Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

A New Tribe?

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Jun• 21•13

Whenever I read the word “tribe” as it relates to Christianity or even readers in general, I get uncomfortable. I have written about this before, as well as the branding that goes along with it.

Today I read about a new tribe of women who’s goal is to “gather, equip, 
and unleash the next generation 
of women to live out their purpose.” Through a Twitter feed, I discovered this article  by Jen Hatmaker introducing a new tribe for women. She announces:

I am a part of a group of friends dreaming a dream, two years in the making. We’re building a tribe, in my bravest moment I’ll call it a movement. It is by our generation of women, for our generation of women. It already includes some of the best thinkers, theologians, Bible teachers, creatives, catalyzers, and visionaries in our demographic. It is strong and deep and wide, shaped by our language, dreams, diversity, our deepest heartbeat.

This group is going by the name “If”:

IF God is real…THEN what? We are starting a raw authentic and community-driven movement. Our tribe craves the uncomfortable – we will wrestle with hard questions and not know all the answers. We will invest in one another and represent the Church to a generation that needs God.

While it seems that these women really have a heart for the next generation, and some of the names involved have a good reputation as teachers of God’s Word, this “movement” or “tribe” is adding to my concern that we are taking women out of the very context in which they should be discipled: the church. This may be the most “uncomfortable” place of all for many women. It is the place where we should be wrestling with the hard questions and looking for answers. Shouldn’t the church represent the church? It isn’t shaped by our language, dreams, diversity, or heartbeat, but by God’s Word, his drama of redemption that we are cast into.

When I cruised on over to the official “If: Gathering” website  I read:

There is a restlessness among the next generation of women, who fear more than anything – wasting their lives. We want to harness their hunger and passion by providing space to be equipped to pursue their God-given dreams.

This is vague language at best. Should my biggest fear be wasting my chance to pursue my God-given dream? How do I in fact know that it is God-given? Not all dreams are worth pursuing. The space that provides freedom for me to wrestle with my dreams and whether God is indeed equipping me to pursue them is in the covenant community of my local church. This is where I am sitting with other covenant members under the preached Word and being given the sacraments. This is the means of grace by which God promises true blessing in Christ. The women of If claim that they are “starting a raw authentic and community-driven movement.” Isn’t that what God has already begun in his church? He is the Creator of the covenant community. I identify myself in that community by my membership to Pilgrim Presbyterian Church.

While the intentions of these women may be good, I am concerned that this tribal movement is moving women away from the place God calls us to be disciples—the church. Of course, this is a danger for all parachurch organizations and we need to be careful to properly understand their place. Is their place discipleship? I think that is a commission given to the church, and any resources that we provide to contribute to this should encourage Christ’s people to use them within that community.

The language used in this website sounds more chock full of the latest trendy buzz words than the content of the gospel. Under their “Content” heading If claims, “We are gathering the next generation of women to give them God.” They then talk about the various traditions they will blend for music and worship. But there was no talk of Christ in the content section. What does it mean to “give them God”?

Under the heading “Equip” they write, “We are creating a blueprint for intentional equipping – reaching women with tools that are holistic, strategic and deep. By providing easy online access to a like-hearted community and relevant resources, we will release women around the world to live out their purposes.” After equipping me with God’s preached Word, my pastor releases me every Sunday morning with a benediction. This is God’s blueprint for equipping his saints.

These women are passionate about helping women to serve the disenfranchised and have partnered up with Food for the Hungry to help make a difference. This is commendable. And this is the goal as they “Unleash” women to use their God-given gifts. Food for the Hungry may be an avenue God is calling some women to serve. But I’m afraid that the language of this tribe is focusing more on the “then” than the “if.” I didn’t see the content or the indicatives of the gospel anywhere on the website before they jumped to the imperatives about living out our God-given dreams and getting to work. They’re working on the assumption, “If God is real…” but I didn’t even see a mention of Jesus Christ until I scrolled past their entire section on vision, through all the profiles of the leaders associated, to the bottom of the page where they affirm that they are indeed Christ-centered. But what does that mean? Christ’s name was blaringly missing from their “Content” section.

