In 1984 when Michael Jackson and Madonna were blasting their way through the very large speakers of teenager’s boom boxes, girls my age were beginning to bare their shoulders–but only one–to emulate the new Flash Dance style that was sweeping the country. While I was trying to figure out how to wear braided headbands and multi-colored leg warmers, I was also working very hard to hide my interest in Debby Boone and the early Christian contemporary music scene. (FYI, Debby Boone did a lot more than You Light Up My Life that was very good).
Even though I was actively involved in music as a teen and young adult, it was unpopular to hold up Christian singers as “teen idols” or role models during a time when Rob Lowe, Rick Springfield, and Matt Dillon were all over the cover of Tiger Beat magazine and George Michael was actually considered a heart-throb. Role models in the church were virtually nonexistent for me, and there really weren’t any public role models that I recall, though at the time the Miss America and Miss USA pageants were still competing in one piece suits and campaigning on platforms that were intended to make a difference in our world. These were mostly young women that younger women could be encouraged by and look up to as intelligent and disciplined without all the skin and scandal that epitomizes the pageants today. But perhaps 1984 was the year we saw all of that change, too. That year, now actress Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America and later dethroned for her morally objectionable photos taken previous to the pageant. Secular feminism has always furthered its cause by promoting its ideology to unsuspecting women who want to be valued and encouraged, and the secular feminists have been happy to oblige this need with little protest from Christian women.
So who are the real role models that stand out today? I come to this question because our culture rightly searches for role models for the next generations, though they look far and wide and in the wrong places, ultimately finding few. In the church, we call these role models mentors. For younger women who find themselves firmly rooted within the Christian community, they need not look very far to locate them. Their mothers, Bible teachers, youth leaders, women’s ministry leaders, and other Christian women–and men–are reaching into their lives with truth, modeling love for God and obedience to the Word. They are encouraging them to attitudes of selflessness and personal responsibility, to love God with their whole heart, soul, and mind. And if they aren’t teaching those things—among other things—they should be. But how well are we doing in women’s ministry, accomplishing this work we have been called to as women mentoring women?
With the blessing of church and family, many women are about to enter into college with hopes for a future in career or ministry or family—or all three. College instructors become integral to their educational pursuits and may have input into their lives in other deep and profound ways. Christian women are participants in the cultural mandate as mothers, business women, writers, teachers, and so forth, and have a great deal to teach younger women about being a Christian in the workplace and how to pursue the many spheres of life from a Christian worldview. And if Christian women do not take up this ministry as a fulfillment of Titus 2, certainly the attention of young women will be drawn to unhealthy role models. How can we make a difference in their lives?
Church women’s ministries are in a unique position to shape the beliefs and ideas of future generations of women, allowing our experience as women as interpreted through the teachings of Scripture to impact their lives. For this to happen, we need to consider our ministry methods. Are we so event driven that we wear ourselves down with the administration of ministry that we never actually get to do ministry? Who are we focused on—the women who want to be entertained or the women who need to be nurtured? We need to talk about womanhood and motherhood, discussing the ideas that shape the world (philosophy), the ideas that shape our worldview (theology), and the goals of education and career. We need to make a place for these conversations—in the context of mentoring relationships, in formal study settings, in books, etc. And for women in the workplace, you have a unique opportunity that escapes the church, to mentor the women who cross your path and communicate the message of the Gospel in a spirit of love and compassion. For those in the world who are still searching for role models, they can be found if we are willing.
The glory of God is to be the purpose of any ministry we participate in. It is not to the glory or autonomy of the self that should motivate our desire to be role models or to mentor others. But we should see the task as an urgent matter, because as the decaying culture continues to infect the church, fewer examples of godliness will be available as examples for the generations that follow.
Sarah Flashing is a freelance writer and speaker in the areas of theology, apologetics and Christian ethics. She is the author of “Preparing Women to Walk Worthy of the Call” and writes at SarahFlashing.com. She has written for The Gospel Coalition, Solid Reasons, Servants of Grace, Christianity Today, and the Christian Apologetics Alliance. Sarah is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with an M.A. in Christian Thought (2005).