Philosophy of Women's Ministry in the Church Panel Discussion

Nov. 4, 2011 Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Leslie Bennett, Linda Green, Sarah Stevenson

Session Transcript

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I am here with a few sweet friends, lots of sweet friends, but women who we’ve gotten to know at Revive Our Hearts and True Woman over the last several years who in the context of the local church are doing women’s ministry. I asked them if they would come join me for some table talk discussion and let us have lunch together.

Let me ask the women, starting with Sarah down at the end, just tell us who you are, what church you serve, and just a paragraph about why you’re in women’s ministry, how you got there, why you’re there. Just a paragraph about your passion for that. We’ll start at the end with Sarah.

Sarah Stevenson: Currently I serve as the women’s ministry leader or women’s ministry director in Ames, Iowa at Cornerstone Church. I just began serving as the director in June. My passion is to encourage women to be biblical women and to live out their faith. I’d say that is the big picture.

Nancy: This is Sarah Stevenson. She has actually also served for some time on the staff of Revive Our Hearts and was involved in one of our outreaches called Times of Refreshing. Are we having one this next spring?

Sarah: The date isn’t set, but we’re planning on it.

Nancy: Just a paragraph about what that is because I think some of these women would like to come.

Sarah: If you’ve been to one of the Times of Refreshingretreats can you raise your hands? I think there are about twenty-five at least that are here. Basically, the retreat is for you as a women’s ministry director to step away from the grind of ministry and be encouraged as a woman first of all and as a follower of Jesus; to be equipped on practical tools of living out biblical womanhood yourself but also how to encourage that with the women of your church; how to serve under the male leadership of your church. In fact, the way all of us met is through those retreats where you have opportunities to have large group teaching plus small group teaching or interaction and time to just really pray for each other and encourage each other in an intimate environment.

Nancy: Which is where?

Sarah: It’s in Niles, Michigan, which is where the headquarters for Revive Our Hearts is. It takes place in a summer home, or it used to be a summer home. It’s called The Lodge now. But it is a country manor and has eight suites, sits on a river, and it is just a little piece of heaven right on the river. It’s great. It really is just a sweet time of fellowship. It’s a safe place because like Nancy said, sometimes ministry is very hard. Sometimes it’s draining and it is just a treat to step away and be encouraged in our walk of faith with Jesus and to be with other people that we can mutually encourage.

Nancy: And you said it is a small group—twelve to fifteen, or twenty at the most?

Sarah: The most we can have is twenty-four and usually the groups have been about twelve to fifteen.

Nancy: So look for that. We’ll be getting out email updates. We’ll have at least one in the spring—Times of Refreshing. I know that if a lot of you want to come we may just need to put more on the calendar in the days ahead. So Sarah Stevenson is involved in that ministry. We’re so glad to have you here with us today.
In the middle is Leslie Bennett. As soon as she opens her mouth, you’ll know she’s not from this part of the country. Tell us where you are from.

Leslie Bennett: I am from Columbia, South Carolina. I serve as the director of women’s ministry at Northeast Presbyterian Church. How I got there is in the most surprising way. The Lord moved my husband and my family from a church we’d been at for twenty years. He stirred our hearts to go somewhere else, and He drew our family to another church that was a mile and a half from our home. Once we got there and we’d been there about six months, we found out that the women and the session had been praying for a director of women’s ministries for two years to begin that ministry. They had not found anyone and so they were just pausing. I heard about that, inquired about it, and here I am. I’ve been there ten years. It is a real joy to serve the women there, a real privilege.

Nancy: Great! Thank you, Leslie. And Linda Green, tell us where you serve and how you got there.

Linda Green: I started as the women’s ministry director at The Orchard in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I was given a burden by the Lord for women years and years ago, but to my surprise, He led me first into children’s ministry where I learned to wait on Him and wait for Him to do a work in me before I was ready to do the work I am doing now. So I’ve been serving for six years in the women’s role. I just have a passion for women to understand who they truly are in Christ so that they can live lives of freedom and joy that they are missing because they have bought into the world’s lies.

Nancy: As I was talking with Leslie on the phone the other day, something that really struck me about that conversation was she talked about the importance of prayer as a foundation to women’s ministry. I’d love for you to share with these women some of what you shared with me about how God has done that work in your own heart and anyone else can jump in if you want.

