Ministries in the Church
Mary L. Phillips
There is a market in our town that is known for having the lowest prices for miles around. It carries a good line of products. But, it seldom gets my business, for I dislike shopping there. The place’ is run-down, the merchandise is messy and the help is indifferent.
Some churches are like that. The message is sound. The preaching is good, but there is an obvious lack of care for facilities or organization.
While the ministries described in this chapter may not be ones that give occasion for grand, triumphant testimonies, they are the kinds of ministries that enhance and grace the work of a good pastor and church. They often make the difference in whether a visitor will become a contented “customer” or only an occasional “shopper” in a church.
Support of Mission Projects
Most missionary circles are governed by the needs of the missionaries which their denomination or individual church supports. It will not be my purpose to suggest other programs, but to strongly encourage you to follow this supportive ministry to the church around the world.
In my denomination, the women have built what amounts to a warehouse (a rather nice one) where all the local groups can send contributions of goods or cash. The missionaries are able to select whatever their field requires, both for themselves and for their churches. Everything from Tupperware to movie projectors is housed in the center, and if an item needs to be purchased the funds are available. Bales of clothing and supplies are sent when emergencies arise in any part of the world.
The function of this center is not unusual. What may be unique is that the enterprise was built and is maintained by the penny-a-day and dime-folder offerings of its membership.
We then became concerned that while our missionaries were well cared for we often overlooked the needs of pastors at home. A household supply center was provided in our area office where new items could be brought to furnish and maintain a home. If a pastor’s wife wants to redo the parsonage bathroom, she is now able to come to the center for her selection and does not have to use her precious grocery money for that purpose. This is immensely helpful to young ministers who work in pioneer or mission endeavors.
We are also in contact with North American Indian ministries. These people work very hard to be self-sustaining, but occasionally bad weather or other elements beyond their control put them in need of emergency help. Warm clothing, blankets, layettes, and other items are provided both on a regular basis and as special needs arise.
With the influx of thousands of Asian and Cuban refugees, women’s groups around the country have found a fertile field for evangelism. The East Hill Church of Gresham, Oregon has provided homes for many refugee families. The churchwomen have daily gone to the refugee homes to teach the women English, to teach them how to use their appliances, to teach them how to shop and cook with American food. Most importantly, they have provided a haven for women whose lives have been ravaged. It was a thrilling experience last Mother’s Day to visit the Vietnamese service held concurrent with the regular morning service. Except for the language difference, the beaming flower-bedecked women appeared to be just another group of Christian women joyfully worshiping the Lord with their families.
A Share Center is a place to which one person brings good, used clothing; and another person, regardless of financial situation, can take it. It is in reality an exchange center, mostly for beautiful children’s clothing that has been outgrown.
While the idea sounds practical on paper, such a center is not easily maintained unless it is carefully organized. Without strict guidelines, it can become a “dumping” center. It requires a large room with racks on which clothing can be hung by size, and a supervisor who is willing to give several hours a week to oversee donations.
To donate, a person must bring the clothing clean and ready for wear. The items should be on hangers and placed on the appropriate rack. Any boxes left at the door will automatically be donated to one of the benevolent societies. When we first undertook such a center, we were swamped with boxes of clothing which took days to sort. We had to dispose of several boxes of unwearable items.
This is a convenience ministry that needs space and organization. It is especially useful if there are many young families in the church. The room is left open for people to browse and take what they need. If a family, in or out of the church, is in need of clothing which we do not have in stock, we put out a special call to the various women’s groups. In this way we can collect the required sizes.
Our first commissary started out in the janitor’s closet of our first little church. We kept two boxes filled with canned and dried goods. During the 1960s when a lot of young people were on the move and often hungry, our church in California filled the bottom kitchen shelves with food to give out. In both instances, we kept a fund to buy milk, bread, and meat to supplement the canned goods. Sad as the plight may be, we found it was not always wise to give the person money. Even when there were small children involved, the money often did not go for groceries.
Our current church is a thriving one. It has space and money set aside for commissary activities. One section of cupboards is kept filled with the donations of canned and dried goods. A large freezer is filled with donations of meat, fish, bread, and other freezables. These supplies are open to anyone who needs them. They can help themselves at any time. It may be someone in dire need or it may be someone who has run short. They are welcome to our excess. During gardening season, produce is often stacked high with sacks made available to anyone.
