Women’s ministry…if you’re a church-going woman, you’ve likely heard this phrase before. Maybe you’re even knee-deep in your church’s women’s ministry. I’ve never been the women’s ministry type. I’ve tried a few times, but each time I’ve found them to be uncomfortable–like wearing a scratchy wool sweater in the middle of a sticky Nebraska summer. It’s been my experience that women’s ministries tend to be geared towards one type of woman and I am not this woman.
When I was young, I could be found playing football and riding my bike in gym shorts, over sized t-shirts, and high-top Reeboks with badass white crew socks. My mother never had to worry about me sneaking her makeup because I thought the stuff was evil. Even now, as an almost 30 year-old, I don’t own heels, and my makeup routine takes me close to 64 seconds when I really take my time. I prefer spending time outside running or hiking or playing catch rather than shopping. I like listening to NPR and The Avett Brothers. My perfect day includes a nonfiction book, a cup of coffee, and an intimate conversation with a good friend. My hobbies and values are simply not overly ladylike at least, my interests don’t line up with the concept of femininity that the evangelical church seems to value in their women’s ministry design.
Throughout my ten year experience in a handful of evangelical churches, I’ve noticed that women’s ministry events tend to be either saturated in femininity or are geared towards traditional mothers.
The “girly” women’s ministry: These women’s ministry events tend to involve stereotypical “women’s” activities like crafting and sewing. I once saw a women’s ministry event in a weekly bulletin called Stitch and Snack. Right next to this ministry description was a promotional blip for the men’s ministry event: a summer softball league. Next to it, I scribbled: WHERE IS THE SOFTBALL TEAM FOR WOMEN?!? and slid the bulletin to my husband. He just circled the stitch and snack event and smiled because he was picturing me attending the event. Some women’s ministry events are not as overtly female; instead, they turn out to be misleading. They seem like they’ll be a somewhat low key evening, advertising appetizers (which I always assume will be Doritos) and conversations. But then when you get there, you’re bushwhacked by Sandy Patty worship songs, notebooks in the shape of high heels, women crying, and absolutely NO Doritos.
The women’s ministry for mothers, MOPS: I’ve attended a lot of churches in my adult life, and most of them have some sort of MOPS group. I have friends that attend MOPS and enjoy it; so after three years of infertility struggles when I finally became a mother to a five year-old boy whom I adopted from foster care, I looked into a MOPS group to
commiserate connect with other moms. I soon learned that MOPS stands for Mothers of Pre-Schoolers – my kid was in Kindergarten (I foolishly thought that MOPS stood for Mothers of PeopleS….I’m mostly kidding). The MOPS website explains that the group is for women who are parenting kids from birth-Kindergarten, but my entry to mothering is so unique that I worried I wouldn’t fit in with these moms who would probably talk about breastfeeding and strollers. There was also the issue that the groups I found met on a Tuesday at 9 AM–precisely the time I was teaching English to sophomores.
I realize that it may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. But maybe I’m not. I mean, what are our churches telling women who may not fit the traditional female mold when we invite them to attend something that is catered to one type of woman? I don’t think the overly feminine nature of women’s ministry events is intentional at all, but I fear that we are alienating some women from our churches. For many years I felt like I was maybe less of a woman and definitely less of a godly woman because I didn’t fit the evangelical church’s portrayal of a woman, which isn’t even perfectly aligned with the Biblical portrayal of women. And so, I attended church on Sundays, but that’s where my involvement stopped. How many women are we keeping at an arm’s length from the church because of the design of our women’s ministry events? How could our churches be strengthened by diversity in its women’s ministry?
Some women meet Jesus and bond while listening to Sandy Patty and sewing; other women experience a state of worship while in nature; and there are some women who find Jesus in conversations had over a beer or a cup of coffee. Women can grow closer to Jesus and bond with one another in many ways, and I think churches can and should honor this. There is an opportunity for spiritual and personal growth when we are around people who think differently, so I’m not advocating for a complete separation of the women in your church into interest-based groups. What I’m urging churches to do, however, is to diversify their women’s ministry to be more inclusive to all women. Perhaps this may mean stepping up to help diversify the women’s events in your church (maybe offer a running group or hiking excursion). Maybe it means simply taming the feminine tone of women’s ministry events. Or, it could mean straying from the MOPS model and having a small group simply for all mothers–single, foster, adoptive, traditional, empty-nesters, etc. that meets during a more accessible time for the majority. Nevertheless, when we embrace diversity in our women’s ministries to be inclusive of all women, I think we’ll begin to see greater unity among the church. In this divided culture we live in right now, unity seems pretty appealing, doesn’t it?