On “what is wrong with women’s ministries”

I frequent a very interesting group blog called “Boarshead Tavern”, which discusses all things theological (plus other stuff–I’d link it, but I don’t know how yet.) A recent thread there began with the observation on Beth Moore. Commenters on that thread made a number of observations about Beth Moore, about Kay Arthur, about snarky women who adulate one or the other of them, etc. Someone called for a discussion on what is wrong with women’s ministries in the American church, and the discussion has since taken a sharp left turn into a fairly dense argument–oops, I mean discussion–on whether God has a gender, and if He can genuinely be called “He”.

I don’t much care to get into a tussle over the whole gender of God thing, even if I think the idea of calling God female is weird and icky. What I want to address is the question of whether we can actually analyze what’s wrong with women’s ministries in the American church. My premise is no. There are some assumptions in that question that I don’t like:
1)That something is wrong–like maybe it’s sort of skittered out of God’s control and He desperately needs help getting it all tucked neatly back into His hands. And
2)That if it’s wrong, it’s gone wrong EVERYWHERE in EVERY church–The American Church, as exemplified by….whose church? Not mine.

Whose church are they looking at to draw these generalizations? I don’t remember getting the survey at our church.

Anyway, I can’t speak to What Is Wrong With Women’s Ministries in the Church At Large. I can only speak to what’s happening in my church. And I AM qualified to speak to that–I am the director of our church’s women’s Bible study group, and have served on the Women’s Ministries council for the last year and a half.

Here are some things that are hard in our Women’s Ministries:
•People are busy. We have to weigh every possible event or offering on whether it’s valuable enough to warrant asking women to come out and participate or lead in it.
•We have a wide range of women to serve. Some of them like ladies’ teas, with little devotionals, and lots of chatting. Some of them want weekend-long Bible dig-ins (this would be me.) Some have been believers for a hundred years and are mature and solid. Some have been believers for a hundred years and still don’t know what’s in the Bible. Some are brand new baby believers who are scared that they don’t know enough to fit in. Some are young moms who only come to Bible study so they can get out of the house on Tuesday morning. Some of the women that we still haven’t figured out come in for Sunday service and leave immediately, and don’t talk to anybody. You can’t have a separate program for every single demographic–we’d have 300 (or more) programs for 500 women.
•The kind of Bible studies people want is all over the map–we want more Max Lucado book studies, we want studies that are more girly, we want more Beth Moore, we want Precept only, we want to go “bronco” (in this case, I mean studying the Word directly, w/o anybody’s study guides–what did you THINK I meant?)
•For me personally, what’s hard is that there are some in the church who perceive me to be a heady, cerebral academic analytic (this in spite of the fact that I reliably cry every single Bible study at least twice), and who therefore harbor great suspicion and caution toward any study that I recommend enthusiastically. i.e. Laura likes Precept studies–therefore, they must be hard and academic, and not…womanlike. Or something. (I’ve been told to my face by someone that “most women are not like you–all analytical and stuff. They want studies that were written for WOMEN.” Which made me cry. So much for analytical and stuff.)

Some things that I love about women’s ministries:
•A whole small-group’s worth of baby Christians who signed up for a Foundations Bible study last fall, who sucked every drop out of the study and asked for more.
•A leadership team that is on board with the idea that we do not do fluffy lady studies–we offer studies of substance and good doctrine, even if they are not the popular favorite.
•A Women’s Ministries council that is committed to only offering worthwhile events that somehow equip women to know God better, or to love people better.
•90 women who keep coming back for more of the Word, even though we no longer do little book studies, or “How to be Prettier” studies; and even though we don’t promise to do every Beth Moore study that ever comes out. (Email me for private thoughts on her old classics, which are very good, versus her newer ones, some of which we won’t do. Ever.)
•We can offer a day-long conference at our own church, with no fancy worship band, and no famous star speakers, and no merchandise for sale–just a day of studying Scripture and interacting with each other over various life implications–and 120 women show up. And 80% of them are not the women we usually see on Tuesday morning. And we continue to get requests for transcripts of the workshops, so they can share them with friends, or study the topics on their own.
•A group of Titus2 women who love Jesus, love me, love younger women, love the Bible, and love sharing their lives with other women in a way that leaks grace all over the place.
•Pastoral staff who show great respect and love for the women of the church, and for those of us who are doing Women’s Ministries.
•A woman in my small group Precept study on Covenant: she was looking at Hebrews 10, which is relatively dense. She started making a list on what she learned about Jesus–and realized that she had puzzled out the passage for herself–oh joy!

