By Hannah Lounsbery, Faith Co-Editor (Photo: The Bison/Hannah Lounsbery)
February 9th, Jennie Allen, founder of IF, sat on stage at the Moody Theater in Austin, with a candle, five years of experience and a women’s ministry that is about so much more than ‘women’s issues.’
According to their website, “IF exists to equip women with gospel-centered resources, gatherings and opportunities so they may learn more about who God is and disciple other women right where they are.”
The IF:Gathering, a women’s conference hosted in Austin, Texas and live-streamed to over 2,600 locations in 25 countries, carries out this creed by preparing this generation for a very specific mission: discipleship.
“Discipleship is the thing we have to do in the midst go the thousand things we have to do,” Allen said in a conference session.
While IF didn’t start as a conference ministry, the IF: Gathering has become a huge part of the organization’s identity and a means of accomplishing their discipleship goals.
The IF website states that the purpose of coming together for the Gathering is “to remind each other of the importance of following God and the reclaim the priority of discipleship as His means to change the world.”
While many women’s conferences leave women with a vague idea of refreshing, renewing and going back to normal life ready to live a little more like Jesus, the IF:Gathering is about gospel truth and the concern for social justice that truth brings, calling believers to no longer be content living a ‘this little light of mine’ lifestyle.
“I’m sick of little candles,” Allen said. “I want to become the generation of flamethrowers.”
In her first message to those gathered, Allen presented a plan: each woman would intentionally disciple two people a year, who would go on to disciple two people a year, who go on to disciple two people a year.
If 100,000 of the women watching and attending the conference- a tenth of the average viewing audience- follow this plan, within five years it will have affected over 25 million people.
Allen doesn’t believe this goal is out of reach.
“I think we could do it,” she said. “But we have to believe we have something worth throwing. We have God, and the world needs him.”
That weekend, Allen and the conference speakers proved to audiences across the world that believers in Christ have something worth throwing.
400 miles from the Austin theatre where the message was being preached, nearly a hundred young women were gathered to watch, listen and learn here on OBU’s campus. Before the conference started, junior cross-cultural ministry major Sarah Lee was anxious to spend some time in the Word.
“I’ve been going through a season of a lot of doubt, a lot of worry, so I’m really praying that this weekend will kind of show me that’s not how He wants me to live, and how who He is takes away my need to worry,” she said.
Throughout the weekend, and for many weekends to come with IF:Locals across the globe, women heard messages about the things that are truly effecting their faith and the world in which they are attempting to minister.
Jennie Allen and Rebekah Lyons spoke to those struggling with mental illness, reminding them that there is nothing that can prevent the Lord from working through and in them.
“God didn’t pick the wrong girl for ministry,” Lyons said.
“Satan picked the wrong girl to mess with.”
Esther Havens Mann and Ann Voskamp spoke on their work in refugee camps where thousands of men, women, and children are left feeling like nothing.
“Are there nothing human beings in the world because too many of God’s people are doing nothing?” Voskamp asked the crowd, going on to call Christians to see and treat refugees as the reflection of God, as are all created beings.
While topics like these, along with other big issues like Me Too and racial reconciliation within the church, are taking over conversations in today’s church culture, they were just points in a larger message: true and unwavering dedication to the Gospel.
In presenting the issues like this, the way in which Christians deal with these issues and assist those effected is nothing more or less than the duty placed upon each and every believer.
Speakers like Christine Kaine and Nick Vujicic preached messages of revival to a generation that desperately needs to step up and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
“Stop scrolling through everybody else’s lives,” Kaine said of social media, “and run the race set before you.”
Among these messages was one that resonated particularly with Sarah Lee: dealing with doubt.
“I feel like it was what I needed to hear,” Lee said.
“I think it’s very easy to get caught up in all the worry and all the doubt and it’s really easy to take your eyes off of Jesus and to think inward. I think the message that I’m taking away from this weekend is to stop looking inward and to start looking to Jesus again for everything.”
Throughout the weekend’s weighty messages, OBU’s Local Gathering opened up time for women to use conversation cards to talk with others at their tables.
Each woman who attended the event received a set of cards along with a journal and one of IF’s discipleship studies.
Erica Reed, junior elementary education major and one of ten student volunteers who works alone side an executive team of OBU staff to plan the event, said that the conversations were an integral part of the Gathering.
“A lot of IF’s goal is within discipleship relationships, you have vulnerability, so that can be a deeper relationship,” she said, “that women wouldn’t just talk with each other about the surface level things but that they would truly share what is on their hearts.”
With the discipleship center up and running in Montgomery Hall, discipleship is becoming more and more important on the OBU campus.
“A huge goal that OBU also wanted to get out of [the event] was a desire for discipleship on our campus, whether that be women seeking to be discipled [or] to begin discipling, that it would continue to become a deep part of OBU’s culture,” Reed said.
Part of learning to disciple others is looking back on who discipled you, according to Reed.
As part of the event, the young women gathered in the upper GC wrote the names of the women who helped build their faith on white tiles, symbolizing stones of remembrance.
“In Paul’s letter to Timothy,” Reed said, “he says to remember where your faith began, and remember your faith, because Christ is what you really need to remember.”