Women’s Prayer Groups

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I keep seeing advertisements for Revive Our Hearts’ Cry Out!, a prayer simulcast “programmed for, and focused on, calling women to come together in groups to pray.” I can’t stop thinking about it — not because I have a bone to pick with this event but because I’m not sure what to make of gender-segregated prayer.

Generally, I have no problem with women coming together as women to pray. Certain topics of prayer lend themselves to a women-only audience. After all, only women can pray for their husbands as wives and for their children as mothers. Women share unique and pivotal experiences that sometimes require women-only spaces to talk about and pray for those situations. For various reasons, some women feel safer coming together in women-only groups, particularly for something as vulnerable as prayer. And I wholeheartedly support some of the promotional slogans for this event, like “Women of God, we need your voice!”

But the thing is, the advertisements for this women-only prayer event are far from women-only. Pictures of Dr. Bob Bakke, Josh Davis, Tony Evans, and Stephen Kendrick made up a third of the speakers listed in one advertisement I saw. Half of the YouTube promos feature well-known men encouraging women to join the simulcast and celebrating female prayer warriors. (I loved the one where the Bentham Brothers called for women to rise up and be Deborahs!)

At this women-only event, which is programmed for and focused on women, men will be speaking. At an event calling only women to pray, men will be up front, center stage, praying. The FAQs encourage men to “gather in their own groups to pray, while the women participate in the Cry Out! simulcast,” but a select few men will be speaking, leading, and praying at this women-only event.

It’s not that I’m opposed to male leaders or mixed-gender groups. I’m just trying to figure out what is the significance of women-only prayer events, particularly when not-women-only are speaking. I’m trying to figure out what, in this event’s eyes, is the value of the “wailing woman” crying out for revival — that is, what significance gender lends to prayer.

In the promo videos, the men casually weave in the importance of women praying with the importance of Christians praying in general, as if there’s no difference between women praying and men praying — probably because prayer is gender-neutral.

Why, I wonder, is it important to this event that 100,000 women pray? If numbers are important, why stop there? Why not try to reach the husbands, brothers, and sons of these women, drawing in more than 100,000 voices crying out to God?

I don’t know how the event organizers would answer these questions, but the whole concept of women-only prayer events seems a little at odds with, a little less powerful than the Christian tradition. The Christian community involves every human, of both genders, every tongue, and every tribe. That is its final form: unity of the nations, unity of the sexes, unity of the classes, unity of humankind itself.

That’s the model we see in Scripture — the community coming together to pray, first with the Israelite families, even the children, standing for hours while the law was read, then when the believers (male and female) were waiting for the Holy Spirit, then at Pentecost, when God’s word was proclaimed and understood in every language present, and now, the regular ol’ church gathering together every Sunday (and Wednesday if you’re evangelical and Saturday if you’re liturgical).

Group prayer is unitive and powerful, which is the whole point of this simulcast. But I can’t help but think how much more unitive and powerful such events would be if they called upon both men and women to pray — especially since, in this case, men will be there, anyway.

How do you feel about gender-segregated prayer?

// Encouraging women to pray in complementarian churches

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10 thoughts on “Women’s Prayer Groups

  1. txbyrd

    I do not participate in ANY intentionally single-gender events, gatherings, activities or organizations, whether secular or within the church. None. Ever. I abhor them all as divisive and perpetuating DISunity among people, among God’s people. I never heard of this particular conference you describe, but it’s really horrifying to me, and I have such grief over the thought that any woman would ever want to participate in such a thing. What a travesty of the inclusive love our Savior modeled and taught.

    As an exercise, substitute white and black for women and men, female and male. How would we respond to the idea that of course it’s ok to have small white groups as there are “unique and pivotal experiences that sometimes require white-only spaces to talk about and pray for those situations.” Or “black-only” spaces. OR poor-only spaces. Or any other distinction we humans like to make. Imagine a slogan “Black people of God – we need your voice.” And then imagine a conference with that slogan being organized and led by white people only. I think that might begin to give one the feeling I get when contemplating women-only or men-only activities and groups. They are clearly divisive, and in an offensive way.

    We will never, ever even begin to learn how much alike we all are until or unless we begin eradicating all these separations, and practicing inclusiveness exclusively?! We will never, ever even begin to learn how to listen, talk to and understand each other as long as we believe and practice that some things must be done in exclusive groups. No, ALL groups should be completely inclusive of gender, of race, of socio-economic status and any other demographic description, including and especially in the Church.

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  2. Daniel Abbott

    How long have Christians advertised seminars and conferences? I can’t seem to find any New Testament reference to the practice. No: “Come hear Paul preach:” “Antioch.” “Jerusalem.” “Damascus.” “Berea.” “Mars Hill in Athens.” “Paul’s house in Rome.”

    Nothing. No advertising. Not a single advertisement in the whole New Testament, regarding speakers or seminars. (Lots of advertisements about: “The Day of Salvation,” “The Day of Judgement,” and “The Day of the Lord;” but not church conferences or seminars.)

    There is a certain science to advertising. There are advertising practices that statistically increase participation and advertising practices that statistically decrease participation.

    Without understanding, or referencing, advertising data specific to Christian conferences and seminars, we cannot appreciate the skill of the advertisers or their intentions.

    We should never confuse advertising promotionals for content of seminars or conferences advertised.

    One could consider the statistics of male/female church attendance before/after advertised general/male/female church conferences, for instance. Or compare male/female event attendance of exclusively female advertised events; with male/female event attendance of exclusively male advertised events; with male/female attendance of generally advertised events.

    Without this data your article is shallow and somewhat misleading, assuming certain things about what is being advertised based solely on the promotional material, when advertising inherently encourages people to do or experience things that they would not normally do or experience.

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  3. Erin Zoutendam

    I think I’m as conflicted as you. I tend to dislike single-gender events in practice, even though I understand their significance in theory. I wonder why it is that you’d never have women speaking at a men’s prayer rally, though… That must be telling in some way, right?

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    • Bailey Steger

      Right. I feel like that last fact — women aren’t invited to speak at men’s-only conferences and such — makes women’s-only groups seem a little, well, second-class, like we have to artificially create Christian spaces for women to use their leadership and speaking skills and to celebrate the female voice in prayer, since we can’t do that at regular ol’ church conferences.

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      • Rebekah

        Yeah, that’s something I find interesting. It does sometimes seem that there are women’s conferences because women don’t speak or lead other places. So it feels a bit artificial, like you said. (And this comes from someone who doesn’t believe that the Bible supports women teaching and preaching to men as well as women. And I still feel that way.)

        I thought it was interesting that you brought up Cry Out ’16, because it’s been under discussion in my church. Because of it we’re doing “a brief series on God’s design of male and female and what this awesome design means for the role of women in the Church. We’ll also be asking questions about what this design may mean for the role of women outside the Church in venues like CryOut ’16. We will not be coming to any “official” conclusions. I am very excited for us to explore God’s Word together and see its true and wondrous beauty as revealed in the design of male and female!” (my pastor’s words). I’m really interested to see how it goes. I’m helping out in the junior high class now, so I’m going to have to listen to the recordings. :)

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  4. korie

    I’m staunchly in the camp that doesn’t support large-scale gender segregated events. I do understand small scale gender segregated groups, if only because women ARE marginalized by men so often. Perhaps if women weren’t treated as lesser than men, we wouldn’t need men only or women’s only atmospheres.

    Anyways. On a positive note, a church that my friend attends recently had a two part sermon on submission. It focused on the entire body of Christ submitting to one another and submitting to Christ. It wasn’t about marriage or wives at all. I thought it was so refreshing.,

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