Women’s Ministry as a Means of Grace Part 2

Last week’s post on Women’s Ministry as a Means of Grace prompted thoughtful conversation. Women commented on the post, messaged me privately, and even called me at home. The common question was simply, “How do you do this?!!” How do you be transparent when you perceive that your environment is not safe for such honesty? Well, you need to cultivate an environment that IS safe. If you are a women’s leader, then you frankly need to LEAD. And here are some thoughts on how to practically point people in this direction.

Years ago while leading women’s ministry at a large church, other women in leadership positions came to me with the idea of a workshop on redeeming female sexuality. In our culture, women have definitely reached sexual equality with the men. But while men were coming forward in droves in the church dealing with promiscuity and pornography, women were still being quiet about it in shame. It took these leaders courageously coming forward with their own stories to shed light on it as a church. One friend had had a serious addiction to pornography that mastered her for a decade beginning as a middle schooler. Another had left the faith for a season and pursued bisexual relationships. Yet another actively pursued multiple partners in bars, proud to be the one who left in the morning before they could ask her name instead of the other way around. There stories were hard to share … and hard to hear. But each one KNEW that there were many, many others still in their situation that sat in Sunday services each week in shame. They knew how to confess gossip or bitterness. But they were so ashamed of their sexual history, they had no idea where to begin when it came to confessing that.

So these ladies modeled it for them. They came up before the women at this workshop and gave an honest (though not gratuitous) account of their sexual history. They brought their shame into the light. They told how God had met them at their lowest point and brought them to freedom in Christ (sometimes slowly over time, sometimes just starkly freeing them in a moment). But then here’s the kicker. After each had given her testimony, leaders in the church came up and publicly responded to them. One had her husband, an elder who supervised her church ministry, and another female leader respond. Each spoke of who she was in Christ and how this no longer defined her. They acknowledged the truth of her sin, but the last word over her was gospel grace. “Christ now defines you, sister. You wear His beautiful robe of righteousness. We do not see you clothed in this sin. In fact, in Christ you are washed clean, SPOTLESS. We see you now as Christ sees you.” In that workshop, we walked away with simple but profound truths. First, we need to confess! We must bring our sin into the light. And second, THIS is how you respond to someone when they bring their sin into the light. Not with condemnation! Not with silence! But with gospel grace!!! “God has spoken great grace and love over you, and His word is the last word that defines who you are and how we are going to view you as your brothers and sisters in Christ.” Though the topic was sexuality, the same idea applies to moving toward honest, grace filled women’s ministry on any topic.

If you are burdened to lead women in this direction, I first suggest you run your ideas clearly by your church leadership structure. Such an event has the high probability of rubbing someone the wrong way, even if you are VERY careful with how you structure it. If you don’t have the support from your church leadership, you are right off the bat creating an unsafe environment for such an event.

Second, teaching women how to respond to such honesty is foundational. You have to deal head on with the unsolicited advice giver (referred to as UAGs from this point on), that lady who speaks from the hip on all the things she knows, not from hard won experience from all the things she’s suffered. You know the difference, and UAGs come out of the woodwork the second anyone is honest. They suck grace out of a room. They speak out of pride, though they may cloak it in Scripture and, possibly, experience. And they need to be rebuked before they ever begin.

Third, it’s the leaders who must lead. You have to be the first to bring your ugliness into the light. Maybe it’s been marriage struggles. Maybe you struggled to like your own kids. One that really kicked me in the gut was when an elder’s wife gave tearful confession of her long struggle with gluttony – sneaking dinner from the McDonald’s drive thru before second dinner at home with her husband. Boy did women come out of the woodwork after that. I struggled with that and STILL struggle with it. But her confession ministered great grace to me to face my own struggle head on.

This is not the last word on women’s ministries that minister gospel grace. I hope this post will generate further discussion that leads to further posts. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and each comment you make is helpful to us all defining what this looks like in reality.

**In the short term, I highly recommend reading any of Elyse Fitzpatrick’s books, but in particular Counsel from the Cross. She has great insight on what gospel grace looks like applied to every issue women face. I hope to review some of her books on this blog soon.**

13 Responses to Women’s Ministry as a Means of Grace Part 2

  1. Megan July 6, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    Wendy, when speaking of the UAGs you mention that they should be rebuked before they begin. Could you clarify this? Do you recommend doing this by pulling such a person aside individually before the discussions begin, or by doing sort of a general discussion of the matter to the whole group hoping that she hears and heeds it? I can see a general discussion being really beneficial for everyone, but at the same time I know some UAGs who likely would not see themselves in this group.