Leslie: This summer my women’s board and I slipped away for an overnight retreat for prayer and fasting and what we came away with was God was telling us you need to do less and pray more. Because the Holy Spirit can do more in us and through us as we are praying and seeking His face than if we’re running around with excessive busyness. So we came back with a real clear calling to prayer.

Some of the different ways that sort of fleshed out in our women’s ministry is first we have what we call a women’s ministry prayer team. We have over 100 women that have sacrificed their time and said they would be willing to help carry the burdens of the church as well as the burdens of the women’s ministry. We do this just by sending out a monthly email to these ladies. They don’t have to come to a meeting, not for this particular group (we have other groups that we’ll gather together and pray). But this particular group is great for women—especially our older women of the church who are not as mobile, or younger women that can’t leave the home as much—so they are willing to pray over the burdens of the church and the women’s ministry.

Another neat thing this group does is we take every lady in our church and we assign them to a prayer warrior. So a woman who is in our women’s ministry knows that she has been prayed for by a prayer warrior at our church, by me and by the women’s ministry prayer coordinator, so what a blessing that is. Our leadership team, our bigger leadership team comes together about every other month during the ministry year and we’re seeking God’s face through prayer, worshiping Him, listening.
He’s teaching us to listen to Him first before we go out to do . . . just worshiping Him and praying. Praying the way He would have us to pray for the things He wants to do. Then our board gets together and prays on a monthly basis as well. That is just some of the different ways that God is burdening our hearts to pray for the women of our church and for the ministry. So, “pray more, do less” was the message we got for this year’s ministry year.

Nancy: And the message I also heard you saying Leslie was that as you’re doing your plans, making your plans, launching the women’s ministry, how important it is for that to be birthed in prayer , seeking the Lord. I think it is really important when you come to an event like this and you hear a lot of ideas, you get a lot of resources, you get notebooks chock full of ideas, and then you get home and it can be so overwhelming. What do I do with all of this?
The vision you painted for me on the phone of stopping before you run, seeking the Lord, and saying, “Lord, for our ministry, for this church, for this season, what do you have in mind?” It is really letting God develop your game plan isn’t it?

Leslie: Yes, very much so. Just waiting and seeking Him, listening to Him, and just being faithful to pray before every event that we have. Then I have a wonderful leader who is good about gathering us after every event to say, “Hey, let’s stop and praise and thank Him as well.” We have to hear from the Lord what He wants us to do. We can’t duplicate what another church is doing necessarily; we’ve got to listen to Him.

Linda: Just to echo that, I’ve always felt like one of the best things that I came into ministry with was, “I have no idea what to do,” because that does cast you on yourknees before the Lord. I was just looking back at a journal from when I first started this ministry, and it was crying out to God, “I have no idea what direction.” Nobody was really giving me a ministry direction, and so I was just saying, “Lord, you have to lead, and I am going to hang on to you.”

He has been so faithful to do that. I am never really lost to that sense of dependence, and I think it is something we need to encourage our leaders to be dependent on the Lord, because I think when we depart from Him, when we start getting confident in what we know and what we can do, that is when we’re in trouble.

Leslie: I think the best thing we can do for our women, we are never supporting them and helping them more than when we’re on our knees for them. That is a gift that we can give them as a director or leader of a small group or however you’re serving.

Nancy: Linda, let’s go back to five or six years ago that you started at The Orchard. I know your pastor is a godly man and has just such a heart for the Lord, but at the time that church was going through some major issues that really didn’t have anything to do with women’s ministry, and you found yourself a little bit alone, maybe. Take us back to those days to how you got started.

Here’s where I want to go with this. Just talk for a few minutes about the whole area of our relationship as women’s ministers with the leadership of the church; with pastors, elders and staff, and how to be appropriate and wise and to help fuel the burden that they have without becoming high maintenance women.

Linda: Well about six years ago we did have a splinter in our church and women were really some of the perpetrators of gossip and division. There wasn’t a women’s ministry in the church at the time. I was in children’s ministry as I said, and I would say the Lord put me in women’s ministry, the role, because our leadership really wasn’t driving that.

