Volunteer Women’s Leaders
Mary L. Phillips
The quality of Women’s Ministries will depend upon the quality of leadership. While some churches are able to employ a Director of Women’s Ministries, most churches depend on the pastor’s wife or a strong lay leader to develop group teachers and leaders.
A number of fine books have been written about the qualifications for leadership, and it would be well to read these before selecting women to head up any church activities. There are five leadership “ingredients” which should be considered basic. The lack of any one of them in a leader can produce, at the least, hard feelings; and at the most, division and strife.
* A leader should be “seasoned,” a woman of stable Christian experience. No matter how talented a weak Christian is, she will not be strengthened by being loaded down with responsibility inappropriate to her level of maturity.
* A leader must have a high standard of spirituality. She can lead others only to the level of spiritual life she knows. While this is an obvious truth, it is easy to capitulate to pressure when a person of long standing in the church, or of winsome personality, desires the recognition that goes with being a leader.
* A leader must be mature. Maturity does not mean old age! A mature leader is not a person devoid of emotions; but she is someone who has learned to hide her disappointment, accept disagreement (and disagreeableness), and control her anger until it is safe to vent it without sinning.
* A leader must be cooperative. Submission has become a distasteful word to some women, but it is a biblical principle not only for women. We are all to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21, NIV). A woman who will not cooperate with her leadership, who is not respectful to her own husband, is a rebel who will stir up trouble wherever you use her. If we were to carry Samuel’s idea that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (I Sam. 15:23) to its extreme extension, we could paraphrase, “You might as well have a witch in charge of your group as appoint a rebellious leader.”
* A leader must be likable. It is not necessary that a leader have a dynamic personality, but it is essential that people like her, that you like her. One of the ablest Bible teachers I know is a woman who is domineering to the point that any group assigned to her is soon reduced to one or two other members. You may want to work with such an individual to salvage the talents she possesses. But don’t subject others to the reclamation project.
You will notice that I have not mentioned talent, ability, or training in connection with a potential leader. These qualities can be acquired if a woman has the essential qualities of leadership. It is better to teach a class of 100 by yourself than divide it among several unqualified leaders. In developing qualified leaders, patience is the key word. Pray that the Lord will show you women who can be trained. Tell them your expectations, and then begin to teach them by allowing them to observe and share in your own ministry. It is a delight to train such women and watch them flower into potential far beyond what you originally saw in them.
Qualities for Leaders’ Leaders
I have stated that it takes time to develop strong leaders and teachers. This is also true for those who would lead leaders. There is no shortcut to gaining experience. You may not want the job! You may be a reluctant pastor’s wife who feels the role is yours by virtue of your husband’s position, and not that of your own choosing.
As a pastor’s wife, I struggled with this problem. Would my ministry always be to do what my husband could not do, or what someone else would not do? I felt like a religious gofor (go for this, go for that) or more accurately, a dofor (do for her, do for him, do for the church). I did not perceive this as a calling that gave me personal dignity or worth.
I agonized in prayer, “Lord, You made a great choice in calling my husband to the ministry, but are You sure You got the right person to be his wife?” The Lord answered me in His unmistakable way, “Don’t worry, Mary. When I called Coleman, I knew who his wife would be. You’re just as important to My plan as he is.”
The paraphrase is my own, but those words have given my life a goal and a purpose. I soon became aware that if I were so important to this calling, I certainly needed to prepare myself to accomplish my part. My husband had spent years in academic preparation. I could not do that, but as I watched his daily life I observed many ways in which he was still preparing for the ministry.
Because of family duties, I could not spend the hours in prayer and study that he did. However, the Lord quickly assured me that my husband’s responsibilities were much greater, and I was asked to carry only the “light end.” Nothing prevented me from emulating his preparation for leadership in other ways: total commitment, being loving and lovable, selflessness, self-discipline, compassion, empathy, obedience, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. All of these were qualities of leadership which anyone could acquire, and I shall be forever thankful that I was privileged to live with such a good example.
