Women’s Ministries: Halee Gray Scott

From Halee Gray Scott, a salvo:

This week, I received a third announcement about your ministry. Well, maybe not specifically your ministry, but from three different women from three different churches in three different denominations who run the women’s ministry exactly like you. The first was a notification that you designed a ministry especially for me, well, only if I happen to be a “young wife” or a “mom with younger kids”. You assured me it would all be about “fun” and “connecting” and promised “superb soups”, “bodacious bread”, and a “sweet craft project”. I received a second invite when I picked my child up from Sunday School. You let me know this ministry is specifically crafted for “MOMS”. You included the schedule to hook me in: for six weeks out of 13, we’d be doing crafts. Then, on September 16, as former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis opened fire on civilians working at Washington Navy Yard, I got an e-mail about your upcoming women’s conference. You promised it would be a time to “Relax!  Refresh!  Recharge!”

I’m concerned because you seem to think you’re running a spa, a delicatessen, and a Hobby Lobby rather than a church. I’m not the only one. I used to think I was. But then, a few years ago Christianity Today writer Amy Simpson confessed why she didn’t “do women’s ministry“. Since then, a steady stream of other women have followed suit, voicing their discontent with the current women’s ministry paradigm. For the most part, the critics have been gentle and gracious with their critiques. As for me, I’m tired of being nice about it. I’m tired of beating around the bush, saying it’s just a matter of “preference”. So let me say it this way: If this is the way you run the women’s ministry, it’s not just ineffective and irrelevant–it’s sinful. – See more at: http://www.hgscott.com/open-letter-to-traditional-womens-ministry-directors/#sthash.P7kb1JvR.dpuf

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://bookwi.se/ Adam Shields

    Much the same could be said about men’s ministries. Jonathan Merritt interviewed Craig Groeschel about his new book for men call Fight. ( http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/10/28/mega-church-pastor-craig-groeschel-says-men-need-learn-fight/ ) Personally, I have no desire to fight. I am a 40 year old man. I am a stay at home day (out of choice not economic necessity). I hate sports and many other guy oriented activities. But I am no less a man and no less in need of male friends or ministry. I just am not attracted to most male oriented ministry activities.

    I think whether male or female, ministry within the church needs to be free to be particular and not universal. There will not be anything that works as universal ministry to people that are diverse.

  • attytjj466

    Well OK, venting and criticism is easy. Especially when it is fueled by underlying resentment that churches are not doing a gender ministry that would cater to me and my wants and desires and passions. Couple suggestions.

    1. What is your vision of what womens ministry should be, what it should do and offer, that would not be sinful and a waste of everyones time? I for one would be vary curious to see what that would be. 2. Go to the ministry leadership with your thoughts and ideas and vision. 3. Go to the current ministry events anyway, despite your aversion to what is being done, and meet those women, spent time getting to know them, find out what their lives and families and work/careers are like, and what their needs, pressures, struggles are. 4. Then start getting involved in womens ministry in a local church and focus on ministrering to the needs of others and help shape it positively with your influence and passion and gifts and abilities. 5. Drop the PH.D thing after your name. Prove what you know and are by what you write and say and do, not by your educational titles. 6. Recognize you live in a different socio/economic world than most women and moms in most churches in Michigan or wherever. 7. Use your education, resources, time, opportunities in a more positive selfless way. 8. Watch a season of Duck Dynesty on netflicks and broaden your frame of reference a little.

  • Phil Miller

    I was going to say the same thing… Most men’s ministries suck just as much, only in a different way.

    I was actually thinking about something similar along these lines this morning. When I was young I used to be a pretty avid listener and buyer of Christian music, but I was thinking that there are hardly any Christian artists I care about now. There are a small handful, but most just seem to produce stuff that’s pretty shallow and well, boring. I think it’s because so much of Christian music seems to focus on the teen demographic. It’s weird because in the regular pop world, as artists get older their fanbase kind of ages with them. In the Christian entertainment world, everything is aimed at youth. So you have groups like the Newsboyz and Audio Adrenaline, which were groups I saw when I was in high school, still playing for youth groups. I find it sad, really – a bunch of guys in their 40s still trying to be cool…

    But I find that same sort of dynamic at play in men’s and women’s ministries. Even though they’re aimed at an older demographic, I still find much of this “extended adolescence” thinking at play.