So when I got into that role, I was kind of looking to the leaders for how I should do this and what direction I should take, and they were very busy trying to rebuild the unity in the church, really focusing us back on the gospel. I began to just realize that they were very supportive of me. We went to a pastor’s conference at the time, and our pastor pointed me to the women’s table and he said, “Anything on this table you can trust.” That is where I met Susan Hunt through her book Women’s Ministry in the Local Church. God just used that to really set the course for me.

But I have to say I had to recognize that I had to look to God to set the vision, and I think I’ve learned that we have to come under our leadership, but we are also influencing them at the same time. Many of our leadership have been more hindered than helped by the women in their church. Many of them have experienced more grumbling and complaining than affirmation and encouragement and prayer. Men have been affected by feminism, too, I have realized, and there are areas that they don’t want to go to because they just don’t want the flood of all the controversy.

So I’ve realized there are places that I have freedom to go as a woman that I can speak truth into women’s lives in the power of the Spirit and that is how I can come alongside and help my leaders. I can complete them; it is not a competing against them. So I would say if your leaders are not out leading and you’re trying to find your way, first of all trust God even if your leaders are lagging behind. We all want the men to step up in our church but are we willing to become the women that our men want to lead and are able to lead? So as a women’s ministry director I changed my focus from looking to the men to be what I wanted them to be, to what do they need me to be. How can I help them? And that has made all the difference. Now they are coming to me and saying, “We need your help.” Now they are beginning to have more buzz about men’s ministry. So if we have to wait for God’s timing; we have to do things God’s way. We have to make sure we don’t have our own personal agendas; that we’re following the Lord and then He just is abundantly wonderful in all that He does.

Leslie: Let me just say that I am so grateful for the covering of the men and their leadership. I haven’t always felt that way. In the past I would probably have said they were really in my way, let me see if I can move them out of the way so I can advance my own agenda. But God has changed my heart so much! He has humbled me and softened me and I appreciate the men so much. They are our brothers in Christ. So as a staff person and director, I’m going to look for every opportunity I can to affirm them and to build them up; to encourage them because God has given them the responsibility to lead our church. So if we look at them that way, look for those opportunities to strengthen them and to build them up, then what a blessing the women’s ministry will be to the overall church.

Sarah: Prior to coming on staff with Revive Our Hearts I served in a church where there wasn’t a culture of biblical manhood and womanhood. Some of you may be in that position where a pastor isn’t requiring you to come to him, the board or whatever. What I found is I had learned about biblical womanhood and wanted that to be a fabric of my life and I wanted to teach it to the women of the church even though that wasn’t the fabric of that church. I just prayed for opportunities in how to do that. What I started doing was if we were going to have a Bible study, I would take the curriculum that I was considering for the Bible study and ask the pastor to look at it and say, “What do you think of that?” I would ask the pastor to come in and pray for our group of women before we started the Bible study. So I would be inviting his biblical covering or leadership; it wasn’t teaching them how but it was saying, “I want your leadership and I need you.”

When my husband and I left Purdue and left the area we were in to go to Revive Our Hearts, the board—a futuristic type board for that church—asked me to meet with them for future planning of the church and they said “What can we do for the women’s ministry to help it?” And I said, “Grow the men to be mighty men of God. I said that would help them more than anything.” And they say, “No, really…” I said, “Really, if you will encourage the men to be mighty men of God, to love their wives and encourage them to be biblical women it will change this whole church.”

So I left that church, and I am fortunate that the church I am in right now has a wonderful biblical structure. If you have that, rejoice in it, be blessed, and be encouraged. But the head pastor when I came on staff, we talked through, “What do you want of me? What do you see for women’s ministry?” The church I’m in currently they didn’t per se have a women’s ministry before, so we’re starting at ground zero and working up. So I have this wonderful opportunity to try to build it and seek the Lord to build it, hopefully as a growing ground for biblical womanhood, but it is seeking their input.

I’ve asked at each of the new Bible studies; I’ve had a pastor come in to pray over the women. A lot of the women are like “What are you doing?” I said, “We are in submission to their leadership of the church, so I’ve asked them to come in.” But again, checking out the curriculum and just asking for their input.

