The Director of Women’s Ministries
By Mary Phillips
Director of Women’s Ministries is a fairly new title. But it certainly does not describe a new role for women in ministry. Often the pastor’s wife has filled the role. At other times the work has been divided between staff members and the officers of the missionary society.
At this juncture of church life, I see several reasons for formalizing the position. First, the realities among us indicate a need for women to be named to this ministry. Numbers of abandoned women and children attend our churches. It is not always expedient or wise for a male minister to do the in-depth counseling which some of these women require. Occasionally, I am confronted with situations with which an ethical male pastor could not deal alone.
The feminist movement, with both its good and ugly parts, is not going to pass away. The women of the church must be given direction and support in their fight to maintain scriptural standards in their homes. 1 know of no pastors who have the time or specialized training to undertake a strong ministry to women. A pastor feels responsible for the whole of his congregation, and it certainly should be that way.
It has been standard practice for the church to engage specialists to minister in the areas of Christian Education, Youth, Music, Administration, and Visitation. To appoint a Director of Women’s Ministries would certainly be in keeping with this tradition, and would complement all other areas of ministry.
It is incumbent on those who are responsible for direction in the body of Christ that doors of ministry be opened to women whom God has called to full-time service. The direction of Women’s Ministries is a function to which the most ardent believer in “silent women” in the church should not take exception.
By making the above statement, I have no intention of relegating my sisters to a “women only” ministry. They should assume this position only if they feel direction from the Holy Spirit to work specifically with women. It should not be taken as a “next best’ ministry for a woman who has been called to preach or teach the Word.
As recruitment for male ministers wanes, women are filling the ministerial gap in numbers of denominations. They are not always greeted as messengers of the Lord, and perhaps, as is true about some male ministers, some of them should not be. The generalization is sometimes made which characterizes these women as domineering feminists or even lesbians. If they fail to fit into either category, they may be dismissed as misdirected do-gooders. It seems impossible to some people that God would choose a “normal” woman to do His work.
Scholars of integrity who approach the Scriptures and the historical record with intellectual honesty will confirm the fact that, when it comes to the subject of women in ministry, interpretative manipulation is not an unknown theological device.
Becoming indignant or defensive of one’s calling only confirms an opponent’s worst suspicions. The woman who has a ministry will find that her ministry makes way for itself, if she does not dissipate her energies in self-pity or recrimination. The church wants to hear the Word of God rightly divided, and it appreciates the preachers or teachers who study to show themselves approved. If a woman has a message from the Word, and an anointing of the Holy Spirit, people will soon forget the sex of the vessel from which the water of life is being poured.
It has been happening for years on the mission field where frequently the only messenger available has been a woman. There are those who would suggest that it is a quizzical rationale of some church administrations that they will soberly commend a woman to oversee a congregation of headhunters, but will deem it unscriptural for her to follow her calling in a more civilized environment.
Blessed is the church whose Director of Women’s Ministries can also deliver a good sermon. She is of double value in the work of the Lord. To the honor of that church and to the glory of God, may it be said that all of her gifts are welcomed.
The qualities which are described in the following paragraphs are not those which should be found uniquely in a Director of Women’s Ministries. They should be present in any individual who undertakes a public ministry. Usually, a woman who has measured the heavy weight of full-time ministry, and committed herself to training for it, has already “qualified.”
A person who actively wants people to like her will fit smoothly into any group. It is not pandering to the cult of personality to work at being likable. It is a practical fact of life that if someone likes me, they will listen to me. If they hear me, they will follow me.
In recent years a trend of thinking has developed wherein the right of the individual has become paramount. Being a team member has been viewed as a negation of one’s individualism. God does call each of His children individually, but He then asks them to become an integral part of His body.
Supportive staff members will always be frustrated unless they know that identification by hierarchical position is not the corporate pattern of the kingdom of God. He knows about our fragile egos, and He reserves those moments of elevation and elation for the times when they are most needed.