There are moments that are very good in Women’s Ministries. And moments that are hard and frustrating. And hearing the question “What’s wrong with women’s ministries in the American church” makes me look at the frustrating moments and ask,
“What would the question-asker think of this moment in our church? Would they see us as part of what’s wrong? Would they think we’re all sheep who have bought into the prevailing American Christian zeitgeist?” (I can guarantee that a large majority of the women I serve wouldn’t know a zeitgeist if it bit them in the tuckas.)

And I’m pretty sure the asker of that question would miss the pure and lovely things that God is doing in our church, in Women’s Ministries, in the ministry I direct.

I don’t want to miss those things. Here is where God has put me, and He is working–and for me to look around asking cynical questions that lump all of the individual women I serve into the What’s Wrong collective would, I am quite certain, be sin.

I don’t claim that we are perfect. But I believe that’s just the wrong question. Here’s a better one:
How can God use this vessel?

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7 Comments

  1. Ellen said,

    August 1, 2006 at 8:29 am

    Hi!

    I’ve been searching for a church home and if I went to your church I don’t think I’d see it as part of the problem.

    I’ve visited a pretty fair number of churches and they’re all doing the latest Beth Moore. And not much else.

    There is a “general trend” – I’d like to see more churches break out of it.

  2. LauraB said,

    August 1, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    I’d agree that there are many churches out there that are BM devotees. But I think we could read this as a good sign–there are Bible study leaders who see BM as the most solid, nutritional women’s studies available. And I have to say, I’d choose BM studies over about 90% of what I see in Christian book stores, so maybe those leaders are doing their best. They want their women to have real Bible study. And having done a bunch of Beth’s studies myself, I believe she loves God’s Word and does a pretty good job of teaching it. Her David study was very powerful in my young married phase of life–it was at that time, the deepest study I’d ever done. We just did her Jesus study, and I thought it was a good one. So I don’t want to take potshots at Beth Moore.

    But I wonder if those leaders saw some of the excellent studies I’ve seen (Joanne Cairns of College Church in Wheaton, and Kathleen Nielson, currently published by Covenant College in GA, both come to mind–GREAT studies!) if those leaders might start to breathe more deeply and pull from a wider pool.

    But here’s my thing: I think the solution is not to stomp away from churches where the only game in town is Beth Moore. I think the solution, if God has led you to such a church, is to work quietly (and perhaps over the course of several years) at encouraging people to love God’s Word more than they love Beth’s engaging commentary. (I think Beth would encourage people to do that herself!) To exhort people to keep their discernment radar running, even if it’s Beth, or MacArthur, or Piper, or whoever their Flavor of Favor happens to be. Nobody gets a free ticket, as Michael Spencer says.

    It’s taken 10 years or so, but our women’s Bible study is at a relatively healthy place where there are a LOT of women who will sign up for a big challenging study. And they feel free to take issue with things the author says, or with how they use Scripture.

    I’d encourage you to look at churches in your search, with at least one eye trained on the question of how might you serve in that place. How might God use you to encourage the women there? Is it possible to get past your distaste for Beth Moore studies and see the spark of desire for God’s Word that could be fanned? All just questions for thought, of course–maybe God is leading you somewhere else.

    If you are the Ellen I think you are, my husband grew up in your town. You might check out Jenison Bible, or Fairhaven. There’s another CRC that some of my cousins go to in GR that they love–I’ll try to get the name for you. Some friends of ours who just moved out of GR were going to Madison Square CRC, and loved it–but it sounded fairly funky and inner city, so be prepared for that if you go.

    Blessings,
    Laura

  3. Ellen said,

    August 2, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    I don’t want you to think that it was Beth Moore that kept me away; I don’t do well with “fill in the blank” but I’d do it – it isn’t even the women’s programs in general that keep me away.

    I’m committed to being in a CRC and we started going to East Leonard and we like it a lot. Unfortunately, the women’s group meets on a night that it is unavoidable that I have class. Hopefully they’ll have a woman’s small group.

    (Funny story) The only church I “stomped away from” is the one that we call “the starbucks church”. It’s painted in starbucks colors, they have a barista (complete with tip jar), they serve popcorn to take into whatever they call their version of the sanctuary and they used sofas and coffee tables grouped around the “sanctuary”. Sorry…can’t handle that…

  4. Joan DeWindt said,

    December 31, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Dear Laura,
    I was reading your earlier blogs on Bible studies and this one brought to mind the study of Hebrews I did with a class of brand new believers and some not-yet believers. I was astonished to see the Holy Spirit working in that class. Everytime I approached a truly difficult passage that I was so sure they would struggle with, their answers left me breathless. I left my years leading Coffee Break Bible studies convinced that God’s word doesn’t have to be “dumbed down” and we don’t have to “teach” the women by giving them the answers. The Spirit is far more able than we are to open hearts and minds.
    Joan

