Like an enthusiastic bobblehead, I found myself rambunctiously nodding in agreement as I read Amy Simpson's "A Challenge to the Chronically Underchallenged." I resonate with Simpson's passion for the church to more fully empower women to actively minister to others and to address the world's needs. Like Simpson, I bemoan the tendency for women to be relegated to nice, cutesy, tame little roles in the church. Part of me hollered out an enthusiastic "Amen!" of agreement.
But I also found myself nodding in agreement with another sentiment—a commenter who responded to Simpson this way: "I would simply have to say: 'Come to my church. There's plenty for you to do in ministry and you would be most welcome to do it.'"
Though I concur with Simpson's overall sentiment, not all churches underchallenge women. In fact, I've regularly felt profoundly challenged by my own church.
Recently I've been challenged to:
• Stop traffic. One friend, Debi, has led the charge in drawing our church's attention to human trafficking. Debi taught a class on the subject, continues to raise awareness through conversation and bringing in speakers, and has helped connect our church with a broader network of organizations concerned about this issue. Church members were actively involved in anti-sex-trafficking work during the Super Bowl in our city last year; as a result of the efforts of many Christians working together, several young women were rescued from forced prostitution and returned to their families.
• Live justly. I know there is poverty in our city, but it wasn't until recently that I learned devastating details about how tough things really are in a specific area of Indianapolis. I learned these specifics from Mechelle, who shared with the congregation about her involvement in a Christian ministry that provides basic necessities, tutoring, encouragement to young moms, and much more in a struggling part of Indy. I, along with the rest of the congregation, was challenged to pray about getting involved. I've been similarly challenged to grow in active justice and compassion work by the examples of women like Shirley who volunteers at a downtown homeless shelter and Emily who ministers at a crisis pregnancy center, helping vulnerable women discover a "choice" other than abortion.
• Go global. What started as a small ministry to a specific group of immigrants living near our church has now ballooned into a full-scale program. On Tuesday nights, the classrooms are brimming full with immigrants from 32 different countries who are learning English and building cross-cultural friendships. Dawn heads up this ministry, galvanizing our church to love the world right in our backyard, while Anna mobilizes church volunteers to care for the immigrants' children. The challenge to live and love globally also comes regularly from missionaries—from women like Kim, Emily, and Elena who are willing to forego the comfort of home and answer God's call abroad. I'm inspired by their work: training indigenous church leaders, providing medical care to AIDS victims, offering job training and friendship to those who've escaped the sex-trafficking industry, and more.
These are just three of the many ways I've been challenged in my church and women's ministry recently—and I bet you can think of similar examples from your own.
Like many GenXers and younger, I'm not as "into" traditional women's ministry events (such as a tea, a brunch, or a craft-making experience) as my older counterparts may be. And as much recent discussion online reveals (such as here and here), a traditional approach to women's ministry can leave some women feeling frustrated, disconnected, and underchallenged.
But in my experience, surprisingly, it's often when I've participated in more "traditional" events that might not be my preferred cup of tea (pun intended) that I've been profoundly convicted and inspired in my walk with Christ. The power hasn't come from a cutesy craft or a pleasant program—it's come from the people I've been privileged to interact with. As I've gotten to know women who are different from me, I've been both blessed and challenged by their life stories: A physician who established a hospital in a conflict-torn region of the Middle East. A retired missionary who described the adventurous life of jungle aviation and showed me a video of herself skydiving. The countless women with more "normal" life stories who've convicted me by their examples of perseverance through tragedy, passionate evangelism, grace for the hurting, wisdom for family relationships, and devoted commitment to the gospel and the church.
Sometimes the church's biggest challenges for today's women are hidden in surprising places: like in the lives of seniors from whom we can learn an awful lot. If we value learning from older women and building intergenerational fellowship, we must be willing to accept and value other women's interests (such as traditional women's ministry events), even if these interests are vastly different from our own. (Likewise, a healthy church will recognize the unique and diverse needs of younger women as well.)
So does the church at large underchallenge women? Probably yes. But does yours? Does mine? Not necessarily.
I'm thankful for the challenging examples set by women in my church. Spiritually speaking, these women keep me on my toes! And among all the lessons I've learned from these women is this one: don't judge a women's tea by its doily—because powerful ministry can take place in many contexts, even those that may appeal more to one generation than another.
How have you been challenged by your church lately?