Every other day it seems as if I get another email from someone asking if our church has any groups for them to get plugged into and, without actually saying it, wondering how much work is required to be a part of said group.
Christian-ese aside, churches have spent years figuring out what it takes to get people involved, many begging to belong. A plethora of books have been written about the many hoops it takes to get those people involved.
The loud cries of those who simply want to be part of something more than just Sunday morning are encouraging, a deep delight to one who plays a role in those groups. Yet, the discouraging part of it all is the drop-off. When the rubber meets the road, when community takes time and growth in the Lord isn’t microwavable, where are all those people who said they wanted this?
Although I don’t have children in this stage of life, the majority of the women I serve are wrestling down not just one but many kids as they attempt to wrestle with the Biblical text. Add the many other hats women wear, children or not, and you have a church-wide problem. Life is busy and we know it.
This has translated into ensuring we create ways to cater to our church body. The positives include providing regular child care, lowering the costs of buying curriculum, and offering many different times for those joining our many groups. The negative side leaves us with much to discuss.
How then should we move forward so that we don’t miss the felt needs of our given group, but also see their true lack with full eyes? In all things, Jesus Christ has provided what we need. The gospel of Jesus calls us to see rightly, though things are dimly lit around us. As we dive deeper in to the world of women’s ministries, we find that the gospel not only calls us to accurately view ourselves in light of Jesus’ death, but also to resurrection life.
The Gospel Calls Us Lower
The gospel says we are all sinners, and a perfect sacrifice, found only in Christ Jesus, was necessary to save us. As we recognize the weight of what that means, we need to begin to tear down the false gods we have found within ourselves, and within other fallible human beings.
As we examine how we have played a part in this within our women’s ministries, we look specifically at the downfall of what Erin Straza and Hannah Anderson call the “outsourcing of women’s discipleship,” as well as the dangers of what social media has done in women’s circles.
Because of reasons we’ll discuss further, we find that sometimes when women are not being fed in their churches, they look elsewhere to be discipled. Christian publishing and marketing has wholeheartedly embraced this tragedy. Plenty of resources are pumped out to feed these starving souls, in the hope one of those books hits the spot.
The problem, which often springs from a lack of discipleship, moves further in that direction. Not only do these women select the sort of discipleship they want, choosing leaders who look and act like they want to be or are, for better or for worse, but they then are discipled by someone outside the local church body, finding themselves even further disconnected from the struggling body they belong to.
Community is hard, discipleship is hard, and our natural inclination when things get tough is to run. We need women who will stay in their churches and do the hard and dirty work of reformation.
Another issue that has crept into our ministries is the ever-so-tiring need to keep up on social media. We have an astronomical amount of mama blogs, which translate into Instagram accounts where we begin rounds of dissatisfaction with what we have, then trying to keep up on the latest fashion trends and rules for our kids. We also find ourselves judging the ways other women do things. Not only do we have Ruth, the picture-perfect woman Proverbs 31 references, but now we have a gaggle of woman who ride the line of boast and humble-brag daily.
I don’t say this to cast condemnation, but to awaken hearts, including my own, to the ways in which these things translate into our walks with Christ, helping me make sure I’m one step up from where so-and-so is, and that she knows it because I posted a picture of my Bible. It’s not social media that needs to change, but the heart behind what we do.
The great news of the gospel says that though comparison and dissatisfaction have been an issue since the beginning, leaving us incredibly guilty, we have a Savior who paid for those numerous sins.
We don’t have to compare our walks with each other, not if we keep our minds and hearts fixed on Jesus Christ. We don’t have to ditch our churches and find life on our own, not if Jesus calls us into the hard work of true discipleship, which he has mandated. (Genesis 1:28; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 8:34-37).
The Gospel Calls Us Higher
The gospel says that when we die in Christ, we rise with him as well. As we see ourselves clearly as sinners, we also look at what it means to die to ourselves, putting on the garments of Jesus and putting off all that hinders us.
The problem of outsourcing discipleship often starts with being fed poorly. Women’s ministries frequently have been typified by fluffiness. Sometimes those fluffy things can get substituted for meat, and we continue to find ourselves gorging on sweets.
As we figure out what this looks like, hunger cries are met by eating cake, which means craving even more dessert. We then create another issue found in women’s ministry, which is constant activity, but no depth.
There is an immediate need to make Bible study as applicable as possible, leaving women every week with a feeling that “something needs to change” yet little awe for the God that they serve. This inadvertently means that, more times than not, behavior modification, not gospel transformation, is happening in and among us.
Things continue to skim the surface, making it seem plenty easy to dive in, with rewards galore as the book of the Bible we study becomes all about me.
When there’s no depth, we also find lack in our communities. If this is the amount and time we touch the surface with God, then this has to be the amount and time we give to the people around us.
We have been taught to love how people see us love Christ, and not taught to love Christ. We have been taught to love the way we feel after checking off all of the boxes and filling in all the blanks, and not to push through the struggle of true and deep connection with Scripture and others .Discipleship and community should not be pitted against one another, and yet they are as people around us demand they be manufactured for them, and refuse when it takes more than a retreat or simulcast to cultivate.
Our women are still hungry because they don’t yet know what a feast is, and how long it takes to make every part of it delectable and filling. Our palates need to change. The gospel calls us to a feast, the body and blood of Christ, dying to what we may think we crave so we might taste something more glorious, something that does more than stroke our heartstrings or tell us to behave better.
The Gospel Calls Us to Hide in Him
This diagnosis can seem harsh, and at times, overwhelming. I think anyone can attest to the fact that no community or church they have been a part of has been perfect. Yet this too shows glimmers of his gospel.
Although we fail, flail and fall regularly, Jesus Christ is in the beautiful business of redeeming everything. This is who we point to, the crux of it all. No matter the mess it seems we make as we feeble humans as we attempt to figure out what is best for the sheep here on Earth, this is still where Jesus Christ came and inaugurated his glorious Kingdom.
As ministry leaders, we sit in that already-but-not-yet almost comfortably, knowing we can’t conjure up the best programs to disciple our people well, but that the Spirit is the one who does the work. The gospel calls us to point to Jesus in all that we do. In him we live, move, and have our being, and every part of our ministries should do the same.
Alexiana Fry is a wife, MDiv student, and associate Women’s Director in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her passion and call is to see the church make whole disciples, pursuing the gospel in the everyday mundane of life. She also finds herself to be highly caffeinated, and blogging regularly at mygivingofthanks.com.