Martina McBride is onto something in her song “This One’s for the Girls.” Sure, women may represent several generations, come from diverse backgrounds, assert unique personalities, claim different callings, and even participate in a plethora of churches; but the truth is, we are all the same inside. And one of those “same” qualities is our need to feel valued.
Maybe, just maybe, if we can wrap our heads around this central need, churches can have a more effective ministry to the women of today.
As a little girl, I remember my mom leading the women’s ministry at our church in Michigan. The Dorcas Circle, named after the woman in Acts who was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36), would get together to do just that. Preparing funeral dinners, laundering baptismal robes, and rolling bandages for lepers in India were their featured gatherings.
Today, women’s ministries sport a different look. Group Bible studies, girls night out activities, and local outreach events are more the norm. Even smaller churches with limited resources have access to these activities as larger churches extend open invitations to all who will come.
Opportunities for women to grow in relationship with God and with one another abound. Why, then, do we struggle to get women involved? And how can these “programs” effectively encourage them to be a mighty force for the kingdom?
I believe there are several aspects to explore and challenges to address.
Oh Margin, Where Art Thou?
Recently, some ladies were having a conversation about their busy schedules. Not trying to “one up” each other, they simply compared their weekly calendars. One of the ladies said she realized how crazy her schedule had become when she carted her son to four basketball games in one day (two of which she coached), before heading home to a houseful of 8-year-old boys ready to celebrate a birthday party and sleepover she had organized!
Oh margin, where art thou?
Today’s American society has lost its margin. Busyness crowds our lives. Sports, work schedules, meetings, kids’ extracurricular activities, and yes, even church services and events shrink margin. We’ve lost a proper perspective. The Israelites did too. When returning from captivity to rebuild the temple, they got distracted and focused on their own agendas. It took two of God’s prophets to redirect their priorities and get them back on track (see Haggai 1:5-8; Zechariah 4:6).
Battling busyness is one of the major challenges every ministry faces. And while we don’t have Haggai and Zechariah here to redirect us, we do have their example. Let’s assess our priorities. What are we focused on? What, exactly, is the ministry offering? Do the events line up with scriptural directives or are we planning activities just to have activity? Women’s ministries need to be focused to value a woman’s time.
More than a Tweet
Communication has changed dramatically over the past few years. Rather than lengthy phone conversations covering everything from the weather to your kids’ latest antics to the matter you actually called about, a cell phone text succinctly suffices. Forget the antiquated letter writing; shoot someone an e-mail instead. If you want to let your “friends” know what you’re dealing with in real time, just update your Facebook status. If you need to share a deep thought while on the go, you have 140 characters at your tweeting disposal.
I’ve read that women use three times more words than men. Considering this, and the fact that we’ve reduced our communication to a surface minimum, what outlet can we give women to use their words? Women need to talk with other women. They want to share their trials and triumphs, communicate concerns, and tell their comic tales.
I lead a weekly Bible study. The group is mixed, both men and women. At the end of class, we have an opportunity for small group discussion, with each group organized by gender. Two or three open-ended questions are given as catalysts for interaction.
After our first class, my husband said about his men’s group, “You’ve got to give us more questions to discuss. We ran out of stuff to talk about.” The women, on the other hand, had to be told to wrap up their conversations so we could finish on time!
So here are a few things to think about: Do our events/activities allow women to articulate their thoughts? Does the ministry provide a venue for sharing verbally? Are the conversations we’re fostering directing women to the One who has the words of eternal life, Jesus Christ (John 6:68)? Women’s ministries need to value a woman’s longing to communicate.
Sanka and Starbucks
It started with a cup of coffee. Although she is of the Sanka generation and I’m closer to the Starbucks age group, our friendship is one I treasure. Nearly 30 years my senior, Shirley has taught, inspired, challenged, and encouraged me. We have laughed and cried together, traveled and shared many meals together. Shirley has been a Titus 2 woman in my life. My ministry is stronger and has a broader scope because of her influence.
But I’m noticing the Starbucks and Sanka generations are not blending as much as they used to. It could be a technology barrier . . . or a cultural barrier . . . or simply a general lack of understanding of one another. It seems to me that each generation brings something unique and valuable to the table. The younger ones have ideas, energy, and passion. The older ones offer empathy, wisdom, and experience. For years churches have segregated groups by age, and while there are benefits and reasons for that, we are losing out on deep and special relationships that can positively impact the kingdom of God.
How do we address this challenge in women’s ministry? Most find it difficult to draw in a variety of ages. If we cater to one group, the others feel left out. As a start, we would do well to include representatives from all age groups on our leadership team. And fostering our own relationships with both Starbucks and Sankas is another concept worth considering. One thing is certain: women’s ministries need to value all age groups.
A United Front
Supporting and enhancing the vision of our individual churches is a vital component of effective women’s ministry. Lori Drain, director of women’s ministries for Higher Ministries, an organization that promotes healthy church relations, says it like this, “It is important for all ministries of the church to support the overall vision and mission the leadership has set for its congregation. When ministries compete, the church ceases to be unified.”
It’s easy to get carried away with our own agendas. Our goals may be scriptural and our motives altruistic, but if we are in conflict with the leadership, our witness is compromised.
Genesis to Revelation reiterates the value God places on us. Value is determined by the price someone is willing to pay, and the price God paid was exorbitant (1 John 4:9, 10). A final thought: True value is found only in Christ Jesus.
We will continually face changes and challenges, but one thing remains constant—the Word of God. “The grass withers and the flowers fall”—programs come and programs go—“but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). To stand the test of time, women’s ministries need to value the Word.
This One is truly for the girls!
LeAnne Blackmore is a women’s retreat and conference speaker and women’s ministry adviser at First Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee. She is author of Obscure No More: Life-shaping Lessons from the Often Overlooked(Standard Publishing).