At long last, the lone female HSF contributor is writing a piece about women’s issues! When I first returned to Nashville in 2014, I needed to find a church to join and to serve. The Lord led me to Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church (SPFWB) where I immediately felt as if I belonged and quickly grew to love the congregation.
At the time, though, there weren’t any specific women’s ministries. Of course, we would prepare food and meals for church events and would often eat lunch with one another’s families after church on Sundays, but there was no formal venue in which we could talk and study together. The men had a study group, but, because of our busy schedules, the women could not seem to work out a time that we could all meet. Then in the summer of 2016, we began to have a Sunday night women’s study. This seemingly small change has done much to encourage and strengthen us as female members of SPFWB.
This experience helped me see the great importance of women’s ministry for the life of the church. It is important because of the differences between men and women that clearly require different kinds of (or least avenues for) care, growth, and service. As Free Will Baptists, we have a rich heritage of women’s ministry from which to build. Women’s ministry can have many elements, but we’ll examine prayer, service, studies, and mentoring relationships.
A Heritage of Women’s Ministry
Free Will Baptists have a strong history of women’s ministry. Free Will Baptist women were very active early on in mission’s work. In the movement’s earliest days, northern Freewill Baptist women formed societies who worked to aid missionaries through prayer and practical provision. Eventually, in the early twentieth century, the Women’s National Auxiliary was formed, known today as Women Nationally Active for Christ (WNAC). This organization has done and continues to do much to encourage women to serve Christ in supporting missions, in personal spiritual formation, and in Christian service.
With this heritage in mind, let us consider what we ought to do in our women’s ministries today might involve.
First, women’s ministry opportunities provide women with prayer partners who, likely better than their pastors, understand the problems their sisters are facing and can best understand how to intercede on their behalves. Furthermore, because of the environment that a women’s small group fosters, women are more likely to share personal prayer needs that they might otherwise feel uncomfortable sharing with the entire congregation.
My home church, for example, participates in a program called “I-55 Pray-ers.” This group was founded by mothers who wanted a structure through which they could pray earnestly for their families. Women who participate in this ministry chose passages of Scripture that they find particularly relevant to their loved ones and their current situation. They share these passages and requests in small groups, and each woman in the group is assigned a day of the week to pray for all the requests in her group. This ministry has certainly been a blessing in that congregation.
Second, women’s ministries also help women discover new ways to serve the church together. I am certain that ladies’ auxiliaries and local WAC chapters have done nearly immeasurable work for the kingdom. Though this work might not always receive great attention, it certainly has been important and influential through the years.
Work often includes providing food for families who have lost loved ones or who are experiencing difficulty, organizing church functions, decorating the church, and the like. However, though these tasks have their place and are important, many other opportunities exist for service that women can perform. Perhaps this occurs in targeted community outreach or in organizing church projects. Regardless of the avenue, God will use women who are serving Him earnestly.
Still, one may wonder why we need to separate men and women, especially in Bible study. Women can certainly learn just as much as men in Sunday School or in Wednesday night Bible study, for instance, and they should certainly be involved in these gatherings. It is important for the body of Christ to delve into the Word together. Furthermore, constant segregation by gender would certainly not foster unity in the body.
However, women sometimes need the advice and counsel of other godly women on issues that concern them, both from Scripture and from the rest of daily life. Certainly, women’s groups can and should study the Word together. Sometimes this simply means choosing a book of the Bible to read and discuss together, noting its distinctions and finding its application to Christian life. Other times it means choosing targeted Bible study book or DVD series. Or a women’s group may choose an issue and find out what the Scripture says about it through a topical study.
Taking one of these approaches certainly does not mean that women should study only the Bible or use only studies related to the Bible. There are many excellent books that deal with women’s issues from a Christian perspective. Lies Women Believe by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Spiritual Mothering by Susan Hunt are two such works. These can do much to edify the women of the church as they read and discuss them together.
At the same time, I certainly don’t think that women should read only books on women’s issues. In fact, such a viewpoint would be quite discouraging, as if women are somehow incapable of understanding or benefiting from great classics of the faith or more recent important works. On the contrary, women will benefit from reading Lewis or Chesterton or Stott or Forlines. Reading authors such as these will give insight for the other studies mentioned above. Furthermore, reading books about theology will, in turn, help women become better equipped for the roles in which we so frequently find ourselves in Sunday School classrooms or in children’s church each week. In fact, such a theological and philosophical grounding in the Christian faith will help us in each arena of life and as we go about our daily routines of raising children or working or a combination of the two.
Finally, women’s ministry provides an avenue for the church to institute the Titus 2 model of mentorship encouraged by the apostle Paul. The relationships that these groups foster can become the catalysts for even deeper mentoring relationships. In such studies, we gain a level of familiarity that might not otherwise naturally occur. Being comfortable around one another in this way certainly makes it easier for women to locate older women who can serve as their mentors while also making it easier to initiate such a conversation. Indeed, when women have gotten to know one another through praying, serving, and studying together, they are more likely to feel they can enter into deeper, more meaningful mentoring relationships.
For this reason, women’s ministry should not always separate women according to age groups, though such segregation may at times be appropriate. However, a meeting of women across age lines allows them to get to know one another in a way that might not otherwise occur. At Sylvan Park, several of us have discussed how our meeting together on Sunday nights allows us to really get to know one another, to talk to each other in deeper and more meaningful ways than the typical after-service conversation (though, of course, that is nonetheless good too).
Our second study really got the ball rolling on this kind of interaction. We read Spiritual Mothering by Susan Hunt together. This book was such a wonderful facilitator of discussion because it allowed us to share personal experiences and opinions. These have helped us to understand one another better and to feel that we can trust one another. Several of us commented that this study helped us truly get to know the women in our church on a deeper level.
As we go about our church work, we should certainly remember the vital role a thriving women’s ministry can have in the overall health of the body. Consider this excerpt from Spiritual Mothering:
Matthew Arnold said: ‘If ever the world sees a time when women shall come together purely and simply for the benefit and good of mankind, it will be a power such as the world has never seen.’ But the problem is that women will never come together purely and simply for the good of others because of the self-centeredness of our sin nature. The what’s-in-it-for-me mentality forbids such selflessness. However, Christian women, because of the power of grace, can overcome their self-centeredness.
Indeed, we can, and the Lord will use His daughters to accomplish great things for the Kingdom. Good women’s ministries provide several avenues for this work and should certainly be a part of the church’s life.
 Susan Hunt, Spiritual Mothering: The Title 2 Model for Women Mentoring Women (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1992), 18.