I really care about women’s ministry. Between Scriptural passages like Titus 2, and scientific studies showing the health benefits of female friendship, it is clear to me that God created women to be in fellowship with one another. Women’s ministry is one great way to serve our Father’s good design.
Although I have written a lot about women’s ministry on this blog and elsewhere, I have decided to bring it up again because of a blog post I read several weeks ago. It was written by a female author and speaker that I respect a lot. Unfortunately, the content of her post was disappointing. In it she criticized the majority of women’s ministries and women’s conferences since, by her account, they usually consist of fluff and guilt. Due to the dearth of good content, she dislikes attending women’s conferences. She therefore promised that her speaking events would offer a different message, one that diverges from the typical fare.
Again, I really respect this author, but there is something troubling to me about her critique of women’s ministry, and others like it. In particular, I see two problems:
1. The criticism is too broad to be helpful. I am the first to admit that I have made broad generalization about the state of women’s ministry today. However, I have come to realize that generalizations of this sort are about as helpful as broad brush critiques of “the church.”
Wide spanning condemnations of “the church” end up stereotyping the entire Body of Christ based on isolated, personal experiences, or based on one sole part of the Body. Likewise, “women’s ministry” is often cast as a monolithic whole and dismissed as such. However, women’s ministries are like local churches in that they are not a uniform phenomenon. Each women’s ministry is different from the next, so there is no rule for content and quality. What’s more, women’s ministry has been evolving across the country. Many churches are seeking to challenge the women in their church with holistic discipleship programs and solid teaching. These ministries hardly deserve to be included in the broad critiques aimed at women’s ministry. Neither should Christian speakers like Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, Margaret Feinberg, Jennie Allen, or Mary Kassion–just to name a few–be accused of peddling fluff and shame.
And yet that is the reputation that women’s ministry and women’s conferences have managed to maintain. Despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The stereotype has repercussions, and I have experienced that myself. As much as my team members and I plan Bible-centered events designed to foster spiritual growth, we struggle to escape the stereotype. No matter what we do, many women in my church will never darken the door of a women’s ministry event.
Critics may hope to improve the state of women’s ministry with their judgments, but the stereotype has become so entrenched that it is now unproductive.
2. The criticism is vaguely anti-woman. I know this second point sounds extreme, but hear me out. The more I hear women decry the efforts of other women in the church, or condemn the state of women’s ministry, the more I am reminded of myself as a little girl. In my younger years I thought of myself as a “tomboy,” not like those other “prissy girls” who like to dress up and play dolls. I liked to get out in the woods and play in the mud. I climbed trees and ran hard.
The concept of a tomboy is a little funny because SO MANY girls like to play sports and get dirty. Those activities are not uniquely boyish. That said, my refusal to be like “those other girls” was more a rejection of girls in general. In my mind, being a typical girl was somehow a negative, so I sought to distance myself from my own gender.
A cousin of this mindset can be found among women who “get along better with men than women.” While I won’t try to deny that this is true of some women, I also find it strange. Not all women are the same, nor are all men. If you don’t like gossip, or cattiness, or manicures, or shopping or any other host of “girly” things, then find other female friends. A lot of women don’t like those things.
Either way, I can’t help but hear a belittling of womanhood in this mindset. Equating women with gossip, cattiness, or superficiality is indeed an insult to our gender.
To me, the broad condemnations of women’s ministry–particularly, rejections of the “girly” activities they might promote–sound much like the mentalities above. Christmas teas and shows of emotion may not be your thing, but is derision of these activities really necessary? Is it really that terrible that the women’s ministry flyer included the color pink? Why can’t I shake the feeling that these critiques are a thinly veiled echo of my childhood mantra: “I’m not like those other girls.” Subtext: Women are generally less theological, less challenging, and less deep; I, on the other hand, am not like them.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into these critiques. But I do know one thing for sure: these broad criticisms need to stop. Last year I wrote a post for Her.meneutics titled “Why It’s Your Job to Break the Women’s Ministry Stereotype.” Today, I am issuing a much stronger message: Stop bashing women’s ministry. I don’t doubt that some of you have had bad experiences. There are a lot of you out there who have. But not all women’s ministries are the same, and God is doing some amazing things through the women in His church. Over-generalizations about women’s ministry that fail to reflect this nuanced truth are doing little more than bashing an entire arm of the church. So please, stop perpetuating sloppy stereotypes that fail to honor your sisters and God’s work through them. It’s just not right.