A much needed discussion on women’s ministry is taking place around the internet. Women, in particular, are speaking up about their desire for more discipleship and ministry opportunities in their local church.
In the current climate, there is a perceived vacuum of female leaders and teachers in the local church, and as a result, women are turning to bestselling authors, internet gurus and women’s conference tours for spiritual direction.
Women like Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Beth Moore and Glennon Doyle Melton have massive followings on social media and speak to sold out stadiums of women on conference tours like Belong, IF: Gathering and others.
Some might say it’s the golden age for women in ministry. The internet has opened up doors for women that were previously closed. Anyone can start a blog and build a platform with social media. A little elbow grease, savvy, and a great personality go a long way toward building your own following.
Several women’s ministry leaders–who are in the thick of it themselves–have offered helpful analysis and critique of women’s ministry today. For example:
- Hannah Anderson discusses the outsourcing of women’s discipleship to para-church personalities in a podcast where she expresses concern over the market-driven nature of women’s ministry today.
- In an article at Christianity Today , Jen Wilkin is quoted as saying that the church needs to “identify, equip, and celebrate ‘church mothers’” in the local church so that the voices of women with national platforms do not become too loud.
- Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes about the need to cultivate women’s gifts ‘in house’, and gives practical ways that pastors can open doors to women in their congregations.
As a women’s ministry teacher and writer, I resonated with much of what was said. Specifically, the need for a more robust ecclesiology in which both men and women are discipled and equipped to carry out the mission of the church in their various roles.
Some have suggested the passive, fluffy nature of women’s ministry in many churches is due to a conservative view of gender roles, but I suspect it has more to do with a consumer mentality and a lack of vision for discipleship.
Whatever the reason, many women want something more than what is offered in their local churches, and because of a perceived vacuum in local churches, women are turning to parachurch organizations in droves.
An Appeal to Honour Our Grandmothers
I think the impetus behind this push to reform women’s ministry is good, but I’m concerned that in our haste for better equipped female teachers and biblical, robust teaching, we may be inadvertently denigrating our spiritual mothers and grandmothers. Casserole-carrying church ladies have been doing ministry in the church for many years before my generation was even potty trained. They knew something about community and mercy ministry that we, younger generations, would do well to learn from.
Did they spend much time crafting and knitting with other women? Well, maybe. But if they encouraged one another in the Lord through organic, shared-life moments, why would we disparage that?
I am a self-confessed craft-making disaster, and I would take a bible class over a knitting circle anyday, but I do not represent all women. Many women crave this type of community and support. And perhaps we, who see the benefit of young women being mentored within the local church, should be the first to honour these women with our words.
A Vacuum of Role Models?
Our church community group visited a senior’s home in Calgary recently, bringing a church service to those who could not get to church themselves. Lovely souls with gnarled hands and wheelchair-bound bodies ministered to me in surprising ways. One woman 99 years old, and another in her 80s, shared stories with me of God’s faithfulness, of marriage, of heartache and the long path of sanctification that led these dear old faces to radiate joy and love despite their difficulties. They had not been to seminary, but they were well versed in the school of life, and knew how to apply God’s word to life’s sharp edges.
We need these women to speak into our lives. A woman going through breast cancer or struggling to cope with the demands of small children does not want the woman with a social media platform and a great personality to guide her through it. She wants and needs the older woman, seasoned with various trials and time, who has walked a mile in her shoes, and who knows how to gently and wisely guide her through the uneven places of her dark world.
The spiritual giants among us are not always in-your-face-visible. They don’t necessarily tweet or use emoticons, and they may not teach large crowds at women’s retreats. My generation mourns a lack of female role models in local churches, but it’s also possible we’re not looking hard enough. The very people we should be looking to, are instead marginalized and forgotten. They are the faithful ones who do good when no one is looking, and could care less about ‘likes’ and retweets.
So, yes, let’s reform women’s ministry. Let’s encourage women to grow in theology, and give women opportunities to lead and teach where appropriate. But let’s not forget that many of the women who went before us had no degrees, platforms and accolades. They did not have the opportunities of my generation, but they have proven their faithfulness through a life of perseverance. So let’s make sure to honour our spiritual mothers and grandmothers as we continue to reform the way we do women’s ministry.