Girls Ministry Amid the Rising Tide of Feminism
Over the last decade, the church has experienced an upward trend in the formation of what has come to be referred to as “girl’s ministry.” While the outplay of this looks different from church to church, intentional areas of ministry to teenage girls has grown in trend within the local church.
At the same time that this girl’s ministry trend was evolving, the fourth wave of feminism was breaking in the culture.
Now, I am referring to this current age of feminism as “fourth wave” in an attempt to best frame the movement as the culture has framed it. Ever since a 1968 NY Times article by Martha Weinman Lear – “The Second Feminist Wave” – the feminist movements have been dialogued in four waves which are defined by their particular focuses. For example, the first wave was centered on suffrage and women’s rights, and the second on equality in the workplace; both taking place before the 1960s.
It was not until the 1990s that the third wave occurred with individualism and diversity at its core; this is said to be the catalyst for the fourth wave, which has since developed into a crusade against sexual violence and misogyny.
The uniqueness of the fourth wave is that it was inaugurated and sustained by the current of social media. Beginning back in 2008, the fourth wave didn’t actually peak until 2017 with the onset of the national reckoning on sexual harassment. Through the use of a social media tool, the hashtag, women were empowered to seek justice that, up to this point, seemed unrecognizable.
The result of this fourth wave – arguably more than any before it – has been a clear separation between man and woman. Women are fighting for more than mere apologies, or even systemic changes, they are fighting for a complete overhaul of the past.
This is where the church finds itself. As a people who should love justice and seek mercy, it would be easy to hop on the break of this fourth wave and simply ride the tide. It would be easy to say, “now is the time to create separate spaces for the girls in our church to be empowered,” and then do so by placing girls in the leadership roles or spotlighting them in services, in an effort to show how much we support them as women.
Or we could go the other way and say, “I don’t want my girls getting caught up in the cultural mess of feminism. They are called to be different, so let’s not even waste time talking about it.” Then, instead, we continue to host events for girls to talk about biblical womanhood, in hopes that it will sustain them in this time.
Now hear me, neither response is wrong or bad, however, I would like to suggest a pause to consider a third way.
I want to be clear when I say, I believe the rising trend of girl’s ministry is a beautiful and much-needed focus of the church. However, I think there must be a different way of viewing the mission of this ministry. Obviously, as a girls minister myself, I truly believe girl’s and women’s ministry to be good and needed in the local church. However, I believe we must always first lay a proper theological foundation of ministry to both male and female. Whether we fall into the complementarian or egalitarian camps, the foundation should be the same. The culture cries, “women, show men that we don’t need them!” But the church should cry, “we need each other!”
From the beginning, God did not make Adam in Eve’s image or Eve in Adam’s image. Eve may have been taken from man but she, like Adam, was created in God’s image. Both were created purposefully different, but each beautifully reflecting a holistic view of the imago dei. And from the beginning in Genesis 1:28, God gave His image bearers what we now call the cultural mandate, which is to “be fruitful and multiply.” It was a command and commission from the creator God that was literally impossible without both male and female working in perfect unison. Each with specific roles, but each invaluably necessary for the fulfillment of the mandate.
The cultural mandate is at the heart of God’s plan to fill the earth with His glory. We see this continued on throughout Old Testament history. In Genesis 9:7, after God brings destruction to the earth through the flood, Noah and his descendants are given this same mission: “be fruitful and multiply.”
If we carry this creation mandate out to its New Testament, or new covenant, counterpart – The Great Commission – we would see the same heart and intention, “go and make disciples” (or image bearers). It stands to reason that this command, like the cultural mandate, also cannot be carried out without the coming together of both male and female image bearers.
While God has created both male and female as separate and distinct from one another, He has always pursued them as one people for His glory. And if we are to fulfill His command to be fruitful and multiply in the new covenant promise – making disciples – then let us first recognize our need for each other in this mission. A young disciple, just as a young child, is most benefited when raised under the influence of both a mother and father figure. This is not to say that being raised by a single parent cannot bear great fruit in love and growth, but there is deep fullness in being trained under both a mother and father. The same is true for the church. Young students benefit greatly when discipled under and alongside both male and female influence in their spiritual maturity.
Just as the creation mandate could not be fulfilled apart from both Adam and Eve, so the great commission requires both male and female; not working autonomously among their own gender, but coming together in unison for the purpose of making image bearers.
Once we understand the theological foundation for women in the church, a question still remains: “how then should our ministry to girls look different than the cultural narrative for them?”
I would like to suggest two ways:
Pursued Not Promoted
Looking at the fourth wave of feminism, it seems that victory is celebrated every time a female gets promoted over a man. Of course it is right and good to celebrate the well-earned recognition of another, and many of these promotions are just that, well-earned. But for our girls, our hope should not just be for them to rise up as “better than the boys.” We must leverage our opportunity in ministry to girls as a catalyst to show our ladies what it means to be pursued as leaders, the way God pursues them to lead – and not simply promoted over the boys.
Stronger Together than Alone
While I love the opportunities for the specific discipleship to girls that come through the growing trend of girl’s ministry, my greatest fear is that by forming a “girl’s ministry” we cause a negative divide between male from female. The church must be careful to never consider girl’s ministry as separate from the youth ministry but, instead, a vital part of the whole.
The church fills its mission only through the coming together of both male and female, to bring about the complete picture of the imago dei.
From creation to commission, we see God drawing together both male and female to bring about His glory; and it does not stop there.
God’s story not only begins with the coming together of man and woman, but it ends there as well. In Rev. 1:1-3, we see the final fulfillment of all things described as a bridegroom coming to be united with His bride.
Knowing this, brothers, we need you; and sisters, our brothers need us. God is coming to redeem a people for Himself, His bride – made up of both male and female image bearers. Let us celebrate our differences, learn to care for those differences, and seek forgiveness where we have failed. Let us break down any wall of hostility, knowing that in Christ there is neither male nor female, but one body and one Lord over all.