The other day I had a theological question I thought I knew the answer to, but I thought, “I’m just going to go ahead and ask if they had anything else that they would want me to teach or to add to it.” It is saying, “I want to learn from you.” No matter what size church you have; sometimes I think this is overwhelming. You think, “Oh, I’d like to do all of this but how can I?” Our churches are not cookie cutters, but the same thing we do have is the Word of God and the same thing we have is the structure for biblical manhood and womanhood. Then it is like Leslie said, “Pray, ‘O Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do with this church. What do You want?’”
Let me start bit by bit but have it be grounded on Scripture and under the covering and safety net of leadership . . . of biblical male leadership.

Nancy: I appreciated the fact that Susan reminded us that some discipleship is gender neutral—it applies equally to men and women the same way—and then there are some gender specific aspects of discipleship. Leslie, we were having a conversation, maybe on a prayer call we had before this event, praying for this conference. You mentioned that you had been discipling women through the context of the women’s ministry, but that it was … maybe after True Woman ’08?

Leslie: Yes.

Nancy: That you really started adding the biblical womanhood component. Tell us a little bit about that journey. Then I’d like to hear from you all, “Why do you think it is important and what are some practical ways that you’re inserting that biblical womanhood component into your overall discipleship model.”

Leslie: Well, it’s exactly what Susan said in that if we’re not teaching that, the women are going to the culture to find out. They are breathing that air of feminism. I am finding that our women don’t know. They’ve not gone to the Word of God to study it for themselves nor have they had that spiritual mother to teach it to them. So when I was at True Woman ’08, my eyes were opened.

I realized I had been leading a very vibrant ministry, and yet we were totally missing the bulls-eye. We were doing a lot of great things, and yet we were leaving out the most important thing of all in that we were not teaching women their design and how to live that out and their beautiful calling that God has on their life. So I came back with a real burden for that, and I knew that God was saying this is something we needed to begin to teach our women. First, He had to teach it to me. I did not know it. He had to change me first, and it has been so exciting and so thrilling for me to know that true joy and freedom in the way that God designed me.

But we came back and the first thing we did was an event. We called it True Woman Columbia and we stuck in the DVDs. It was so simple and easy. Then we got the women to just sit around and talk about it, to flesh it out, to say what they were frustrated or challenged with, or misunderstood about what they were hearing. We had a little True Woman mini-testimony and we did a series of that in the summer. But we realized that our women didn’t just need a shot in the arm. They needed a lot more than that. They needed a slow, steady drip of truth in their life.

So from that, we began True Woman Discipleship groups which meet monthly in women’s homes. There is a leader and a small group of about eight to ten women, and we’re meeting monthly. It’s not a Bible study, but we’re doing what Susan was talking about earlier. We’re fleshing out biblical womanhood and being trained and equipped in that and seeing what that looks like in real life. It is a life-on-life discipleship group. We’re using as our curriculum for our first year, Becoming God’s True Women which was edited by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and has many different voices – Susan’s being one of those. That is what we’re learning from this year and then next year we'll move on to another curriculum.

So women’s eyes are being opened. They are excited about this. They are hungry for the truth. They want to obey God and so we are very excited about our True Women Discipleship groups.

Nancy: I thought it was interesting, Leslie, that you said on that call, that once you started incorporating that piece, the biblical womanhood piece, that you felt like God took the women and the ministry to a deeper level. They had been studying the Word but (I don’t remember exactly how you said it), but I think you said, “It took us a lot deeper.”

Leslie: Yes, to a deeper level and I think what our prayer is for these groups is we’re trying to believe God for the impossible. If you’re like our church, there are a lot of marriages that are hanging on by a thread. There are a lot of families that are broken, and they are breaking apart. We are believing God—that He will restore marriages as women are being trained and equipped and He will hold families together; that He will bring revival to women’s hearts through our True Woman Discipleship groups.

So we’re trying to get beneath the surface with one another, take off our masks and say, “You know, my life is not perfect, and let’s be real with each other and pray for each other, encourage each other.” Susan, I would have brought my box talk if I’d known that was allowed. That is something our women love in our True Woman Discipleship groups.

