My husband has the “unfortunate” ability to predict the outcome of movies and TV shows. He is rarely surprised by a plot twist; somehow he instinctively knows who the bad guys are and what will happen before it happens. Sometimes I will ask “Have you seen this before?” His answer is “No, it just makes sense.” And normally within a few minutes, it happens just as he has predicted.
Me–I’m perfectly content not knowing ahead of time, and being surprised as the story unfolds–at least when we’re talking movies or TV.
However, when it comes to retreat or event planning, I prefer NO surprises. I appreciate being able to predict the course of events, and to plan ahead for any contingencies or unforeseen glitches. Of course, we do try to anticipate potential problems and plan for them. But there are always “plot twists” — things that come up that are totally unpredictable and out of our control. A speaker gets ill at the last minute; the venue makes a last-minute change; the equipment doesn’t work or is incompatible; a skit prop doesn’t make it to the venue; or, at the very least, you have a bad hair day… You can pretty much count on something happening.
We’ve been there many times. My advice? Remember that what we consider a “plot twist” was ultimately orchestrated by our loving Father, who is in control. Do your best and commit the rest. These “plot twists” are not a surprise to Him. Sometimes I think God allows something unpredictable so that He can work in a new way in our midst, and then He will get the glory.
This week, I read a very interesting article in the magazine we get from our homeowners’ association. What the HOA president shared can be applied to us as we put together our women’s ministry leadership team. Our HOA is run by volunteers, and it is at this time of year that they start focusing on who will be on the Board for the next year. What do they look for? In the president’s words, they look for someone at the “intersection of Willingness and Capability.” There are plenty of capable people who are not willing; there are others who are willing, but have not proven their capability. Does that sound familiar? His answer? The best place to look is at those who are already serving.
When looking for potential leaders in your women’s ministry, it may be tempting to look at those women in your church with natural leadership abilities–strong, articulate and confident. But I suggest that one of the primary things you look for is one who is serving. Find those in your women’s ministry who have been proving themselves faithful in serving and in willingly submitting to authority.
Of course, there are other important qualifications to consider–choose carefully!
In no particular order, I want to share a few verses that have been particularly encouraging or challenging to me as a women’s ministry leader:
- I Corinthians 11:1: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Have you ever really considered the boldness of this statement that Paul made to the Corinthian church? As a Christian, it encourages me, and as a leader it challenges and convicts me. How would you feel about daily wearing a button or a t-shirt with those words on it? Would you want to hide when you were having a bad day, or when tasks were overwhelming or people were annoying you?
- I Corinthians 16:15b “…they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints….” Paul describes the household of Stephanas with the words “devoted to the ministry of the saints.” Another translations uses the word “addicted.” What a picture that paints…leaders who can’t stop serving even if they wanted to–they are obsessed with serving. They are hooked, and they can’t stop!
- John 15:5c: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” This is a good reminder to all leaders all the time, because our flesh always wants to get in the way. If we are not on guard all the time, it is easy to find ourselves doing things in our flesh, using our common sense and our own abilities instead of recognizing our need for Him.
- Galatians 6:9 “Don’t get weary in well-doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” This should be lodged in your memory, available at a moment’s notice, because (light-bulb moment)… ministry can be wearying. People can burn you out; needs can be overwhelming. Keep your eyes on the harvest.
- I Timothy 6:20a: “Guard what has been entrusted to your care.” We have responsibility for the souls in our care, and those souls are of great value to God.
- I Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The enemy of our souls, that great “Discourager” tirelessly works to convince you that your labor in the Lord is in vain. Are you going to believe him? We walk by faith and not by sight.
- Philippians 1:27a “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This verse reminds us of the high standards of conduct the Lord requires. Our women are watching, possibly more than you realize. They are watching how you handle problems and conflict, they are watching you handle disappointment and trials in your own life, they are watching what comes out of your mouth.
- Philippans 4:8 “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think on these things.” What we allow our minds to dwell on will sooner or later determine our actions and speech. It is a discipline leaders should take seriously, because our thoughts can be our downfall.
- Philippians 2:14-16a “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” Our world is obviously getting darker by the moment–but that is when our light shines brightest. We can be a light in a dark place as we continue to hold fast to the Word of life. Shine on!
- Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Just a reminder for all of us. We are privileged to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to serve others and give our lives for them.