I like to attend women’s conferences. I benefit from many parachurch organizations and resources. And I think encouraging women to serve their communities and providing resources for them to do so is admirable. All people are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is helpful to have organizations to administrate that. But I think we need to be careful with our language and intentions. Discipleship is teaching and training in the Word of God, not discovering God-given dreams or finding which organization we can serve our neighbor in.

Why do we have to start a new movement of women? The last women’s conference I attended was in a small Maryland church that invited Susan Hunt to teach on biblical womanhood. Hunt did equip us with teaching on biblical womanhood, and then she encouraged us to take this teaching into our local churches where discipleship happens. Susan Hunt is 73 years old. She has been faithfully providing resources for women to use in their churches for most of her life. She has pioneered the women’s ministry for the PCA. When Jen Hatmaker says that women need conference speakers that are speaking the language of her tribe, I disagree. I’ll take Susan Hunt any day. She doesn’t talk about dreaming a dream, or starting a new movement of diversity. Rather, she points us to the One who is truly diverse, the Trinitarian God of the Bible. Sure, there may be questions we wrestle with that we can’t answer, but our focus is on the God who really has revealed himself to us. There is no “if.” Since God is real, he has a community that bears his name. Because we have learned what God has done for us in Christ, we can finally love and serve our neighbor knowing that Christ will bless our efforts.

This IF:Gathering may be a good thing. Maybe it is just the language in the marketing that is a stumbling block for me. I hope so. I do think we need to be careful with our language as we do try to encourage one another in these different venues. In their “audacious vision to disciple the next generation,” I hope that the If women don’t separate this ambition from the context of the church who was given this call in the first place, and the many woman in it who have been faithfully discipling women in each generation. 

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23 Comments

  1. Carol Noren Johnson says:

    Thanks for this alert. It sounds like there is some discontent with the gospel delivered to the saints–almost like the emergent church movement. Keep up sounding your wisdom.

  2. Tim says:

    I checked out their website yesterday too, Aimee. I’m conflicted because, like you, some of the people involved are names I recognize as women who have much good to say to others about who God is and what people can do in response to his goodness. In fact, some of the women are bloggy friends of mine.

    But my conflicted thoughts come from some of the same things you mentioned. So much of the language used just looks like slick Christian marketing speak. (And we certainly don’t need a women’s version of Promise Keepers, because we didn’t even need Promise Keepers itself for the reasons you mention about the ministry of the church.)

    There has to be steak to go with the sizzle, or the sizzle will eventually fizzle. I’m hoping they get meaty soon.

    Tim

  3. Russ LeJeune says:

    Hey Aimee, great article, I give you props for asking these questions since these “movements” are very in vogue these days. I am not a fan of “tribal” Christianity either and here is where I believe the historic Christian creeds can really help keep the church focused and not distracted by these parachurch-movements:

    Apostles Creed
    I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.
    I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
    and born of the virgin Mary.
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died, and was buried;
    he descended to hell.
    The third day he rose again from the dead.
    He ascended to heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
    From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic* church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.
    *that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

    I believe God’s will for all people is simply to believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and put you faith and trust in Jesus’ work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. That our “purpose” as believers when we gather is to receive God’s word, receive God’s sacraments, receive God’s gifts and to respond in worship and thankfulness. No where in God’s word or the historic Christian creeds do I see any imperatives that “thou shalt strive for a big audacious dream” or “have a God sized vision for your life”. I desire to disciple others, love neighbor and work hard at my vocation for the Glory of God but only because of the immeasurable grace God has given me. These types of “movements” seem to me to distract from God’s clear and simple will for all persons of all genders in all places for all times.

    Great post. Thanks!

    • Tim says:

      Russ, your point about big audacious dreaming made me think of Philip from the book of Acts. He did some amazing stuff for God early in the book, but toward the end he’s known better for raising seven godly daughters. He’s following God’s will at both points in his life, Right. How can one get bigger thank that?

