Women’s Ministry

womens-ministry-christianese-redefined

Women’s Ministry: Events in a church geared specifically toward the spiritual growth of women.

I come every week at 7:00 to sit in a basement with thirty other women and watch Beth Moore talk about Esther. There is chocolate, beverages, nametags. An icebreaker question:

“Describe a time you had to wait for something,” and since I’ve turned to a woman I’ve never met, I don’t say the true things that come to my mind. Instead, I toss the question back like hot potato, and I listen to her tell about a time when the flight was delayed.

These are not the types of things I usually come to. It occurs to me that tonight is $5 night at Andover Cinema.

Beth Moore comes on the screen with her big hair and her wild eyes and her sweater set. She is analyzing Persian history and linguistics. She is telling us to turn to our neighbor and say, “It’s hard being a woman!”

The last time I came to a woman’s Bible study like this, I was battling depression, undiagnosed. I was hurtling destructively through my days. I could not take the small talk, the icebreaker questions; I could not take the distance between the woman talking on the television screen and my own pain.

I sort of can’t believe I’m back.

In this study, Beth Moore is smart and engaging and beautiful and fierce. She says things that make me tear up; she says things that make me roll my eyes. And yet, though I fill in my blanks and try to internalize the truths she speaks, this is not the way my soul is nourished. This is not how I would do it.

I would do it small. Single living rooms. Wine. Bare feet. Unhurried prayer. Unfiltered conversation. I would do it at the back booth of the greasy diner with cheeseburgers. I want to be sitting on the edge of a dock, dipping unpolished toes into the great cold water, wondering aloud about the mysteries God.

I would love to lose track of time; I want to fill notebooks of unlined paper and share those thoughts, not necessarily the ones dictated by the study guide. I sometimes want to invite the guys, eat peanuts from the shell, drink beer.

But there is a woman over there on the couch who is learning to let go of fear, and she is learning it from Beth Moore on the television. There is another one who came in the shelter of the anonymity and who is slowly making a friend, one small icebreaker question at a time.

It is not how I would do it. But it’s not really about me.

Sometimes love looks like this: you go to the study, week after week. You don’t want to, but there are those who do, so you go.

I leave every week at 8:30, shuffling up the stairs with the other women, tossing my empty water bottle in the bin. Every week I try, “Anyone want to go grab a drink?”

And sometimes, a few of them say yes.

We are sitting in the back booth at the T-Box Grill, drinking late-night Happy Hour Pinot after Beth Moore. We are talking about our marriages, our pasts, our television shows, our pain.  We are saying the true things, the real things.

We are saying the things we never say.

It is exactly what I always want women’s ministry to be. True. Honest. Quiet. Loud. Beautiful.

16 thoughts on “Women’s Ministry

  1. For at least one North American generation we’ve been told that good christians fill in the blanks. Words like “deep” and “meat” describe the only acceptable form of bible approach and usually isn’t how we describe our pastor’s effort. It’s the last thing really mature christians say when embarking on another church-shopping venture…”I’m just not being fed.”
    So in steps stuff like Beth Moore and women’s ministries. A little historical background and all of a sudden we’re serious scholars, whether our insides change or not.
    Meanwhile, women remain lonely and attempting to prove they have one or two verses of Proverbs 31 down pat. And if the diligent hunger of female bible studiers really had the kind of “natural fruitfulness” resulting that we’ve so often been promised by the study of the word, then the women of America would have single-handedly turned our country upside down!

    1. Great background info. There was a time when I would have eviscerated Beth Moore with snappy, sarcastic remarks, just for being part of the “machine.” In all honesty, I think she has some really beautiful insights. The problem is that the setup doesn’t allow for real connection and internalization of those truths. There’s no space for struggle or grappling or honesty. There’s a video, a quick reminder about next week, and then a goodbye. Our consumer mentality has translated even into the way we approach God. Like, we want to collect all this information. We want to fill in all the blanks. Not really the point.

  2. I love what you wrote. It is interesting how God uses different things for different people at different times in their lives. Bottom line though, everyone needs to have a place to be real, to struggle, to be known, warts and all. To be loved, accepted, challenged and prayed for. It takes time to get there, you have to meet people and click alittle. It takes someone to ask like you did, “anyone want to go out for a drink?” It takes someone to take the risk and be vulnerable first. It takes relationships.

