Several years ago, my close friend "Sally" began her journey toward knowing Jesus - on that same well-worn path where so many of us have met God. When she became a Christian, I was thrilled that my brave, sassy friend understood what it meant to be loved by God.
But as Sally began to know Jesus and get more deeply involved at church, I noticed something happening. To make time for all the appropriate Bible studies, small groups, and other ministries she dutifully joined, she had to drop that step class at the gym that she really loved. People from the church kept calling and asking, so she kept joining and volunteering. To make time for these commitments, she quit her extra job - the one she did for "fun money," the one at the trendy bar and grill where so many people knew and loved her.
One day I called her to see if we could meet for coffee and catch up. Nope. Sally was too busy, and it would be another week before her church schedule opened up for me. I was hurt. I felt robbed, as if the church came and snatched Sally right out of my living room and locked her in the fellowship hall.
Now I know better; I have served in ministry leadership for many years. I get that churches have vibrant fellowship and communities that draw people closer to Jesus. But here is my struggle: When we minister to women, when we reach out to them and share with them the life-changing love of Jesus, what do we do once they decide they want "in"?
Most churches offer programs that invite women to leave their neighborhoods and coffee shops on any given night so they can come to church for a program (or two). So they drop book clubs or after-work social events so that they can make it to a group at church. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, but aren't we robbing other women of the chance to live and walk alongside these followers of Jesus when we constantly pull them to church?
I have limited access to Sally these days; she is up to her eyeballs in elders' meetings and retreats and building committees. I understand this stuff, so I am patient. But are those women not yet on the faith journey as forgiving? Or do they also miss their friend and in frustration raise their fists at the church, hurt because Sally never calls now that she met Jesus?
Effective outreach to women takes place in a context that invites women into both a deeper journey with Jesus and a deeper journey into the relationships they already have. Of course, some places and partnerships are simply incompatible with following Jesus, but choosing to cut negative influences from our lives for the sake of growth is not the issue here. The issue is that many times church life brings with it a slow, seemingly insignificant drift out of the world a woman once knew. At issue here is the often unconscious decision to go one step beyond "in the world but not of it" to "completely out of this world."