I recently read Cathy’s thoughts about women’s ministry, asking if we build women’s ministry around leisure, in danger of becoming idle, 1 Tim 5 women. Wendy commented on a related post to say that sometimes that’s the only way to do women’s ministry because if kids are under foot, it’s hard to have really good conversations or structured Bible study. (Incidentally, Cathy had some great thoughts on talking with a distracted mum which I found really helpful.)
This discussion is not all that new, I discovered, when reading about Methodist women’s hymnody in my History of Evangelicalism research. These women experienced a shift in the structuring of society. Where home and work were previously integrated, in the nineteenth century, they became stratified, with women in the domestic sphere and men in the secular sphere. Women found their lives consumed by domesticity and asked how they could get away from crying children to spend some time out with God. Many of them wrote poetry longing for the heavenly home where the trials of their earthly home would be absent.
It’s interesting to see the evolution of this tension between ‘work time’ and ‘God time’. Separating them off as these nineteenth century women did may indeed lead to resentment of ‘work’ because it takes us away from ‘God time’. Part of the solution is reclaiming ‘work’ as good works given to us by God to do. But another part of the solution is recognising that women’s ministry must not be all about rest and relaxation. It annoys me when people talk about women’s ministry as just catching up for coffee all day. It’s hard work to come to terms with God’s word, to pray for one another, to seek transformation!
We’ve talked about this in the women’s ministry team at my church and this year, I think we struck a great balance between relaxation, task work and ministry work on our women’s retreat. Our surroundings were restful and picturesque. There was some work to do, like preparing meals together, but it was pretty light because we all shared the load. But we certainly worked hard! We looked at three tough issues from a challenging passage in the Bible. And looking at that meant that our conversations, even when we went to the local cafe were more than relaxation – they were stretching, productive and fruitful!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.