(Photo credit here)
A healthy church is one in which young women can look around and see versions of themselves ten, twenty, thirty years from now. But for any woman over age forty, this kind of positive mirroring gets difficult, because the percentage of women who grow old, gracefully part of the church - the percentage of women who remain - dwindles.
Oh, how we need women who remain.
Remain in a role of spiritual leadership.
Remain there physically. (Oh how simplistic this sounds, but it is actually profound!)
Remain theologically sound and circumspect and literate.
Remain interested in the health both of their home church, and the health of whatever network or denomination in which their church participates.
Why is it that women who seemed to have spiritual depth and passion in their twenties and thirties, why is it they check out of church life, as the years go by? They scale back, step off the platform, they start doing their own thing.
They might want more of the things they think church life robbed them of, in their youth: flexibility, a sense of personal identity, time to make more money, the ability to succeed on what they feel are their own terms.
I think many older women in the church see themselves as trapped in children's ministry or women's ministry or food ministry or being the wife of the pastor - trapped into hearing one more sermon, listening to one more anecdote by one more pastor who feels no urgency to recognize their hard work...and they reach their limit.
I'm sure you can sympathize. I can sympathize. But should we agree?
We cannot. Should not. Dare not. Because this Ever Increasing Kingdom is no Fortune 500 company. It does not function according to network marketing principles. I will go so far as to say - and this will be controversial - it isn't even about our gender, as women, and whether we are recognized for our significant contribution to the culture of our faith. "...there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female...". To create or nurse or foment gender issues in this Kingdom, is to beat a straw woman.
I say that as one who is very much about "girl power" and empowering women.
This Kingdom, of which local church is to be an embassy, is a heavenly one. Its requirements are exacting ("follow Me") and its rewards are scandalous ("righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost").
Why is it important, even urgently important, to have women over age 40, or 50, or 60 remain vested and active and visible in the church?
The first reason, obviously, is that it’s simply excellent to have a diverse faith community — plenty of people who don’t look, think, act, or talk all the same. For another reason, studies show that older women actually do better quality, more thoughtful work than their younger girlfriends. (Although, I'm sure, part of that is because an older woman isn't as fragmented as, say, a young mom with several little ones.)
An older woman doesn't work harder. She works wiser.
There are exceptions to that last generalization - one valid exception is the older woman who has had to retire from active ministry; the older woman who is unable to do better, more thoughtful work because she has worked all her life, and now can't work at all.
Then there are exceptions that are not valid. There are women who, as they age, develop an attitude of entitlement, and carry it right into their church life. Others simply slack off and phase out because they started a second career as a Fuller Brush Saleswoman, or some such thing.
In mid-life and later, precisely when a woman should be stepping up to the plate in her spiritual life and in her church, she suddenly loses her atmosphere of eternity, and starts living for herself.
If an older woman does not, as a rule, make it her aim to remain in the work of the ministry to which she has been called, she should step back, and ask herself why. Why would she feel the need to scale back the passion? Why feel entitled to slack on excellence? Or, worst of all, why disappear from the scene?
As a resident older woman in the body of Christ, some of the work of modeling consistency falls to me, I guess, though the idea that I have anything meaningful to impart feels fraudulent: I’m exhausted and scrambling like everyone else.
But I can't just ride off into the sunset and sell my Fuller Brushes. Or, more accurately for me, I can't ride off into the sunset to paint my pictures, and step out of ministering to churches because other platforms are more lucrative.
That would be leaving the next generation of women to fend for themselves.
Part of the reason I have had to adopt a role-model mantle is the fact that older women by the scores are phasing themselves out of active church life. Part of the reason I pick up the mantle is that "organized church" has been critiqued past all reason over the last decade, and as a direct result, everyone – male, female, young, old — is dealing with the temptation to fade away.
But part of it is also this: I see a Great Awakening on the horizon. The "organized" (meaning: living, breathing, normal) church is about to have her finest hour, and her ministers will be rewarded. I don't want to miss out on it. So here I am, challenging every older woman I know to remain.
God's heart is for a young woman to be welcomed into the church of the Living God, and upon looking around, see many, many, many faithful, successful women from which to collate a vision of herself.
Herself as a mother.
Herself as a single woman.
Herself as a married woman.
Herself as a business woman.
Herself as a grandmother.
Herself as a great-grandmother.
Herself as a bread-baker, recipe maker.
Herself as an artist.
Herself. As broken.
Herself. As wounded warrior.
Herself. As beautiful.
Herself. As consistent.
Herself. As a passionate Godly woman who loves the Bride and is so old-school about church, that she's a brand new phenomenon.
Female role models don't have to be Wonder Woman, or to have lived exemplary lives, even. There just need to be lots of them. And they need to love and serve the Bride of Christ.
We need lots of women who are good at remaining. Women who are physically, emotionally, spiritually "all there".
Calling all my older ladies: put your skin back in the game. This Kingdom of God is worth your everything.