Nancy: Sarah or Linda – other ways that you’re working in the True Womanhood piece?

Linda: We’re doing something very similar; I was very excited to talk to Leslie. We started Titus 2 training groups. We also meet once a month; it is not a Bible study. We are also using Becoming God’s True Women. Right now it is a one year track. It is intergenerational, and I know Leslie’s is too. We invite half older women, half younger women. A little bit different than Leslie. I invite about thirty women, and we go back and forth between my home and another woman’s home.

Then we have a small group dimension within that, but the large group time is about 15 minutes. One of my concerns is that I had women in the church who were trying to equate biblical womanhood with things like home schooling, some of those lesser issues. You know one of the things my pastor said to me, “Remember the gospel is the main thing” and biblical womanhood is a gospel issue, but we have to really help our women understand that.

So Susan Hunt in her book has just a wonderful definition of a true woman, and I have taught from that. I’ll read it to you. “A true woman is a recipient of redemption. She has been saved by God’s sovereign grace. Her purpose in all of life is to glorify God. His Word is the authority for her life, and her mission is to serve God and others.”

So we meet five times in the fall and then five times in the spring and I spend fifteen minutes teaching through each one of those phrases of what that definition is so they really understand it. We’re talking about a woman who is a woman of God, who lives according to the gospel. Then we break down into small groups, and we discuss the book that we’ve read. That is the first semester. It is a speed course. We read two chapters a month.

The second semester, because the Titus 2 idea was broken down in our church, we had older women over here and younger women over there, and they didn’t know each other. The older women felt they weren’t qualified to speak into the younger women’s lives because they’d made too many mistakes. The younger women didn’t know any older women. So we wanted to kind of plow up that Titus 2 ground again. We wanted to give our women a vision of what spiritual mothering is in the Titus 2 mandate.

We used Susan’s book again in that second semester: Spiritual Mothering. That has been wonderful just to help our women see the biblical reasons for why we are Titus 2 women. It is about friendship and community, but it is so much deeper than that. It is a mandate from the Lord.

Sarah: I guess with me being newer in the church, what I have found is that a lot of women have never really been taught biblical womanhood, per se. They’ve been taught biblical teaching; our church is very grounded in Scripture. But it is not a common thing to talk about biblical womanhood as a positive thing and something that we should embrace that is good.

So I feel that is one of our jobs as women’s ministry directors or leaders is that we have the opportunity to be authentic women; to show that we desperately need Jesus and that we’re willing to share. Okay, sometimes it’s hard; sometimes I blow it with the submission thing. I might be teaching on it, and I might have to say “Well, yesterday I had to apologize to my husband, Greg, because I wasn’t respectful to him.” It’s saying “Okay, I’m in process of becoming the biblical woman.” It’s not, “Okay, I’m done, and I’m good forever.” It is a lifelong process.

So that is what we are doing in our church. It is that practical rubber-meets-the-road application of being a biblical woman and how to live that out. It is life-on-life. Sometimes it is going in and helping a woman learn how to clean her house and other times it’s like . . . . The woman that comes to me talking about her marriage and that her husband is awful and he’s doing all this terrible stuff, we can discuss that. But then I’ll say, “Okay, you can’t change him. You can influence him by your behavior. But you and I are responsible as women to be the women that God wants us to be, and to act and react the way He wants us to.”

It’s just like Crawford Loritts said, “I need to be an emotionally healthy, spiritual woman. That is what I’m responsible for before God.” As a women’s ministry leader or director, if we are that, then it impacts our own home and then it impacts our ministry, the people we lead, the whole church, the marriages, and the men.

If we take nothing else away from what Crawford or Susan said, we need to be that follower of Jesus that is dependent on Him. We need to be passionate about the truth and living it out. Then we can do it; it is not cookie cutter. What will work for your church might not work for my church, but the truth is the same.
Then we have to say, “Oh Lord Jesus, how do I do this in my church?” We’re not just playing church, but we are the church.

Nancy: We’ll come back to this Titus 2 thing because I hear so many discussions about that. Actually, my next after the next book is going to be, I think, on Titus 2. So I want to hear some more about this. Practically, in your churches (and a couple of you have touched on this), what are you finding is helpful in terms of getting intergenerational connection? Getting older women connected to younger women and in each other’s lives? How are you seeing that happen?

