Challenges in Discipling Young Women - Radical

Challenges in Discipling Young Women

Missionary Helen Roseaveare once said, “To love the Lord my God with all my soul will involve a spiritual cost. I’ll have to give him my heart, and let him love through it whom and how he wills, even if this seems at times to break my heart.” How often my heart has been broken. Not by relationships ending, but by the challenges I’ve encountered in discipling young women. Having grown up as a college minister’s kid and spending all of my adult life ministering either to college students or young professionals, I can attest to the truth of Roseveare’s words. I have never experienced as much joy, as well as heaviness and brokenness, as when working with this particular demographic. Why? What challenges come with discipling young women?

Challenge #1: Community

Most college students live in close proximity to their community. They eat together in the morning, afternoon, and evening. They take classes together and go to Sonic at midnight. One of the most common discussions I have with young women in their first year or two out of college is what the community looks like after the college bubble has burst.

When everyone works eight-to-five jobs, it takes effort and planning to see each other. Additionally, with the diaspora that occurs after graduation, many college grads have to start over in terms of making friends. Plus, it takes longer to get to know each other when you don’t live together or cross paths each day on the quad.

The Key to Strong Community is Intimacy

One young professional recently told me how her small group has been together for two years. Unfortunately, she still doesn’t feel like she can be completely open about some of her struggles. While her small group leader knows the details of her story, she’s not there with the rest of the group because they rarely spend time together outside of their weekly meetings. Work schedules, varying priorities, and balancing other “friend groups” stand as challenges to developing a sense of community within the small group.

Intimacy requires trust, and trust takes time to build. While loneliness is already an issue for young single women, the lack of meaningful relationships and the time it takes to develop them increases that sense of loneliness.

Knowing this is a challenge for this demographic, discipleship requires intentionality in creating opportunities for them to spend time together outside of the small group as well as with others in the church. It also involves coaching them to initiate asking someone to grab a coffee or hang out instead of waiting to be invited.

Challenge #2: Emotions

One of the girls in my small group recently shared how she’d had a life-changing realization—that she could question her feelings instead of being carried along by them. Among young women, I often encounter a similar lack of understanding about how to obey God with our emotions.

The Problem of Emotional Unhealthiness

So much of the emotional unhealthiness I see stems from not knowing what healthy even looks like. It was never modeled for them at home, so they learned a sinful way of responding to others from birth. As they become adults and recognize that their emotions and behavior patterns are unhealthy, they struggle with knowing why they feel the way they do. On top of this, they struggle with what to do with their unhealthy emotions and responses.

For example, in a recent meeting I had with a woman, part of our time was spent focusing on how to respond to negative emotions such as anger and anxiety. I shared that she should first acknowledge the emotion––not erupt with it or suppress how she feels. This is because, in order to deal with an emotion, we must first recognize it. Next, we need to ask why we feel that way. Once we’ve identified the thoughts and beliefs behind the emotion, we can hold them up against Scripture to ascertain whether they align with God’s truth. If they don’t, then we need to identify and remind ourselves of what is true.

Trusting God with Our Emotions

We are not at the mercy of our emotions. By God’s grace and by the power of his Spirit, we can affect how we feel; otherwise, God wouldn’t give us so many commands in Scripture regarding our emotions! However, helping young ladies to become obedient to God with their emotions is a challenge. Sadly, we often don’t discuss it in the local church. Think about how healthy we would be if we lived according to Jonathan Edwards’ 60th Resolution. He states, “Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear the least out of order when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.”

Challenge #3: Hidden Sexual Sin

This third challenge when discipling young women will probably surprise some people. The sins of pornography and masturbation are not unique to young women. However, it is unique for the church to recognize that young women are struggling with these sins.

Last summer, I conducted an anonymous sexual survey among the young ladies in our Singles 20s/30s Ministry. Through this, I learned that masturbation is the most common sexual sin among this demographic in our church. Viewing porn and reading erotica relate to this since these are the two main ways that ladies arouse themselves.

Interestingly, 51% of the girls surveyed currently struggle with masturbation, and 19% struggled with it in the past. Additionally, only 43% of the girls had ever heard biblical teaching on masturbation. It actually surprised me that this many had heard biblical teaching on the subject. But it’s not just the young ladies who battle with these sins in my context. The more I speak and write on sexual sin, the more I encounter women everywhere who engage in porn and masturbation, often additively.

The Importance of Addressing Sexual Sin

These are sins we should address when discipling young women. Failure to disciple our people about biblical sexuality means that we are leaving them to be discipled by the culture. Today’s culture freely embraces porn, masturbation, cohabitation, homosexuality, and a host of other actions that the Bible calls sin. Our silence leads to complicity and capitulation to culture.

Personal Experience with Discipleship

While discipling young women can be time-consuming, emotionally taxing, and, at times, heartbreaking, I am so thankful to God for allowing me the privilege of walking alongside this particular part of Christ’s body. It definitely has its moments, though, and as Roseveare writes, following God comes with a high spiritual cost. But I’ve always found him to be completely worth it.

Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Singles 20s/30s Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. She has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School and a Certificate of Biblical Counseling from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. While Ashley has a passion for discipling young women, she also loves her city, and when she’s not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer’s market or trying some new local restaurant.

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