What's Next?: Igniting a Passion for True Womanhood in Your Church

Sept. 21, 2012 Leslie Bennett

Session Transcript

Leslie Bennett: A few moments ago, Christy asked how many this is your first True Woman conference, and many hands went up. I'd like to get an idea of who we are. And so my question I'd like to pose is "Why did you choose this session?" And so I'll give you some choices. The first one being, "I am on church staff, and that's why I am here." So raise your hand up really high if you are on church staff. Now I want you to keep it up. Look around the room so that you can network, see these faces. You may want to go and talk in between the next session. All right, you can take those hands down.

How many of you chose this session because you are a volunteer leader at your church? Many more hands are going up. Okay. Thank you.

Now you can choose to raise your hand on this one even if you've already raised your hand before. How many of you have no clue why you are here in this room? Well, if you raised your hand or just laughed and didn't raise your hand, let me just say that I can relate to you, because I was in a similar position in 2008 when I received an email from a friend of mine in ministry inviting me to go to a True Woman Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois.

So I checked it out. I went online and I saw the list of speakers and I thought, Wow! These are some really sharp women. So based on that and really not much more than the Holy Spirit's whim, I signed up for True Woman '08, and I attended with another staff lady at our church. But oh, what happened to me when I was there! I want to tell you, also, that we sat on the back row. What does that tell you?

But the Lord grabbed a hold of my heart in Schaumburg, and He said to me, "Leslie, this is not just a message for you personally, but this is also a message for you to take back for your ministry and it is a message that is going to radically reshape the ministry that you've been leading for eight years." So I got a charge from the Lord to arise and go. And I said, "Yes, Lord!" But there was an obstacle. The obstacle was that I was not a true woman. I was a "super Christian." So allow me to hit the back button so I can explain what I mean by that.

In my mid-thirties, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and life was beginning to throw at me some tough questions that for the first time in my life I did not know how to answer. So I joined a community Bible study, and in the pages of Scripture I met Jesus for the very first time. And I began to pursue Him with a passion. You see, up until that time I was blinded to the real truth that I had been "playing church" all of my life. I was there all the time working and serving, and I thought that's what a Christian was supposed to do. I thought that's what it was all about. I didn't have a genuine saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

But with an ever-growing hunger for the Word, just like Andrea said this morning, I dove into the Word of God. I could not get enough of it. But deep down inside, my zealous Bible study habits and my prayer life were giving me a lot of pride—building up pride inside of me. I was striving to be the best Christian that I could be, and I approached my new-found faith like everything else I had done in life to try to be better than the rest—to try to be the best that I could. I was ecstatic but yet scared to death when I was asked to lead my first small group Bible study. And my initial thoughts were, "Lord, You just wait 'til You see what I'm going to do for You."

You see, I was set out to prove to the world what a good Christian I was and what an asset I could be to God's kingdom. It took twelve years for God to break me. I think some people are harder than others. But He pursued me to break me, and I'll trace it back for you to a very sobering moment in prayer. I was asking the Lord if there had been revival in the women's hearts. We had just had a women's conference, and clearly the women responded to the message. They came down front. They seemed to be rededicating their life to Christ. Clearly God was moving in that conference.

So we had prayed leading up to that, "Lord, bring revival through this conference." I ignorantly thought that revival was getting fired up about Jesus. And the Lord quietly spoke to my heart, not in an audible way but in a very clear way, that there would not be revival in the women's hearts until there is revival in my heart. I was shocked to hear that. I didn't need firing up, ladies. I needed knocking down. So in a crucial life-altering moment when I could have dismissed what I heard, I tearfully bowed my heart and I agreed with what the Lord said was true about me. And I just whispered, in tears, "Just show me what to do. I don't know what You're talking about."

So almost instantaneously, I got up and I went to my bookshelf. I just started perusing through the books there, and my hand went to one in particular that I had bought two years ago and I'd never given it a second glance. To be honest with you, I really don't know why I bought it at the time. I do now. I thought it looked boring. I picked up that Bible study, and it was titled Seeking Him by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Don't tell her I said that!

