A note from Kelly King: As Cynthia Hopkins shares in today’s article, your ministry “success” or “wellness” may not be based on the right criteria. Instead of focusing on numbers, how are the women in your church being discipled? How are women not just reading God’s Word but applying it and putting it into practice? There’s a lot of wisdom today, so take a few moments and let Cynthia’s words sink in.
A few years ago, I joined a gym. As an added bonus, by joining that gym I received one free session with a personal trainer. I knew this was about them trying to sell me the services of someone far more dedicated to physical fitness than I am, but it was free, and I’ve always wanted to be able to use the phrase, “My personal trainer,” in a sentence, even if only for a day. So I went.
It’s hard to remember how it all went down exactly, because about 10 minutes into the workout with my personal trainer my mouth got dry, I became dizzy, and I began to feel a tiny bit nauseated. My personal trainer told me my face had changed to a sort of whitish hue, and she wanted to know what I had eaten that morning. She also asked me how much water I normally drink. She seemed overly concerned about hydration, which I thought was strange because I know for a fact I’d had at least three and maybe even four Coke Zeroes the day before.
In my dehydrated defense, I had told my personal trainer in our preworkout talk what a sedentary lifestyle I live. I’m a writer and sometimes sit at the computer for hours on end, only getting up in favor of the Chick-fil-A drive thru.
But it must have been tricky for her. Genetics gave me sort of a lean frame. Add to that my spunky workout clothes, sunny disposition, and strong (although brief) showing on the leg press, and at first glance, I might have seemed somewhat fit.
I was not fit. My personal trainer overestimated my physical condition based on appearance. That’s where she went wrong.
Spiritually speaking, the same thing can happen. In ministry to women, we tend to think that if events are well attended and no one is complaining, then we’re in good shape. It’s deceiving. It’s one of Satan’s best tricks if you think about it—to make us think we we’re doing just fine.
Our goal isn’t to maintain an appearance of spiritual health but to genuinely become and develop spiritually healthy disciples. One important role of a women’s ministry leader, then, is to look a little deeper.
Consider the following five practical steps as ways to help you do that.
Answer the right question. Jen Wilkin once tweeted, “The first step to building a sustainable women’s ministry: Change your starting question from, ‘What do our women want to do?’ to ‘How are healthy disciples formed?’ Then align your women’s ministry philosophy and practice with the overall discipleship strategy of the church.”
Invite input from other church leaders. It’s difficult to align your philosophy and practice with the overall discipleship strategy of the church if the ministry you lead operates, whether real or perceived, as a silo. Avoid even the perception of an isolated women’s ministry by regularly engaging with ministry leaders in other areas to broaden your perspective and to discover how you can come alongside church-wide spiritual goals and emphases.
Pay attention to trends. When we learn, for example, that churchgoers who build relationships with other believers often do so without helping them grow in their faith, we should consider the likelihood of that reality among the women we lead, as well.1 General knowledge about trends in Christianity and culture help us think critically about our own faith practices. Further, it allows us to see areas where the appearance of spiritual health might be keeping us from authentic growth as disciples.
Survey women. Every women’s group at every church has its own footprint. If you want to find specific direction for your particular group, learn their patterns of movement. A survey is a helpful tool. Consider giving the women you lead the following questions to answer anonymously:
- Do you have someone in your life who is a spiritual mentor to you?
- Do you have someone in your life who holds you accountable as a follower of Christ?
- Are you engaged in daily prayer and Bible study?
- Is there a secret sin you’re currently struggling with?
- Is there a difficult situation you’re currently struggling with?
- Do you feel personally connected to other women at (name of your church)?
- Are you currently serving the church in some capacity?
- Have you shared the gospel with an unbeliever in the past three months?
- Is there someone whose salvation you’re currently praying for?
Affirm good growth and encourage new growth. After one such survey, a women’s ministry leader learned that the vast majority of women in her church were committed to daily personal Bible study and prayer. It was reason to celebrate! At the same time, they seemed to be struggling with the application of God’s Word and prayer to public life. They were feeling largely disconnected from other believers, wrestling with secret sins, and were rarely sharing the gospel with unbelievers. That information compelled group leaders to prayerfully encourage the formation of discipling partners. All women of the church were challenged to meet a minimum of twice a month with one or two other women for six months for the purposes of connection, accountability, and discipleship. They didn’t need to offer an additional Bible study class at that time; they needed to foster and deepen connections and to encourage one another in areas of needed growth.
My physical health wasn’t the responsibility of my one-session personal trainer, and the spiritual health of women’s ministry isn’t yours. At the same time, God has placed you in a leadership role for a reason, and it’s not to simply find and maintain some semblance of spiritual health. Instead, prayerfully invite God to equip and embolden you to foster and encourage authentic growth among His disciples.
Cynthia Hopkins is a writer, speaker, and the founder of Platform 320, a nonprofit ministry for women. Cynthia has been writing articles, Bible studies, and devotions for LifeWay for 20 years, and serves as content editor for smallgroup.com. She is the author of “What Now?” a 30-day book of devotions for students, and “Side By Side,” team-building devotions for the Gospel-centered workplace. Through Platform 320, Cynthia leads multi-church women’s retreats, ministry wives retreats, and women’s mission endeavors. Her husband Clay is the associate pastor at their church, FBC College Station, TX. They have two young adult children, Brandon and Abby.