Being a team member requires an ability to give and take. People who enter ministry tend to be confident, strong-willed individuals who are accustomed to leading the team their way. It can be maddening to spend hours in planning, only to find at the next staff meeting that your plans are the ones which will have to be preempted. It is an abrasive test of one’s grace to be agreeable even when one does not agree. If one is flexible under such pressure, these “rubbing” experiences produce a refinement of one’s nature as few other things can!
A staff member is of little assistance to a pastor who has to continually be supportive of that staff member. By the time a woman has been appointed to a ministerial position, she no longer is viewed as a novitiate, but as a seasoned professional who is capable of performing her task with minimal direction. The Director of Women’s Ministries operates under the aegis of the pastor. and she will soon find that he is an invaluable advisor because he knows his flock. She initiates periods of consultation with him, and she keeps him informed about the activities in Women’s Ministries.
She should be a self-starter who is able to manage the details of her ministry without bothering the pastor with trivia. One woman learned that while the pastor was knowledgeable about many matters, ordering rolls for a luncheon he had asked her to plan for 50 people was not one of them.
Somewhat apprehensive about the amount of money she was spending, she called him to ask if she should have the ladies bake rolls or buy them.
Pastor: Why don’t you go ahead and buy them?
Director: All right. How many do you think I should buy?
Pastor: Excuse me; someone is on the other line. Now what was that? Oh, yes, why don’t you order 40 to 50 dozen?
Director: You want 40 to 50 dozen?
Pastor: Sure, it’s always good to have plenty.
Director: Well, if you really think so.
She still shudders as she recalls going from house to house, begging people to store bags of rolls in their freezers. She doesn’t know what the pastor had in mind, and she has no intention of giving him a reason to ask her why the church was billed for 500 dinner rolls.
A Director of Women’s Ministries should be a woman endowed with the dignity of self-containment. She does not have a compulsion to bare her soul at every provocation. All ministers go through times when personal problems seem overwhelming. The pastor and other staff members are glad to help their peers through the periods of emotional overload; but a staff member should not form the unhealthy habit of using colleagues as a surrogate therapy group. Usually, a Christian leader should be coping with her problems before the Lord. They that wait upon the Lord renew their strength (Isa. 40:31). The development of her own inner resources is essential so that she can minister with the confidence that her help has come from the Lord.
It is possible to have common sense without education. Unfortunately, the reverse of that has also been demonstrated. If a choice has to be made between the two, most of us would vote for common sense. It is with a hesitancy caused by this ambivalent judgment, and yet with the optimistic belief that the two qualities do eventually synthesize, that I discuss educational background.
A surface evaluation would reveal that a Director of Women’s Ministries would need to be knowledgeable in the Bible and in the areas of social service. I do not think experience can be completely substituted for training.
However well one has learned from experience, there are advantages to formal training which enhance as little else can.
Education provides a discipline that goes far beyond academic learning. The commitment to years of school, the meeting of deadlines for the classroom under pressure, learning to interact with persons of divergent opinions, learning to evaluate teachers and teachings, forcing one’s mind to grasp facts which lie “just out of reach,” expanding one’s personality to encircle a variety of acquaintances-these and still more are substantial ingredients of the educational process.
If one attends a Bible college or seminary I would recommend first priority to be given to Bible courses. Much of the Director’s time is spent in planning and teaching Bible classes. Some counseling courses are helpful, and this will be discussed further. Any class which produces a new scope of ministry is valuable. You will be certain to use that knowledge somewhere, sometime.
In addition to the broadening experience previously described, I am grateful for the training I received in sociology beyond my years in Bible college. It has aided me in coping with some difficult situations. Even more than the skills, my training has been beneficial in acquainting me not only with the operation but also with the possible services of social agencies. I am able to talk their language-and occasionally understand it. This has been invaluable in helping those who are in need of unusual social services.
At times I have been a witness at hearings in the matter of physical abuse. One needs only to have good eyesight to affirm that a woman or child has been beaten; but judges asked for my credentials, and seemed more receptive to my testimony because I had them.
