Let’s start with an exercise. Open a second tab on your browser, go to google, and type the words women’s ministry. Then click the ‘image’ tab. Welcome to the great Pink Sea, only to be rivaled by Julia Robert’s blush-and-bashful wedding in Pretty Woman.
Take a few minutes to sail down your screen. Notice the monochromatic backgrounds, headlines, and lettering. Did you catch all those hearts? What about the abundance of gerbera daisies? And the butterflies you’d find in a Disney sticker book? Oh, and the rose-shaded cross!
Dotting this sea are a few pictures of actual women. They’re usually huddled together holding mugs, holding hands along a sunset backdrop, or holding the Bible and laughing. I’m surprised to see a fair amount of racial and ethnic diversity in these pictures, but that’s where the diversity ends. All the women in these photos are clean, well-groomed, and they match in an eerie way. They’re all smiling big, happy smiles.
As a pastor, and particularly in my role as a pastor to women in a large congregation, I look at these “women’s ministry” images and scratch my head. How do these monochromatic designs represent the curious and sincere, struggling yet resolved, broken-but-being-restored disciples that I see around me each day?
I wonder too, how these images shape perceptions about ministry to women. Will a visitor to our websites see these banners, logos, and photos in all their pink smiling glory, and think — there’s the place for me!? Or will she feel (again) the need to be a certain type of woman, or to have it all together?
More importantly, how do these images shape perceptions about the ministry of women. Might these hearts and flowers water-down the vibrant gift that women are to the church? Might the Pink Sea limit our vision for the powerful impact that women have in the churches and communities across the globe?
Be honest. When you think of “women’s ministry,” do you imagine pastel fluff, or do you see something more dynamic?
As a pastor to women, these are the questions and concerns that constantly rattle around inside me. This keeps me up at night praying for wisdom. It keeps me thinking strategically and planning creatively. I take my job very seriously because women’s ministry is not fluff. In my world, women’s ministry is something substantive and strong. It’s something that brims with the power to transform.
Fundamentally, women’s ministry it’s about people who need God. Yes, the people I minister to happen to be female, but they may or may not like pink, or chocolate, or flowers. The women in our churches have lives of significance. They have demanding careers, complex relationships, and varied hobbies. They suffer loss and experience pain. They wrestle with big questions. They doubt. They accomplish great things. They fall down and crawl toward hope.
I know that God that can lift up the weary. God has the power to heal the broken. His Word is life and light to the doubting and confused. God is what women need. And my job as a pastor is to hang a neon sign above his inn and welcome every traveler.
And yes, we women might gather around a table with mugs of coffee and a pretty centerpiece, but we’re there to talk about real life — the sting of a friend’s betrayal, the excitement of love, the pain of miscarriage or divorce, the fear of failure, and the challenges and joy of leadership in its many forms. So for every picture you see on the internet of women smiling or laughing, you should also imagine them focused and serious, mopping up the tears and coffee they spilled when they shared about a new loss.
Ministry to women should unleash the power of God’s good news in a disheartening world. It should be about truth telling, authenticity, hospitality, and healing. Whether the venue is decorated or bare, women should able to come as they are, to tell their stories, to encounter God and learn from his Word.
The women I see in the church are far more complex and varied than the images and shades stereotypically assigned to them. The women I know are smart, capable, inquisitive, and intelligent. They are leaders and entrepreneurs, inventors and teachers, artists and engineers, managers and students. Some are rich and others poor. Some dress to impress, others wear only what is comfortable, and a few come to us in musty, tattered clothes because that’s what they have. All of these women come to the church looking for a place to belong. They stay because they discover that God is the source and sustainer of life.
I want women’s ministry to be so dynamic that it welcomes a CEO and a recovering addict, a stay-at-home mom and a pediatrician, an ivy-league professor and a woman with a GED. I want a ministry that makes room for mess. A place that’s a refuge from the grind of comparison that we women put ourselves through. A place where a woman wearing pink heels and red lipstick sits beside a woman with black combat boots and a bad dye-job, and sees a friend.
Bottom line? I just want women’s ministry to bring women together and point them to God. And then we get to stand back and watch God do BIG things, like forgive sin — and free women from addiction or perfectionism — and teach them to live as beloved and fully empowered disciples. Pink daisies are not the centerpiece of this ministry. God’s power is.