  • Elane O’Rourke

    Perhaps a fellow with “atty” in his handle might do better than to criticize others’ use of titles and assume he knows their lives.Just perhaps.

  • attytjj466

    Actually that is part of my login at another online site, that is invisible there, but that Disqus displays here at Patheos. Definitely not my choice.

  • RJS4DQ

    Well as a woman who doesn’t find traditional women’s ministries very appealing, I’ll add a comment.

    I find it troubling that someone who teaches spiritual formation would use the phrase “not just ineffective and irrelevant–it’s sinful.” The tone of the open letter tells me that this is not a place where I would go for advice on spiritual formation.

    Without knowing more details about any specific ministry it is hard to judge, but I know of similar ministries that are both effective and relevant (although not for me). Even if it is limited in effectiveness, it isn’t sinful unless it breeds gossip, disrespect, ridicule, greed, and such. We have to be willing to accept that others are motivated positively by things we might find of little interest personally. Not only this, we have to take time to just “be” – not everything effective and relevant is on a mission.

  • @karensbeckley

    Ok..just my view as a woman who worked in professional ministry for 9 years,, resigning only due to failing vision, Halee Scott nails my revulsion to women’ministry, and why I resisted it for years.
    The sin component is that we pretend it is the purpose of the church on earth to fill “craft” needs…to promise refreshment from any source but Jesus… we further insult our Lord in keeping His people content with spiritual milk, instead of growing them up with strong food.
    We are also complicent in creating a class system God our Father, nor Christ, ever intended within the priesthood of believers.
    My suggestion…let gifted leaders lead, gifted teachers teach, and the whole body of Christ strengthen us for the assaults Satan and the world throw at us daily.
    Enough with fluff and pretending we aren’t engaged in a spiritual battle with eternal consequences.

  • RJS4DQ

    So let me try to understand why you feel this way.

    What is the purpose of the church?
    What is strong food?
    What is worth spending time on?

  • PLTK

    I believe her definition of their sin is “missing the mark.” Not doing what God has called us to do IS a sin. You could argue against it in this case, but when the focus of the church (women’s ministries and otherwise) is primarily on enjoying ourselves at the expense of building up the Kingdom, we are engaging in sin even if the ministry doesn’t breed “gossip, disrespect, etc.”

    Of course, you can argue that this isn’t true in most women’s ministries, that they are adequate in effectiveness and I would accept that. Nonetheless, I would still decry the stereotyping and little cutsy boxes that women’s ministries try to put us in. There is a legitimate frustration to the way many/most ministries are structured.

  • Susan_G1

    “Watch a season of Duck Dynesty (sic) on netflicks (sic) and broaden your frame of reference a little.”

    Well, that’s just plain condescending. You are implying women who appreciate the scandal of the evangelical mind just need to relax and loosen up… with faux reality nonsense that you like?

    My sister-in-law works in women’s ministries that help find housing for poorer women, setting up group homes, and finding people willing to take in refugees for a year, teaching them the language and ferrying them to workshops teaching them useful skills as needed. A friend of mine works with women who have chosen to carry out-of-wedlock pregnancies but who need shelter by placing them in Christian homes for the duration (be the end result adoption or motherhood; if the latter, teaching/modeling parenting skills as well). I chose not to work in (my then church’s watered down) women’s ministries but instead ran a free depression clinic and a free drug rehabilitation clinic for the working uninsured, using skills garnered through use of my M.D. degree.

    I truly don’t mind if some women (especially moms who just want to get some time away from young kids) enjoy those types of ministries. But as one of probably many who once watched uncomfortably as women characterized themselves as “otters, lions, golden retrievers, or beavers” to discern our spiritual gifts (really, women as animals?) and rejects this approach, please don’t give us such patronizing advice. It isn’t really helpful.

  • mteston1

    On a (c)hurch sign the other day as I passed . . . “Fall Fun Fest come join us.”