Regarding educational requirements, young women sometimes ask, “How much psychology should I take?”
1 am not being facetious when I reply, “If you plan to be a Director of Women’s Ministries, take enough to let you know what you do not know. If you plan to be a Christian psychologist, then diligently pursue the professional standards of that field.” Psychologists are highly skilled specialists. While a minister should be knowledgeable in the field, it takes more than peripheral
training to become a practitioner.
Parishioners view ministers as men and women who know about God, about the Bible, and about living a victorious Christian life. When persons come to me for counseling, they are coming because they have the perception that their problem needs God’s help, and I am the one who can tell them how to get His help, if I keep that straight in my thinking, it is amazing how good God is at taking care of His part in the session.
I do not hesitate to refer people who have problems beyond the scope of my abilities to the proper professionals. In the areas of alcoholism, suicide, heavy drug addiction, severe mental illness, the fact that the person has contacted someone for help is a flashing red light that she is approaching a dangerous point, and may be in dire need of custodial protection.
Is that abandoning them to the “arm of flesh”? Absolutely not. A person in such a state is not in a frame of mind to absorb counseling. This is the time for the prayer warriors to begin intercession that the Holy Spirit will restore the individual to her right mind. In the meantime, she is going to be looked after by people who have the means, sometimes literally, to save her
What does a Director of Women’s Ministries do? A number of suggestions have already been made as to the specific possibilities that are open to and for the women of the church.
In going into a church which has an active women’s program in progress, enter softly. Observe and listen to the women involved. Your job is not to rock the boat so hard that the women go scrambling to the life rafts for escape. Move with sensitivity into the place where you are at the helm, steering the boat in the direction the Lord has indicated to you.
If you are starting from scratch, form a committee of women from every segment of the church. Ask them what they really would like to do. Share with them your ideas which you believe could be used effectively. Ask the ladies to commit a period of time in prayer each day for one week and then meet to begin formulating some tentative plans. Keep always in mind the balance to be
maintained between personal growth and outreach. Do not be too ambitious or move too quickly. Remember the ladies don’t yet know what you do, and it may be awhile before you do!
The church of Jesus Christ is always in a state of flux because it is a living, growing organism, and that should be the pattern for Women’s Ministries. Sense the need and look for ways to meet the need. When it has been met, don’t stand still eulogizing past accomplishments.
Even as I write this, I am asking the Lord for direction for our fall ministries. I sense there will be major changes. It makes the work exciting because certainly God’s plan for next year will embrace avenues of ministry which I have never before considered.
Directing Women’s Ministries can tend to make one “bossy.” Put six of the most competent cooks you know together in a church kitchen and you will see instant chaos if someone isn’t there to say, “Joan, mash the potatoes,” “Jean, mix the punch,” and then to further say, “Mash them with milk,” or “Mix it with water.”
“It wasn’t that we didn’t like each other,” Loretta laughed when explaining why she and her former housemate had moved into separate apartments. “We just couldn’t agree on how to do anything. I shook the flour with water for gravy. She browned it in the pan. And that’s the way everything went.”
Women are geared to run their households to suit themselves, and when they get together they need to be presented with a uniform plan of attack. A good system of approach is this.
– With your committee, fill out a master calendar of activities for the year. Put in every function such as weekly Bible studies and special occasions. Have the dates of major events from the church calendar already listed on your master. As you go through the year, assign a chairwoman for each function. Ask her to work out a tentative plan and choose a committee. When they have the thing well put together, they should meet with you. And the sooner, the better.
– Each month check your schedule for the next three months. Contact the committees who need to be contacted. One month before each event write a list of everything that will transpire and the person’s name who will take care of it. For example: Greeting and name tags-Louise and Marilyn. Leave no task up in the air. Run through the program several times in your mind hunting for
details which may have been overlooked.
