Bible study leaders.
Sunday school teachers.
This is a list that could go on and on and on.
Volunteer recruitment is part of the job description of women’s ministry, and for most of us, it’s not easy. Yet in order to remain fruitful and faithful, we all need a team around us. As I began leading the women’s ministry in my own church, recruiting and retaining teams tempted me to curl under my desk in the fetal position. I still sometimes have to ask the Lord for courage in this area of ministry, but I no longer dread it. Here are five secrets I uncovered that helped me get over the team building hump.
1. You Are Here
Let’s collectively imagine we are staring at one of those giant maps in a mall food court. Before we can get where we want to go, we’ve got to focus on where our feet are currently planted. Or as the giant imaginary mall map says it, “You are here.”
Before we can get down to the brass tacks of how to recruit women’s ministry teams, let’s face why this task is so challenging to begin with. As women’s ministry leaders, we are usually what stands in the way between us and having an effective team. We don’t recruit for a number of reasons:
- Broadcasting needs and vision to large groups of women we don’t know well is scary—especially for introverts or those more comfortable with one-on-one discipleship.
- The women we know to have discernment and spiritual depth are already serving. We’re afraid to roll the dice on women we don’t know well without understanding their spiritual depth and theology.
- We’re overwhelmed by the recruitment needs. It seems we always need somebody for something. The drip, drip, drip of that leaky faucet sometimes feels easier to ignore than to deal with.
- We tend to be a pretty self-sufficient bunch. We don’t mind rolling up our sleeves and doing the work ourselves. And often that feels like the easiest option. (Though somewhere down deep, we know it isn’t what is best for our souls or our ministry.)
If you felt a pang of guilt or condemnation as you read that, shake it off, sister. That bulleted list came straight from my own ministry. I promise I wasn’t looking over the fence at yours. I’m a zillion percent in your corner, which is why I want us to leap over the hurdles that keep us from forming women’s ministry teams. Please, don’t just take my word for it. Let’s consider the ministry pattern we see in Scripture.
- Elijah had Elisha. The Lord ordered Elijah to appoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16), yet the two spent many years ministering together before Elijah officially passed the mantle. Who is serving alongside you preparing to step into greater responsibility?
- Paul had Timothy. Paul loved Timothy as his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Paul’s heart toward Timothy was paternal. In addition to shepherding the larger flock of the Church, Paul took extra care to train Timothy up as his son and fellow-laborer in the faith. Do you have daughters of your heart in your ministry? Women you bring in extra close and both disciple lovingly and train consistently for maturity in ministry? We need to have women like these.
- Jesus had the twelve. The nail in the coffin of our self-sufficiency is Jesus, who recruited His own ministry team. The purpose of the twelve was multiplication. Jesus’ earthly ministry was built with future growth in mind. We can teach about Him while ministering like Him when we have the future of the kingdom in mind.
Let’s follow in Jesus’ sandal prints and build teams who can do “greater works than these” (John 14:12) in our absence.
2. Let the Gifts Lead, Not the Needs
First Peter 4:10 has been a game-changer for women’s ministry at my church:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.
Here are some critical takeaways:
- Every woman in your ministry has a unique God-given gift.
- The purpose of that gift is to build up the Church.
- As women’s ministry leaders, we have the honor of helping women steward their gifts well.
As I think through women’s ministry programming, I don’t want to miss the bullseye of helping women know and use their gifts to benefit each other and build the kingdom. So instead of keeping my ear to the ground listening for needs, I’m listening for gifts.
Marge has the gift of intercessory prayer. I asked her to create a prayer team for our women’s ministry.
Bev has the gift of mercy and a special compassion for single moms. I asked her to participate in our weekly preschool playdate.
Gini is gifted at hosting women in her home. I asked her to host a Bible study.
Often this means waiting weeks and months between when I hear of a need and hear of a gift or vice versa. I keep a running list of needs and women’s gifts to help me make the connections in the Lord’s timing.
If I just look at the needs and try to find women to fill them, I am forced to shove a lot of square pegs into round holes. If instead I pay attention to the gifts God has already sowed into our congregation and plan events and programs accordingly, women step into roles they were made for. Recruitment gets easier. Retention gets easier. And the Body of Christ works more effectively to share the gospel and care for each other.
Speaking of gifts . . .
3. See Recruitment as a Privilege, Not a Burden
When I stepped into the role of women’s ministry director at my church, I was amazed to discover how many women don’t know what their gifts are or don’t know how to match their gifts with the needs of the Church. Of course, this left them discouraged, unsure, and frustrated. Imagine being a gifted pianist without a piano or a talented watercolor artist without a set of paints.
Somewhere along the line I learned to stop apologizing for asking women to serve. If they have a God-given gift and the Church has a need, why wouldn’t we want to work together to fill that gap? If volunteer recruitment and team building feels like drudgery, ask the Lord to help you flip the mental switch to see this part of your role as the honor and joy that it is.
I’ll never get over the wonder of helping a woman understand her gifts and then showing her where her on-ramps are to use them. It’s more honorable than supplying Beethoven with a grand piano or Van Gogh with a palette of paints!
4. Champion Home
Every woman in our ministries is spinning countless plates. Most are married and mothers. Many care for aging parents. They are sisters. They are neighbors. They are friends. This makes it difficult for most of them to commit to serving in our ministries. Friend, that’s a good thing.
Our homes are our primary mission field. Loving and serving the people under our roofs and across the street from our front door is our primary calling. So when a woman quits teaching Sunday school because her kids are wilting under the extra time at church, applaud her. When a woman steps away from church leadership to invest more intentionally at home, cheer her on. When a new mom confesses she can’t help you plan the next event because she’s overwhelmed and sleep deprived, let her off the hook. (And offer to hold that sweet baby for a few.)
We don’t want to guilt women into serving. We don’t want to call women to participate in women’s ministry at church instead of ministering at home. Any time you speak to women about serving in your ministry, remind them that you are their biggest fan as they seek to love and serve at home.
5. Trust Jesus
Just this week I had what looked like a major gap in my ministry teams. We are gearing up for our next semester of Bible studies, and three of the ladies who volunteered to teach or host unexpectedly dropped out. I took my own advice and cheered for their decision. I want my women to hear me say over and over and over that their homes are their mission field. But that still left a sizeable gap.
I confess I had a moment of panic, but then I remembered this:
This is Christ’s church.
These are His women.
We are seeking to elevate His Word.
He will not let this ball drop.
And He didn’t. Through a series of providential encounters I wouldn’t have thought to engineer for myself, the gaps got filled. We’ve added new and enthusiastic faces to our team, not because of me, but in spite of me. That’s how ministry often works.
Whatever your team needs are at this moment, they do not overwhelm Jesus. Take them to Him in prayer. It’s possible He wants to reorganize your priorities and restructure your plan. It’s possible He sees a woman you do not see who would be perfect. You can trust Him to connect those dots.