A confession about gender

I have a confession.

I don’t really ‘get’ Christian single sex get togethers – whether Women’s Conferences (admittedly have only been to these in drag) or Men’s Conferences (been to some, never really enjoyed them) or to a lesser degree, men’s or women’s ministry meetings of various sorts.

While you can’t make the NT a blueprint for every contemporary ministry model, it does seem to me that within the new covenant ministry of the Spirit, it is quite remarkable how ‘gender lite’ the NT is. (Not getting into details here of those most controversial of very occasional texts addressing specific gender related issues – see elsewhere.)

[I guess you could also say how remarkably ‘leader lite” the NT is, but that’s another discussion.]

By gender lite, I mean how indiscriminately most of it is written to and for all believers of whatever type. Men, women, young, old, Jew, Gentile, slave, free, And thinking about Galatians 3:28, it’s interesting that we sure wouldn’t organise separate ministries around slave/free or Jew/Gentile believers without an uproar but do for male/female – just sayin.

Yes, I can see how women especially network together wonderfully well, and can enjoy a relaxed freedom from ‘the male presence’ and can share and talk and pray and encourage eachother at a more intimate level than would be possible in mixed gender settings.

Yes, I can see how it makes sense to have ‘same interest’ groups within a church such as women’s groups or youth or aged etc. Where women and men facing similiar issues can become friends and journey together.

Yes, I can (and do) enjoy a cooked breakfast with a bunch of guys now and then and talk and share and pray (not sure whether much different with women there or not to be honest).

So I’m not anti-single sex ministries in a local church altogether. But I guess you could say I’m agnostic and a bit more suspicious of the single gender conferences.

‘Why?’ I hear you cry!

A suspicion that most of the time what goes on at these conferences could just as well be for the whole church. Stuff like general bible teaching on various themes of Christian discipleship that aren’t particular to men or women but are for any follower of Jesus. To separate on gender grounds for such teaching seems strange at best.

So I suspect that behind many men’s and women’s conferences is a particular theology of gender roles.  The most coherent rationale for men getting together seems to be to learn how to be real male leaders and visionaries and husbands and fathers and preachers etc … all the things women are not to be.

So what do the women get together at female conferences to do? Maybe some are about being good wives and mothers and being better equipped at being better leaders and speakers (to other women of course). Maybe if I’m especially suspicious, it is where gifted women have an outlet to teach and ‘preach’. I’m honestly not too sure. Please help me out.  For I was joking about going in drag.

So what about you? What do you think of women’s and men’s conferences / ministries’?

Comments, as ever, welcome

13 thoughts on “A confession about gender

  1. I completely agree with you. In fact, I’d been planning to write my own similar post and you beat me to it! : ) Yes, it is certainly appropriate for men and women to occasionally have separate classes or gatherings. But ALL the time? Or even most of the time? No way! In my area of the conservative southeast USA at least, I’ve experienced what I call a gender ghetto. Men and women seem to be almost always separated. But I think there is danger in this. We can end up with tunnel vision or lopsided perspectives. While I’m the last person to want to put people in boxes, there are general characteristics that each sex tend to have. When we are only with our own sex, we can become victims of the typical weakness of our sex. Men and women learning together brings a much needed balance. We need each other.

    And as you so well emphasize in your post, the NT is gender lite, written to and for all believers of whatever type. The way so many evangelicals divide the sexes, you would think that some NT books were written only to men and others only to women. Or as you well say “it’s interesting that we sure wouldn’t organise separate ministries around slave/free or Jew/Gentile believers without an uproar but do for male/female – just sayin.” – Amen! Well, I could go on and on.

    One more thing (haha) – as a female, I tend to avoid anything labeled “women’s ______.” Not because I dislike women – I am a woman after all. But I find so many women’s things a turn off…for various reasons: Such as strict role focus (being a Christian wife, mom, etc) – but what if you aren’t a wife or mom? Not all women are. Evangelicalism seems gifted at alienating people. But that may be my own cynical perspective. Thanks for listening!

    • Thanks Laura. What you describe sure is a stronger form of separation. As my post hinted, I’m more agnostic than anti. I think I would be more concerned about the situation you describe.

      I’ve had some email and face-to-face conversations around this since the post: some wholehearted agreement, especially about assumed ‘women’ roles and issues; some push back that positively women’s ministry & conferences give a unique and much-needed space to share, be open, invite friends, have Bible teaching from a women’s perspective. A more ‘negative’ reason is that they also create a male-free atmosphere where women can be themselves. Which seems fair comment (if a sad reality) – I can’t really appreciate or imagine how casually or often women can feel intimidated / silenced / not taken seriously etc by men, perhaps especially within the church.

  2. I went to a big women’s conference a long time ago but I haven’t been again. The teaching, it seemed to me, was simple, it was like indirectly they were saying: women can only cope with so much theology and they need practical things. But I do believe that when theology is well presented, is understood by everybody and it is extremely practical, at least, that is what I think Jesus did.
    I agree with Laura, that the danger in being separated could produce tunnel vision, that we just see our own world. As Christians we can model for society a healthy relationship between genders, of respect, of listening to each other and not of competition.
    However, I do understand those who like the idea of separate ministries if they find themselves in churches where they feel they are not heard, which is very sad, and probably the root of the issue of having to split ministries.

  3. I’ve been to a few and I’ve really enjoyed them.
    And for someone who disagrees with your assessment on leadership and men’s women’s roles etc then then if they ARE biased towards that teaching then it’s not a problem 🙂

    But in fairness it’s not the only thing that was talked about in the events I’ve been too. Men and women are different – very very different… and I personally like the idea of a conference geared to women!

  4. Unfortunately, my experience with women’s ministries is that they’re more about fluff and I don’t see any future leaders being raised up. It tends to be more about being good mothers and wives (not necessarily anything wrong with that except maybe the underlying thinking that that’s women’s main role in life), scrapbooking and lite Bible fare. I suspect the underlying theme in many men’s classes is an emphasis on being a real he-man.

    But you raise a good point about topics that should/could be of interest to all regardless of gender. For instance, the church I attend is getting ready to study the Dead Sea Scrolls in a men’s class. Well, that would be of particular interest to me, but I’m not a man and I’m certainly not interested in going to a midweek class at 7:00 in the morning.

    • Thanks Pat. Someone made the point to me in conversation that it is men’s conferences that he has more trouble with than the idea of women’s. Given that, generally speaking, there are no avenues of ministry that are not already open to men already within the church.

      • And I think that may have been the initial reason for starting them. But it’s evolved over time with themes like Fight Club and Be a Real Man. I also wonder, just how much is shared in either of these ministries that the other sex would not benefit hearing.

  5. I think one issue is childcare. We have women’s and men’s groups on different nights and the main reason I think it happens that way is that those who have young children need to tag team. I’m in Australia, childcare for events is not as readily available as in US.

    With the evangelical emphasis on practical Bible teaching (something I’m not against) comes more intimate sharing, so that may be why some women’s/men’s groups exist.

    Anyway, I’m really not a big fan of full blown women’s and men’s ministries. Practically speaking it has meant that my husband and I don’t have many shared connections at church. And I also think it gives certain denominations the ability to hire more women (women’s minister) on staff when gender roles are an issue (they are in the church I attend, which is now different than the church I work for.)

    • When I was teaching in church, I always had mixed classes. I enjoy the diversity of perspective that comes from both genders, married, single, young and old. And when the environment is created, intimate sharing can take place.

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