Editor’s note: Why have a women’s ministry? We asked women’s ministry consultant Susan Lawrence for her answers. In addition to her ministry with women’s groups in many places, Susan coordinates women’s ministry at her home church, Taylorville (Illinois) Christian.
To have or not to have a women’s ministry? It’s a question every church needs to answer, but the answer won’t be the same for every church.
Many churches make their decisions to have or not to have a women’s ministry for rather twist-ed reasons. For instance, continuing a women’s ministry because “we’ve had women’s ministry for 30 years and it would be a shame to lose it now” isn’t a sufficient reason. Tradition is commendable but not necessarily growth-producing.
“Women can be involved in a wide variety of ministries and missions. We need to pull everyone together instead of separating them” is perhaps the most common rationale for discontinuing women’s ministries today. Again, the decision-making rationale might be faulty.
Of course, we need to minister to women. And men. And children. And families. And the list could be endless. The question isn’t whether or not we should minister to women, but how?
Women’s ministry puts a structure to ministering to women. And here’s where the debate ensues.
What kind of structure should we have? How does it fit in with other ministries and the mission of the church? How much budget should we set aside for women’s ministries?
The bottom line is . . . there’s no one-size-fits-all women’s ministry program in which every church can embrace and thrive. Ministry takes planning, discernment, flexibility, and evaluation. Successful women’s ministry is more about the process than the program. It’s about healthy teams helping women build healthy relationships. It’s about knowing how to teach God’s Word in relevant, life-changing ways. It’s about searching and assessing women’s needs—and then meeting them.
After the Process, the Programming
Once the process is set, the programming puts the outer shell in place. Events, studies, interest groups, and mission and service projects. Women’s ministries are often designed from the outside. We find an event we think sounds fun or a newly released Bible study promoted as a “must read” and we jump in with both feet, but there’s no big picture plan as to how it all fits together. When asked about effectiveness, we can’t answer, because we’re not sure what the point was. When we ask how all aspects of our ministry work together—or how it fits in with the church’s mission—we don’t know.
Jesus was adamant about intentional discipleship. Learn together by living together. That’s what women’s ministry should be about. There are benefits for women being around other women, which is why, in most situations, I promote women’s ministries. The general goals of discipleship aren’t different than with anyone else in the church, but the specific approach often looks different.
What We Know About Women
• Women speak a woman’s language. All women don’t communicate the same way, but there are some consistencies that help us speak and listen to women in ways many men don’t understand. Sometimes we don’t want someone to fix a situation. We want to talk . . . and talk and talk. We notice cues and details. We want someone to pat our back and pass the tissue. We want time. And then we need to move on. Women will let women talk but will also tell a friend when it’s time to put on the big girl panties and move on.
• Women know a woman’s danger zones. Because we like to talk, we can also thrive on sharing information that shouldn’t be shared. Yes, we gossip. We know it’s a problem, and we especially need to call each other out when we’re gathering together as a community of Christ followers. We’re more likely to confront each other when we have the safety of other women, because we don’t want to be judged by men.
Sure, women can hurt our feelings, and that’s another danger zone: getting hurt and holding it in or talking behind someone’s back. But because we know it’s a danger zone, and we notice the details of what’s going on with women around us, we’ll call each other out more readily when we’re together.
• Women share woman stuff with women. We might not share something intimate every time we’re together, but we’re much more likely to talk about miscarriages, rape, abuse, pregnancy, sex, menopause, and mammograms in a group of women. Be honest . . . how many men really want to hear all the details?
• Women need to be called by name. Not every woman is in a relationship, and when she’s only in mixed-gender groups, she can feel incomplete. When a woman’s husband dies, she might feel comforted by being in the same group of couples, but she also might be in such pain that she slips away to ease the heartache. Even those who are married and absolutely love their husbands can benefit from stepping from underneath his umbrella every now and then.
It’s nice to be recognized as Susan sometimes instead of Tim’s wife or Caitlin and Courtney’s mom, even though I love those identities. God made me unique, and it’s important that I—and others—acknowledge and celebrate that uniqueness by discovering who I am as well as my passions, talents, and gifts.
I’m not recommending all groups, events, and activities be separated into men and women. There are great benefits to men and women ministering side by side, such as getting the opposite gender’s perspective, spiritually growing alongside a spouse, and infusing accountability into a relationship. Having a women’s ministry doesn’t mean the only ministry women are encouraged to be involved in is women’s ministry.
It’s critical to see the big picture. Work together as church leadership to clarify the mission of the church and plan—and dream—how to let God move you from where you are to where God wants to take you. It’s not about duplicating a ministry from down the street. What is one church’s calling isn’t yours. We can’t be all things to all people, but we’d better be obedient to whom God is calling us to be. It’s not about insisting on recreating the wheel when there’s help available. There are some exceptional support resources available for women’s ministries—and using women’s ministries in the church for a united ministry approach.
Set aside what you think you should do, what you’ve always done, or what the big name church is doing. Seek what God wants you to do. It might be what you thought in the first place or what you’ve always done or what the big name church is doing, but it’s better to strip it all away and make sure your foundation is solid before taking a single step forward. We all want healthy, growing ministries. The way to grow is obedience.
To have or not to have a women’s ministry? Make sure your answer matches God’s.
Susan Lawrence released her first Bible study, Pure Purpose, in 2010, and plans to release Pure Emotion this year. She blogs at http://purepurposebook.wordpress.com.
ON THE WEB FOR WOMEN’S MINISTRY
For more information, Susan Lawrence suggests the following Web sites:
Darrel Rowland is an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church and public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch.