I really hate those "home parties." You know, the ones where you go to someone's house and hear about the latest gadgets, skin care products, or overpriced home d?cor. The hostess serves brownies and everyone talks about their kids and how busy they are. Then the sales representative stands up and gives a hyper-peppy presentation punctuated by polite gasps of delight from the women packed in the living room.
A few of the women get really giddy about the whole thing and start ordering everything that catches their eye. Some of them find just a couple of things they like, grab another brownie, and head home. I twitch uncomfortably and look for the least expensive item on the order form. I feel obligated to order something. After all, the hostess cleaned her house and made snacks for us, and if I don't order she might not get her free "hostess gift."
I learned my lesson when I once tried to leave one of those parties without buying anything. I had spent the entire party looking at my watch and thinking about how if I wanted to, I could make those doodads myself with some cardboard, fabric scraps, and magic markers. But I didn't want to. And I certainly couldn't imagine paying for any of them. But as I tried to leave, the sales representative cornered me with a desperate smile and asked me what I was going to buy. Everyone else stared at me as if I had been caught shoplifting. I did manage to escape without lightening my checkbook, but not entirely unscathed.
I don't go to those parties anymore. I've conquered my sense of obligation to attend. I don't even try to come up with excuses anymore. I just picture myself at the party, looking at my watch, wondering why in the world I agreed to spend my evening there. I imagine the feeling of watching the other women and wondering why I seem to be the only one who isn't enjoying myself tremendously. And I politely decline without bothering to explain.
I must confess I've had the same experience with women's ministry events. It's been a long time since I attended a women's Bible study, luncheon (why don't they just call them "lunch"?), or anything else just for Christian women. I've spent enough of my life feeling bored, self-conscious, and out of place (think junior high gym class).
In my experience, the people who plan these events make all kinds of assumptions about who I am as a women. For starters, most assume I'm a full-time stay-at-home mom (and the best time of day for a meeting is, of course, 10:00 in the morning). They also seem to believe I enjoy making refrigerator magnets, spend most of my time thinking about fashion and chocolate, and can think of nothing better than getting away from my husband and kids (even though I've been at work all day) and hanging out with my "girlfriends." This isn't me - at all.
I used to think I just didn't fit. Somehow I wasn't like most women, and this probably had something to do with my spiritual life, so I should try harder to fit in. Now I realize that's not true. In fact, the funny thing is, I don't really think I'm a misfit. Most women I know feel the same way I do about women's ministry programming. I know that women's ministries do connect with many women and provide important opportunities for growth. But they seem to be focused on serving a relatively small segment of the population. So I wonder: Why do so many of our women's ministry efforts treat women as if they all have the same lifestyle, schedule, goals, affinity for June Cleaver, and penchant for pink roses? And why are we expected to call ourselves "girlfriends"?
I don't mean to undermine the importance of women's ministry, or trivialize the effective ministry that's happening in many churches. But by and large, I believe our churches are running shallow, one-dimensional programs that miss important opportunities to minister to many women.
And I suspect I'm not the only one who has felt misunderstood and discouraged by the "ministry" we have experienced. We can be and do so much more. Why don't we challenge each other? Why don't we take ourselves seriously? Why do we alienate so many women with our ministries? For some of my own ideas for women's ministry, see my next post.