By Cia McCoy
The American Church really doesn’t need more celebrities - it needs shepherds willing to plant the Word of God deep into people’s lives. But it’s hard not to be something of a star when your mind and heart shine with God’s joy and love. The truth is - the night needs the bright lights. Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wis., found a bright light in Laurie McIntyre. She arrived with a burst of energy, a heart for women, and a passion for teaching God’s Word. A natural communicator, she has a vigorous mind honed on Scripture.
Only God could have fashioned the fit. The burgeoning church needed a unique woman to take over the leadership of its flourishing women’s ministries, which had grown to become so diverse and dynamic that they attract hundreds of women from inside and outside of the church.
A preacher’s kid, Laurie grew up seeing service, sacrifice, and a continual flow of people as normative in the Christian life. Her passion for ministry began as a teenager, but she’d only seen missionaries and pastors’ wives getting to do it full-time. She thought she’d need to marry a man in ministry before she could fulfill her dreams of full-time ministry. Her parents, who always supported her in every area of her giftedness, encouraged her to go to seminary and trust God to create a place for her. And He did.
Laurie joined Elmbrook Church as Pastor of Women’s Ministries in 1990, spending her first six years as a single woman shepherding hundreds of single and married women. But the difference in life stages didn’t matter, because she ministered out of Scripture rather than personal experience.
After years of experience in the give-and-take of working with women and responding to their spiritual hunger, and heading what many consider a model women’s ministry, she co-authored the handbook Designing Effective Women’s Ministries (Zondervan). The book offers practical suggestions and program ideas that can be tailored for any church or ministry. She is also a contributing author of Mothers Have Angel Wings by Carol Kent (NAVPRESS). And with Elmbrook as “home-base,” Laurie periodically travels around the country as a conference speaker.
Personally, Laurie is married to Bob, a kind-hearted, unthreatened man who manages computer education at Harley Davidson. And she is a mom to two lively girls.
If you’re involved in women’s ministry - or any ministry - you’ll be able to relate to some of the changes and challenges Laurie has faced. She recently shared her heart and her vision in an interview with Just Between Us.
JBU: Overseeing several women’s groups and mega-conferences, teaching, counseling, directing the Training and Leadership Center for women—there’s a lot of running around, a lot of organizational tasks in your job description. What makes it all worth it for you, personally?
Laurie: I’m still thrilled by a life that’s changed, by a life that’s confronted by the living and active Word of God that penetrates into a woman’s heart and her eyes burst wide open with understanding. The application to her life is just the natural outworking of where she is spiritually. I love it. I hate it when there’s been pain, but when I see a life put back together, a relationship restored, someone come to Christ through one of our events - it’s all worth it!
But none of this happens unless we’re dealing with the Word of God. We’d be foolish to think there’d be any change wrought in a woman’s life if we didn’t focus on God’s Word as the central part of our women’s ministries. It’s the Spirit of God that changes women. It’s His Word “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.”
JBU: Of all that Elmbrook’s women’s ministries has done to inspire women to be closer to the Lord, what strategy or initiative has born the most fruit in women’s lives? What works?
Laurie: We’re constantly refining. I wouldn’t at all want us to be seen as a ministry that has arrived. That would be the kiss of death because although I don’t think women’s fundamental needs change, their contemporary circumstances differ. We have to stay relevant or else we’ll stagnate and die.
The imparting of God’s Word, bottom line, is what works. I think our commitment to training women beyond just surface concepts in Scripture is important. Our allowing women to study God’s Word at whatever level they perceive themselves to be is pretty strategic.
Women are also highly valued here. As a result they are encouraged to use their gifts so we provide many opportunities for women to test out their gifts giving them a broad sense of ownership within the women’s ministries.
JBU: Do you even aim to strike the elusive balance between ministry, marriage, time with God, your traveling and speaking schedule, and all your other activities?
Laurie: I’m probably not the best person to talk to about balance! We can’t live our lives constantly in the crisis mode, but frankly I believe the balanced life is a myth! Life just doesn’t happen in nice little pockets. If you analyze it every day, life is out of balance more than it’s in balance!
I prefer to see balance in the scope of my life or in the scope of a year. My responsibility is to do the best I can with the Lord’s help and make sure I don’t have four hectic weeks (like this one) in a row. That’d sink the boat! The ship can handle a little extra cargo from time to time; I just need to make sure I go back to getting rid of excess cargo!
For Bob and me, that means keeping our Wednesday nights sacred. Twice a month we’re in a couples’ study, and the other Wednesday nights are ours, home together. I travel only once a month now and when Bob’s work schedule permits it, he travels with me.
JBU: Do you ever want to give up and tell everyone to leave you alone?
Laurie: There are definitely days when I’d like to throw in the towel. I think, “This is it; I can’t do this anymore - it’s too much, it’s too hard and too time-consuming. I don’t have the right ‘gift set’ for this anymore. Oh, if I could just lounge in bed! Or shop! And just not worry!”
But there really is no escape. God’s made it clear that He wants me to be here and in my mind, I’m not free to leave until He gives me that freedom. As His disciple, I have to do my job to His glory every day. Scripture doesn’t paint a picture of discipleship as feeling-oriented. It’s out of obedience that I do what’s right when my feelings don’t line up with what I have to do.
I ask others who care about me to bear my burden in prayer when I’m discouraged. Just having them to talk to helps me lead when I don’t feel like leading. And I keep in mind, “This too will pass” and the time will come again when I’ll want to do what I’m doing. You should never quit even when you’re desperately discouraged. Frankly, I sometimes hate aspects of my job, but I don’t make a decision in the throes of my emotions!
JBU: What would you want to communicate to other women in fledgling women’s ministries around the country?
