Have you ever been a bit uncomfortable at how much cleavage someone was showing in church? Has your pastor ever asked (no doubt uncomfortably) if you could “have a word” with someone about her skin-tight attire? Do some teenage girls need to “get” why youth leaders keep talking about the topic of dress?
As a women’s ministry leader, you are in a unique position – and sometimes an awkward one. Because certain things do matter about how we present ourselves, and yet we may not fully understand it ourselves or know how to discuss something so sensitive. But for the sake of our witness to a watching world and, frankly, out of respect for the men and boys in our congregations, we can’t shy away from it.
So how do you talk to someone about this? A few guidelines from my research:
1. Know the goal before you go.
Someone who needs a heart change (if purposefully dressing provocatively) requires a different approach than someone who is simply unaware. A pastor’s desire for a broader discussion about how we dress in the church requires arranging something other than a one-off conversation (for example, a sermon series on honoring God in this sexualized culture).
2. Briefly educate yourself.
The woman most needs to grasp why this even matters. The more you’re prepared to answer (honoring God, self-respect, honoring men…), the more confident you’ll be. In particular, if a woman isn’t trying to be provocative or distracting to godly men or boys who don’t want this sexual stimulation, you’ll need to understand enough about how the male brain works to explain the biological reality. (My new book Through A Man’s Eyes and this article I wrote for members of womensministry.net explains this in more detail.)
3. Ask for permission.
Say something like “I have something a bit sensitive to mention; do you mind if I share it?” If you get the go-ahead, share what is needed. Don’t be afraid to say “this is awkward!” If someone gives you permission, they are more likely to hear you.
4. Build a bridge.
It lowers defensiveness if you assume the best and find common ground, so she doesn’t think you’re judging her. For example, “I know you didn’t intend this at all” or, “I figured you’d want to know, right?” If true, share that you were just as surprised when you started to learn some of this as well!
5. If you see push back, ask her to pray about it.
Some women will get stuck on misunderstandings, offenses, and their own desires. Only God can change someone’s heart and mind. If you hit an impasse, ask her simply to pray about it and to give God permission to change her mind if there are any areas that need to be changed.
Then love her no matter what, and see what happens.
BONUS: Leave a comment about what you have learned works well in difficult conversations with women and you could win a copy of Shaunti’s new book, Through a Man’s Eyes. Winner will be randomly selected from comments left by Wednesday October 14, 2015.