Leslie: One thing is just in the composition of our small groups. We’re very intentional about mixing up the age groups. I think women naturally, if you gave them a choice, would want to go with the women that are their same age. They don’t understand what they’re missing when they do that. We’re not 100% effective in this, but it is always our heart’s desire and our goal with our True Woman groups as well as with our small group Bible studies that we’re mixing together the women’s ages so there is a natural mentoring that is taking place.

One of my favorite events that we have is a ladies night out we called “What Your Mother Never Taught You.” That drew some women in. Actually, we had just about every season represented. Each got up and shared what she wished she had known earlier in her Christian walk. So events like that are drawn to try and bring in all the different age groups of women.

Linda: I would agree. Everything we do is intentionally intergenerational. We have tables and we ask them to sit with women of different ages. Our women are getting to know that’s a culture now at our church. We want them to form relationships with older and younger women, and they want that. I think they yearn for that and, so I see it happening. I have more women coming to me and saying, “I really never thought about this before, but I would really love an older woman in my life. Do you have anyone that you could recommend?” So we try to bring those relationships together as much as we can to let them happen naturally.

Nancy: I am becoming an even bigger fan of this. I always have been a big fan, but as I’m becoming an older, ‘older woman’ I am finding such joy in the younger women in my life, in having them in my life. So this book I’m getting ready to write on Titus 2 . . . I’ve always had the message that younger women need older women, but I think I may want to include a chapter on why older women need younger women. These 20-something gals, I have a number of them in my life in different ways, have been such a gift and blessing in everything from my walk with the Lord to helping me dress. (laughter)

Sarah: Can I add something in addition? I think often you talk about mentoring or discipleship and you bring that subject up and the young women cry because they are desperate for that. You talk to older women and they feel like, “Oh, what could I teach? What could I do? I don’t know what to do.” When I talk to women I encourage younger women that if they would like someone to disciple or mentor them, pray and look around for a Leslie or a Linda or a Nancy, If you think, “I would really like to just glean from them,” ask her! Go up and ask that person. Even if it is just meeting one time initially, it might develop into something. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and that is okay. But you’ve asked.

And you as older women, if you see a woman that is struggling…There was a woman in our church that was struggling big time, and it was one of those I thought, “This is going to be high maintenance, very difficult.” But you know what? Sometimes we need to be stretched. It is just wonderful to see how God has changed this woman. She did not have a mother growing up. She did not know how to clean. She did not know how to take care of her children. She did not know how to find her identity in Jesus.

We have that opportunity to intersect with people’s lives. So I say, “Ask.” Sometimes the programs can be effective, but I think it is more effective if we as the church see somebody and go, “Let me ask them and see if they want to meet for coffee,” or vice versa with some of the younger woman.

Also, we were discussing last night with a group . . . One thing we’re developing at our church is a life experience forum. It is going to be online for women of our church to fill out a form. For example, if you grew up in a non-Christian home, or if there was abuse in your family, or sexual abuse, or if you had a great upbringing—whatever. You can check all these things and as women’s ministry director, then I’ll have the data. If you come in, I may counsel you one or two times, but then I could call “Leslie” who’s been through that situation, and I could pair her up with you.

So I am gathering the information before the crisis has happened. Well, there are always new crises, but I’m trying to have a format that can help more with the Titus 2. One of the things is going to be how to cook or how to clean your home, but it also may be the deeper issues where there has been abuse or cutting or whatever, so that we can address those and have a fellow sister in Jesus come alongside that other person and can help them walk through it.

Nancy: I need to sign up for that “how to cook” one. (laughter)

Leslie: I think if we can paint a picture for our women of linking arms, that there is one always on the right arm that is further along the journey than we are (and I have those women in my life), and then on the left side you have the women who are a little further behind than we are. We are linking arms together. I try to model that out in my own life—someone ahead of you, someone behind you.