Well, just days into the study at chapter two on humility, the Lord sent me a crushing blow. He opened my eyes to see His all-majestic holiness as it is recorded in Isaiah 6. And I had read it many, many times, but the words had never shaken me to the core. I trembled on my face. I was weeping over the dreadful contrast of His holiness and my sin that was projected in 3D. My cloaked pride in the light of His radiant, penetrating purity was all of a sudden forced out of hiding. And its exposure was revolting in me.

And yet the Lord's hands that wounded me, they were not harsh. They were not mocking. Oh, I was crushed, all right. But His hands were tender. They were gentle. They were merciful. They were forgiving. You see, I had been broken to be healed. I had been smashed to be reshaped by the loving Master Potter. I moaned in disgust at being self-dependent, and a new desperation emerged in me to be God-dependent. That day redefined me as a Christian, and I have never been the same.

So let me return to my original question. Why are you here today? Could it be that I have some company in the super-Christian category? Could it be that some of us need knocking down before we need to be fired up about true womanhood? Are you being stirred that while the women's ministry at your church is vibrant and it is thriving, that it has overlooked the one aspect that is most dear to God's heart for His daughters? As a leader, have you been throwing darts at a target labeled "super Christian," never hitting the bull's-eye of womanhood?

We know what the core of this is—the very core is the cross. It's dying to everything that the world says women need and must fight for—power, dominion, control, rights, independence. And at this time in history, the radical life of biblical womanhood has never been more disdained or ridiculed. We have been given a privilege, ladies, the awesome privilege to display the beauty and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, modeling His nature of humility and submission and servanthood. And when we do this, the gospel is real to the watching world. Our message is gospel centered. It is gospel driven. Jesus is only asking us to do what He has already done. And that is to be life-givers not life-takers and to give our lives away for the sake of others.

So with that introduction, may I pray for us? Father, forgive us for so often we are striving to be super Christians and all the while just thumbing our noses, Lord, at the beautiful design of womanhood. Father, there are some sisters here that may be hearing this message for the very first time at True Woman '12. Father, I pray for each one of us, no matter how many times we've heard the message, that You would open our eyes and our ears to embrace the beauty of it—to love it—for You are worthy. Come now, Jesus. Be our teacher. Father, I pray no lady here would leave without an idea and a sense of direction for how You want to use her when she returns home. And we thank You now for doing that, Jesus. In Your name we pray, amen.

Well, if God is leading you to advance the message of true womanhood in your church, then you must embark on the journey yourself. Admit—if you're going back—admit to those you are leading that you're a beginner, if that's true. The messenger doesn't have to have it all together, doesn't have to have it all figured out. And like me, you may have some deeply engrained habits and mind-sets that need cutting away. Let your women see that your life is messy but it is infused with God's grace. The issues are not clear cut. We're not cookie-cutter women, are we? That's why we need the truth of God's Word and why we need each other to flesh out what godly womanhood looks like in real life.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed at this moment about how to ignite biblical womanhood in your church, my role is to help you sift through the world of possibilities. And even better, I'm going to tell you what the starting point is because whether your church has fifty members or five thousand, it's one and the same. Just remember two P's—real simple two P's—pastor and prayer. That's where we begin.

So the launching point when you go back is to meet with your pastor and his wife to share your heart and calling to be a part of the True Woman Movement. Give him the True Woman Manifesto. Seek his approval and confirmation that this fits his vision for the church. If that door doesn't open, don't try to force it. The Lord may be pointing you in a whole different direction. Maybe using your home is the base you're supposed to work from. But ladies, we are masterminds at dodging and cracking open locked doors, aren't we?

Resist those old patterns. Be willing to trust and to wait. And when those doors open, talk next with the leaders of your women's ministry. Look around for the key influencers that God is already using at your church. Include all the pastor's wives and the staff members. Ask them to prayerfully consider joining you—whether God might be calling them to join in. Make sure that you're kindling a fire among all kinds of women—all types of women in all seasons of life. Share your enthusiasm, but don't be obnoxious about it, as we can sometimes be, as well. And don't be overbearing about it.