Although it does not come under the jurisdiction of Women’s Ministries, the church also has a supplemental benevolent fund. The administrator is able to give up to $100 in financial aid to a person in need. At times of illness and crisis, this has sometimes stretched into a sizable contribution.
Are we taken advantage of? Perhaps at times, but in the long run we don’t think so. The larder is usually full. When that housewife who ran short gets a bargain, she will replace what she has taken. Our benevolent fund periodically receives donations from persons who are “repaying” even though no strings were originally attached to the gifts. It seems there is a sobriety about receiving help in the name of the Lord. Rather than being depleted by Christian generosity, we are abundantly reimbursed.
If I were a pastor, the first thing I would do is establish a strong Deaconess Board with a sharp, efficient Head Deaconess. The name and the organizational structure may change with the denomina¬tional affiliation. Whatever they are called, they are the homemakers of the church, the ones who look to the housekeeping and hospitality. The number on the board will reflect the size and activities of the church. Even in a small, moderately active church, the functions described in the following paragraphs would need to be covered. if the church is small, one or two ladies can handle each assignment. If the church is large, a committee with a chairwoman should be assigned to each function. Whether they are elected or appointed, it is always an advantage to have more than enough to fill in at busy times. This is a wonderful ministry to make available to women who have been blessed with good homemaking skills.
These ladies in a literal sense become the hostesses of the church. One of the responsibilities assigned the Head Deaconess is to enlist a sufficient number of persons to greet all arrivals at Sunday and special services. As often as possible she asks deaconesses and their husbands. In addition to giving out bulletins to the regulars, they welcome guests, ask them to sign the register, direct them to the children’s facilities if necessary, and introduce them to the usher for seating. The welcoming ministry of this group has an inestimable effect on the establishment of rapport between the guest and the rest of the church.
In other ways, the deaconesses act as hostesses for the church. They arrange special fellowship functions for the congregation. When there are special pulpit guests such as evangelists, missionaries, or entertainers, the Deaconess Board may be asked to arrange for meals and housing. When there is a change in pastors, they see to it that the new pastor is welcomed in practical ways—the parsonage is in readiness and help is available for the moving process. In some churches, they are responsible for remembering the pastoral family and staff on special occasions.
While large churches generally have custodial services, it is not unusual for these ladies to do some of the physical cleaning of the church. The deaconess, regardless of her committee assignment, is to be constantly on the alert to see that the church is presentable. If there is something that she can take care of on the spot, she is to consider it her place to do so. If it is not possible for her to remedy the matter, she is asked to report it to a staff member or the Head Deaconess. It is not unusual to find a deaconess wiping off a splattered mirror or wash basin during a busy Sunday morning.
Commissaries and share centers have been discussed at length, but are mentioned here again because the supervision of them seems to naturally fit into the responsibilities of the Deaconess Board.
1. Communion committee. This committee prepares and, if necessary, purchases the elements for Communion. It works closely with the pastor and communion board. After the service, they wash the communion holders, glasses, and linen. A recent boon to this tedious task is disposable glasses. If regular glasses are used, they should be sterilized as much as possible. This means washing and rinsing them in very hot water containing disinfectant and then letting them drain dry on clean paper toweling. The church mouse still lives, and loves communion bread. An airtight plastic container is a good idea for storage.
It is a matter of respect for the elements being served that the linen on the communion table be worthy of the honor. No matter what the sentiment, frayed, dingy cloths should be replaced. A remembrance of our Lord deserves the finest, whitest, best pressed linens we can offer.
2. Decorations committee. It is my personal view that plastic flowers are near sacrilege in the house of the Lord! The beauty and life to be found in Jesus is not represented by a piece of yellow plastic stamped in a factory to imitate a rose. Realistically, I understand that some churches cannot afford florist arrangements, and that flowers do not bloom in gardens in January, but the enterprising committee will find a way to bring beauty to the worshipers.
