In this third post about women’s ministry, I’d like to reflect on the condition of Women’s Ministry in the local church as I see it.
One of the most encouraging trends is women’s Bible studies. In almost every evangelical church, women gather on a week day or evening to discover what God’s Word says and how they can live their lives in obedient response to him. Many of the classes use published Bible study books so that women can prepare in advance for the lesson of the day. Some organizations such as Bible Study Fellowship require that the homework be done if the participant is to engage in the class discussion. The majority of these Bible studies include small group time in which the lesson is discussed. The Bible study members also listen to a message/lecture (either live or by DVD) as a third component of the Bible study. A lesser number of women’s bible studies are self-taught, where the women examine and discuss the scriptures without the aid of a study guide or teacher, but instead seek to understand the Bible with the help of commentaries. I am thrilled and delighted with the plethora of Bible studies. I feel like Paul when he says, “The important thing is that in every way… Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18). The study of God’s Word is a foundational part of the renewing of our minds. Women are coming to faith in Christ and growing in their faith because of their regular attendance and diligent participation in Bible studies. This strengthens the local church.
A second encouraging trend is MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers. MOPS is designed to draw in young moms for learning, sharing, and growing. MOPS groups meet in local churches. A nominal annual fee is charged by MOPS Intl. to each participating church. Mothers of babies and young children gather several times a month to learn about topics of interest to their life stage, such as child discipline, home-making skills, how to love their husbands, or the value of exercise for each member of the family - including mom! MOPS begin their morning with plenty of adult conversation over a breakfast they share in providing, and it often concludes with a creative activity. Mentor moms and leadership training are part of the MOPS core values. Since MOPS participants tend to reach out to other moms in their community, many churches have found it a tool for reaching women with the gospel. According to the website, www.mops.org, there are over 3,900 MOPS groups in 35 countries. MOPS helps women thrive in their motherhood. And I say, hooray! Being a mom with its joys and challenges is here to stay, and the smart church will plan to include MOPS in its options. What better way to grow a church than through reaching young families!
A third promising trend is that women’s ministries in the local church are becoming involved in social justice. This is a newer development, and will take some energy to bring about, but women are beginning to ask, “What can I do about human trafficking? How can I help women who are employed in the sex industry? How can we show Jesus’ love to women who have had abortions?” Leaders such as Carolyn Custis James have been writing and exploring such needs, and are trying to motivate women to make a difference in their culture. The gospel always changes people and elevates cultures, leading them away from sinful and godless practices and toward the righteous life that God desires. Women are beginning to invest time and money into stopping harmful practices.
Another aspect of social justice is a local church’s outreach to the poor. Perhaps mindful of the Proverbs 31 woman who “reaches out her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” women are engaging in Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse and sending shoeboxes filled with small toys, school supplies and hygiene items to children in 100 countries. Almost ten million boxes were sent this year. This is happening across denominational lines and is led primarily by women. Certainly more ministry to the poor is needed, but this is a start.
Mentoring is continuing at a slow pace, but is present in the churches. Some of it is organic, and some of it is organized within women’s ministry. Mentoring is an excellent way for older women to use the skills, knowledge and life lessons they have learned to support younger women. And my observation is that younger women long for meaningful connection with older women. And it’s very biblical as I observed in my blog post, Why Every Church Will Always Need a Women’s Ministry, Part One.
Retreats and conferences sponsored by local churches continue. There is a movement toward having more of these on the church campus rather than in a conference center or retreat center. This may be a way to make these more available to women by not requiring them to travel to the mountains or out of town, plus the cost is lower. Many churches are now offering women’s retreats biannually rather than yearly.
Recovery ministries continue to exist, though often small in attendance. Recovery ministries can be very beneficial to women in processing their difficult circumstances that might include childhood abuse, neglect, or rape. The church where I served on staff has had a healing/recovery group for women for over twenty-five years. This is one of the longest established groups that I’m aware of, and it is needed now more than ever in our culture.
Abortion recovery groups have also been vital, although the numbers of enrolled women are low versus the numbers of women who have had abortions. I would like to see growth in women acknowledging abortions in their past, receiving Christ’s forgiveness, and moving ahead into life with freedom and joy. And as pornography increasingly takes a toll on men, and therefore, on their wives, we will likely see recovery ministries for wives grow at an accelerated pace. We’ll also see healing groups in the churches for women who have become pornography users themselves. It is urgent that these healing ministries be done in harmony with biblical principles and with godly wisdom. All these types of recovery ministries are needed in the name of Jesus who came to set captives free. My hope is that more of these groups will be birthed in local churches where they can benefit from the oversight of the elders.
Many churches of the 20th century had large, structured outreach programs such as a Christmas event or a Mother’s Day Tea in which food and décor were at a premium. Non-Christian friends were invited and the gospel was shared as winsomely as women could plan for it. Other churches had craft bazaars to raise money for financial needs. These continue into the 21st century, but seem to have lost a bit of steam. I think there is still a place for large-scale evangelism events, though this is not the leading edge for women’s ministry.
There is a growing movement of ‘organic’ women’s ministries, too, where women gather in groups for book clubs, exercise, prayer, or friendship. Often these women first met at church and then carried their friendship outside the walls, often including unchurched friends, as well. These organic groups have a spiritual component because the women are Christ followers and they are seeking to mature in him through their friendships with other women.
Bloggers are making their mark with an impact felt primarily by individual women. Those individual women, however, translate into the women of women’s ministry within a church. Therefore, prominent bloggers such as Ann Voskamp and Jen Hatmaker will continue to influence women’s ministry.
Prayer and support for missions do not have the prominence in women’s ministries that they had in earlier generations (see Why Every Church Will Always Need a Women’s Ministry, Part Two). This is a loss for churches. Prayer support is vital for any life-changing ministry. I hope we see an increase in this in the next decade as women increasingly realize that the complexities of our society cannot be solved apart from diligent and sustained prayer.
Women’s ministry is clearly here to stay. The more closely it follows biblical guidelines, the more women will come to faith in Christ, and the more women will become increasingly Christ-like. That is the Lord’s goal for his church, and most certainly for the feminine face of his bride.