I filled my new hand lettered mug with the last of the morning coffee, scooped up my official canvas tote filled with notebooks, pens, and my journaling Bible, threw my favorite cozy blanket scarf over my shoulders, and walked to the hotel conference room to listen to the day’s speakers. The beautiful decorations looked fresh out of the craftiest blogs and most followed Pinterest accounts, the worship was richly experiential and full of emotion, and the weekend was filled with heartfelt reminders that God made us each beautiful and unique, and that we never needed to feel anything less than fully enough as we embraced big and powerful callings for Jesus. Women left the weekend feeling refreshed, feeling encouraged, and feeling empowered.
What I never felt that weekend?
Sure, there were tweetable quotes from speakers who inspired us and encouraged us – but was there ever time they had really convicted us? Had they ever challenged us? Had I ever felt shaken from my spiritual comfort zone? Ever felt possible disagreement with something that was said from the platform? Ever felt that Holy Spirit punch to the gut that urges us to confession, and repentance, and ultimately to transformational change?
It wasn’t simply this particular weekend either. Looking back over many of the various retreats, conferences, and women’s ministries I had experienced so far, I began to see a common thread take shape. Between the adorable swag bags and the hand letters quotes, amongst the DIY decor and the fellowship around cupcake bars and campfires, and in spite of journal after journal filled with furiously scrawled notes from speakers, I struggled to find a moment in which the experience had been anything but beautiful. Even speakers who were seen as “raw” or “vulnerable” had ultimately shared past-tense experiences and struggles, most of which had an arc mimicking the 30 minute sitcom episodes of my 90’s childhood. Sure, there’s always a problem for our protagonists, but by about minute 25 we find the solution, the lesson to be learned, or the surprise happy ending, and we can put a bow on this week’s episode and see the happy family hug as the end credits roll. We feel inspired, we feel uplifted, and ultimately we feel comfortable and secure.
Friends, I’m growing increasingly disillusioned with the state of women’s ministries in our modern churches, and with all of the beautiful conferences and retreats marketed to Christian women. We go to be encouraged, we go to feel connected, we go to be comforted and to be healed from our burdens and reminded of how loved we are in Christ – but where do we go to feel convicted? Where do we go to hear the less than pretty truths like “our righteous acts are like filthy rags?” (Isaiah 64:6) Where do we go to be reminded that if we aren’t serving the least of these we aren’t really serving Jesus at all? (Matthew 25) Where do we go to be reminded that no, we aren’t actually promised those deep desires of our heart, and that the Christian life means embracing suffering? (Too many verses to list) More importantly, where do we go to really do the work of Jesus rather than simply hearing about it?
Have we become confused about what “Church” really is, and about what it means to truly follow Jesus? Have we elevated reading the Word and hearing Christian teaching above actually doing the Word and implementing the teaching? It’s as if we are a generation of Indy 500 drivers who have become so addicted to the pit stops and refuels that we have stopped making any laps around the track. We see the hustle and bustle of our pit crew, changing our tires and tapping up our fluids, and we confuse this with the excitement of actually driving in the race. We’ve taken the acts that were supposed to better equip us to follow Jesus and somehow turned them into to being a Jesus follower. We’ve conflated going to church with actually being the church.
We’ve sought out the Comforter, but often neglected comforting the most marginalized among us.
We’ve brought refreshment and encouragement to women of faith, but fallen short of stirring them to repentance or acts of radical faith.
We’ve sung the songs of His matchless grace, yet we’ve failed to offer grace to the “other,” to the seemingly unclean, to the ones we simply can’t agree with.
We’ve highlighted our Bibles and filled notebooks with sermon notes and quotes from inspirational speakers, but we’ve forgotten how to be doers of the word and not merely hearers. (James 1:22)
We’ve empowered women to build businesses and platforms, and to embrace their callings and identity, but we’ve all too often neglected to call them to die to self, take up their cross, and focus solely on building His kingdom instead of their own.
We’ve heard calls to unity in the body and community with our sisters in Christ, but we’ve all too often silenced the voices who are speaking uncomfortable truths, asking difficult questions, and are embracing the diversity of our differing opinions and points of view.
We’ve made our faith pretty, and at great cost to its power. In an effort to make our women’s ministries both accessible and marketable, we’ve created an environment where the message is no longer of how desperately we as believers still need Jesus, but of how confident and empowered and “enough” we should feel. We’ve created an expectation that we should always feel refreshed and encouraged by encounters with the Spirit, and left little room for powerful conviction to change or for the Holy tension of questioning and uncertainty. We’ve filled our meetings with safe topics and broad affirmations so as never to risk disagreement or discomfort, and we’ve replaced the idea of unity in the body with conformity amongst its members. We’ve taken the teachings of a Savior who spent his ministry homeless and unmarried, and we’ve somehow channeled them into women’s ministries focused primarily on homemaking, marriage, and parenting.
It’s time to ask difficult questions about our women’s ministries, about all the pretty conferences and our weekend retreats. How can we make space for more radical faith? How can we better call and equip the women in our congregations to lay down their lives and take up their crosses? How can we worry less about making women feel better about themselves, and focus more on making them more like Jesus? Is there a way to make women feel welcomed and encouraged while also making them feel challenged and convicted as well? Can we embrace diversity by assembling voices from various backgrounds, races, cultures, classes, marital statuses, and political affiliations, and start doing the hard work of unity without simply glossing over our differences? Can we still equip and refresh the hearts of our women while continuously pointing them back outside of our walls to do the real work of following Jesus? Can we return to a faith that’s anything but pretty; a faith thats radical, and countercultural; a faith thats risky and wild and comes with great personal cost?
Are we ready to give up pretty and seek something powerful in it’s place?