Living plants don’t grow well in dark, cold sanctuaries, but they can be brought from home for the Sunday service. A living plant with vials inserted to hold a few florist flowers can brighten the gloomiest winter day. Dried flowers can be attractive—at least they once lived! Green boughs and fall leaves can be artistically arranged.
One deaconess planted her garden with the church altar and foyer in mind. Her flowers graced the church from early spring until late fall. Her “vines” always seemed to blossom long before and after her neighbors’.
In some churches it is customary on Christmas and Easter to ask members to bring their poinsettias or lilies. On a recent Easter, one pastor preached his sermon from a virtual field of lilies.
3. Baptismal committee. The work of this committee will de¬pend on the pastor and the mode of baptism in the particular church. In a church where baptism is by immersion, the women of this committee see that towels, baptismal robes, and a bathrobe (in case someone forgets a change) are available. They go to the dressing room with the women and assist them to and from the baptistry. If there is cleanup or washing to be done afterward, they take care of it.
4. Kitchen committee. Every housewife knows that the hardest and dirtiest work takes place in the kitchen. When a church kitchen is used for preparing everything from early Sunday morning breakfasts to sit-down dinners, it gets wear and tear that would challenge the most efficient home economist.
There is probably no way to keep a church kitchen in top condition and yet available for all groups of the church. Three controls can make the task somewhat more manageable:
• Keys are issued only to the people who are responsible for the kitchen.
• An appointment is made to use the kitchen. The person in charge of the function signs the register and is given the key.
• The person is given a checkout list which says what must be done before the kitchen is locked—the dishes put away, the used tea towels taken for washing, the floor swept, the counters cleared, the stoves and ovens wiped clean, the appliances turned off, no leftovers in the refrigerator.
Whatever you require for a clean kitchen can be added to the list. If the group using the kitchen does not comply with the checklist, they are asked to go back for touch-up work. Should there be repeated violations, the Deaconess Board will consider taking away the privilege from that group. In most cases when the kitchen is left untidy, it is not because people are unwilling to clean it, but rather because they think someone else will.
This committee is in charge of stocking the necessary supplies and equipment. Refrigerators, stoves, and cabinets must have a thorough cleaning periodically, and the committee can make it a joint project using extra volunteers if necessary.
5. Nursery committee. “A nursery is a clean attractive place where infants and toddlers can be left with the assurance that they will be safe and well cared for while the mothers are in a church service.”
That is an accepted definition of a church nursery, but far from a description of some of them. They are used as storage rooms, social rooms for the mothers, and punishment rooms for unruly older children—”You go to the nursery if you can’t behave!” The church leadership has to decide whether or not it really wants a nursery and then stick by its decision—and its deaconesses.
As in many other things with which a pastor’s wife becomes involved, I first investigated church nurseries at my husband’s request. He could no longer tolerate the distraction of the crying babies and the parade of parents in the sanctuary.
“Mary,” said he, “find out why those mothers are not taking their children to the nursery!”
The mystery was solved with one Sunday morning visit. While the room appeared clean, the crib mattresses were filthy and the sheets had not been changed for some time. The toilet did not work properly, and only cold water was coming through the faucets. Because there was no changing table, the beds were used for that purpose. The place was filled with chatting mothers who had brought the rest of their children with them. Care was on a volunteer basis and that day the volunteer was sick. The mothers had to be assured that they could leave their babies in a safe, clean place before relief would come for the harassed pastor.
With little expense, but much hard work, the room was totally renovated. The bathroom was put in working order. A changing table that could be sterilized was added. We asked for donations of enough sheets to change the cribs after each baby. Disposable diapers and other products were donated so the babies could be changed as often as needed. Pigeonholes were built for the babies’ bags, and each bag was tagged with a number that matched the one placed on the baby. Except for a rocker to be used by a nursing mother or the attendant, all the adult-sized furniture was removed, and with a few reminders, the adults were also removed. It was a simple arrangement, but one that could be controlled and kept clean.
As you will see from the instruction list that follows, we set high standards for our attendants, and we believe they deserve to be paid. This is a case of getting what you pay for. We consider it a job for the attendant, and she is given her list of instructions at the time of her employment.
