Ministry to Women When There’s No “Women’s Ministry”
As people have visited our church, many have asked me as the pastor’s wife, “Are you in charge of women’s ministry?” or “Do you lead the women’s Bible study?” I’ve grown more confident in my ability to answer, “No, in fact I’m not in charge!”
Now, I’m strongly committed to discipling women, and I desire to teach God’s Word. However, my husband and I felt the greatest need in these early years of “replanting” our church was for me to focus on our family’s transition and to love and serve our church without taking on the responsibility of leading a formal women’s ministry.
This raises a question: is a formal women’s ministry necessary to effectively minister to women?
In our situation, our elders led the congregation to prioritize our Sunday morning gathering over any other programming events. It’s on Sunday morning that women, like men, participate in corporate worship and prayer, and receive the teaching of God’s Word.
When talking about church programs we often use the terms “trellis and vine.” Are we spending time and resources building a trellis—programs, events, committees, etc.—when there actually isn’t much vine to climb? Or, are we committed to cultivating the body with the goal of seeing gospel growth and reproducing fruit? We want a vine that’s so alive and flourishing that we must then consider wisely what trellises will support it best. As we consider “women’s ministry,” this mindset has been helpful.
PROGRAMS OR PEOPLE?
Should all churches begin a formalized women’s Bible study because that’s what all “good” churches do? Of course not. Will some women look elsewhere because we don’t have a women’s retreat? Perhaps. But if someone’s willing to leave a church because of its sparse event calendar, then it’s likely our church wouldn’t have worked out for them anyway.
This is unfortunate, because countless people have commented on the rich community that’s growing at our church and benefiting in the lives of many, especially women. So, how did we—and how could you—grow this kind of healthy church culture without a calendar full of formal women’s events?
A few things come to mind.
1. The Bible is sufficient.
We’ve hosted a few events over the past few years, even though we’ve chosen not to have a formal women’s ministry, a regular women’s Bible Study, or a retreat. And yet, our women have been anything but neglected. How, you ask?
Through the Preaching and Teaching of God’s Word
If we believe God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3) and that his Word is useful for teaching, encouraging, rebuking, and training for righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), then we must trust God’s Word is sufficient to teach and grow women. In other words, the entire Word of God was written for men and women, which means the sermon preached each week is a direct word of grace spoken to every woman in the congregation. Let us not close our ears to rich truths God has for us each Sunday!
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men (and women) who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live . . . to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women” (Titus 2:3–4)
As women who love and know God’s Word, we’re called to pass that on to other women. We have the unique privilege of sitting across from a sister in Christ and helping her grow in her spiritual walk. Likewise, we must humbly be willing to learn from others and acknowledge when we need to be discipled ourselves. Discipling relationships have far greater eternal impact than any event. Who could you meet with this week to study Scripture, pray together, and share in one another’s struggles and joys?
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
One of the greatest ways our church has seen God grow our women and the church as a whole is through hospitality. As women have opened their homes and their hearts to one another, we have grown in our unity as a body. These seemingly small moments of living life together over a meal or at the park have helped us all to honor God with our daily living and challenged us to be women growing in grace.
2. Believe the best about your church.
I’ve been guilty before of wondering, “Who’s thinking for me? What’s being done to meet my needs and those of other women around me?” Instead of falling into that trap, give thought to the following:
Consider What’s Already Being Done
Your pastors are thinking a great deal about the care and shepherding of your soul. They desire to see women flourish in Christ. Praise God for the work they’re doing and pray that the Lord would bless the women in the church through it.
In other words, don’t fall for the myth that programs have to be “Women Only” in order to be an encouragement to women. If your church has Sunday or Wednesday evening service or church-wide Bible Study, I encourage you to make it a priority to attend those corporate church gatherings. If you long for more specific applications in your life as a woman, I encourage you to gather, on your own initiative, a few ladies to discuss the sermon or to pray through a recent passage.
See a Need, Meet a Need
Rather than dwelling on how you think the church could improve, consider that you could be the answer to another woman’s prayers for community, accountability, and encouragement. Even in the healthiest church, there’s an endless sea of needs.
Consider, for example, the various seasons of life represented in your gathering. Are there a lot of young moms? In our church, many young moms were unable to attend the Wednesday night Bible study due to kids’ early bedtimes. To meet this need, a woman in the church offered to lead a daytime group for them—and it’s been a great encouragement.
Or, let me tell you about sweet, 78-year-old Sarah. Some of the older ladies in our church weren’t able to make it to our evening services or community groups. So Sarah offered to gather these women together in order to discuss the sermon and pray. What a faithful saint who, at 78, considered ways she could lead others to love and cherish God’s Word.
There are other examples: my own desire to get to know the women in our church and facilitate discipling relationships among them led to quarterly fellowship dinners where women sign up to attend a dinner hosted at another sister’s home. Since then, we’ve seen as many as 10 women gather to enjoy fellowship and discuss questions sent to the host. It’s been a sweet time of cross-generational fellowship.
There are other examples of women who’ve hosted fellowship brunches, started a book club, planned a Christmas Party, or visited senior members.
How could God be asking you to invest in the spiritual good of your sisters in Christ?
3. Believe God is faithful.
We must believe God is faithful to complete the good work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).
Events and programs aren’t bad. But when we depend on them to do all the work of discipling and relationship-building, we should expect them to eventually fail.
Instead, because we desire to see gospel growth in the lives of women, we should be less concerned with our event calendar and more concerned that every woman in our churches understands God’s whole Word is for them. We should be concerned that they’re believing God’s Word, and in response are investing deeply in the lives of other women.
In God’s kindness, our “vine” is growing—and we’re considering wise ways to grow certain trellises to meet the needs of women in our congregation. As we look back on the past two years, we rejoice in God’s faithfulness to grow and strengthen the women in our congregation.