One of our goals in women’s ministry is to serve and build up the women of our church body. As we plan for Bible studies and others women’s events for the coming year, we try to consider women in all stages and walks of life: younger women or older women; women who are single and those who are married; career women or stay-at-home moms; women with special needs, etc. As much as possible, we want our studies and events to be all-inclusive, open and applicable to all women. To that end, last year we added two regular Saturday morning events during the year, hoping to draw in those women who are unable to join us for events taking place during the week. Also, for that reason, the same women’s Bible study is offered both morning and evening to accommodate working women and stay-at-home moms. Our prayer is that the options available would draw in women “on the fringes.”
But at a recent leadership meeting, we were encouraged with this: “Work with what you have.” Yes, we want our women’s ministry to accommodate as many women as possible. We want to be continually drawing new women, helping them get excited about the Word of God and the fellowship and accountability of studying in a group setting with other women. We need to be inviting and encouraging women to attend. However, our focus should be on those who are coming, who have already shown their desire to grow spiritually by being there.
I think of Jesus, who ministered to all who came his way. But His efforts were centered on the 12 men the Father had given Him to disciple and prepare and raise up.
If God has given you five women who consistently attend your Bible study, work with them. Teach them. Disciple them. Encourage them. Concentrate on depth of ministry, not width. Work with what you have.
You may have noticed that my efforts to put out a weekly blog have fallen part in the last few months. Today, I’m going to take a little extra time to share my heart with you, my faithful readers, so please be patient with this longer-than-normal blog.
In February of this year, we lost our precious and irreplaceable pastor’s wife, Denise, who also was the heart and leader of the women’s ministry at our church. I, along with our women’s leadership team and so many others, have lost not only our leader and teacher, but an intercessor, prayer partner, mentor, friend and confidant. She is pictured and mentioned in the “about” section of the Retreat-in-a-Bag website, and was a huge supporter of our efforts to share what we have learned over the years of women’s ministry.
I have been called upon to step up and lead the women’s ministry, something that was never on my radar. While I hope that none of you ever go through a transition like this in your ministries, I want to share from my heart the tender ways that God has been ministering to us. Our loss was devastating, and all of our women’s leaders are still grieving; it would have been easy just to let things slide for a little while. Yet God has us moving “onward” despite the great hole left in our hearts.
May I share with you a few of God’s tender mercies to us during this time?
- Back in February, our women’s Bible study was finished our verse by verse study in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk had seen the coming devastation of his people and had remembered His past deliverance. He recognized that great loss was inevitable in his future. Do you remember how Habakkuk finishes his message? He declares that no matter what loss he faces, he will choose to rejoice in the Lord. He will move forward in faith and in God’s strength, not stuck in the valley but with deer’s feet on the high hills. These verses were a sweet and timely comfort and encouragement from the Lord to our ladies.
- Another mercy was His drawing together our leadership team in an even closer bond of love and support. When we gathered together, I looked around at a group of women who each had faced their own set of either health crises or difficult circumstances in the past year, and yet we drew together as one in our commitment to continue Denise’s loving legacy to our women’s ministry. That unity and support for one another was a tender mercy at a time when no doubt all of us felt that we had lost the wind beneath our sails.
- Back in February, we were also just beginning to plan for our annual fall women’s retreat. We had the retreat center reserved, but were in the process of praying about the speaker and theme. Out of the blue, we were given the sweet gift of a retreat theme, special speaker and worship leader being more or less “dropped” in our laps without effort on our part. As I think about this upcoming retreat “Deeper Still”, I have no doubt that this is God’s gift to our women during this difficult year–that in our sorrow, He is calling us to a deeper walk with Him.
- As I have been praying for direction for the women’s ministry studies and events for the remainder of this year, my quiet time has taken me through the Psalms and Proverbs. God spoke to my heart through an unexpected proverb–Proverbs 14:4, which says “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” The NLT records it like this: “Without an ox, the stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” In other words, if you don’t have an ox–sure, life will be easier in some ways; you won’t have to clean the stable and you’ll avoid the inconveniences and cost of caring for the needs of an ox. But weigh that against the advantage of having an ox that will bring much increase in the long run. What is God saying? In His tender way, I believe He is saying–Yes, you can keep your calendar clear and not schedule anything extra for your ladies. But consider the benefits and blessings-yes, even the harvest– you may be missing
Thanks for letting me share today. My testimony is that our God is faithful. He cares for you, and He cares for your ministry. Are you or your ministry going through a dark valley? He wants to minister to you in your dark hours. Look for those sparkling gems of God’s tender mercies!