Soon after the renovation of the nursery, the mothers’ darlings were no longer challenging the pastor. Some of the mothers (and a few fathers) who had looked forward to their social hour in the nursery were temporarily unhappy, but the compliments rolled in to our deaconesses from members of the congregation who could worship, uninterrupted by crying babies and traveling parents.
Quite by accident we discovered a happy bonus had come with our new nursery. A small speaker had been placed in the nursery so the attendants could keep track of what was going on in the sanctuary. Our nursery supervisor observed that when babies who had not previously seen the pastor were brought to him for dedication, they would often smile as if he were an old friend. It occurred to her that indeed he was not a stranger, but a friendly voice they had heard over the speaker. From that time, we have placed low level speakers in our nursery rooms. We believe the sounds of worship provide an early bonding, assuring even infants that they are in a place of loving care.
As the church grew, an added benefit of organizing while still on a small scale was that it enabled us to easily expand the facilities. We had learned the hard lessons when only a few children were affected.
INSTRUCTIONS TO NURSERY ATTENDANTS
Dear Nursery Workers:
Working in the nursery is a very important and real ministry to the church. You are providing a service which allows parents to be released to worship God.
The love and care you give the children will have a lasting effect on both the parent and the child. It is important that the first feelings of an infant placed in the care of our nursery be those of love and security. We are thankful for your willingness to be a part of these formative hours in the spiritual lives of these children.
There are some things which we want to point out so that our children are given the best care possible. If you do not understand the rationale behind the requirements, or if you have ideas for doing something better, please talk to the nursery supervisor. She is always anxious to discuss ways to better this ministry.
1. Be prompt. You should check in 15 minutes before the service. If for any reason you will be late or unable to come, call the supervisor or church office immediately. Please don’t leave your position uncovered.
2. Upon arrival, wash your hands and put on your smock. Remember to put on your name tag. If you are in the toddler room change from street shoes to slippers.
3. Check to see that all the beds have been changed from the last session.
4. If paper or litter is on the floor, pick it up. If necessary, use the carpet sweeper.
5. When a child arrives, write his name on the check-in sheet and tag his bag. You will record each diaper change on this sheet. Please keep the record faithfully.
6. Change diapers often. This is one of the complaints we receive from mothers if it is not done. By following your checklist of babies, you will not miss one.
7. Be pleasant and cheerful at all times. The children are sometimes frightened by being left in a strange environment. They need your comfort. Never raise your voice or yell at the children. If you will keep your voice low but firm, and speak in a loving manner, you will find the children usually respond.
8. Do the best you can in not allowing a child to cry unneces¬sarily. A crying child disturbs the other children. if you cannot quiet the child after a reasonable time, call for the mother.
9. If you suspect the child is ill, call for the mother immediately, and ask her to take the child out of the nursery. We do not want to expose the other children to any contagious illness, and of course, the child will be more comfortable with his mother.
10. Try to keep the children tidy. Keep the running noses wiped as much as possible.
11. No one but nursing mothers are allowed beyond the reception door. This is a matter of cleanliness for our toddlers. If adults must come in, ask if they will remove their street shoes.
12. No two babies are ever to use the same bed sheet. Reserve the same crib for each infant during any one service. If the child leaves—not to return—change the sheet for the next occupant.
13. No snack food is allowed in the infant nursery. Toddlers may be given only what their mothers provide. Don’t save cups. They should be disposed of after each drink.
14. When preparing to leave, strip the beds and put on clean sheets. Change the pad on the changing table and spray it with disinfectant. Wash all the toys that were used, in hot water with some Lysol added. Rinse and let drain in the sink container. You will save work by taking only a few toys out at a time as the children need them.
15. Every other Sunday evening put the linen service outside the nursery door for pickup. Always count the sheets to make sure the proper number are in the bag. We are charged for the missing ones.
16. Record your time in the record book. Your check will be issued on the basis of the hours recorded.
Our Love and prayers are with you,
The Nursery Committee
6. Brides and babies committee. You may have to go along with the local custom when it comes to honoring brides and babies. If bridal and baby showers are equitably and enthusiastically sup¬ported, you have no problem.
What I saw as out of keeping with the noncompetitive Christian community spirit that we encouraged in our church was a disparity in the way the girls were honored. If it were someone from a highly visible family, the showers were a smashing success. If the girl was little known with no family, the shower guests often turned out to be the deaconess committee, a few personal friends, and the pastor’s wife.