I cannot overemphasize the essential role of prayer. You see, God—He's the only One that can move a woman's heart to embrace this counter-cultural teaching. You want to know how steel walls are torn down? They're torn down on our knees in prayer. That's how those steel walls come down. Women are eager to enlist for all kinds of makeovers, aren't we? Makeover my closet; give me a new hairdo; I need a makeover of my face, my home. But ladies, here we are talking about no other kind of makeover. We're talking about an extreme makeover of the heart. And your efforts to ignite a passion for womanhood must be matched and guided through prayer. God's going to work those miracles more from our knees than through endless hype and activity. So go back and find those like-minded women. If there's two or three of you here or ten of you here, that's your core. You start right there. But reach out and find other women that are like-minded, and you start praying.

We have a women's ministry prayer team. And I am so thankful for them. They pray for every woman of our church by name on a weekly basis. Each one of our prayer warriors has about seven or eight women that they pray for. And we are also praying for them Scripture—praying Scripture over them, and praying a biblical woman's virtue each month over them.

You received when you came in this afternoon a handout, "Twenty-Nine Ways." I like that number, twenty-nine. Do you like that? "Twenty-Nine Ways to Spark True Womanhood in Your Church." And I'm not going to take time to go through that with you, because that's just a take-home goody. When you're thinking about it later, you can take that out and take a look at it. But these are some ideas for getting started in either small or large church communities.

Let me just mention a few—True Woman 101: Divine Design. You have seen and I hope you've heard this enough to where you can't really escape it by now. You know you need this, and I just want to say, also, that this is an excellent Bible study and I would recommend you taking it to your women's Bible study at your church or to your small group. Other ideas that are on the handout: using the True Woman Manifesto as teaching and talking points; send care packages to college students with biblical womanhood information pamphlets or bookmarks; host a mentoring mixer; incorporate true woman testimonies at events. You're getting the idea. And I don't have all the ideas by any means, so get together and share your own ideas among you.

What I did when I went back from True Woman '08, the first thing that we did at our church was we had a True Woman Columbia Conference. Now we happened to do that over the course of four weeks just meeting one time a week. We showed the DVDs from True Woman '08. We had table talk and wrestled with these concepts and ideas that were so new to us. We had a true woman testimony. And then at the end of four weeks, we had a manifesto signing—a large poster of the manifesto—and had the women come and sign that. And then we have that posted in our women's ministry office.

Revive Our Hearts has made it so easy for you now to go home and have a True Woman event. They have a brand-new resource. If you have not heard about it, I want you to write this down. TrueWomanEventKit.com has everything you need. You won't have to make it up yourself; it's already there. They have ideas for a four-week or eight-week small group study. They have ideas for a one-day retreat, a weekend retreat. The messages are there with listener guides, discussion questions, agendas. The heart preparation is all there, and then how to do a manifesto ceremony. Everything is there. It's going to be so easy for you to go back and duplicate the message. I'm very thankful to Revive Our Hearts for doing that for us.

Well, about a year and a half later, after True Woman Columbia, at our church we spread the message through True Woman discipleship. There's our website, nepresbyterian.org, or you can also go to nepcwomen.com, which takes you directly to the women's ministry page. And if you'll click on connect and then our tabs are at the bottom. There's one on discipleship. If you click that, there will be a lot more information about our True Woman discipleship program.

But let me just share a few highlights, because I want you to know the heart behind this ministry. It is a Titus 2 ministry. And our mission is to prayerfully guide women to live for God's glory linking arms to live out biblical womanhood in a nurturing environment of grace, love, confidentiality, and accountability. A True Woman discipleship group is not a support group, and it is not an environment where a woman's personal issues are hashed out. We have our women sign up for a preferred time slot, and then we end up doing the final grouping of women so that we can make sure that the age groups are blended.

Our groups meet together for two years. In the first year we've been using, I said, biblical literature on the video. The first year, we've been using Becoming God's True Woman as our curriculum. And then the second year, we're using Voices of the True Woman Movement. There are so many great books out there. You could choose your own. But those are the two that have worked well for us.

We've limited our group size to eight to ten women. We have two trained leaders for each group, and we meet in homes so that we can use hospitality and we can model a warm, inviting God-centered home. Once a year we have an annual kick-off where all of our groups come together at church. And we have a program where we kick off our new year. We have testimonies, and that's a very special time for us.

