Live from Synergy 2008: What Is the Future of Women’s Ministry?
When I first read Amy Simpson's blog post Why I Don't Do Women's Ministry a short while back, I remember giving an enthusiastic fist-pump toward my computer monitor. "Yeah," I said, "Why do we always call it a luncheon instead of just lunch?" More than just noon-meal terminology, Amy's words resonated with me because, like many of you, I feel out of place in traditional "women's" ministries. And with only 10 short months of marriage to my credit, I've come to realize that this extends to ministries to wives or married couples as well. As a person who loves the Lord and wants to be involved with his church, these aversions sometimes make me feel abnormal, guilty, or petty, as if I don't have the right to find fault with what someone else had diligently planned for me. Thankfully, Amy summarized my feelings exactly and I realized I wasn't alone. Her comments responded to what many of us associate with typical women's ministry: home parties, dubiously-named luncheons, or crafts.
Maybe this sensitivity is why I gravitated so quickly to the theme of the Synergy workshop I attended this morning called "What Is the Future of Women's Ministry?" Our group was diverse in ethnicity, age, profession, and family status. The panel discussion aimed to discuss about five questions on the subject of the future of women's ministry, but our dynamic group only made it through the first and most fundamental: what is women's ministry? In other words, what do we mean when we use that term? And how does that inform how we think about our hopes and expectations of this concept?
Here's when I started remembering Amy's blog post. I thought back to the sorts of church events that are often geared towards women. This is the conflict for me: while certain activities may typically be associated with women's ministry, often with success, need they be necessarily definitive or prescriptive? Does women helping women within the context of the church always need to look like this to be considered "women's ministry"?
The answer from our panel discussion was a resounding no. This is the summary that ended up on the white board describing traditional women's ministry: "Too small of a vision with unthought-through context." Gifted and called women of God, like everyone else, each inhabit a unique story (to use the language of Carolyn Custis James) comprised of an endless array of unique experiences. To reflect this reality, this morning's workshop developed a few key principles about ideal and authentic ministry to women:
--Women's ministry is not necessarily structural. The primary focus is encountering God and making him known. Structure enters the scene when leadership creates a protective arrangement to foster that growth, but it is not an end ? or a ministry ? in itself.
--Women's ministry is organic ? it is ultimately about people who struggle and grow together. Just as the church is more than a building, women's ministry must be more than a program. It's about doing life together.
--Women's ministry is about women intentionally connecting other women to Jesus Christ. Only then is it also about helping women discover their own giftedness and providing opportunities to utilize them.
--Women's ministry craves decision-making that includes men at the table. A true belief in the blessed alliance of men and women suggests that both gender perspectives are significant, all the time. In many church leadership discussions, it is the women who are absent, but that doesn't mean we can accept the loss of our brothers who would contribute to vital ministries to women.
This workshop at the Synergy conference challenged us to not simply disregard women's ministry but to redefine it. As we worship and grow together in our faith, I'm inspired to re-think my responsibility to landscape the field of women's ministry. Because, in a subtle twist of irony, those of us who declare with Amy Simpson that we don't "do" women's ministry are ? in the truest definition ? some of its greatest champions!
While traditional women's events, Bible studies, and other activities of the church are valid and helpful to many women, let's think about how we can include more of our sisters under the women's ministry umbrella. Let's ask ourselves, like the workshop this morning, what kind of message we're sending to those around us about the kinds of ministries that are meaningful to women. Let's ensure that the outgrowth of the term embodies the same diversity as the women we'd like to see participate in it!
I know many of you reading this post are already doing this! You're already engaged in an effective women's ministry just like the one envisioned in the workshop today. So I'm wondering: can you help the rest of us? What are some ways you've reached out to women in the church? What are some practical ideas you have for implementing a diverse ministry that reaches a variety of women?