After much prayerful consideration, the committee took a big leap—they decreed that there would be no more church showers. The deaconess committee would give a suitable wedding or baby gift in the name of the church. If the girl had many acquaintances she would be adequately honored by them. If the friends did want to give a shower, we carefully avoided having anyone in an official capacity involved with the sponsorship.
We braced ourselves for the hue and cry, and there was none.
“I’m so glad you made that decision,” one old-timer confided. “I am showered to death. If I go to one, I feel guilty if I don’t go to the next one.”
7. Ministry to the sick. Occasionally someone is so sick they cannot care for themselves or their household, and they may have no family to turn to. In that event this committee moves in to cook, clean, wash clothes, and if necessary baby-sit the patient and her children. Several times older women living alone have needed this care for prolonged periods. The deaconesses sign up for shifts.
During a recent flu epidemic an entire family became seriously ill. Many of the deaconesses were also ill or had families who were. When the usual women were called to help, each promised that she would find someone to take her place. One sent her husband, another called a friend, and I volunteered for the last one. The husband substitute cleaned, the friend washed clothes, and I cooked. I’m sure we were a blessing to the family, but the experience became a rewarding morning for three unlikely volunteers who found that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do” it can be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31 NASB).
Sending flowers or other items to the hospitalized members of the church family becomes the responsibility of this committee if it is not handled by the church office. The hospitalized person receives at least two visits from the church. In addition to the regular pastoral visit, another visitor goes with the bouquet to see if anything needs to be done for the person or her family.
If the occasion is the birth of a new baby, the deaconess in charge of the Cradle Roll takes the flowers and the first folder welcoming the child. Some hospital stays are short for new mothers, and if the deaconess cannot go to the hospital, she visits as soon as possible in the home.
8. Ministry to the bereaved. We recently attended the opening of a Friendship Room at a mortuary. The directors are men who are continually alert to better serve the bereaved.
“We have found one of the most therapeutic things that can happen to a family is the gathering of friends and loved ones over a meal,” the owner explained. The room is equipped with complete eating and lounge facilities which can be used for such gatherings.
Taking meals to the family has long been a European tradition and is standard procedure in many places in America. Of course, the family should be consulted as to its desires. Do they want a meal? Should it be served in a home or would they like it served in the fellowship hall of a church? Whom would they like to have included? Would they like you to extend the invitations or do they prefer to do this themselves?
Several times a family has requested that everyone attending the funeral be invited. Whatever their wishes, the deaconess committee has been able to rise to the occasion because of the development of one of the most valuable possessions of the Deaconess Board—the Green Book. (It is green in our case because the purchaser chose that color.) It is a loose leaf that lists the name and phone number of every woman who has said she would contribute food at such times. It is divided into vertical columns. At the top of the column will be the notation “Jones funeral-2/ 20/ 76” and down the column across from the names will appear notations of either S, M, B, or D (salad, main dish, bread, dessert) under the date the woman has contributed.
The ladies will not be asked again until all on the list have been called. It is simple bookkeeping, but it divides the work. For the keeper of the book, ask someone who has time and enjoys making telephone contacts.
If flowers are not ordered by the church office, it becomes this committee’s responsibility to see that they are ordered for the funeral. Sometimes the deceased has not been personally connected with the church, but was a close family member of someone in the church. It is a loving gesture to send a floral arrangement or take an edible gift (a cake or fruit arrangement) to the home of the family on behalf of the church.
9. Wedding committee. This committee has taken a great deal of the frustration out of weddings for the bride, the family, and the pastor.
When a couple contacts the church office to make wedding arrangements, they are referred to the pastor to set up counseling, rehearsal, and wedding dates. They are then referred to the Head Deaconess who gives them a list of the charges and goes over the plans with them. It is up to the administration of the church to set such charges. While most churches try to keep them minimal for their members, there is expense involved in making the facilities available. A sample wedding cost worksheet is included at the end of this section.