One of our core guidelines is that we will not talk negatively about our husbands in these groups nor men in general. So you would want to have that established right from the get-go. Prayer is a very key ingredient in our True Women discipleship groups. We spend time at every monthly meeting praying together. And then we also assign prayer pairs, and we encourage those women to get together and to connect in between meetings so that they are connecting with each other, getting to know each other better, and they're deepening their prayer lives at the same time.

Women become better acquainted at the meetings through a "box talk." How many of you know what I'm talking about if I say a "box talk"? A few of you do. Okay. I'll be glad to send you some detailed guidelines for that. But basically a "box talk" is an adult show and tell. And with the guideline of five minutes, you choose representative objects about your life—how you want to tell your story, what you want women to know about the things that you love and who you are. And we we focus on one at each meeting. And it becomes a catalyst for further conversations and for deepening heart connections. I love the "box talks." They have had such an impact on our groups.

We train our leaders to be willing to be vulnerable. You see if the leader is not willing to take off her mask, why would we expect anyone else to? And what we find is, once the leader sets the tone of that from the very beginning, then the members will gradually begin to relax their guard and they'll be willing to plunge below the surface. This will take some time. But the leader continues to constantly nurture those relationships among the members. Just pray from the get-go that women won't abort their groups too soon—that they'll be willing to give it time for those Christ connections and those heart connections to take place.

And we're not looking for conformity to any certain model. We expect women to come and to wrestle with the truth and how it applies to their unique circumstances, their unique season of life. We want them to be open about their struggles, their fears, and their doubts in the light of Scripture. We are finding that relationships are thriving in that atmosphere of trust.

A ministry like True Woman discipleship requires every woman's voice whether she's single, married, a widow, or single again. We have big and bold prayers for this ministry. We are asking God to make marriages sweeter and stronger because of True Women discipleship, and we are trusting that He is doing a work now that will save marriages down the road that may have gotten derailed.

We want our single women to find their place, to be encouraged, to be uplifted, and we aim for them to be kingdom-focused as we talk about things like parenting, children, or marriages. And if women have experienced regret or sin in these areas, God can use them. He can use them to help shape the next generation. How many of you know that you're teaching out of your failures, not your successes? That would be my story. I have more failures to share than successes, more regrets—things I would go back and do differently. Single-again women, we want them to come to know God's forgiveness if they have not and if they need to seek that—freedom from bitterness, hope for the future, and joy for a redeemed life.

Tragically, and you know this, there are women in churches who believe they've been disqualified as a true woman from some past sinful choices. Our role is to go back and expose that lie and to embrace every woman. We need to champion the gospel of grace and mercy. And I loved how Janet touched on the genealogy of Jesus. That genealogy includes adulterers and prostitutes. Hallelujah! Not one of us deserves to be in that lineage—to be included.

I want us now to turn our attention to some potential factors that will fuel the message or extinguish it. First of all, the messenger. The message will naturally spread with a messenger who has a humble winsome spirit. You see nothing will extinguish that message faster than being forceful and demanding when you go back home. So keep your heart continually pure before the Lord asking Him to reveal and to root out any pockets that you may have of self-righteousness or pride or judgmental attitudes or resentment toward anyone that doesn't agree with you or jump on board immediately.

Keeping a clear conscience was a non-negotiable in Paul's life. You know he said in Acts 24:16, "I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." And then, the once puffed-up Peter exhorts in 1 Peter 5:5–6, "All of you, clothe yourself with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

A messenger must guard herself against Satan, who will try every weapon and every tactic to derail you. So be fiercely alert. But more than anything else, your passion for the movement cannot overshadow living it out at home. Would your family say that your life matches what you proclaim? Are you a submissive, helping wife—a nurturing, life-giving mother? If you aren't discipling your own daughter to the degree that she is open and ready and willing, then it is not the time to start discipling someone else's. D.L. Moody said, "I believe the family was established long before the church, and my duty is to my family first." That is a good word for us to hear. Our family is always our front line and our very first ministry.

