Beyond the Basics
By Susan Lawrence
Google women’s ministry event ideas, service projects, mentoring, icebreakers, or training, and you’ll find many basic resources. What about the behind-the-scenes information? Where do you find answers to the questions people tend to brush aside? Perhaps more important than the answers is permission and encouragement to ask questions. In fact, the more experience you gain, your questions likely multiply, because you’re passionate about serving well.
If you’re reading this article as a brand-new-leader-and-not-really-sure-you-want-to-be-one, keep your heart open. Let God guide you instead of letting your insecurities become an excuse. It won’t be easy. Ministry isn’t always fun, but it’s filled with purpose, including blessings of learning through messes, flops, frustrations, and feelings. If you’re still reading this despite believing you have nothing to do with women’s ministry, take a second glance. If you serve women in any way, you are involved in ministry to women. Women’s ministry doesn’t have to be an organized program. It doesn’t even have to go by that name. If you are ministering to and with women, you will always have more to learn.
Three foundational questions need to be asked and answered if we’re to take our ministry to women beyond the basics.
1. “Are we doing what God wants?”
That’s a pretty big question, not just for our ministries, but for us as individuals as well. As difficult as it is to assess, we need to regularly ask the question. If we continue to forge forward with good ideas that aren’t God ideas, we’ll get off track.
Our access to information ramps up the comparisons we make to one another. We see someone else’s idea for a program or study, and we want to do the same, especially if it was “successful” for them. However, what works for someone else isn’t necessarily going to work for you. Ministry involves a relationship with and dependence on Him, and He wants us to filter absolutely everything through His will.
God works through and thrives on relationships, so He’s great at connecting us with others so we can share life and ministry with each other. But He’s invested in our personal relationship with Him as well. He doesn’t want us to become so dependent on others that we ignore Him. He doesn’t want us to assume that because we ran across an idea, He must have led us there.
Asking what God wants is more than that quick opening prayer at each meeting. It’s letting God actually guide us. It’s consistently asking God what He thinks and paying attention to His promptings. His guidance will not always be obvious, but it’s often because when we’re looking for an answer, that God is fostering a relationship. Your willingness to trust Him, wait on Him, and be bold for Him is much more important than getting the tasks done. Focus more on becoming who He wants you to be—as individuals and as a team—than figuring out what you’re supposed to do. Being God’s willing, faithful servant leads to doing His will.
2. “Is more always better?”
No. That’s the easy answer. But less isn’t always better either. It’s not about the right amount of ministry; it’s about the right ministry. Are you fully relying on Him, or are you relying on tradition, expectations, or those previously-mentioned comparisons?
Traditions aren’t bad in and of themselves. In fact, there’s a sense of security that comes with consistency. God doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. However, that doesn’t mean our ministries should be stagnant. What needs to remain—and what gives real security—is a biblical basis and commitment to seek, follow, and honor God in all things. That means details will change as God changes them. Just because something worked once, or for many years, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for now. Likewise, just because some people want to change something doesn’t mean it should change. God cares about our desires but intends for us to desire Him and His will above everything else. Put pride and self-indulgence aside. It has no place in ministry except to be weeded out.
We need to listen to others’ expectations, but not for the reason we often do so. We often survey women and ask their preference because we want to give them what they want, but what if the results are contrary to where we’re confident God is leading? We want to meet women’s needs through ministry, but we need to focus on the needs they actually have, not just the needs they identify. This can be difficult.
God taught me a lesson years ago when I conversationally surveyed a small group of young women who weren’t involved in any kind of regular study. To get them involved and build relationships with them, I designed something based on what they said they wanted: no homework, nothing too heavy, lots of conversation time, and self-contained topics, so if they had to skip a week, they wouldn’t feel as if they missed out on anything. After the first week, I called each woman to follow up. When I asked if they suggested changes, without exception, they all told me they wanted to go deeper and commit to something more substantial.
I learned we don’t always know what we want or what we need.
Before you toss all surveys aside, be assured they can serve a purpose when used well. Just be aware that if you are only looking for information, what you get can’t always be taken at face value. Focus on the people taking the surveys. Use the surveys as a connection point. Ask follow-up questions. Extend invitations to get involved, and realize you’re looking at representations of individuals at one point in time. Individuals change. They misunderstand. They respond based on feelings. All sorts of factors impact surveys, so use them with discernment.
3. “Do numbers matter?”
For a recent “Clear the Clutter” event, we prepared for a couple dozen and two people showed up. Yet what transpired between those three women was a sweet time of ministry that never would have happened in the larger group. Each woman came with needs that had nothing to do with home organization; the clutter they needed to clear was spiritual, and God blessed them with that opportunity.
When attendance is lower than we expect or prefer, we ask, “Is this all that’s coming?” What about the women who attend? How do you think they feel knowing they’re not “enough”? You can say it’s not about them, but they’re the ones standing right in front of you, ready for a time of ministry. We don’t know why people don’t attend. We don’t know where they are spiritually and how God is working in their lives. They might be following God’s leading by not attending. God can work in situations other than our own programs of ministry. Just because we’re invested in something doesn’t mean others will be, or should be. When we’re in our sweet spots of ministry, every detail is stirred by the passion we have to serve God in specific ways. When others don’t get that, we may feel hurt. But we exist in the Body of Christ to work together and we can find unity through our differences and support one another. We are walking different paths toward the same God.
While we shouldn’t let numbers define the worth of our ministries, we also need to pay attention to patterns. If something flops over and over again, evaluate it. Ask if you need to make adjustments. Be careful, however, how you define “flop.” Success is measured by God’s standards, not the world’s. Likewise, don’t assume every huge event you have needs to be duplicated or that you found the key to successful women’s ministry. The key to a healthy women’s ministry is your focus on God. Let everything be filtered through Him.