    It really has come to that . . . doesn’t matter the gender. Imagine, in a culture like ours, the church would lose it’s way by trying to out fun, out entertain, out amuse, out fun the culture instead of instilling the practices of rigorous discipleship. Neil Postman’s “Amusing ourselves to Death” comes to mind. After 30 plus years in ministry my wife and I have exited. The demand for shallow fun at all ages and genders has trumped the day. IMHO what is quite bothersome anymore is an apparent lack of honesty about the landscape of what it takes just to get people interested in the things of God, . . . at least I think its God. “Missing the mark” I think is quite appropriate. I was tutored under a mentor whose advice was to never separate the genders in ministries, that truly we need to hear and listen to each other. It is clear that in many homes and other places where human’s gather, men and women actually hearing and listening to each other is at a premium. Imagine a place where each could wrestle with the serious matters of spiritual formation, character formation, and practice such things in the larger world? Well, that is quite boring I suspect and not fodder for church signs. There is so much to say on these matters but in my own life I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut.

  • RJS4DQ

    mteston1,

    I would love to attend a Fall Fun Fest with Christian friends and church family once again. Being able to fellowship together is quite important.

    I spend most of my life in “the larger world” where Christian faith is regarded as foolishness and more often worse. Yet from many these days I am told that Christian fellowship is “missing the mark” (we should be focused on the serious things alone), that it is a waste of time to worry about theology (I should be feeding the poor or passing out the 4 Spiritual Laws depending on the critic) and such.

    I see a real need for multiple overlapping circles of interaction and purpose within the Christian community (aka church).

    From my perspective, except for solid family, I find being a Christian a lonely and isolating experience. An experience that has intensified as my church has streamlined to “focus on what counts.” The leadership would agree with you more than with me.

  • Phil Miller

    I appreciate what you’re saying, RJS. I really do. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to get together with fellow church members to just hang out and have fun (fellowship if we must use the Christian-ese :-) ). My issue, and what I’m kind sensing from others, is that these things are often wrapped up in some sort of packaging that is trying to make them more than they are.

    There seems to be this desire to hype things up in the Evangelical world to make them seem like huge deals. When I was playing women’s conference circuit, for example, they couldn’t have any event without showing a DVD promoting the next event, and that DVD would inevitably use all this marketing language – “Come to the Spring Fling and your life will be changed…”. I think after awhile the hype machine becomes wearying for people.

  • RJS4DQ

    Phil,

    Yeah. There are aspects of the Christian conference scene I find disturbing – whether men’s, women’s, pastor’s, church planter’s or anything else. The hype machine is wearying and sometimes destructive.

  • http://incandescentink.blogspot.com/ Candice Gage

    Interestingly, I was just discussing this topic the other day. It’s refreshing to see women addressing the issue and having the guts to be honest and not just “beat around the bush.” I’m the first to admit I don’t like confrontation, but polite hinting hasn’t worked so far.

    First — let me say that I actually like crafts. There is something to be said for the goodness of creating beauty. And, who doesn’t enjoy soup suppers with good friends? Who doesn’t enjoy holiday parties with loved ones? Sharing life with community is important. Finally — what woman doesn’t enjoy a good pampering session now and then?

    My personal criticism of women’s ministries has nothing to do with not LIKING these activities. It has everything to do believing that we need something more.

    To me, it seems many of these activities belong in the realm of celebration. And celebration apart from labor is usually, well, shallow. In my experience, it seems to lead to both immature relationships and immature believers.

    As Ms. Scott pointed out, there is a big, hurting world out there. No matter what town or city you call home, there are dying people living all around you — people who need to be loved, to be seen, to be honored for who they are as image bearers. While we can meet some of these needs individually, we can do so much more corporately. We need both the assistance and support of others, because real ministry is hard. I’m not talking about signing up to serve a meal at a homeless shelter once a year as a church (though that is a good thing to do). I’m not talking about a monthly hour of time at the local crisis pregnancy center (as needed as such activities are). I’m talking about women coming together to live every day for the Kingdom in the various ways we are called to do so.

    To be honest, I’ve never seen anything like this, so I don’t know what it would look like. I’m thinking you would see women coming together to really study scripture so they would know how to bring healing to those with spiritual hurt. Instead of contenting themselves with candy-themed ladies studies about trusting God in the midst of living the middle-class-American-dream, they would crave real theology, discipleship, and accountability.