      Tim

      P.S. Good point about the creeds too. Aimee’s book recommendations made me write on creedal issues earlier this week: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/rumor-has-it-carl-trueman-sings-adele/

      • Russ LeJeune says:

        Tim, great point about Philip. It’s not that I don’t also desire to do great things for God but that almost 100% of my time is spent doing the mundane things, the routine things, the things God has blessed me to do; be a Godly husband to my wife, Godly father to my kids, hard worker for my employer, a loving neighbor to my neighbors.

        I like your point from your blog post regarding Trueman’s point about using the creeds as a doctrinal guide concerning pastor’s preaching. To relate to Aimee’s concern we can expand that to any and all ministry of the church.

  4. joankirk says:

    Yes.. this is a very deceptive extension of emergent think. Thank you for working this through so well. Much of the problem is an assumption of the gospel rather than a proclamation of the gospel. Assumptions are made that we are talking about the same Jesus when we need to constantly be wrestling out, defining, and testing all things against scripture. Emergents are about asking questions and speculating and with no interest in being instructed on the things that are well defined scripturally. It’s much more about questioning than it is knowing. I’m not familiar with the list of women at the end. They aren’t the usual emergent women that would have thought would be promoting this.

    • Tim says:

      It may resemble some aspects of the emergent movement, Joan, but it’s safe to say that none of the women whose names I recognize “are about asking questions and speculating and with no interest in being instructed on the things that are well defined scripturally.” The ones I know in that group are very much concerned with sound doctrine and right teaching of Scripture.

      Blessings,
      Tim

      • joankirk says:

        thanks Tim. Good to know. Sure does sound a lot like the banter,kinda the new legalism; doing big things for God, not focusing on being content with what is in front of us, quietly influencing, faithfully serving. Hopefully they will be open to hear the types of things Aimee has to say. Will pray!

      • loreferguson says:

        Thanks for that, Tim. I’m among one of the women involved and more than anything I love the gospel, the word of God, and teaching women the word. I know that is Jennie’s dearest desire as well, so it grieves me to hear the rumblings of accusations of anything less.

        • Tim says:

          I don’t think these are rumbling accusations, though. It seems more like cautious hopefulness and curiosity.

          Cheers,
          Tim

  5. Doc B says:

    Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that all parachurch organizations, regardless of their mission statements, do two things: (1) they benefit their targeted people/groups/organizations as stated in their mission statements, and (2) they draw the disaffected (or the dollars of the disaffected) away from churches.

    Obviously, one of the above effects is good, and one is bad. Or at least mostly bad. (Drawing disaffected non-believers away from churches is not always a bad thing.) The problem happens when the second effect overtakes the first as a priority or even as a secondary effect; either with the leadership (as we’ve just seen with the Exodus International capitulation this morning) or with the members of the organization, as can be seen in quite a number of parachurch organizations that used to be good, but have fallen into bad practices.

    I appreciate you asking these questions, and I hope some of the movers and shakers in the If movement will take time to ponder them.

    [By the way, shouldn't they be using 'Since' instead of 'If'?]

  6. I also went to the website to check it out (I follow Jen Hatmaker on FB) and I was also vaguely uncomfortable, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think it partially bothered me because I have some frustrations how with the broad questioning of church nowadays often leads to creating a replacement for it. My (college age) brother is very into questioning the church and trying to do something “different” and getting people “passionate” and “radical” for God; my parents kind of roll their eyes and remind him that being passionate for God isn’t anything new. It’s what we’re called to do by modeling Christ.

  7. Paul H says:

    Very well thought out thanks.

    I would like to see a response from Jen Hatmaker to this post. She deserves a chance to respond. I’m not sure how to make that happen.

    When we see certain terms, we all have a tendency to assume we know how those terms are being used. Many times that leads to an inaccurate or unnecessary concern about a group or a person’s doctrine or goals.