    1. So I have a question: Do we all still believe that people have to “earn our trust” over a relatively long period of time before we’ll take the risk of transparent relationship? I know it is conventional wisdom, but is anyone else tired of hiding and pretending? Anyone out there ready to take the risk of “betrayal” for the sake of growth? Knowing that our “most proven/trusted friend has the capacity to let slip, inadvertently or intentionally, why not just decide to live in the freedom and growth of letting people believe we’re a little worse than we really are, instead of the the trap of attempting to convince people we’re a little better than we really are?

      1. When I started leading a small group, I decided the answer to the question about waiting to earn trust before being transparent was going to be no. Life is short. Lead by saying the embarrassing true thing and hope others soon feel safe enough to do the same. Say the true thing that is ugly and uncomfortable and commonly thought because you really want to know what other believers think. It works if some people keep coming and being more honest, but it hurts when people leave because they don’t know how to deal with truths spoken so out of comfort zones. Even though we’re small, I could never go back to the bigger group where everyone is nice and no one is honest until a couple of years have gone by and they feel safe.

        1. I like this, Kim and Neal. I’d like to be the person who can be immediately transparent and can set that precedent for a small group or church community. But at the same time, I’m beginning to recognize that there is complexity to the human heart and that some hurts create walls and barriers that are hard to penetrate.

          What I’m learning is to not expect perfect transparency from others immediately, but rather to faithfully love the bits of their soul that they do divulge. Even if it feels surfacey, polite, inauthentic. Some people need to talk about their dogs or their scrapbooking or their job before they can talk about other things. I want to care about all of these, not just the parts I deem spiritual or deep.

          After all, everything is spiritual, every little surfacey detail important to the God who loves us.

          1. Very true, which is why I found the lines I pointed out below so gut-punchingly convicting. Maybe I could have someone embroider a sampler for me . . . : )

  3. These were my favorite phrases:

    “It is not how I would do it.
    But it’s not really about me.

    “Sometimes love
    looks like this:
    you go
    to the study,
    week after
    week. You
    don’t want to, but
    there are those
    who do,
    so you
    go.”

    Beautiful and fierce.

    1. Thank you! So kind. And look at that…just a few line breaks and it’s a poem! 🙂

  4. I sympathise with the frustration with women’s bible studies. I agree that it can feel shallow and therefore irritating. I am a part of several different women’s groups. One is a typical ladies bible study. One is MOPS group. One is an accountability group of women I’ve known for about 10 years.
    And I think that’s the key. The kind of interactions you are craving require two things in order to come out – safety and trust. Safety and trust are best fostered in environments that can guarantee confidentiality, and with people who know each other well. My accountability group is a place like that for me.
    The other groups I attend are non-exclusive groups. Anyone and everyone can and does come. That means that I have no idea if the next person to show up will really keep confidential that things that I share. I have no idea if they will listen, or respond with judgement, when I share the deep doubts of my heart. They are EXCELLENT places to make new friends, to start new relationships, to bond with someone who is lonely over the shared truth and trust in Jesus Christ. They are not always good places to share the deep things of the heart – but they can LEAD to relationships where those things are shared.
    I’ve learned to set my expectations accordingly. Public studies are for welcoming people in, for being a little teeny bit vulnerable, for rejoicing in shared trust in Christ, for being in a larger community with people who aren’t in my same phase of life. Accountability groups, or other small groups – particularly ones that remain closed for a length of time – not out of exclusivity, but in order to promote safety and trust – are the places for the deep stuff. One-on-one lunches and coffees and playdates with the women from the public groups are the places for the deep stuff. And I’ve become OK with that.

    (All that said, when I’m in a place of extreme need, like depression, I can’t handle surface interactions, and my public groups are too painful to attend for that reason. And that’s ok too.)

  5. Yes! All of this! I am a recent Women’s Ministry convert after being frustrated with the idea of women’s ministry in general and finally getting over myself and realizing that it wasn’t all about me. Though I’ll admit, the free bagels and orange juice also helped.

    I have had several relationships that are really precious to me form out of this format that I had deemed “fake”. I haven’t been able to put my feelings into words to explain to some of my fellow cynics – now I will just point them to this article 🙂

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