Women’s Ministry Needs to Die
By Katie McCoy
Strong perfume and casseroles. Just one of the many memorable responses I received after asking women what came to mind when they heard the term, “women’s ministry.” Throw in a few DVD Bible studies, some quilting, and a tea party and you’ve pretty much got the idea. Over and over, I hear women’s ministers and church members describe the same dilemma: They want to do more, but they’re not sure what that “more” should be, much less how to create it.
Talk about “women’s ministry” and you might notice people’s eyes glaze over, if not roll in contempt. But talk about ministry to, for, and by women, and you’ll see a spark: “Now that sounds interesting… That’s exactly what we’re looking for!…How do we create that?!” Women’s ministry needs a renovation. Scratch that. It needs a resurrection. But before it can have a resurrection, it first needs a death.
Women comprise half of the Church. And quite often, more than half of a church’s volunteers. Think of how many faithful servants in your congregation are women! They may not have formal training. You probably won’t find them parsing Greek verbs or spouting off the definition of transubstantiation. But they keep the lights on. They organize the VBS. They check in on the shut-ins, and they continuously influence, teach, and lead within their families, workplaces, and communities. (Side note: You might be shocked by how many women in your church want to study biblical languages and theological theories!)
The pandemic was a gift for the future of women’s ministry. Almost overnight, the patterns and practices of countless churches were not only disrupted but reassessed, perhaps for the first time in decades. It wasn’t just COVID that threw us into uncharted territory. Since the early days of 2020, our culture has dramatically changed. We have become inescapably aware of our society’s new framework, one that celebrates aimless deconstruction and crippling cynicism, one that attempts to dismantle the foundations of family and gender, one that advocates equality and justice but despises the influence of religion, one that views a Christian sexual ethic as not only unusual, but a source of oppression.
How can the women’s ministries of yesterday possibly prepare women to be effective witnesses in a post-Christian world today, and to endure in their faith tomorrow? From what I’ve observed, it will require a paradigm shift in three ways:
First, the future of ministry to women is less event-driven and more formation-driven. Survey the Christian women in your church, and you’ll quickly see a generational difference. Among women under 50 – and especially among women under 35 – you typically find a hunger to study and serve. They’re less likely to be jazzed about special events or conferences and far more enthusiastic about exploring doctrine and integrating beliefs. That’s not to say your church should throw out women’s events, particularly if it’s one that your church does every year – traditions help create identity and community and annual events can foster them. But it’s the why behind women’s events that many ministries are reconsidering. When they become the substance of your ministry to women, you may be missing a critical element of facilitating deep, personal formation. And if we’re not being formed by the things of God, we’ll be formed by other influences.
Second, the future of ministry to women is less “Come and Consume,” and more “Connect and Contribute.” Most of women’s ministry in the last 20 years has been focused on women as consumers. They come to a Bible study or event, hear a message by someone they may never meet, are asked questions by a facilitator, then leave to repeat the process next week/month/year. The substance of that church’s ministry to women usually revolves around the latest publication or conference. And in themselves, these things can be wonderful tools. But as my friend Debbie Stuart has observed, it’s enabled women to become skilled facilitators, but it hasn’t grown women as Bible teachers. Women today crave authentic connection. In fact, God hard-wired us for it. God also gave them spiritual and personal gifts to be used for the building up of the Church (1 Cor 14:12). If women don’t find an outlet to contribute within their body of believers, they’ll look to other outlets to express their giftedness and creativity. And our churches will be the poorer for it.
Third, the future of ministry to women emphasizes presence over productivity. Ask women to recall what a high-profile speaker shared a month after a women’s conference, and chances are, they won’t remember that much. But ask them to describe a spiritual conversation they had with an older woman in your church, and you’ll hear the influence of personal presence. Women may pay hundreds of dollars to hear a famous speaker, they may like everything she posts on Instagram, but that celebrated teacher – gifted as she is – won’t be who they call when their marriage is in crisis, or their test results come back positive. For that, they’ll call someone whose presence in their lives has made an impact. Presence over productivity may mean taking a step back to go forward. It may require scaling back some ministry activities to focus on cultivating genuine, intergenerational involvement among the women in your church.
Women’s ministry as it’s been done needs to die. Ministry to women needs a resurrection. Thankfully, the God we love and live for is in the business of giving us new life.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common
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