Editor’s Note: Sharon Dickens is part of an Acts 29 Europe church in Scotland and is the author of “Unexceptional: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things through God.” Her book “Unconventional: A Practical Guide to Women’s Ministry in the Local Church” will be released in December 2022. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a blog post on why a woman should be the first hire for a planter, Mez McConnell said of Niddrie Community Church, “The pastor is not seen as the only one who is qualified to minister among the flock he shepherds . . .. Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God, and they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”
Sadly, many gifted women in our churches see themselves as bystanders, unable to serve beyond a few roles, instead of essential gospel partners who complement their pastors and strengthen their church family.
Yes, Your Church Needs a Women’s Worker
When I started working at Niddrie Community Church, I didn’t have a clue (or a “scooby” as we would say in Scotland) about what I was doing, so I searched for the elusive women’s worker for advice. Needle in a haystack best describes that treasure hunt! But why? Why isn’t it seen as a priority to hire a women’s worker when women are in the majority within a standard congregation?
Many think a ministry specifically for women isn’t needed. They wrongly believe that women, specifically Christian women, don’t struggle with the same issues as men. We only have to do a quick Google search to realize that’s not true. Women’s ministry is a much-needed component of the church that should complement and support the work of our pastors, which then strengthens and benefits our congregations. Click To Tweet
Many women struggle with issues such as porn, rape, abortion, depression, violence, chronic illness, divorce, and debt. Any one of these would be crushing. But we’ve found that women from deprived backgrounds face not just one but multiple issues in very complex, decades-long situations—without the hope of the gospel. Sadly, the story can be just as tough for those who profess Christ. It’s naive to think, “not in my church!”
My church is in a “hard place,” but abuse happens everywhere. Darby Strickland says, “Religious leaders who were surveyed in one study believed that one in five of the couples in their congregations were violent, and 9.3% of the surveyed pastors has counseled five or more abused women during the previous year alone.”
Many women suffer in silence, ashamed. Women need more than a good conference, Bible studies, social events, and access to a biblical counselor for a time. These are all great things, but they’re only part of the picture.
Building a Cohesive Plan
Titus 2 paints the whole picture: godly, mature women intimately and intentionally investing in younger women, showing godly maturity and helping them grow in their faith. That’s not an event or an appointment; that’s a relationship—a long-term, intentional, and biblically robust relationship.
Women’s ministry is a much-needed component of the church that should complement and support the work of our pastors, which then strengthens and benefits our congregations. Our women’s ministry isn’t perfect, but it is essential. It’s beneficial to our congregation as we serve them and our elders well. Click To Tweet
To do this, we need a well-thought-through, cohesive plan. Let’s start with one fundamental question: “Who do the women in your congregation go to for help, support, and advice?” In my experience, people usually answer something like this, “If women need to talk, they can always go to a pastor’s wife.”
But what if the pastor’s wife isn’t gifted for that? What if she’s struggling with a young family or working? Why do we expect our pastors’ wives to take on care responsibilities for all the women in our congregation? Many wives have crumbled under these unrealistic burdens.
Instead, consider these questions:
- How do we ensure our women speak well and wisely into each other’s lives?
- How do we plan to teach, disciple, and train the women in our congregations, helping them grow to maturity and acts of service?
- What’s our learning pathway for new converts, and who will disciple them?
- What safeguards do we use to ensure women aren’t teaching fluff but solid biblical theology?
- What structure can we create to ensure our women’s ministry doesn’t become an independent monster that undermines the elders, ultimately damaging our congregation?
It’s complicated, with hard questions to grapple. Perhaps this explains the plethora of books discussing robust biblical theology and the lack of books discussing practice.
High Expectations for Genuine Ministry
Our elders ensured that women’s ministry wasn’t tokenistic but genuinely a priority. They had high expectations for what could be achieved. Even with our small congregation of 74 and numerous community contacts, no matter how good the women’s worker or how much time she had, she simply couldn’t disciple every woman on her own.
So we have a care team of six women overseen by our women’s coordinator. We each have one or two women we see one-to-one and encourage them to see someone else one-to-one also. Around 90% of our female church members have a one-to-one relationship.
We’re following the Titus 2 pattern: a mature Christian discipling a younger woman, helping her grow up in the faith. This relationship is intentional, not distant or perfunctory—it’s more than a weekly Bible study, a quick coffee, and a prayer. It’s life-on-life, in and out of each other’s lives, sometimes 24/7, warts and all. It’s messy, scary stuff. This one-to-one framework is the foundation of our women’s ministry, which changes the dynamic of everything we do.
Our women’s ministry isn’t perfect, but it is essential. It’s beneficial to our congregation as we serve them and our elders well.