– Call a committee meeting and go over the assignments. Have your thinking done before the meeting. This is not the time to say, “Now what do you think we should do!” Your committee women are busy people who have probably taken time from their families to be present. Keep the meeting short and to the point. Only changes and refinements of the program should be
considered at this meeting.
Effective organization is the prerequisite for getting things done and keeping the peace in women’s functions. The most important benefit is that it allows the director to delegate responsibilities and lets other women know exactly what it is that they are to do. You can undertake more ministry if you know how to organize and delegate.
If you are the Director of Women’s Ministries, you will often act as liaison between your women and the pastor and administrative body of the church, and between your women and the community at large. Everything you do in your role as Director of Women’s Ministries should reflect the philosophy of the pastor. If you cannot enthusiastically endorse his approach to the
ministry, hand in your resignation as soon as possible. It is not your place to straighten him out or to become a sounding board for malcontents. Leave as gracefully as you can before you are made a rallying point for divisive elements.
Should such dissension be made known to you, immediately share it with the pastor. Undoubtedly, he will be aware of it already and be in the process of handling the matter, but he should know where you stand in your loyalty to him.
These instances are rare. The pastor has hired you because he wanted you and needed you; this also applies to the members in charge of church administration. They want you to be successful. You are ministering to their wives. In my many years of directing women’s activities, I do not recall having a church council veto any plan or request. Often they have been generous beyond my expectations. I have been touched many times by the concern of men who I did not think knew what my work was all about.
In the community you will need to know about the social services available, about the medical services, about places you can go for discounts, about facilities available. Perhaps you will need to know people in the fields of law and justice. It takes time to develop these contacts, but as the occasion presents itself, pursue friendly relations. Perhaps you can take someone to lunch or coffee. Most people are willing to share their knowledge.
Even if they cannot help you, they may know someone who can.
Don’t give up on the bureaucracy! Hamstrung as it is, you really can get from A to Z if you stick with it. With a woman who had been blind from childhood, I went through a four-year struggle to get her childhood disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. After filling out reams of forms, consulting lawyers who said it was not worth our while to retain them, 1 decided to study the bulky file myself. In searching through it, 1 found a faded paper nearly 40 years old which indicated that the denial had been based on a telephone evaluation. While the case was somewhat more complex, this was the pivotal point for a rehearing, a change of decision, and a reasonable retroactive payment.
People who are elderly or handicapped have great difficulty cutting the red tape. The workers at welfare agencies do not have all the information at their disposal: The files are kept in centers far removed from the local office, and workers cannot devote enough time to each client to search for needed data. Both the client and the agency can use a third party acting as an advocate.
Perhaps as much as 50 percent of your time will be spent in counseling.
Regardless of your background, don’t let it frighten you. You are a thinking person, and you have the mind of Christ (l Cor. 2:16).
A young pastor’s wife called, “Mary, do you think you could take this girl in for counseling?” When I asked why she didn’t do it, she replied that she was afraid she would tell her the wrong thing.
Chances are, she would not have. But even if she had, it probably would not have been a mistake of great consequence. Everyone gives wrong advice at times. I have been given wrong advice by people who rank in profession from auto mechanics to lawyers. Do not allow such apprehension to cause you to avoid this area of ministry.
Seventy-five percent of counseling is listening, letting the individual get it all out. I used to take people through the formal process of counseling, but discovered that after we had reached the logical conclusion and the solution had been spelled out in three easy steps, people quite often decided to do “their own thing.”
It seems that the easiest approach to counseling is together listing the options possible, even if they seem ludicrous, and then by a process of elimination, selecting the one that most closely corresponds to scriptural principles. We pray together that God will bless with His confirmation on the decision, and if it is right, that the Holy Spirit will begin to work in the individuals concerned to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). If it is not the best decision, we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us to the right one.
This may sound over simplistic, but it has been tremendously therapeutic for me! I no longer grind through all those building sessions, only to see their classic structure blown to bits when a woman goes her own way. As to effectiveness, I really think the success ratio is better these days, and I have free time to give to other ministries.
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.”