  5. P.EPHRAIM said,

    October 29, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    http://www.soulsaveministriesindia.blogspot.com

    SOUL2SMINISTRIES

    P. O. BOX NO. 3. TENALI – 522 201. GUNTUR (DT) A. P. INDIA

    P.EPHRAIM

    Pastor

    To,

    Dear Servant of God in Christ,

    Greetings to you in the most precious name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ

    Dear Servant of God , I am bring s said news, that is in my country my side state Orissa, some Hindu groups are attacked some church and some Christian families, this situation is doing the month of August 30th,

    I and my church believers are visited that place and see that situation personally. And we prepared that situation in this site,

    http://www.prayfororissachristians.blogspot.com

    I gathered the information is

    1. They Attacked Districts =14

    2. They Attacked Villages =1,100

    3. They Attacked our Denominations =35

    4. They Attacked God servants (Pastors) =360

    5. They Attacked Christian families =18,000

    6. They Attacked Churches and prayer houses =1,100

    7. Our Christians are flee to that situation =78,000

    8. Wounded our Christians =36,000

    9. Our Christians died and burnt =100 above

    Dear Servant of God , this information is correct and we go that place and see our Christians situation. So, please pray for my people. Our Christians are lost their house and their churches and also they lived in horrific position. I and my team to accumulation some used clothes and some cooking items. But we are failed to accumulate these items to Orissa Christians, any one did not help to Orissa people in my area. One thing is here my people are poor, but in the poor situation they did not help. Please pray for my people needs and they come to their homes and they are all worship our God.

    Dear Servant of God , please do any help to my Orissa people, you send any help to me we go and distribute that help to my Christian brothers on your name. We pray for you and your family and also your ministries.

    I am waiting for your kind reply

    Thanking you

    Yours brother in Christ

    P.EPHRAIM

  6. Nancy said,

    November 2, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Dear ladies,
    Thank so much for sharing your thoughts. I am encouraged that there are other women out there who are led by the Holy Spirit to seek the God of the Bible. I agree also that we need take care to not criticize too harshly those who are on “our side” –preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is truly more difficult to criticize in love…something which we also are called to do by scripture. I heartily endorse Kathleen Nielson’s studies as excellent, accurate, challenging, and well organized.
    I personally feel insulted by some studies for women that present many entertaining stories and pictures and jokes as if we need to be entertained in the study of God’s word. Sadly it may be true that some people may not be interested in more direct studies that don’t aim to entertain per ce…but that is where the leadership of the women’s ministries come in! Explaining, teaching, “chewing” on the marrow of the Word!
    In my observations, it seems the danger of too much “fluff”–even if it is meant to attract “seekers” is that the essential points of the Gospel can become confused and lost. And, it seems to me that life is too short to dwell on the non-essential things when we gather together along this pilgrimage. I have 4 children and a husband to care for and I usually feel that the “fluff” that plagues the Evangelical church today is a waste of time and a compromised stewardship of the spiritual gifts God has given to us. I attend studies to drink in the truths of the Bible…and to do my best to live out the Titus 2 description of women in godly fellowship. The mulitude of diversions available today from Calgon baths, to spa treatments, to movies, what have you, can never approach the encouragement and joy I have received in participating in the study of the word with other godly-broken women. Please be encouraged to lovingly keep the fluff out of women’s ministry…and keep the essence—the worship of the one true God through the main way that we can know who he is…scripture. We are soldiers of Christ…fighting a fight…there is nothing fluffy about it. Equip the daughters of our “inheritance” with the right weapons…the sword of truth…
    Blessings!
    Nancy

  7. Maggie said,

    January 6, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Excuse me… I thought the whole purpose of Women’s Bible study was to meet ladies where they are and grow them in their relationship with Christ. No matter what form or fashion that might be.

    I take offense to the lady “Ellen” who stomped away from a Starbucks type church. Are you saying that if that type of church is teaching the word of God and people’s lives are being changed but because of the color of the building and the beverages and food and tip jar that had to pay for that food was there along with couches and chairs that was not good enough for you? We have a similar church here that we started 5 years ago that is running almost 900 now with 150 people getting saved and becoming Christ Followers in 2009! Just moved into our permenant building where we do have a coffee bar and chairs in our sanctuary (that we call the warehouse), and funky colors in our children’s department and lives are being changed and families put back together and addictions overcome because we meet these people where they are.

    For those of you like Ellen who are so caught up in religion and the outward appearnces I challenge you in 2010 to build an inward faith and reach out to those that might not look like you, or teach like you.


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