Women’s ministry 2.0?

The only “chocolate” was a platter of brownies next to the churros and fruit on the dessert table. There was no gimmickry of a spa- or scrapbook- or coffee-shop day for the lil’ ladies, no pastel-and-lace floral table coverings, no synth-y “special music” for the occasion, no excruciating ice-breaker games, and no motivational speaker whose purpose was to ambush our sentiments instead of feeding our minds and stretching our souls.

Instead of kvetching too much about the old paradigm, I’d like to tell you about a respectful step in a new direction away from some of those tired images of women’s ministry. Yesterday at Trinity International University, I attended the school’s first-ever women’s theology conference.

Let me state here that I’m not writing as an unbiased sideline observer. I came alongside the planning team in a support role, helping to shape the marketing and communications for the event. I had the privilege of watching up close as God worked through this educated and spiritually-devoted team of women to create a day of interactive learning and engagement for women designed to bridge the gap between academy and community.

The day’s four speakers addressed the day’s theme of identity from four different perspectives:

  • Identity In The Image Of God: Dust And Divinity 
  • Identity In Relationships: Advocacy And Representation
  • Identity In A World Of Expectations: Beauty For Ashes
  • There’s More To You Than You Know: A Theology of Dignity

The format of the day gave the 140 women in attendance – students from TIU, alumni, and women from local churches – the opportunity to engage the material through reflection and conversation in a number of different ways throughout the event. 


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Though each speaker and table conversation left me with new areas of conviction or encouragement, I am pondering today the questions that came out of Esther Theonugraha’s discussion of advocacy and representation. A deeper understanding of who I am and who I am becoming is one side of the coin; the other side is knowing the strengths and limitations of what it means to truly affirm the value and voice of another. Her talk and the table conversation following it gave me a new way to consider what it means to better love God, love myself and love my neighbor.

And really – isn’t that what women’s ministry is meant to do?

Have you been to a women’s event or conference that has stretched or challenged you in some way? I’d love to hear more about it!

If you attended yesterday’s TIU conference and you’re reading this, what is still echoing in your soul today? 



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  • Jon Fowler

    As her older brother, I could not be prouder of the woman that Esther Theonugraha has become. She teaches me all the time. I’m just waiting for her to start writing books (:

    • Michelle Van Loon

      What wonderful words of tribute, Jon! I have no doubt Esther will have much to offer to the theological community in the years to come.

  • Tim

    Frankly, Michelle, I’d love to be able to attend a women’s conference like this. I bet I’d be stretched and challenged like nobody’s business!

    The session on the theology of dignity sounds particularly intriguing to me, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve been thinking about that a lot. How church leadership sees the body of Christ and its members is important. I even wrote a bit about it today at my blog. And last week I noted that God treats us with dignity, so why shouldn’t we do the same for one another?

    This is such an important topic to explore. Any chance you can write a bit on that the conference covered on the subject?


    • Michelle Van Loon

      Hey Tim – You would have enjoyed the conference. Though a couple of the speakers shaped a few of their comments to women, mostly it was just good information.

      Dr. deRosset teaches at Moody and actually has a recently-released book on the topic of dignity (http://www.amazon.com/Unseduced-Unshaken-Dignity-Womans-Choices/dp/0802405649/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361913867&sr=1-1&keywords=rosalie+de+rosset). She teaches literature and sermon prep (imagine a woman teaching sermon prep at conservative Moody!), so she used Jane Eyre as a springboard to her discussion about having a sense of self-possession in our choices. She then spent quite a bit of time talking about her students’ self-reports in the wake of the media fasts she asks of them each semester, and what those reports show about where so many find their identity and lose their dignity. It is possible that there may be online links to some of the keynotes at some point. If there are, I’ll be sure to let you know. 🙂

  • How funny! I was at this conference. I was googling around to see if Dynitta Lieuwen’s talk made it online and was surprised to see my picture here. 🙂 I’ve been thinking about this conference all year. It was such an incredible day. So life-giving and faith-building for me.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Oh how fun to put a name with this pic! 🙂

      Stay tuned – details for this year’s conference are coming soon!

    • Dynitta Simpson Lieuwen

      Aww Thank you Jeannie … that really, really means a lot to me. I was so unsure of what i was going to say and if what I was trying to communicate would even come out of my mouth right. I just opened my mouth after taking the stage … it was all I could do.

      • Wow! I never would have guessed that. It was a profoundly moving and empowering talk. So thankful for you and that you chose to share! Please keep sharing and speaking truth.