  8. Deb says:

    Hi Tim and Aimee,
    The language on the website does seem sort of vague and confusing, using way too much of the marketing buzzwords that I also cringe to see.
    However, like Tim, when I look at the list of women who are involved, I don’t there will be anything to worry about in terms of usurpation of the authority of the church. These are all Resurgence oriented women.
    Where I do see Aimee’s point, though, is the mention of Susan Hunt. Susan Hunt gets Biblical Womanhood and she gets empowering women within the context of the church/the presbytery and the denomination. PCA women are probably the most empowered complimentarian women I’ve met. Dovetailing on Aimee’s thoughts, it’s very likely that the If:Gathering tribe, meeting outside of any formal church structure, will not fully grasp the breadth of women’s roles in all of life’s vocations, including the role we are called to play within the Church. Thanks!

  9. RStarke says:

    Aimee – Thanks for thinking out loud about some of the concerns some of us also had, because we love the women who are part of this and because we share their heart for wanting more of the gospel for ourselves, our families and communities. I think all of these women would agree that there has been a lack of that in the church for women. I think we’d all also agree that there is a very palpable sea change happening. I think where more work needs to be done is in discerning where the place for that change can best happen, and what the nature of that work should be. I’m with those who see the root of the problem, and thus the root of the solution, in the local church. And because in the last ten years we’ve seen a lot of this “outside the church, big movement” type reaction by men, whether pastors or others in ministry, it makes perfect sense that now there’s a second wave happening with women. Is this the right method or approach? I’m not confident, given that the first wave and its ilk (like Promise Keepers) flamed out. But I want to say out loud, again, that I affirm one hundred percent the desire and the intent.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Yes, Rachel, thanks for highlighting the redemptive part of this engagement. It is because some these women are known and loved for their teaching of the gospel that I questioned this kind of language and context. We all care about discipleship and how it is done.

    • Kim Shay says:

      I’m not the brightest star in the sky, so forgive me, but I don’t think I understand what you mean by this:

      “their heart for wanting more of the gospel for ourselves, our families and communities. I think all of these women would agree that there has been a lack of that in the church for women.”

      You see, I don’t feel like I’ve been deprived of the gospel for my family or my community, and I keep hearing about how I ought to feel cheated or deprived but I don’t. What am I missing?

      • RStarke says:

        Hi Kim – in many churches in America, the gospel is more discussed from a distance, than truly proclaimed. And many womens’ programs are more about sanctification through homeschooling than through the Holy Spirit. If you are in one where that is not the case, then you are BLESSED. For those of us who aren’t, well, we should probably work harder to not talk out loud like we feel cheated or deprived. :) Does that help at all?

  10. Well, you hooked me on this one, Aimee – and I’m not even the right gender for this conversation. Let’s not turn this into a witch hunt, folks. It is one thing to thoughtfully engage with someone else’s view point; it is another thing entirely to casually attribute sinful motivations to other Christians.

    Also, I’m reading “7″ by Jen Hatmaker right now and I appreciate her work, so it pains me to see her painted in a negative light – I don’t think she deserves that. I think it should be remembered also that she is, in fact, the wife of a pastor and, thus, serving within the wider context of the Church. My recommendation (for whatever it’s worth) is not to shoot this one down before it even gets out of the gate.

    But I do have to say that I’m mystified as to how this is somehow being linked to the emerging church movement (hard as it is to lump that title into a single movement). “New” and “Movement” do not equal “emerging.” Let’s engage with “If” based on its own merits and what’s actually being said, rather than rumor, labels, and innuendo.

    And most of all, as RStarke said above, let’s have this conversation because we affirm these people – let that drive the tone of what’s said. I applaud “If” and the best thing that could happen is that the discussion on this blog serves to sharpen what they’re doing! After all, we’re all on the same team, aren’t we?

    And…that’s all I have to say.

    • Tim says:

      You said some good things, Justin, but I’d point out that no one here has even remotely gone on a “witch hunt” nor has anyone shot down the new ministry. It’s because we are all on the same team that this conversation is taking place, after all!

      Blessings,
      Tim

  11. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many buzzwords together in one place.

  12. Kristen Rendall says:

    Thank you, Aimee, for your thoughtful response. You put so many of the things I was thinking into words. Good things to think about as I internally debate whether or not to accept the invitation to my local IF: gathering…

What do you think?