Several weekends ago, I closeted myself in my bedroom, tuning in to the livestream of the IF:Gathering. I had heard an interview with IF’s founder, Jennie Allen, on the Catalyst Podcast and was intrigued by the movement she was leading. My husband graciously left me alone for hours at a time, taking the kids out of the house during Saturday so I could just soak in this mini retreat.
There were many, many wonderful nuggets of truth that I am still meditating on and faith steps that I am still praying towards. I may write about those at some point later on. Now, though, I just want to try and express what the IF:Gathering meant to me at a general, foundational level.
Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard of a few of the speakers and expected to be fired up after hearing Christine Caine, to be equal parts amused and challenged by Jen Hatmaker, to be greatly encouraged by Ann Voskamp. But, what I didn’t expect is that these women would speak to me in a totally different way than I’d ever experienced.
I’ve grown up in the church my whole life and in a denomination that allows women a place at the table. There are no technical or theological barriers to ministry or leadership. That being said, I have often felt spoken to “as a woman” – feeling that there was some call on my life “as a woman” – that there was a “womanly” way to follow God’s plan, that there was a specific, female, path for me. At times, it felt very narrowly defined – as helper, partner, friend, co-laborer. Sometimes the narrow definition wasn’t laid out, but I felt it still – that there is a certain path to be walked by a woman who follows Jesus.
The IF:Gathering was so so different. I was addressed as a person whom Jesus loves and whom He has called to do big things. As I tried to process what was happening over the weekend, I could see a path, surrounded by walls and trees and winding along. It was symbolizing the path I had always heard or inferred at other women’s events. At IF:Gathering, it was as if all of a sudden, the walls and trees (whether built in my own imagination or actually intended by other leaders) went away and I was staring at the whole horizon – a wide full world of possibilities.
I was called to walk in the fullness of God’s plan for my life, to be a warrior in my family and community, bringing the truth and love of the gospel into every area of my life. I was encouraged that I was complete in Christ alone – not in my marital status or ability to mother. I felt as if, for the first time, I was spoken to as a person, not a person’s wife or daughter.
The speakers themselves spoke to me as people of God. Not one single woman got on the platform and introduced herself as the wife of so and so. Some of the women were married and some weren’t. Some have husbands who also have a public ministry platform and some don’t. Their marital status just was not a factor in what they were doing on that stage. They were given a word from the Lord and they preached it with all their heart. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I have been at a women’s retreat or event and the speaker has NOT identified herself as the wife of _______. Now that I’ve pondered it more, I’ve realized that there existed an altogether different power in the words of those women because they stood on the platform only with the authority that God gave them, not the position gained by their marriage.
The spirit of the whole event was also incredibly life-giving and affirming. Women from all different places in life and ministry spoke, shared, prayed, worshipped. There was no male-bashing and no female pedestal placing. Challenging truths were presented in such a spirit of humility and grace that I was compelled to get on my knees myself to pray. (Multiple times during the weekend event, the speakers themselves led the women in prayer from their knees.)
In the beginning of the first session, the founder, Jennie Allen said some amazing things to kick off the night. She told us that all she wanted from this event was for us all to love Jesus more and to want more and more of Jesus by the end. Then she said that even though her mind has been blown by the amount of people there in the arena in TX and the hundreds of thousands tuning in all over the world, that we “seemed small in light of Him.” Her passion and zeal for Jesus was evident the whole time. It was contagious and made me long for more.
I know there will be more to come as I continue to unpack all the truth bombs that were laid on me that weekend. For now, I just thank Jennie Allen and her team for following her God-sized dream and letting us in on the adventure. I can’t wait to see what’s next.