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August 14, 2012

Women’s Ministry: Don’t Judge a Tea by Its Doily

Not all churches underchallenge women.


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, 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?

Kelli B. Trujillo is a regular contributor for Kyria.com and the author of the new Flourishing Faith series. You can find her at www.kellitrujillo.com or on Twitter (@kbtrujillo).

Related Tags: challenge, education, ministry, women, women's ministry


thoughtful post. I appreciate that you see what I see, so many who are not challenged, and yet it's not always the case. I too have not been interested in the old school tea's but it's the women at these tea's that are impressive. They have much wisdom to offer, I wish they would see themselves as valued, they have something we all need.
Also love what your church is doing. If we don't reimagine women's ministry we will loose the very women who have something to offer this generation. TO those women, I'd say, please stay and make a difference right where you are.

Even in a new era, I am continually amazed at how gender-labeled ministry is the norm in some denominational and non-denominational ecclesiastical settings. I am privileged to be a part of a 2,000 member church that is led by female pastor and a team of other ministers who empower everyone in the congregation, whether they be men or women, to be agents of God's renewal in this world even as we eagerly look forward to the consummation of the next.

Tea, coffee cakes, and lace no longer works in today's society where many women are leaders in all professional sectors of society and have no longer been relegated to sit on the sidelines. Women still face an uphill battle, but the tides have begun to shift.

Instead of conceiving of ministries in terms of gender, I submit that one of the biggest challenge for ministry- any type of ministry today- may be the frantic schedules that we all try to keep. Most people I know are overworked and stretched to their limits due to work, family, or other responsibilities. That, it seems to me, is one of the biggest impediments to kingdom work, much more than gender labels.

Wonderful,thougt-provoking and challenging! Thank you Kelli Who wants to be underchallenged?! One of my favorite little books in the same vein is Lynn Hybels book - Nice Girls Don't Change the World. That restlessness we have to do and go beyond ourselves is a gift from God to grow and stretch us, as well as to draw other to himself. It is so cool to see how he uses doilies, tea, shovels and shots to do his work --and we get to be invited into it! Eph 2:10

Kelli, thanks for rounding out the conversation on this topic. You're absolutely right: women are finding challenge and opportunities for growth in many places. And while the church many not always expect women to grow and respond to God's work as they can, no one can stop that work--God will reach us where we are. Thanks for inspiring us with some specific ways God is using women to accomplish his work.

Before I subscribe I would like to know if this balanced view of woman´s ministry will be maintained or are we going to slowly and surely be fed the feminist view that woman CAN and SHOULD LEAD and GOVERN the church. Fuller Seminary in 1972 had a class on Biblical Femenism in which I participated and out of that class came broken marriages, angry women and a great evangelical seminary adopted "the only rule of faith and practice" is woman must have authority over men! There is no question that woman CAN and SHOULD SERVE in many ways in the church and in mission to the world. But the Bible teaches that these ministries should be covered with the protection and guidance of the elders. Elders=men! Let me know please what is your position.

Hi Lottie. Stanley Grenz was a conservative theologian who wrote a great book called Women in the Church in which he looked at the situations Paul was addressing in those passages about women. It's eye-opening and very helpful in applying those verses today.

@Amy - The bible can be read historically, culturally and biblically. Women were elders, deacons, & headed their own churches, had businesses, etc. When we take the CULTURAL differences mentioned in the bible as SPIRITUAL truths, we do mankind a disservice & prevent women from stepping into their God-given purpose. Women give birth to both male & female. Can one honestly expect to have no authority over them? If so, Deborah, who was both judge & prophet, could not have led, & the instances cited in the Bible where God went against CULTURAL NORMS making it clear women had the same rights, values as joint heirs would not be listed (Job's daughters who were given an equal share inheritance, Jesus' appearance to Mary first upon rising from the dead, not his male apostles...). God knows the value & capability of His creation. It is our society that has a problem with it. Why else would it be so important for a woman to 'stay in her place', paid lower wages, trafficking & a whole host of other injustices? Seems to me a lot of energy has been exerted to KEEP women from realizing who they are - daughters of the King, JOINT heirs in Christ, created in God's image, comparable to Adam (not secondary or less than), and having the right to boldly approach the throne whether a man is present or not. http://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-2-women-designed-god

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