The current edition of Modern Reformation has an interesting article about women and women's identity. Brooke Ventura and Amy Alexander share a piece entitled "Through the Looking Glass."
The authors discuss the tension between what they call "domestic and vocational roles." Personally, I don't think the two ought to be separated. All roles are vocational whether they are domestic or in the work place. But that's just a small quibble on my part.
After discussing the current cultural climate whereby women feel pressured to be everything to all people, and to have it all so to speak, they ponder this question:
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but what for? If we take away the titles of daughter, sister, wife, mothers, student, athlete, employee and executive, how do we define womanhood?
The authors return to the reality of imago Dei: we are made in the image of God. As we grapple with who we are, we are encouraged not to return to ourselves, but to God, who gives us our identity regardless of whatever vocation we pursue at any given time. They point to the church's role in our lives:
It's there -- in communion with our fellow pilgrims, under the preaching of the law and the gospel -- that we are reminded of who we are and who we are made for. We're convicted by the reading of the law, relieved by the proclamation of the gospel, and assured by the tangible elements of the bread and wite that Christ is always with us by his Holy Spirit... Wherever we are, however we're feeling, God has promised to meet us there, in the preaching of this word and in our participation in the sacrament, to comfort our tired hearts and grant us wha we need to live lives pleasing to him as new creations in Christ.
We all need the church. We are part of a larger body. This life of faith may be granted individually, but we are born again into a body of believers. We as women must be careful not to assume "women's ministry" is enough. While we may need fellowship with other women through social time, study, and service, we still need the preached word and the participation of the church ordinances.
Personally, I believe women can survive better without a "women's ministry" group than they can without biblical preaching on a regular basis, from the pulpit, by a faithful shepherd. Encouragement from other women is great, as is social time and studying together. But we need also to be reminded who we are in Christ. And we we need to be reminded regularly. Not every truth from God's word needs to be couched in terms of how it affects me "as a woman." There is a time and place to understand our gender; it is, after all, part of our humanity. Too often, I have found that material directed strictly to women focuses so much on circumstances and special interests that understanding Scripture in general fades into the backround. We need more than women's ministry. We need the preached word from a shepherd who has been called to that task, and we need the body of Christ.
One of the times where I grew most as a Christian, there was no "women's ministry" in the church. We had events for women, but there were not specialized women's bible study classes. I attended a weekly study with other women, but men were among them as well. I attended worship regularly where the word was faithfully preached.
Don't misunderstand me; I am not saying that women's ministry is not valuable. But we must remember above all that it ought to operate in the context of a local assembly of believers, and it is my particular opinion that it ought to operate under the male leadership of the church, not independently. We need each other yes, but we need the preached word, too.