  2. Wendy July 6, 2010 at 1:39 am #

    Yes, I would say do it as a group. And you are right — they likely won't immediately identify themselves as UAGs. But if you are clear and specific in what is and is not an appropriate response, you can perhaps bring them some awareness. A first good response is simply listening long and hard with our mouths shut, except possibly asking clarifying questions (especially about root attitudes that underlie the sin being confessed). It may be a long time before anyone really understand the depths of what a woman is dealing with in terms of root sin and unbelief. Only after listening long and hard (and asking clarifying questions) can we offer any response. And our first response should be prayer. “God, what have you accomplished on the cross, and how does it meet us right here right now with this particular issue?” Only after establishing this foundation should we ever start giving an “answer.” In my opinion. 🙂

  3. Saralyn July 6, 2010 at 3:45 am #

    Have you read Jonathan Dodson's book Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship?

  4. Sandra July 7, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    I had a run in with a UAG this week. Your description on how they suck the grace out of room is painfully accurate. Thanks for your encouragement on how to deal with ladies who act this way!

  5. birthinukraine July 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    wendy,

    have you read susan hunt? She has i think four books. they are right up this alley. Her book, By Design, is great and one chapter is about making church a safe place for hurting women. Spiritual Mothering is about starting a women'sministry. Excellent material.

    i hope to read the Elyse book you are recomending!

  6. Wendy July 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    I have long had Spiritual Mothering in my stack to read. I will pull it out and put it to the top. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Saralyn July 9, 2010 at 3:10 am #

    As a recovering UAG, I'd ask for grace, as well. We think that knowledge and ability to juggle rules equals spiritual success and simply want to share what we think we know. What we tend to have missed is Jesus. We need to be pointed to the cross, too.

  8. Wendy July 9, 2010 at 3:13 am #

    Thanks, Saralyn. I'm with you there. Way more than half the battle is just realizing that you're the problem, right?!!

  9. birthinukraine July 10, 2010 at 5:32 am #

    i have read By Design, Spiritual Mothering (twice each) and now i started The True Woman. I got them a month or so ago when we were in the States. She has done a lot to stregthen my faith and character just in that little time, preparing me for some trials here. Really good good books.

  10. Anonymous July 11, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    I don't often have time to read your blog, but did this morning (home from church with a sick child.) And here's my question….why is it necessary to share these struggles with a group? I understand the verse that says we are to share our struggles with each other, but I don't see how that necessarily translates to sharing in a group setting. Wouldn't smaller settings be safer for women to share these kinds of struggles? Which is why I think it's necessary to build relationships where these kinds of issues can come to light- perhaps over coffee in a more relaxed setting, just one or two women, so the hurt can be addressed fully and effectively.
    I wonder if having workshops where everyone is openly confessing sin could easily slide into dealing with those sins in an unhealthy way. Just my questions while pondering this.

  11. Wendy July 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    Well, the idea is not have an event like this and then have open mike in front of everybody for anyone to confess anything. The idea is to have women who have already confessed and walked forward in the gospel give testimony and model for others how to do this, creating an environment throughout the church where women in one on one conversation or small groups or whatever know the value of confession and how to respond to confession.

  12. Anonymous July 12, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    That makes sense. Thank you for clarifying. I want honesty in our churches and in my church, I just don't want it at the expense of truth or to ever expose a private sin that should have stayed private, you know? It's hard to find the middle ground between silence and oversharing, I guess. That's what I'm curious about- how to find the proper balance. Thank you for making me think about this.

  13. Tonja July 15, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    Wendy, thank you for posting a very timely and relevant topic. I have been leading a women's bible study for about 3 years now, and while I would say we are not really a “small group”, we have started to grow into one. I, however, am much more comfortable in leading a “bible study” than I am a “small group” primarily because of my lack of knowledge in how to address women who are struggling and hurting. I'm getting better at it (growing in Christ is awsome!) but I still feel like I don't handle things smoothly. Thank you also for all the book recommendations, I really need to pick up my pace with summer reading).

    I also want to say that I think having a big church setting where these issues are addressed is an excellent idea. I sometimes feel that some women are so alone in their guilt that they never consider that some sins are far more common than they would ever imagine. By having a large group setting, the church is bringing several issues to light while getting the message across that anyone struggling with these “hidden” sins will not be outcast or degraded – but just the opposite. Perhaps it provides the mechanism for women to feel safer in admitting their sin to just one other person, if even in private, and asking for love and support in and through the struggle.