The Head Deaconess contacts the reception coordinator and the rehearsal coordinator to set aside these dates. The reception coordi¬nator will go over the plans with the bride to find out how she wants the reception handled. If the reception is not to be prepared or served by the deaconess committee, we still require that two deaconesses be present. They know the facilities and care for them in a responsible way. If the reception is to be served by the deaconesses, the coordinator calls the women and assigns the work areas. She has a checklist that covers the entire operation—setup, preparation, service, replenishing, and cleanup. The goal is to be so gracious and efficient that the reception moves effortlessly.
The coordinator keeps the lines moving and directs the other ladies in their duties, and she is ready for emergencies. If the punch brought by the bride runs out, she has concentrate which can be quickly mixed. If the napkins run low, she has a supply of plain white ones. If one of the serving friends doesn’t show up, one of her ladies can step in. This is why we ask our deaconesses to dress in keeping with the formality of the wedding.
At one wedding the top figurine for the elegant cake did not arrive. The coordinator snipped flowers and ferns from several baskets of flowers and arranged a small nosegay to cover the unfrosted tier. By adding touches of flowers and ferns on other tiers, she produced an amazingly well-designed look. Another coordinator, who saw that the wedding cake would not serve an unexpected number of guests, pulled a birthday sheet cake from the freezer, lifted off the inscription, cut it into serving portions, and by the time the wedding cake was gone, the pieces were defrosted—almost.
A recommendation which should be followed by everyone working in wedding receptions is that they visit a caterer or fine baker for a lesson in handling and cutting a wedding cake. It is a skill that is simple to master. Knowing how to do this properly can make the difference between serving a gooey mess and preserving the beauty of a cake for which the bride has paid a good price.
The rehearsal coordinator establishes the order of the service with the couple and the pastor. She gives typed copies to the pastor and the musicians. On the night of the rehearsal, she shows the members of the wedding party where they will be dressing or waiting. She then directs the entrance of the procession.
On the day of the wedding, she distributes the flowers. She sees that the license is signed by all parties and is given to the pastor. If Communion is being served, she prepares the elements. A silver or crystal glass and plate set on a small table within convenient reach of the pastor is a nice way to handle this. If the popular single candle lighting ritual is to be followed by bride and groom, she double checks to see that matches are on the stand. She is the one who gives the signal to begin when all is in readiness, and then she directs the bridal procession.
Like the reception coordinator, she is ready for emergencies. She has an extra pen if the fancy one at the guest book doesn’t work. She has a sewing kit and lots of pins for unexpected mending. She has a first aid kit for cuts. At one wedding she became a candle lighter, when it was found at the last minute that the young boy chosen was too short to reach the top candles. She walked down the aisle with him, and it looked as if it were planned that the young man do only the lower candles.
These coordinators should be women with good taste and finely honed instincts. They need to be completely flexible. It’s not their wedding. They need to know how to calm nervous, weeping, or angry people. Weddings can sometimes bring out the worst in a family. The coordinators should be happy women who really enjoy what they are doing.
There are books available which give direction for all sorts of weddings. I suggest that the Deaconesss Board ask the church to purchase these so they can be a permanent source of reference. Some churches send their coordinators to schools designed for this purpose. Wherever the coordinator gains her information, she should remember that the bride has the last word. It is her occasion. It shouldn’t be ruined for her by someone making her feel it isn’t being done quite right. The day for that kind of rigidity is gone. If the
coordinator does have suggestions to make, they should be given very gently. The coordinator can do much to add peace and tranquility to this sacred occasion.
None of the deaconesses is paid for her labor at weddings. The money that comes into their fund is spent in maintaining and improving their service. This involves the purchase of silver coffee and tea servers, candelabra, kneeling rails, items for the bride’s ready room.
I have been at weddings in cemeteries and in forests. I have been to rigidly formal affairs and ones so casual the guests sang along with the musicians. I’ve been to some sad ones. At all of them, I have sensed an urgency to pray that in this time when statistics are against the marriage succeeding, the Spirit of God would be so pervasive in His presence that long after the wedding the couple will remember that their vows were said not only in the presence of earthly witnesses, but before the heavenly Father. This is the prayer of all the ladies who minister to the young couples of our church.
The above article, “Ministries in the Church” was written by Mary L. Phillips. The article was excerpted from chapter 10 in Phillips book, Reaching Women.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”