The craziness of this last year was a sharp reminder that an authentic, in-person community is a huge part of living. We humans need each other.
We also need to talk about ideas. The cultural values of America are in turmoil, and individuals who don’t know what they believe are being swept hither and yon in the floodwaters of popular ideology. In addition, as Christians, we need to know how our theology should look in daily life. We won’t find answers by watching pagan neighbors. We need each other.
I have a suggestion. Why not start a discussion group for women? I can’t claim that a women’s discussion group will give you an ark (that’s the church), but it’s still a nice way to pull your legs out of the roaring waters and talk over a cup of tea. Besides, it’s biblical.
Titus 2 directs women to teach each other, and I think it’s a mistake to think of that task as equivalent to a series of lectures. Mostly, it means that we need to know each other, to see each other living, and to hear each other’s ideas. That is, we need to be in a position to listen to each other. That can’t happen unless we keep the private sphere alive.
Nowadays, forming relationships with other women often must be done on purpose if it’s to happen at all. Why not use a discussion group as a way to connect with a range of ladies whose knowledge, experience, and ideas you might not otherwise get to learn from?
The Basic Format
I started a group myself this year. It’s been wonderful! Here’s how mine works: 1. Each month, with the group’s input, I choose a topic. 2. I find a few stimulating articles and email them to the ladies. 3. We all do the reading and then get together to drink tea and discuss what we’ve read. I highly recommend this format.
If you want to plug into an existing network of article-length resources, check out CanaVox, which focuses on defending marriage in a non-sectarian way. They have a fully developed syllabus of online material.
You may also enjoy the “tiny book club” hosted by Catholic writer Leah Libresco Sargeant—you’ll get a new article delivered to your inbox monthly. You can also find the topics, articles, and discussion questions my group has used here. I will continue to update as I go along.
Tips on Getting Started
1. Invite Women Who Share Core Beliefs and Bring Different Perspectives
As you think through the women in your community, don’t be afraid to talk to ladies you don’t know well or who live farther away. Try to “cross-pollinate” by drawing from multiple circles. I was a little worried that the ladies on my invitation list might be too busy for an activity requiring homework, or that they wouldn’t necessarily be interested in discussing ideas, but to my delight, they were intrigued by the opportunity.
Some degree of shared belief is important. In my group, we are all church-going Christians who respect the inerrancy of scripture. We can discuss potentially inflammatory phrases like “submission to husbands” or “transgenderism” without either censoring ourselves for fear of giving offense or arguing the entire time about our basic terms and assumptions. We can go in-depth and talk on a deeper level because our shared beliefs give the group a common starting point.
On the other hand, it’s perilously easy for an overly homogenous group to fall into the trap of holding the same conversation over and over. Similarly, it’s tempting in such a group to use shorthand and lingo as a substitute for truly thinking through the issues.
When I started my group, I specifically wanted to invite ladies in different stages of life and from multiple denominations. It has been fantastic to hear the comments and questions they all bring to the table.
Even if you aren’t sure you know enough idea-minded ladies to start something like this, just try. Send invites and see what happens.
2. Don’t Make the Group Too Big
Once your group gets going, it’s unlikely that every member will be able to attend every meeting. This is especially true of busy times like holiday months. It’s nice if you have enough participants so you’ll still be able to hold discussions during leaner times.
On the other hand, as you’ve probably seen at other events, too large a group makes it impossible for everyone to join the conversation. A very full room increases the odds that a few individuals will do all the talking. This isn’t just frustrating for the quieter folks; it can also prevent you from exploring the subject from multiple angles.
Besides, a more-intimately sized group will feel safer for women who want to discuss how the ideas behind the readings connect with their own lives. It’s a good thing if members can be open about personal struggles or questions.
Even though it would be fun to invite more people, I’ve forced myself to stick with a smaller number for now. I’ve found that an initial set of about nine invitations gives me meetings of five to eight, which works out nicely for our discussions.
3. Choose a Fitting Setting and Time of Day
For my group, an evening meeting time is what works. It accommodates women who work during the day and lets the mothers of young children leave their kids with dad. Although it would certainly be possible to talk while kiddos play nearby, the tone would be a great deal more punctuated!
It’s easier to relax and share in the coziness of a home than it would be in, say, a church classroom. Currently, we meet at my house. While the weather was nice we used a table on my back porch, and now that it’s cold we’re in the dining room.
I like meeting around a table for two reasons. One, it makes it easier for me to serve tea and snacks. Two, I think it can be easier for shy folks to open up in such a setting than if they were on couches with open space between them and nothing to hold in their hands.
I don’t go crazy cleaning my house from top to bottom, but I do try to make sure the space where we meet is pleasant, peaceful, and uncluttered. The physical atmosphere definitely influences the tone of a gathering. A pleasant atmosphere, however, doesn’t have to be fancy. You can always put store-bought cookies in a pretty dish.
I would much rather clean and brew tea than drive somewhere at night, so I’m grateful to my lovely group for traveling to my house. You, however, may prefer to ask a friend to take on the role of hostess while you lead the discussions.
One benefit is the inherent guarantee that every meeting will start with at least two members. Alternatively, you may decide that an online format is best for your group until everyone is comfortable meeting in-person.
4. Choose Your First Topic
Once your ladies have gathered, you can poll them on their interests. To start, though, you’ll want to choose an initial topic. The specific articles you choose will help narrow your conversation. Here is what my group discussed at our first meeting.
I want to see a stimulating and lively discussion, so I’d rather assign a reading that not everyone agrees with (or even one I don’t fully agree with myself!) than stick only to “safe” articles. Perhaps you’ve seen something thought-provoking in The Federalist lately and want to know what your friends think. Now’s your chance to find out.
Writing discussion questions for at least the first meeting is a good idea. If you prefer a more free-flowing discussion, you may not need them; but they will at least give you back-up if the group sits in awkward silence or goes completely off-topic.
There’s no better time than 2021 to build community with other Christian women by discussing how ideas and theology should shape our lives. Try it!