When I hear “Women’s Ministry”, I check out. Stop listening. Decide immediately that whatever comes next won’t apply to me. So when I was asked to staff a recruiting booth for work at a conference, I was less than thrilled. It wasn’t just because it required a Saturday after a 5-day workweek. I did everything I could to get out of it, especially because it required cancelling plans.
Ironically, the plans were my own women’s ministry. Worse, I was complaining about the triteness and irrelevance of Women’s Ministry, and not 24 hours before, two incredible women had spent the afternoon and evening ministering to me. But no one who shared my stereotypes would have been able to recognize that coffee, conversation, and SF City Adventure for the ministry that it was.
For as long as I’ve been connected to church or Christian subculture, I’ve resented “women’s ministry.” It felt like a place of relegation. It’s where women have to go minister–there or the coffee bar or the nursery–because the “real” church work, the kind that isn’t about kids or snacks, the kind that does theology and teaches and strategizes and cultivates, is “men’s work”.
But without wanting to trivialize the gift of domestic arts and the blessing of hospitality they can be for a church community, I know I am something other than a woman who cuddles babies, folds bulletins and makes muffins. I can’t help feeling frustrated by the de facto roles women predominantly assume in church culture.
Truthfully, I’m not convinced that only a man is ever allowed in the pulpit. I have a lot to say on the unquestioned status quo of the exclusively male voices in my church circles. But that’s a topic for another day. I’m not asking to be in the pulpit. I am just wondering how we get away from such a narrow view of what women can contribute to the Christian community.
Today, I saw some important steps away. Today I heard conversation about women’s ministry that was very encouraging: It was driven by the idea that “Women’s ministry” is not only ministry to women in churches, but ministry by women in whatever context God has given them for their life’s work.
It was about being ministers, and also being women.
I was really encouraged by a few particular moments as I watched teachers, strategists, nurses, non-profit directors, professors, athletes, scholars, travelers, retailers, directors, mothers, wives, and daughters explore what it means to minister simply out of who they are as unique creations of God.
I believe we’re all called–men and women–to minister, to love in spirit and in truth, working to pass the Peace of Christ, out of our uniqueness. Each of us has holy work to do that can only be done by us the way we do it. And we have to do our best to figure out what that is.
It almost started to seem like the traditionally male church defaults put women in a place of privilege after all: because women leaders have to struggle to identify where they belong in church more than men do, they grapple more readily and frequently with where they are truly obedient. True obedience is not just understanding what you have to do, but how to live fully as the person God made you to be. If women contend for something other than kids, choirs, or coffee, they’re often required to defend their place. Perhaps we identify our unique holy vocations more quickly and accurately because of it.
For while, (and I mean years) I seriously considered pursuing the life of a nun. I would tell people this, and they would laugh, despite my own gravity. More often than not, they would quip, “Jess, you can’t be a nun. Nuns don’t wear red lipstick.”
I thought, “So what? I could give that up.”
This lent fast makes me think twice about the truth in that, and one of the women ministering to me on Friday confirmed it. The work of a nun is not driven to reveal beauty through color and art. Red lipstick truly is part of how I reveal the beauty of color and the unique beauty of womanhood.
Yeah, I can give up red lipstick. See? I’m doing it for 40 days. But as I live without it, I see more clearly that this is not what God intends for my whole life.
He has already given me holy work to do, and I don’t need a convent to do it: It may change someday, but for now, I know I will teach, usher in God’s presence with hospitality (relationally, spiritually, and practically), and that I must reveal and preserve beauty at all costs.
As a woman, my ministry is to claim these and live from them without flinching.