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.