies.  Rotate babysitting responsibilities as necessary.

– A study of Biblical leadership.  Flesh out some different leadership styles.  What is and isn’t Scriptural?  Learn, develop and apply or sharpen analytical and critical thinking skills.  How to detect error and expose false teaching without being a jerk about it.

– Christian apologetic and current event discussions from a Biblical worldview.  (BTW, what is “a Biblical worldview”?)

The ABCs of Friendship – How to Make, Keep, and Cultivate a Real Friend.  A great place to start?  Dropping Your Guard : The Value of Open Relationships, by Charles Swindoll.

Conflict Resolution Skills 101. What does the Bible say on this subject?  How, why, and when to resolve a conflict, heal wounds, restore an offended party?  When it is time to just move on?  Why forgiveness and restoration are two different things.

– What about helping women form intentional mentoring relationships with each other? I don’t necessarily mean the typical “Titus 2″ deal – pairing up “olders” with “youngers.”  One resource I recently came across listed 12 different types of mentoring possibilities/capacities, everything from “intense” to “casual.”  The goal is building God-honoring, rich relationships for mutual encouragement, support, accountability and spiritual growth.  Many women are looking for mentors but don’t know how to ask for one, get started, or keep it going.

– Organize a monthly Parents Night Out. Each participating couple takes turns watching other families’ kids for 3 or 4 hours on say, the first Friday of each month.  Draft responsible high schoolers if additional child care is needed.  Charge a nominal fee per family to pay your high schoolers for their time.  Have families pre-register so an appropriate amount of snacks or acitivities can be planned.  Childcare responsibilities rotate depending on number of participating couples.  Mom and Dad can look forward to one night out together each month.

– Organize some events to include husbands and/or families once in a while.  Luncheons, potlucks, an I Love Lucy marathon with munchies?  A Super Bowl party?  Support each other by attending some sports events, band concerts or other activities involving the kids of women in your group (within reason).  My personal favorite: country line dancing!  Yea! (I’ve always wanted to learn.  My DH would be much more likely to take a class if there were other guys he knew willing to take the plunge as well.)

– Shift the semantics. Words mean things.  “Women’s ministry” can carry lots of baggage – stereotypes, misplaced expectations, misperceptions, etc.  I personally feel the tag “women’s ministry” is vague, amorphous and anemic.  In some contexts it’s almost meaningless.  I like the idea someone pitched awhile back about changing “women’s ministry” to “We: a Movement of Women” – or something similar.   Aw heck, I kinda like the sound of Semper Fi Sisters.  (It’s a Marine thing.)

A final note. Realize that “women’s ministries” is easily susceptible to church-based cliquism. When launching any new idea, event, ministry or small group, make it clear that the endeavor is open to all interested women.  Nothing will kill “women’s ministries” quicker than selective participation or “by invitation only” events where some women are invited and others aren’t.  (There’s nothing worse than finding out second-hand that other women were asked or invited but you weren’t.)   Make sure your publicity and word-of-mouth “advertising” is inclusive. Don’t expect women to keep coming to your events or group if they don’t feel included, affirmed, useful and valued.

— Pay special attention to no-shows. When a regular attender suddenly drops out of a small group or Bible study for no discernible reason, see that for what it is: a red flag.   Don’t let her disappear off the map without gently inquiring why.  There’s usually a reason.  Most women will respond if someone cares enough to inquire.  Tip: Don’t ever, ever adopt the ostrich approach – “just ignore it, it’ll go away.”  It won’t.  It’ll only get worse.  Be proactive and you’ll nip a lot of problems in the bud before they mushroom into Hiroshimic proportions.  A little sensitivity and initiative can go a long way toward heading off some ugly rifts (See Matthew 18:15- 17 for more).

On a similar note, be responsive to issues and concerns as they arise.   Address any complaints promptly and openly.  Flex, adjust, and revise as needed.   Remember: leadership that’s not dynamic is stale, myopic, and ultimately ineffective.   People vote with their feet.  If women are leaving or dropping out and not coming back – whether one or two or en masse – something may be seriously wrong within your group (see above).  Careful attention and decisive action are needed.

— Avoid burn-out. Ask God to guide you to other like-minded women with similar passions who are willing and able to help you lead.  If your ladies group is small – say 10 regulars or less –  you may only need two or three women on your leadership team.  As your group grows and matures, so should your leadership team.  The larger the group, the more critical the need for specific tasking, clearly defined areas of responsibility, and delegation.

– Rotate leadership and vary roles.  Give people a chance to do something besides spectate.  An extension on the item above, nothing is more deflating, discouraging or counter-productive in the long run than having the “same old, same old” doing everything.  “We’ve always done it that way” or “she’s always been the leader” is a sure way to produce snores and ingrownitis.  Freshen things up.  Recruit some new faces.  Encourage women to serve as they’re gifted and interested.  I’m not a big fan of the typical fill-in-the-blank workbook type of study, but the Doing Life Together series from Saddleback Community Church (Zondervan) is an exception – and a good place to start.

– Per the above, Christians are in the business of making disciples and reproducing spiritually. Thus, leadership in women’s ministries shouldn’t be a closed loop or a self-perpetuating entity.  (That’s not “leadership,” that’s stagnation!)  If a woman indicates an interest in and an ability to lead, invite her to join your team.  Don’t shut her out just because she’s not a certain age or within a specific demographic.  Mark it well: Women with leadership skills will go elsewhere rather than be bored in a “ministry” that’s unable or unwilling to use their gifts and skills.