Laurie: First and foremost, don’t make numbers your guide for measuring success. Remember our women’s ministries began with six women in a home Bible Study and grew from there. Be patient and do whatever God puts in front of you to do next. Start by doing one thing right (instead of trying to do everything all at once). Don’t be afraid of failure—it’s part of the learning process.
Smaller churches don’t tend to need a full or even part-time salaried person to head up women’s ministries. Trust God to raise up and use the gifted women within your congregation. As the ministry grows and warrants a full-time leader, then go looking. I’d say, keep it simple when you’re starting out. Assess your entire female church population to find out what are the driving needs. Prioritize and focus on those. You can have diversity in your program without feeling compelled to provide something every day of the week to meet every conceivable need that comes up.
If I could start a ministry and child care space and facility usage weren’t barriers, then I’d have everything (for women) on one day. I’d go with a time when we were all together, and then I’d have electives that might be more “need” oriented, and I’d also offer electives that would be cross-generational. It’s very commonplace in the church to segregate people according to their age bracket, and yet younger women are crying out for mentoring, due to broken families. Gathering as a community of women with a diversity of ages is very important but for some of the bigger churches it’s practically impossible.
Smaller churches, and middle-aged churches (like ours) can lapse into complacency, content to keep the status quo. But our churches and women’s ministries are at risk if we maintain that attitude. I want to be progressive; I want a ministry that has large arms that can wrap around anyone who needs to find a home, whether she’s just out of college or 75 years old! If we’re content with something that’s old and out-dated, the younger women won’t come. I’d suggest starting with a moms' program. But - and I can’t over-emphasize this - assess your ministry needs first, before you do anything. There’s a whole chapter on how to do that in Designing Effective Women’s Ministries.
JBU: How would you summarize women’s needs from God’s perspective?
Laurie: What’s truly important in a woman’s life, in any believer’s life, is a need for deep relationships, a need for growth in God’s Word, the need for personal time with Him, and for a place where she can serve and use her spiritual gifts. She might not feel or articulate that she needs to use her spiritual gifts because it sounds like more work, but you as a leader know that there are some things that have to be built into a program because they’re not things that women would naturally pursue.You can always give them what they really need in the guise of what they want.
JBU: Your church leadership sets people free to try new things and make mistakes. Can you give me a quick synopsis of things you’ve learned from some mistakes you’ve made?
Laurie: Don’t wrap your ministry around one person or personality. Discern when a decision needs to be made by consensus, be sure you have women prepared for change so that they’re owning any radically new ideas (like changing to small groups from a lecture format in our most popular mid-week Bible study) and be ready to cast your vision, and be patient until they catch it.
JBU: How do you experience God and get what you need from Him?
Laurie: Very honestly, keeping my own spiritual walk alive is one of the greatest challenges I face. It’s easy for me to count ministering for the Lord as time spent with the Lord. That’s something I battle constantly.
My spiritual growth comes in many forms. There are those quiet times with the Lord, some are very brief, reading a psalm and a time of prayer. I spend a fair amount of time in the car and redeem that time by always having Christian tapes on. I thoroughly enjoy being a learner at the feet of some of the greats in this country—those are terrific learning times for me. Music touches a part of me that’s so different. I love to worship. It really draws me into God’s presence.
I also meet with one of our other pastors and a very godly woman in the church once a month.We’re prayer partners. Our lives are more and more laid bare to one another.
Because I do a fair amount of teaching, I really take those extended study times seriously so that I’m learning and applying the material before I have to teach it. Those have been really phenomenal times of growth. Just recently I was saturated with God in the book of Philippians. One of Paul’s strongest themes in that book is unity. At the same time three things happened that were really threatening the unity of our women’s ministries. I’ve never seen so clearly God’s Word solve the issues instead of me or someone else having to take individuals to task.
JBU: Give us a taste of your dream for the women under your care.
Laurie: I’d love to see mentoring and discipling happening naturally and all the time. I’d love to have the body of believing women functioning so biblically that it didn’t need a pastor! To know that God’s Word had become a great resource for them individually, and that corporately they experienced a tremendous sense of community. My desire for every woman in our ministry is that she would be independently dependent on Jesus Christ and would function in such a way that her needs were met—Christ was meeting her needs—and she in turn was meeting the needs of other women with whom she comes in contact.
JBU: What are your long-term goals for this ministry?
Laurie: I want our ministries to stay culturally relevant, Bible-based and needs driven. We need to address more of the challenges we’re not now addressing—e.g. following up on our drop-outs, and organizing a formal mentoring program. I never want to make the mistake of saying that ministry has to be done the same way all the time. We must continue to develop Bible-exposition teachers so that this ministry can stand whether I’m teaching or not. And when other churches call for advice and ideas, I want to have developed a resource team, and even a web page, to assist them in growing their own women’s ministries. That’d be exciting.
JBU: Anything else you’d like us to know? This is your chance…
Laurie: What I’d want to say is that I’ve not yet experienced anything more rewarding. The work can be very hard and thankless. People should know this is not a perfect ministry and I’m not a perfect pastor. Sometimes I really get in the way with my feelings and opinions. I’ve had people who didn’t like me, who have hurt my feelings. I’ve hurt people’s feelings. I’ve made mistakes with people and in some of my decision making, but I’m reminded that God is bigger than my mistakes. He loves these women more than I ever could.
God has been incredibly gracious and the work He’s given me is utterly satisfying, and I know in the Lord’s mind, very significant. For me personally, women’s ministries is the right match for my gifts. So it is ultimately very, very fulfilling and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.
JBU: And you won’t have to look back and wonder if you’ve wasted your life?
Laurie: Not one second of it.