Challenges in Discipling Young Women

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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 the young ladies God has placed in my life. 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. Morning, afternoon, and evening, they eat together, take classes together, and go to Sonic at midnight together. One of the most common discussions I have with young women in their first year or two out of college has to do with what 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. And with the diaspora that occurs after graduation, many college grads have to start all 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.

One young professional recently told me how her small group has been together for two years, yet 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 it takes time to build that trust. While loneliness is already an issue for young single women, the lack of deep, meaningful relationships and the time it takes to develop such friendships 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 small group as well as with others in the church. It also involves coaching them to initiate asking someone to grab coffee or hang out instead of waiting to be invited.

Challenge #2: Emotions
Recently, one of the girls in my small group 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.

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 from birth, they learned a sinful way of responding to others. And 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 and with what to do with their unhealthy emotions and responses.

For example, in a recent meeting with a single twenty-something, part of our time was spent focusing on how to respond to negative emotions such as anger and anxiety. I shared about how she should first acknowledge the emotion––not erupt with it or supress how she feels––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 the plumb line of 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.

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! But helping young ladies to become obedient to God with their emotions is a challenge, and not one that is often discussed in the local church. But think about how healthy we would all be if we lived according to Jonathan Edwards’ 60th Resolution, which 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 will probably surprise some people. While the sins of pornography and masturbation are not unique to young women, 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, and 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 the ladies are arousing themselves.

Interestingly, 51% of the girls surveyed currently struggle with masturbation, and 19% struggled with it in the past. And only 43% of the girls surveyed 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 in my context who battle with these sins. The more I speak and write on sexual sin, the more I encounter women all over the country who engage in porn and masturbation, often to an addiction level.

These are sins we should be addressing with the women we are discipling. Failure to disciple our people about biblical sexuality means that we are leaving them to be discipled by the culture, which doesn’t see a problem with porn, masturbation, cohabitation, homosexuality, and a host of other actions that the Bible calls sin. Our silence = a complicity and capitulation to culture.

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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