A Women’s Conference For The Mind (And Heart, Soul, and Strength)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” –Mark 12:30, Deuteronomy 6:5

Most of the churches I’ve attended over the last four decades have put the accent on different parts of this command. Some put the emphasis on strength, service, community action and outreach. Others have put the emphasis on the soul – personal piety for believers and evangelism of not-yet-believers were the primary focus of these congregations. Other congregations focused on the stirring the heart to an emotional connection with God through expressive Charismatic worship and practice.

I haven’t been to many churches where loving God with one’s mind has been a primary value, particularly among women. More often than not, I’ve often heard concern in most of the churches I’ve attended against getting “too heady”. This drove underground anyone (except the pastor, maybe) who connects with God through academic learning and study. It was OK to dig in to a Kay Arthur or Beth Moore study, but that was the extent of it for women in the churches my husband and I have attended.

When we moved to Barrington a year and a half ago, I reconnected with a friend I’d met at a writer’s group a couple of years prior. Carol, a Trinity International University grad, told me that she was part of a planning team who was working on putting together a conference for women at her alma mater. The team putting the event together hoped to offer a place for women to gather in order to hear messages from respected theologians and practioners, then offer them space to engage the material with others. It was an attempt to offer an event that shifted the emphasis in women’s ministry by encouraging women to love God with their minds, then to act on that love with their heart, soul and strength. She asked me if I might be interested in helping in some way. I brought my marketing experience and my knowledge of the school’s communications culture to the table and helped as the team put together their first conference last February.

Though the event was called a Women’s Theology Conference, it might just as well have been called “A Gathering Of Thinking Women”. Women often have only had two basic corporate vehicle by which they could learn in community with other women: local church-based Bible study groups or big parachurch conference events where the focus is on motivational speech and testimonies. The team from Trinity’s Society of Women hoped to take a step in a third direction with an event that formed a footbridge between the seminary classroom and the lives of thinking women in local congregations who wished for a place to engage their mind and exercise their voice in conversation with others.

The focus of yesterday’s gathering was the topic of purpose, and we were privileged to hear from Dr. Scot McKnight, my professor this quarter at Northern, who focused his remarks on our purpose in the Kingdom (participation and partnership with our local churches in mission is key to living out our kingdom purpose), Dr. Lynn Cohick, who highlighted the way in which some of Jesus’ first female disciples advanced the kingdom as benefactors, and who saw the boundaries of what “family” was change from bloodlines to faith, and Dr. Arloa Sutter, who reminded us that the cross calls us to a vertical as well as horizontal response to God. We also heard from a panel of women who each spoke about how they connected with God’s purpose in their lives. The panel included a woman from Ethiopia who served as a Compassion International project director in her home country, a woman who grew up in mainland China, and an American who is now an associate pastor (curate) in a local Anglican congregation.

I left yesterday’s event grateful that there is no single prescription given us for how to learn to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength beyond the fact that his commands should shape our days and fill our thoughts. Through the years, I have been spurred to love God more faithfully in the company of other women by participating in silent retreats, through attending a more mainstream women’s Bible study, through shared reading and discussion, through spiritual conversation, through prayer, through working together, weeping together, and even shopping together.

I am grateful that I can now add “thinking theologically together with other women” to the list through my experience the last two years at the conferences sponsored by the Trinity Society of Women. Though I am now in a seminary classroom, there is something unique and wonderful about being with others, without the pressure of papers and grades, to have the space to think, and be challenged to let those thoughts form a prayer made out of my life that will help me honor the One whose thoughts are far above my own.  

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  • Carol

    Thank you Michelle for your part in this conference. I was so energized by the speakers and the discussions that followed. The Spirit of God was clearly present! My prayer is that women will continue to grow in faith and take advantage of opportunities to love God with their minds.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      You are that “writer’s group” friend, Carol. Giving thanks to God for a connection that has been a wonderful adventure with you. 🙂

  • thanks… the life of a Christian should be about loving God above all…. sad, that this is not fully emphasized in our churches…

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I agree, Richard! Why do you think this is the case? What can we do to change it?

      • The love of the world and the cares and worries of this world is a very strong pull that stems from the lack or weak faith by many… to love God is an act of faith and trust in what He has done. People just doesn’t believe God can do something big and marvelous things in their lives, hence the lack of a faith. This is not unique to our generation, this has been a battle over the ages since creation. All stems from the lack of faith… the Lord said it so,,,, “when I return, will I find faith…” Blessed are those who trust in You O Lord.

  • Lael Arrington

    Good words Michelle. Good to see thinking women gather with iron-sharpening-iron encouragement. Resource idea for group study for thinking women in churches and small groups: Faith and Culture: The Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith, a Zondervan book I wrote with Kelly Monroe Kullberg. I wrote a study guide to go with it. Would be glad to share. http://www.laelarrington.com

    • Michelle Van Loon

      So good to hear from you, Lael! If there is another event of this nature next year, some engagement with the intersection between faith and culture is one of the themes those of us involved in planning have pondered. Thanks for pointing me toward your book – I’ll pass it on!

  • Tim

    Your report from that conference makes me grin something fierce, Michelle!

    • Michelle Van Loon

      That smile is equivalent to two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. Thanks, Tim!