    When they would meet for coffee or shared a meal, I think the discussion would center more on their Kingdom work than on the latest sale at Pier 1. I think women in this context would actually pray for each other, and their prayers would focus on strength to serve and not just strength to handle the upcoming visit from the in-laws (though, those prayers are important too).

    I think if women lived in this sort of Christian fellowship, there would be real community instead of polite (and too often artificial) friendships. In spite of our differences, we would be able to truly respect each other for our unique contributions to the Kingdom. And when we would celebrate, it would be truly joyous because of the work we had done together.

    The reality of how things are, at least in my experience, is very different.

    C.S. Lewis wrote that friendships have to be “about something.” You don’t grow close to people unless you have something in common. In the Church, we should have a whole way of life in common. We should have affection for each other because we all love and strive to serve the same Person. However, the thing we have in common is rarely emphasized. Because our community building too often caters to specific interests and, dare I say it, socioeconomic groups, those who don’t fit the mold find themselves on the outside. Church-Wide-Ladies-Nights-Out’s at local restaurants are great fun — for women who can afford restaurant fare. No worries (the flier says), you don’t have to order a meal if you can’t afford one. You can just get a drink! (Tell me, what self-respecting women would respond to such an offer?)

    So, instead of the diverse community we are called to be, we are cliquey. Instead of maturing, we sip milk in our tea and eat so much cake we barely notice the lack of meat. Worst of all, we look at all the hours we spend doing women’s ministries activities and flatter ourselves that we are doing all that is required of us.

    We are starving, and we are starving others. And we don’t even know it.

    Except some of us do. I’m thankful for the women who are brave enough to graciously stand up and call us to something better.

    Hmm…I guess this has been on my mind more than I realized! I didn’t know this comment would be so long.

  • RJS4DQ

    Candice,

    But there has to be time to just “be.”

    We live in a rat race world, and I see your vision as replacing one rat race for another. We have rat races of achievement (education, power, money), rat races of the helicopter parents, rat races of bigger better churches, and rat races of “service” – everything has to be for some divine or social good (we did more good than you, thus adding meaning to our existence).

    Thinking about ways to improve things is great. We certainly have not yet achieved perfection in anything, including our various ministries. But we can do so without stomping on people and calling them “sinful” along the way. This is really my objection to the the post that was linked.

  • Susan_G1

    I like Philip Yancey’s analogy of the body of Christ to a human body, with many different parts, even opposing muscles, necessary and working together. Is that kind of ministry sinful? If you looked at the photo on her post, the activities were somewhat “me” centered (except for fellowship, which can also be “me” centered), but if it doesn’t encourage each other to love and good deeds, and growing in Christ, I think it can be considered to be sinful by omission. This ties in with your ambition post. If we are given gifts and talents, and do not use them at least some of the time for taking care of God’s creation, I think it is a sin. Are we forgiven that sin? I think so, yes. But I think we can be encouraged to do better. That’s what I see her letter as a call for: meatier women’s ministries. That’s all.

    Of course we need time to just “be” – that is what the Sabbath was designed for. Mini-Sabbaths, too. We don’t always have to be doing, but we can’t put it off indefinitely, either.

  • RJS4DQ

    So it is sinful to get together twice a month from Sept. through March for some kind of activity – several speakers, “crafts” whatever that might mean, a charity project and a Christmas party? I just don’t see how this bears all the adjectives that Halee Gray Scott wishes to ascribe to it. I don’t even see how it is “missing the mark.”

    Or is it fine as long as it isn’t a Christian group, just a local group of moms. (Reserve church stuff only for the really “sacred” or for sacrificial service and let normal life take care of the rest?)

    Or is it fine if they are a church musical group, say a “worship band,” instead of interested in crafts? (I think at least some musicians are rather focused on what they get out of it, using the excuse of “ministry” to sanctify their interest.)

    I shouldn’t be aiming this at you Susan, because it isn’t your attitude I am really complaining about.

  • http://incandescentink.blogspot.com/ Candice Gage

    RJS4DQ: There is nothing wrong with taking time to just “be.” Just like there is nothing wrong with crafts, parties, and game nights.

    The problem is when we are ONLY being and playing. The problem is when we are RARELY serving and growing.

    The well ordered life includes labor and celebration, work and rest. Spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health demand this balance. I’m sure there are churches that model this well. In my personal experience, however, such churches are rare.


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