Nancy: And women of any age can get that vision because every woman is a younger woman and every woman is an older woman to someone, spiritually speaking.
Community. Susan’s talk really emphasized that. We got an email at Revive Our Hearts a week or so ago. I tried to find it on my iPhone while I was listening to her and I couldn’t pull it up. But a woman who said, “I think I’m going back to the church in which I grew up, which is a mainline denomination that would not be evangelical, because I’ve been in this evangelical church for (I forgot how long she said, maybe a couple of years) and I have yet to feel like I know one person.” She said, “The church I came from I know is not Bible-centered, but I felt warm and loved and cared for.” She is dying relationally. I thought of that as Susan was talking about community. What are some ways that you’re helping develop community between the women in your church and helping them develop godly relationships?

Sarah: I agree so much with what Susan said. We have our Bible studies to have that Bible study time, but you also need that relational component. That is how the Bible studies that I help with are designed, and it is exactly for that reason. We have solid biblical teaching, small group discussion, and then time to interact and pray together. We also encourage those groups to meet outside maybe once a month, maybe go to each other’s home or meet at a park, but develop that community.
We also see needs. Again, I’m in the beginning stages of this at the church. But as we see needs, we present those needs and encourage people to go and help. Like I told you about the woman that I started meeting with. Her husband had a severe accident, and different members of the church came in and rallied around her to help.

Sometimes they need someone like you or me to say, “There is a problem; I’m going in. Would you come in to?” Some people don’t know how to do that. They are not aware of the need. We have to make people aware of the need and say, “Come along with me.” Or if you’re going to visit somebody at the hospital, you say, “Hey, Susan’s in the hospital. Would you come with me?” You’re teaching them to be interested in others and to be the body.

The other thing I would say with that woman going to the study, if she had met no one, I would ask (and I am kind of hardnosed here), “Have you gone to this study? Have you invited anyone to go out to lunch with you? Have you invited someone for tea?” Because I remember two years ago I was brand new at the church, and I was so lonely. I knew I desperately needed community. I went to a Bible study, and it was great, but still I didn’t have that community. But the gal I’m with today I remember I ended up asking her if she’d come over for tea, and our relationship began to grow.

Sometimes we have to be the initiator or we have to encourage that person that a lot of times most friendships don’t happen where everybody comes to you. You have to be a friend. If you’re new in the community and you see somebody is in the hospital,  you can volunteer to bring a meal. That is a way you can get involved. So I push back and say, “What are you doing?” Don’t wait for the church to come to you, even though that would be wonderful. Usually we have to be encouraging each other to jump in. But I think in the church we have to give those opportunities or present those opportunities so that women can be part of a community.

Linda: I think it is particularly difficult in a large church. We have over 2000 people at our church, so it is very easy to be disconnected and unknown, so providing those opportunities and providing entry points is important. We’ve been entrusted with a child’s heart. I’d like to give a plug for that ministry. That is a great entry point for young moms, and they are often very lonely. We have a mentoring dimension built into that ministry as well so they get a taste of that, and then they can also develop relationships. We don’t have a weekly Bible study at our church, which makes it a little more challenging, so we have to be really creative.

The Titus 2 training has been huge for that. We have mother-daughter studies, which foster relationships with other women and their daughters. I just think everything you do you have to be very intentional. You have to ask, “Why are we doing this? Is it meeting the goals that we have to bring women together in community and teaching these things that we want to teach them.” We don’t want them to go away empty, so we give them those opportunities, but it is up to them. They have to take the next step. We’re always encouraging our women to be proactive, but I think we always have to be pursuing women every opportunity that we can as well.

Leslie: Our Bible studies are all designed to be a small group so that women’s lives are being connected together. We come together, and we pray together. That is how I see God knitting our hearts together, really getting to know each other. In our True Women groups, beyond that we assign prayer pairs. So we are connecting a one-on-one partnership between one meeting to the next. So those women are going a little bit deeper and reaching out to each other, getting to know each other on a deeper level, so that helps as well.

Sarah: I think one other thing that we as leaders need to be doing is praying and asking the Lord to help us see the giftedness of other people, to help unfold them into helping in the church. So it’s not our program or my program, it is the church and trying to have people use their gifts and talents. Even though someone might not be as spiritually mature as you want them to be to do maybe a teaching role, but they might be able to facilitate a discussion, or they might be able to run the sound or be in charge of decorations or something. But it is always looking and saying, “How can I make them feel like they are using their gifts to be part of the body or part of the church.”

