Embracing Idols in Women’s Ministry

“This letter is from John the Elder. It is written to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth, as does everyone else who knows God’s truth–the truth that lives in us and will be in our hearts forever. May grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God our Father and from Jesus Christ his Son, be with us who live in truth and love” (2 John 1-3).

Recently, after seeing an advertisement for a typical women’s ministry resource, I thought, I wonder what this verse would say if I reworked it to reflect what this advertisement says about the way Christian women should live. Here’s what I came up with:

“This letter is from John the Elder. It is written to the godly girlfriend and her BFFs, whom I love in the truth, as does everyone else who knows God’s truth–the truth that you’re too silly to handle and that will remain shallowly planted in our hearts forever. May shopping, manicures, and shoes, which come from God our Father and from Jesus Christ his Son, be with us who live in fun and giggles” (2 John 1-3, Revised Pampered Women’s Version).

Sound blasphemous? Sound like something written for preteen girls? So do many resources for women. Believe me, I’m not against having fun. And I enjoy a therapeutic massage as much as the next gal with an aching back. There’s nothing wrong with a getaway, a night with friends, or a shopping trip. If ministry to women can relieve stress in healthy ways, build meaningful friendships, and help us enjoy the life God has given us, I’m all for that.

But for many women life is all about the pursuit of pleasure. Shopping, spa days, and adolescent behavior are outlets for habitual self-indulgence, which we sinful people all struggle to resist. With the pleasures and comforts of life women try to fill the “God-shaped hole” in their lives and thus stunt their ability to grow in the faith and joy only he can provide. We should not be excusing–let alone reinforcing–this kind of self-indulgence in our ministry to women. Somehow we seem to have adopted the idea that this pursuit of pleasure is just part of being a woman. So we excuse it and use it as a basis for our ministries. We are cheating women when we do this. Calling women to a life-changing relationship with Christ means calling them to something far greater and far away from what this world has to offer. It means turning away from the clutter and turning our eyes upon Jesus and away from ourselves.

As I see what people produce in the name of ministry to women, I’m often reminded of Isaiah’s warning to the comfortable women of Jerusalem:

“Listen, you women who lie around in ease. Listen to me, you who are so smug. In a short time–just a little more than a year–you careless ones will suddenly begin to care. For your fruit crops will fail, and the harvest will never take place. Tremble, you women of ease; throw off your complacency. Strip off your pretty clothes, and put on burlap to show your grief. Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms and your fruitful grapevines. For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers. Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone. The palace and the city will be deserted, and busy towns will be empty. Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze in the empty forts and watchtowers until at last the Spirit is poured out on us from heaven. Then the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops. Justice will rule in the wilderness and righteousness in the fertile field. And this righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest” (Isaiah 32:9-18).

Compare the women’s smug, lazy comfort to the quiet peace and rest that the Lord’s righteousness brings. Who’s more comfortable than women in the Western world? And when our comfort is taken away (as it inevitably is, with natural disasters, death, and danger lurking), will we find rest in the peace and mercy of the Lord? Have our women’s ministries equipped us to do so?

Many women, including Christian women, are living for their own comfort. Many are not only settling for, but building their lives around shopping, manicures, and shoes–and all kinds of other substitutes for God. This is not benign. It is not the basis for effective ministry to women. It is not to be indulged in the name of Christ. It’s idolatry. When we worship idols, we are rewarded with emptiness, despair, and unsatisfied desire. We pass up God’s peace and rest for temporary pleasure. If we invest our lives in shopping, manicures, and shoes, we may reap a little “fun and giggles,” but we will find ourselves empty because we have rejected the “grace, mercy, and peace” that God offers.

I’m not surprised that women in this world live for their own comfort, or even that they indulge in veneration of idols. I’m not surprised that Christian women (including me) are tempted to do the same. But what continues to surprise me is that this approach to life is reflected, even embraced, in Christian products for women, women’s ministry events, and the way we talk about our spiritual lives. Apparently we have very low expectations of women. We try to disguise spiritual growth opportunities in “women friendly” themes like shopping, shoes, flowers, chocolate, and pajama parties. We talk down to women as if they were preteens, unable to grasp deeper truths. Why? Is the idea of spiritual growth so onerous to us? Are we put off by God and his call on our lives? Afraid of the responsibility such a call places on us? Do we truly believe that we are not called to live for him? That we have nothing better to offer than to get comfortable and try to look good? That he actually created us for our own pleasure? That women can’t be convinced to give up their idols and find their purpose in pursuing Christ?

And why do we believe this kind of self-indulgence is OK for women and when it’s not OK for men? In general, our churches are in the habit of calling men to a higher standard. What if your church sponsored a men’s retreat called “God’s Boyz Sleepover,” disrespectfully referred to them as “boys” and “boyfriends” throughout the weekend, and encouraged them to spend all weekend watching TV, sitting in recliners, eating chips, playing video games, and engaging in other sterotypical lazy-male activities in the name of Jesus–then sent them home and called it a great weekend of spiritual growth?

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with shoes, chocolate, or manicures. But they are not worth living for. And rather than endorse them in our churches, we ought to call them what they are: idols. Cheap substitutes for what God wants to give us.

Instead of self-indulgence, let’s call women to spiritual discipline. Instead of encouraging complacency, let’s give women a vision for life devoted to Christ. What if instead of hosting fashion shows and makeovers, women’s events featured “seasoned sisters” sharing how God has changed them and shown his goodness? What if during women’s retreats, women actually spent more time digging into God’s Word and listening to God’s voice than chatting with each other or listening to a speaker? And what if the time and money we spend on unnecessary and empty pleasures were spent on serving in the Lord’s name?

This post first appeared here on the Today’s Christian Woman blog.

  1. Cara says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this~

  2. Amy Jackson says:

    Amen! Thanks for this excellent post. And you’ve uncovered the real problem–not that they feel “too girly” but that there is an underlying issue of idolatry.

  3. Girl, I just read this Isaiah passage yesterday. Certainly, made a note of it! Going to use it later in a book. 😉 The thing we miss in all of this I believe is: 1. God does care about our character and 2. God does not want us simply focused on ourselves. When we have the right focus of ministry, it draws us upward and outward.

  4. Jen Manglos says:

    Thank you for bringing it! There are numerous points that resonated within me in this post, but I especially appreciated the ways in which you called out how often we will refer to women as “girls”. There are so many underlying beliefs with this term. I think sometimes in the church, a gracious or godly woman has come to mean an immature woman. All that to say, thanks for speaking truth.

© 2013 Amy Simpson.