Aim high. When considering a new mnistry, small group curriculum or Bible study, resist the temptation to begin and end with Gerber’s.  Spooning out spiritual baby food may seem like a good place to start, but realize that some Christian women may be far beyond Gerbers, and thus bored to death by endless rehashes of Bible Basics 101.  There’s nothing wrong with reviewing the basics from time to time, but don’t forget to offer meat to those women who crave solid food.  Rather than catering solely to young believers, strike a balance with offerings for both new and more mature Christians (the former approach can come off as condescending and patronizing and may backfire badly).  Take feedback and suggestions from your “best and brightest” seriously.  If you don’t engage these ladies, you’re likely to lose them.

Finally and most importantly – bathe everything in prayer.

For more, see Not Your Mother’s Church Social and Women: Mission Critical.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling.  Now it’s your turn.  What are your ideas?

Related Discussions:

Cleaver and Condundrums: Why I Don’t Do Women’s Retreats.

Ministry to “Other Women”

How to Kill a Small Group (or Women’s Ministry)

Fully-Souled or Fully Sole?

***

Interested in ministry to children?  Check out our sister blog, Victory Circle. “Where ‘litle victories’ – kids – matter.  MOST.”

Invisible Christian Women

Does this sound familiar, ladies?   Although I don’t fall into the 30-something single career woman category mentioned in Camerin’s post, I was a working-outside-the-home career mom for nearly a dozen years.  This article epitomizes why I don’t do “women’s ministries” – or women’s retreats – as discussed in prior posts under Cleaver & Conondrums.  For full text of Camerin’s article, please click on the link provided to Today’s Christian Woman. 

 http://blog.todayschristianwoman.com/editors/2007/08/invisible_christian_women.html

Why do I feel like an outsider at many women’s ministry functions?

August 13, 2007 | The evening was supposed to be encouraging. Instead it ended with tears—mine.

My mom and I were attending a women’s ministry event—a weekend retreat dubbed an escape. To us busy career women, this sounded like just what we needed—time away from the daily grind. And connecting with one another on this getaway was the biggest draw of all.

So on a Friday afternoon we flew to this national conference anticipating encouragement, togetherness, and a sense of belonging to the larger community of Christian women.

But by Saturday night I simply felt invisible.

The event was certainly well planned and executed. I enjoyed the great worship music, the chit-chat with women from around the country, the chance to hear some top-notch speakers. But the entire weekend seemed geared toward young married moms. And as a single 30something with no kids, I felt like an outsider. Even my mom, an empty-nester nearing retirement, felt a bit out of the loop.

Much of the explanation for why we women needed to get away was couched in terms of us getting away from our husbands and kids. Nearly all the speakers told multiple stories about their families and centered their points on being good wives and moms. I certainly don’t begrudge the women in those demographics this needed advice. But if this was an event aimed specifically at wives and moms, it probably should’ve been advertised that way. Instead, it had been marketed simply as a women’s ministry event.

I don’t think this evening would’ve bothered me if its narrow focus had been an isolated instance. But I’ve been to many women’s ministry events over the years—teas, luncheons, weekend retreats, national conferences—and many of them have had a very homogeneous demographic in mind: young married moms.

I know we never-married singles aren’t the only ones who feel left out in this equation. In the past couple years I’ve become friends with a newly widowed 60something and a newly divorced mom of two grade-school-age kids. Given their new status, both these women have talked about the challenge of knowing where they fit into the body of Christ as a whole and women’s ministry niches more specifically. … I’ve heard similar rumblings from women who are older, disabled, of an ethnic background, or more into tattoos and extreme sports than capris and casseroles.

Of course many women’s ministries across the country are wonderfully diverse, innovative, and inclusive. …. But I fear too much of what’s done in the name of women’s ministry is by and large still exclusive. And hurtful to those of us who feel on the outside. Like the black sheep of God’s family.

I completely understand why the church is so traditional-family focused. The roles of wife and mom are all encompassing, and women need constant encouragement and equipping to live these roles well. And with the family unit taking many hits in society, those serving the God who created family are compelled to act and advocate. But in these years when the church has taken on the cause of the family, society has seen some huge demographic shifts as well.  … 

 I never imagined I’d be 36 and still single. Contrary to some common thinking, I never made a conscious choice of career over family. I simply haven’t met a man who’s a good, godly match for me. For my friends who’ve wrestled with infertility, their empty arms ache for little ones to call their own. For those of us longing for these “missing people” in our lives, the blanket assumption that all Christian women are wives and moms stings. We already can feel invisible to men, to God, and to women in the demographics we thought we’d occupy by now. Adding the church to this list is painful. Of all the places to feel like an outsider, our communities of faith are probably one of the most difficult….

 I think women’s ministries should be celebrating this unique way God crafted each of his daughters and the myriad ways he’s writing our life stories. And they should be encouraging us in whatever season of life we’re experiencing—whether by design or by surprise—to find strength in our fellow women of faith and hope in our unconditionally loving God.

Blessings,
Camerin Courtney

***

For a related discussion, click on:

http://hevencense.wordpress.com/womens-ministry/nuggets-and-nudges/

***

Tomorrow we turn a corner into a special series of Christmas-themed posts.  Check out the link here manana!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers

%d bloggers like this: