When we reflect on our experience of women’s ministry, it can conjure up different pictures in our minds. Perhaps it’s being in a room with other women as part of an organisation, or at a one-off women’s conference or a women’s weekend. But what if we were to look at women’s ministry differently? We might see it as an opportunity that enables women to grow in their faith, encouraging them to live it out in their everyday world. See it as a place where women find Christian community and develop relationships with other women of all ages. An opportunity for support and a sharing of life together. An environment in which women devoted to Jesus and to one another are equipped through God's Word to walk the path of faith.
What if we could push behind the activity of women’s ministry to identify its purpose within our congregations? What would happen if we let this purpose shape what we do, whether formally or informally?
Women’s ministry that makes a difference
Recently, I have had conversations with different groups of women around this subject and asked them to tell me their experiences of women’s ministry which have made a real difference to them. One group shared how they started a Bible study group which met in their church coffee area in the month of June on a Sunday morning before church. This worked well for women with small children, where mid-week group meetings just weren’t feasible to get to.
Another group shared about hearing the stories of other women in their church family. Four women from different generations were invited to come along to their group for supper and a time of questions and answers to real life issues. The women got to hear real-life examples of how God had worked in their lives through situations which impact women across generations - illness, infertility, bereavement, singleness and so on.
Addressing challenges women face
Another question I often ask is, “what are the challenges for women within your congregation and why is it important to reshape our thinking about ministry amongst women?” It is a big question and I usually get a range of answers which I believe are inter-linked. There is a challenge about how we need to create opportunities where women are affirmed and encouraged to grow in their knowledge of God. How they can understand that they are valued by God and fully use the gifts he has given them to play their part in the building of his kingdom in the 21st century. There is also a challenge around what opportunities women actually have for growth, as their lives are often busy, they’re tired and stretched for time. With different lifestyle patterns and approaches to learning, women are not always looking for more meetings, but instead are longing that someone who has walked the path of faith would come alongside them as they walk theirs.
Women’s ministry is changing and we need to adapt if we want to build communities of faith within our congregations. Much of what worked really well 20 years ago may not reap the same results today.
When I come alongside groups, I pose another question, i.e. What is the aim of your women’s ministry? The answer to this is really important, otherwise we might lose our way before we’ve started. We can come up with all kinds of answers to this question but really, the best guidelines are found in God’s Word. In Acts 2:42 believers devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship and prayer; in Matthew 28:19 we are instructed to make disciples; John 13:34 tells us to ‘love one another’. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to encourage one another. In Galatians 5:13 Paul says we are to serve one another. No doubt there are many more.
Women’s ministry, in whatever shape or form, should aim to provide opportunity for spiritual growth among women of all ages. It should create opportunities to grow together as disciples, and use their gifts to serve the church.
Women’s ministry at its best is part of the whole church. So we should take time to ask the leaders of our congregation in Kirk Session how they see it as part of the wider life and witness of our church, establishing together what women’s ministry is aiming to achieve.
Perhaps you could take the following steps to begin to embrace change together.
1. Partner & Pray - Pray specifically, asking God to guide you forward. Don’t rush this time of seeking God and consider setting aside a specific time to discern his leading. Create prayer partnerships e.g. partner older and younger women from your congregation and ask them to pray intentionally for each other and for God’s guidance for the way forward for your women’s ministry. Ask God to move in the hearts of women in your congregation and to envision fresh ways of reaching out to each other.
2. Reflect - Evaluate the good and the bad, the joys and the disappointments. Acknowledge the barriers and gaps in what has gone before. Take time to purposefully pause and consider what you have learned over the years. How has it shaped you? What things should we lay aside or take forward? Taking time to reflect ensures that you carry the right things forward with you into your ongoing journey.
3. Recognise - In the process of transition there will be tensions, as in any process of change emotions can run high. Be aware of this and take the time to recognise that in order to change the outcome of women’s ministry, we will need to ask God to help us move gently but determinedly towards employing different tactics.
4. Gather Together - The disconnection caused by the interruption of the last two years during the pandemic has revealed our need for community. God never intended for us to be alone, he knows we are much better together. Let’s reconnect and make space to get to know each other again, care for one another and share our stories of what God has been doing in our lives.
5. Respond - What resolutions will your group make? What kind of team will you be in the next season? What accountable actions and measurable goals can you put in place to make this happen? How will you determine to be supportive and faithful, reaching out to women in your church family and in your community? What is God prompting you to do?
Some helpful links
Women’s ministry Podcast - Podcasts from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland / 057 – Reshaping our thinking about women’s ministry (audioboom.com)
Women’s ministry resource - Inspirations - Presbyterian Church Ireland (presbyterianireland.org)
PW Webpage - Presbyterian Women - Presbyterian Church Ireland (presbyterianireland.org)
Facebook – Presbyterian Women
Pauline Kennedy is PCI’s Women’s Ministry and Presbyterian Women’s Development Officer.