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.**