Nancy: Wow! There are so many things I would like to keep exploring here. I have a lot of questions on my mind. You probably do on yours, too, and we’ve got five minutes left. So rather than chasing down a direction that is on my heart, I wonder if each of you (and I didn’t prepare you for this),  but if there is something you’d like to say or share out of your own journey or what is happening in your church that you think would be an encouragement or word of exhortation or whatever to these women. I’ll let you guys have the final word.

Linda: Well, I just resonated with what Crawford said. We have to accept that there is opposition, and I think it is really important. We all know that we’re in a battle. The enemy has gained a lot of ground over our women in this culture and in our own lives. We want to take it back, but he’s going to fight us for it. I think God has really been revealing to me more and more what that battle looks like.

First of all, I have to be careful of the enemy within. So often I can fall prey to self-pity and just say, “I’d really rather just go back to being a grandma and doing what I want to do, ministering to my little groups of women.” But I need to stay in the battle and recognize that we do have to fight. I love the picture in Nehemiah 4 where they are rebuilding the wall and the enemy was coming at them with all kinds of different tactics of opposition. It says, “That the people labored and kept one hand on their sword.”

I think that is a great picture of how we have to keep on working, doing the work God has called us to do, but have our swords ready and be anticipating the attacks that are going to come, and yet persevere and know that we have a great God and that he will fight for us.

Nancy: Now as you use your sword, keep in mind the enemy is not the other women, it is not the pastor…don’t use your sword on them. It’s the sword of the spirit…

Linda: Yes, it is the sword of the spirit and the Word of God but attacks can come from sometimes the most surprising places.

Nancy: Good, thank you. We’re going to talk a little more about that battle in the last session today so I’m glad you brought that up. Leslie…

Leslie: I would just say that if we as leaders in our churches, if we stop growing then we stop being effective in ministry. We’re all on this journey together and sometimes as a leader it is so tempting just to look out and see where our women need to go and to focus on that, rather than searching and praying and looking for evidences of God’s grace in their life and supporting them and encouraging them.

Also, I want to put a big plug in for the Revive Our Hearts resources–how easy it can make your life, ladies. If you’ve not checked out the downloads that are available on their website, do so! All of the 30-day challenges are excellent. We have just been emphasizing the “30 Days of Praying for Your Pastor” because October is Pastor Appreciation Month.

I got an email from my pastor that I serve under just before I came thanking me so much for the strength that he has gained from those prayers and the emphasis that all of our women have put on praying for our pastors. So that is just one of the many 30-day challenges. There is also the Husband Encouragement Challenge, the True Woman Makeover. Go check all those out and it will make your life easier.

Sarah: I guess I would say first of all I need to be following Jesus. I need to be saturated in His Word and that intimate relationship with Him; I can’t stop doing that. It needs to be an ongoing thing. I need to lead in living out my faith; we need to live it out. I need to take off the mask and be authentic and make sure that I am living in a way that shows that I need Jesus.

I think sometimes we can function like we’re self-sufficient and don’t even need Jesus, and that is a problem. I need to be authentic; I need to be living it out; I need to be Word-saturated, and I think that is the main thing. I need to model biblical womanhood and think of it not as this weight or this responsibility, this heaviness, but I think of it as this wonderful opportunity that God has given us to showcase Him and to point women to Him. So that would be my passion, that we keep pointing people to Jesus, not to us, but to Him and our need for Him.

Nancy: Well, that is a good place to end this conversation, which we wish could go on a lot longer but just acknowledging that we do need you Jesus for everything, everything. For life, for ministry, for service for pleasing You, for the opposition times, the start-up launch times, for every season of life that is represented in the women in this room, and for us seated at this table. We just thank you Lord that as we cry out to you that your grace is poured out on those who humble themselves and acknowledge their need. So we just pause to do that again. I pray for women who are right now trying to figure out what are they going to do when they get back home to take a next step. Instead of letting them get overwhelmed with all the multitude of things that they are hearing this weekend, give them one thing or two things from Your heart to theirs for their situation and then the grace, the courage and the faith to step out and believe You for that, and we’ll pray that in Jesus name, amen!