One can assume that those of us in this room today are united. But when you leave Indianapolis and you return to go home, the women you left, they have not changed. They're still the same. You've been changed. But they're still the same. So we must prepare ourselves to be wise. We must prepare ourselves for opposition. Plan now—plan right now to embrace those who find what you're saying to be irrelevant, to be suppressing, or to be outdated. There are going to be mature believers who are not ready to hear the Word. Keep trusting that God will spark His truth and that His truth will prevail in the perfect time.

But now is also the time to decide, is this a fad? Is this a fad that you will quickly abandon if things don't go smoothly when you get home? And if you don't see instant results, are you committed to the long-term? You see, ships don't change direction rapidly. They move one degree at a time. Movement takes time. So guard yourself from faulty expectations. Will you trust that God is working if even on the surface it looks like, "Nobody gets it but me. Nothing is happening, Lord." The day you decide to walk away could be the very day that that fire is bursting into flames.

One mistake that can snuff out a flame quickly is to try to duplicate what another church has done. God doesn't work the same way within every body of believers. I see some of you nodding your head. You know that. Thankfully, you know that. What's successful for a 100-year-old downtown cathedral isn't necessarily what is going to grab on to the church plant meeting in a school. We need wisdom. We need patience to call on the name of God and to wait.

Our women's ministry, we had a sense that God wanted us to do some type of mentoring ministry—that we were missing that component—five years before we started True Woman discipleship. We kept looking out there, searching, checking in with other churches, looking at various programs. For five years, nothing seemed to fit with us. It wasn't the time. God needed to lay the groundwork first, and it was a gradual process for our church. But in the meantime, taking small steps is important. And again, the True Woman 101: Divine Design is a great igniting point. But just start the conversation when you go home. Light a match. But be willing to wait for God to reveal His plan.

In speaking about the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, Jesus said in Matthew 23, "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them" (v. 4). You see, to fan the flames of womanhood, we must be very careful. We must be careful that we are not placing heavy burdens on women's backs. We're not adding another box to check. We're not rolling out just one more criteria for them to measure up to.

The essence of true womanhood is simply restoring what's been lost. It's redeeming where we've gone wrong. It's freeing not binding. It restores joy in being who God created us to be with eternal purpose and meaning for everyday life. It's simplifying our lives, ladies. It's refocusing our lives. It's not adding to your life. God will restore His image in us as life-givers as we repent and we return to truth. This is a liberating message. True womanhood is a liberating message.

I want to conclude with a captivating story of Elisha the prophet and Naaman, the Syrian military commander, in 2 Kings 5. You may recall this story. There was a miracle in it, and Naaman, the Syrian military commander, goes to see Elisha to be cured of a serious skin disease. Naaman was highly respected by the king and the people. This is a man who reeked of power and authority. And when Elisha sends—not him—he doesn't go to him. He sends his messenger. So when he sends his messenger and tells Naaman that he is to go wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed, Naaman did not receive that very well. In fact, he was enraged. No doubt he thought that that treatment was beneath his dignity. And he felt certain that Elisha would perform a fancy miracle for a man of such high standing. And he was frankly insulted at how he was being treated.

But his servants calmed him down and convinced him to go take Elisha's prescription. "It couldn't hurt anything, could it?" So he goes and he dips in the Jordan, even if the waters were not as pristine as those in Damascus. But not only was Naaman's leprous flesh restored, Naaman returned to Elisha and he said this: "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel" (v. 15). That is a mind-blowing statement from a proud, self-reliant Gentile who really more likely might have said, "Wow, the God of Israel is a great god. Let me add Him in to all the other gods that I am worshiping." No! Naaman in essence is saying, "I will now worship the one true God, the God of Israel."

Well, it's easy to overlook another person in this story. You remember her? There's a young Israelite slave girl whose mistress was Naaman's wife. And she's mentioned in only two verses in chapter five. We really don't know much about her. She's another one of those "nameless" women in Scripture. And I love how Janet said, "so that we can enter into that story."

We know this about her. She was taken captive during a raid by the Syrians. We know that she was a servant to Naaman's wife. And we know that she seized an opportunity when it came her way. And that opportunity was to talk about her God, to share about her God and the prophet Elisha. We can suppose that this brave, young slave girl had a pleasant personality. She was compliant with where God had placed her because important people listened to her. So I think we can make that general assumption about her. You see she used her low position to influence others.

