I know evangelicals don’t typically do this, but I have a confession.
Church has been my entire life for my entire life, and (may Beth Moore forgive me) I have never once enjoyed or felt at home at a “women’s ministry” function.
If I – a white, straight, married, middle class, mostly Southern, Baptist-turned-Methodist, two-time Christian school graduate, church staff member and seminarian – don’t feel like I belong at these functions, who in the world does?
While my own perspective could easily be dismissed as cynicism due to oversaturation, a quick internet search reveals I am not alone in my woeful women’s ministry experiences.
Articles abound in which women discuss their painful, boring, shallow or unwelcoming experiences in women’s ministries across America.
Some write off the idea of women’s ministry altogether, but most critique it with at least a hint of hope for reform.
Though each sentiment differs slightly, the general consensus seems to be something along these lines: too many tea parties, not enough biblical equipping and (willful?) ignorance regarding the diversity of women in the church.
As traditional gender roles have begun to fall away – both in society and in many churches – women’s lives, priorities and needs have expanded far beyond the purview of typical evangelical women’s ministry structures.
Most women work outside the home and cannot come to a 10 a.m. Bible study. A great number of women are single and childless, and they may or may not have plans to change either one of those things.
Not every woman bakes or scrapbooks, and many have no desire to attend the annual Christmas recipe swap.
This is not to say that knitting circles or mother’s-day-out programs are unimportant; many women find great joy and value in these types of events.
However, too many women’s ministries rely on a particular style of function that excludes or holds no interest for a growing portion of women in the church.
Women can no longer be conveniently grouped into the categories of wife, mother and widow; even those who do fall into one or more of those categories are so much more than that one facet of their identity.
They are people with unique gifts, interests, passions, skills, talents, needs, challenges, values, priorities and situations.
While it is certainly impossible for a women’s ministry to cater to every aspect of each individual woman’s life and personality, it is well past time for women’s ministries to evaluate the population of women in their church and adjust or expand accordingly.
Not only do Christian women form a broader demographic than perhaps they once did, they also seem to desire richer biblical teaching and greater equipping than many women’s ministries offer.
“We need Jesus. We are seeking deep spirituality. … Please stop treating women’s ministry like a Safe Club for the Little Ladies to Play Church,” author and speaker Sarah Bessey urged in a 2015 article.
Women are eager to use their skills and passions and to live into their calling as disciples of Jesus. A recent Barna Group study found that a factor in the declining rate of women’s church attendance was a sense of not having avenues in which to use their unique gifts and talents.
How might our communities be impacted if the church created space for women to ask difficult questions, dig into Scripture without finding easy answers and use their unique gifts, passions and knowledge to serve?
Perhaps if we want women to serve the church, we ought to equip them to minister in their own capacities and give them more opportunities to do so – beyond the nursery and the bake sale.
In addition to the need for an expanded view of women’s personal lives and theological interests, there is also a need for an expanded view of women in light of social concerns.
First, many structured women’s ministries are born out of a complementarian belief system.
While plenty of strong Christian women do hold complementarian beliefs, a growing number of Christian women find their feminism and personal empowerment at odds with their church’s teachings.
Women are more than capable as leaders in their jobs, communities and homes. Why would they participate in a ministry that tells them (explicitly or implicitly) that they are not capable leaders?
Second, women’s ministry in the evangelical church tends to have a very specific brand that excludes women on any kind of societal margins.
Instead of “ministry to women,” our marketing and functions more often communicate that we offer “ministry to white, straight, moderately affluent, cisgender women.”
How many women are we excluding – and even harming – when we conveniently overlook those who may make our friends or us uncomfortable?
A 2015 Barna Group study revealed that almost half of women surveyed reported they did not feel emotionally supported at all by their church community.
Women are not just falling through the cracks; they are hemorrhaging from the church, and we are letting them go as we distract ourselves with chocolate, tulle and seasonal décor.
Women are so much more than wives and mothers. We are athletes and artists, laborers and professionals, queer and straight, skeptical and devout, intelligent and learning, joyful and burdened, leaders and servants.
We are ministers who hold a treasure trove of God-given potential to change the world with the hope of Jesus. We are asking the church to unleash us.