A paradigm that can help us understand how best to minister to women in this century is that of the company that fashioned The American Girl doll. The company’s self-declared purpose is to help parents “raise strong, smart, and confident girls in a world where the pressure to be cool and to conform to questionable trends is enormous.” The company was founded on the idea that “learning about history doesn’t have to be boring … engaging stories about girls living at important times in the past could breathe life into history, turning it into something real and personal.”
The American Girl phenomenon is a signpost of what 21st century women want—a holistic experience. The phenomenon fits exactly with what I have learned over the years that women respond to: attempts to provide for the communal, individual, and spiritual (somewhat pluralistic) focus of postmoderns or, perhaps more accurately, post-Christians.
In the American Girl paradigm, you don’t just buy a doll—you enter into a full encounter with a past reality that includes a personal and realistic present experience. The purpose is to learn and embrace the American Girl values for yourself. Some of my friends who have bought into this have flown their daughters to Chicago to choose their doll and, in the process, to learn—in a whole-life mentoring experience—the skills required for successful living.
Grown women are not that different from little girls. Learning the history of godly models from Scripture, whose lives God transformed, still captures our hearts and stirs us to desire a realistic and personal spiritual experience. In our pluralistic culture ministry to women that is designed to reach and equip them for Jesus Christ must be holistic in meeting women’s needs for spirituality, community, and individualism.
Women care about community and connection. They need social interaction so healthy friendships can grow. The first of our ministry essentials, then, is fellowship or koinonia, so we must intentionally create an atmosphere of “belonging” and “inclusion.” Small groups become our primary way of discipling, mentoring, and equipping women for God’s glory.
Women care about spirituality. They must have safe places to ask questions about the past and the future. The seeker studies of the seventies look different from the ones we lead today. Recent studies assign a significant role to question-and-answer time. They resist the temptation to quote a Christian “guru” and, instead, teach women to listen to God’s Word. The process of taking women to Scripture for the answers teaches them to see where they are so they can move to where God wants them to be. Teaching women to speak well of God (praise), to speak worthy thoughts to God (prayer), and speak God’s truth to one another (evangelism and equipping) are the primary ways to develop biblical spirituality for this generation.
Women are concerned about individuality and relevance. Christian individualism is different from that of the world. The world focuses on what each person likes or desires. In contrast the Holy Spirit unites individuals together whose lives are different but whose union is in Christ to serve one another in ways that He alone has planned. The heart attitudes and skills that build the home and family are to be modeled by the older women in the church and learned by the younger, coming together as Titus 2 teaches. The result is not a club but a community in which godly women of all ages practice their uniqueness for the health of the whole body. The net result is a kaleidoscopic array of “good works,” the by-product of Spirit-grown community and connection.
The bottom line is God’s ancient Word sung, studied, taught, responded to, and practiced. The need to boldly apply Scripture to women’s lives is as real today as it has ever been. We have had lots of women come to know Christ over the past eighteen months, not simply as converts but as disciples. These women are now in Bible study and are serving according to their individuality.
They are eager to grow—many want to be part of a theology class I will be teaching at 6 A.M. in the fall. They fit the postmodern no-nonsense, give-me-a-full-reality experience woman of today. They know their lives are not the center of the universe, that God and His purposes are, and that when they are rightly related to the Son, they are satisfied with Him. His sacrifice motivates them to fill backpacks for the poor in Mexico and to meet needs at Micah House (our innercity outreach). Their compassion is a byproduct of their changed lives, and together we experience the full reality of how God’s history book makes a difference.