Verse three records her only words: "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." And although this young Israelite slave girl had suffered a traumatic devastating experience by being taken from her homeland and taken captive, it may have been that very act of forced slavery that the Lord used to teach her who He was and how she could trust Him. She must have come to know her tender, loving God in the valley of suffering, for He draws close to the brokenhearted. He promises "a bruised reed will not be broken, a smoldering wick will not be snuffed out" (Isa. 42:3). This little girl of big faith—she knows her God can heal a broken heart, and He can set that heart free even if it's in slavery. Wouldn't He be able to heal a leprous man and set him free as well?

So later, in verse fourteen, it says that Naaman's flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child. The Hebrew word used here for "little child" is actually a play on words. It's the same words that are used to describe the little slave girl. This little girl helped lead a mighty general to both a physical and a spiritual cure. When he came up out of the Jordan, Naaman possessed the same childlike faith that she did. Naaman became like a little child to be saved, as Jesus taught in Luke 18:17.

Oh, ladies, that we would be like this little servant girl who despite her suffering is a model of great faith and life-giving influence. The psalmist said in Psalm 123:2, "As the eyes of a maid [look] to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He is gracious to us." Oh, would our eyes be locked on His—to be ready to be used, poised to speak bold words of faith. Will we surrender our lives to be handmaidens to Jesus Christ? Is the Lord calling you? Is the Lord calling you to be used to advance this breathtaking and beautiful plan for womanhood?

Lord Jesus, we just thank You so much for bringing us here this afternoon. I thank You for these women that chose this session. Father, clearly they would not be here unless You were stirring their hearts. I pray for those that are sitting there like I was four years ago so overwhelmed by Your grace, Lord, by Your mercy in my own life—Your forgiveness for being a "super Christian" and not being a true woman first and foremost. Lord, You know even now there are days when I sort of have to hit myself on the head and say, "I'm not having a true woman day." Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me, Lord. I have so far to go. I'm still at the beginning of this journey.

Would You come and would You come and teach all of us, Lord? Take us where we are right now—right this moment—and just move us to the next step. That's all we ask. Father, guard us from feeling overwhelmed—for just leaving confused. You are the God of clarity and order. Take away confusion now, Father, in the name of Jesus. It's very simple, Lord. We start praying. We get on our knees. We go back and we talk to our pastor and our pastor's wife, and we gather like-minded women among us.

I would pray, Lord, for each one of these churches. And I would pray for the leaders that You've brought here. Oh, how I pray that You would go before them—the God of all grace would go before them. Open the doors supernaturally, Father. I pray that we would not be kicking down doors, but we would be waiting for You, Father, just to open them up—swing them open—already be stirring the hearts of other women that will receive the message and come alongside them. Oh, Father, give them grace. Give them courage. Give them strength. Give them perseverance. There are going to be times when it is going to look like, "Nobody's listening. I'm all alone." Oh, Father, Jesus, Teacher, Friend, Comforter, be right there with them. Continue holding their hand and walking with them.

And so Lord, we ask for great and a mighty fruit—a great harvest—fruit of righteousness in these churches as these women go back. Oh, Lord, thank You for what You are going to do that only You know right now what that is. And would You use us? Would You spend us any way that You want to, Father? And Lord, for those that need to repent today, I pray that right now in their hearts they would do that. That they would say, "I'm so sorry, Lord. I'm so sorry. Would You forgive me?" And I thank You that the Master Potter is loving and gentle and kind and tender. And He is wanting to change you and willing to walk with you, and I thank You for forgiveness in Christ.

And so, Lord, thank You for this time together, and I pray a blessing over each one of these women. Thank You for loving us. Thank You for using us even though we don't deserve to be a part of Your family. Thank You that You have given women a very high calling. You've given us a way to tell the world about You in a unique and specific way. Let us take that beauty and grace out into the world, and may that world see us and see that the gospel is real. Oh, how we love You, Jesus. And it's in Your name we pray. Amen.