Recently I joined an intergenerational women's group. Five of us are in four different generations. We have different backgrounds, hometowns, and church experiences. Some have children; others don't. One woman has grandchildren. Despite our differences, we gather every Thursday night to grow together.
A few years ago this group would have been a nightmare for me. Not because this particular group is strange or the women are scary, but because I hated women's ministry. Or at least I thought I did. I'd been part of women's groups before that reeked of shallowness and gossip and high-pitched voices offering Sunday school answers for real life issues. These groups were cliques and used cattiness with pride. I continually felt as though I was in a competition for best outfit with everyone else in the room.
And then there were the stereotypes of women that they lumped everyone in. They assumed I love girly-girl things just because I'm a woman. (I actually went to a retreat once where the speaker wore a bright pink feather boa and had her hair in a ponytail that stuck straight up out of the crown of her head. She demanded we do the same—to tap into our feminine side—if we wanted to get anything out of her message.)
But most of all, I hated when the leaders and members of the group would tell young women that the highest calling in life is to be married, that their mission was simply to wait for Mr. Right to come along and sweep them off their feet.
I hated women's ministry because I'd had poor women's ministry experiences—sorry excuses for the deep, relational, and supportive thing women's ministry can—and should—be.
So I quit women's ministry.
But when I got married more than four years ago, I began to cherish my female friendships more. While my husband is an amazing listener and cares about what I'm going through, he'll never understand some things in the way another woman can. As I grabbed lunch or coffee with my girlfriends, I started to catch a vision for what true relationships with Christian women look like: loving, supportive, challenging, and encouraging.
Then I started to catch a vision for all that women's ministry can be: an intentional gathering of women who love the Lord, who want to celebrate life together, hold one another accountable, and pray for one another. (Oh yeah, and pink feather boas are never mandatory.)
So I decided to give women's ministry another try.
As I've sat at my women's small group the last several weeks, we've talked and encouraged one another and had more than a few good laughs. We're still developing trust and relationships, so I'm hopeful we'll go even deeper in the future. But one conversation has encouraged me the most. At our meeting last week, the leader asked: "What would you want to tell young women if you had them together for a day?"
One woman promptly responded, "Know who you are and whose you are." Another chimed in, "You can do great things for God. Find your dream and do it, and don't let anyone stop you." A third woman pointed to the importance of instilling worth in girls from an early age so they don't doubt it when they're older.
I sat, sinking into the overly loved sectional couch, silently beaming, tears creeping into the corners of my eyes. What these women said was not so profound as it was simply perfect. No one mentioned telling young women that they're goal in life was to wait for Mr. Right. No one said anything that assumed women can only fulfill certain roles. No one used verses that have almost become cliché like Philippians 4:13: "I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength." They talked about identity, mission, and worth. It was beautiful. It was hopeful. And it was wisdom that came from women who have been following hard after Jesus for many years. I was experiencing a holy moment, a small piece of God-honoring women's ministry.
When you experience true, God-honoring women's ministry, you want more of it. And while I might still have some negative experiences with women or women's ministry, I can choose to embody God-honoring women's ministry each day with whomever I'm with—celebrating life and love, encouraging and inspiring others, and lifting up my sisters in Christ in prayer.
God has definitely been working on my heart. I'm so thankful for the women in my life who love the Lord and want more from their relationships with him than clichés and Sunday school answers. My prayer is that together we can raise a new generation of young women who also hunger and thirst for more.
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