In an interview, a former tutor for royal families was asked, “When do you begin to train a king?”
She responded, “When he is old enough to sit by himself.” She went on to explain that at the ages of two or three her royal charges were taught to sit quietly for long periods of time.
The interviewer asked, “Isn’t that cruel?”
“No,” she replied. “Unless they learn to master themselves, they can never master a kingdom.”
Leadership begins by learning to lead oneself, If I cannot lead a disciplined life, I should not be surprised if others will not follow my leadership. Many adages could be quoted about the blessings of building here a little, there a little. Certainly no principle of Scripture has been more thoroughly vindicated than that expressed in Matthew 25:21: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'” (NIV)
Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged with small beginnings. “Know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV). A good synonym for the word labor as used here is effort. Your efforts-tenuous and feeble as they may seem-will be productive. The Lord has promised it! No matter what your experience, or lack of it, here are some suggestions that can save you yards of frustration in planning for the women of your church.
* Be flexible. If something new, or old, doesn’t work, discard it. It’s the program that has failed-not you!
* For ideas as to what your women want and need, study them. Are they single, young married, divorced, elderly? Are they taking craft classes? Are they taking self-improvement courses? Are they going to counseling centers? Where are their interests? From where do they perceive their answers will come?
* Don’t make your plans according to those of another church, or even according to a book. Your group is unique. Tailor anything you use to fit YOUR group. Don’t try to adapt your group to someone else’s plan.
* Minister to your women, your community. Consider the ages in the group, the traditions, the financial status. Present programs may need change, but rapid change is sometimes fatal! One or two innovations at a time is about the acceptance level for most groups (or individuals).
* Don’t play the numbers game. We are conditioned to judge success by the number of people involved. Quality is the measure for ministry. You will be shortchanged if you apply quantitative standards to your ministry.
A Word to Pastors’ Wives
In the event you are a pastor’s wife who is doing double duty by also directing Women’s Ministries, 1 would like to write a few words of encouragement.
I have endless admiration for you. If I were to write a book about pastors’ wives, it would be a paean of praise. What you have survived with verve would fill volumes. Surely you must be God’s diplomatic corps. What other group knows so well how to choose words of peace and reconciliation?
I flinch when I think of the possibility of someone bringing this book to you and saying, “Look at all the ways women can minister. Why aren’t we doing them in our church?” The truth is that I have never directed all these ministries at the same time in any one church. I would be a candidate for an asylum, and my family would be broken if I had tried. With a few exceptions, at one time or another I have been involved in every area which I have described, but never all at once. I adapt the ministries to the women and to the time. Some programs lie dormant for a while and then are revived. Some programs go into dormancy and die, with no tears shed at their demise!
If you are responsible for Women’s Ministries, set the pace according to your abilities and desires. As a pastor’s wife, God did not call you to be an independent minister. You are a helper, a support minister to your husband. Your husband will often feel more “helped” when you stay home and cook a good dinner rather than preside at a committee meeting. If your children grow up to be maladjusted, wicked adults, what do you have to share with other concerned parents?
My activity in the church has increased as my children have grown, but when faced with a choice, I regularly run through my priorities: pleasing God as a person, pleasing my husband as a wife, and pleasing my children as a mother. If I can manage to meet these three criteria, then I am released to Women’s Ministries. I do not play games with the priorities or use them as excuses for not ministering. My daily prayer is to walk honestly before God and man.
A surefire prescription for a nervous collapse is to allow other persons and events to manage one’s time. Holy as the ideal may sound, I do not want to give all my time sacrificially in the service of others. There is a point when they need to take care of themselves! I want to have some time free to enjoy the blessings and talents God has graciously given me. I like to lie around and read. I like to watch Monday night football with my guys. I like to take classes. The Holy Spirit is faithful to let me know how to balance my time so that I remain a happy, balanced person.
Periodically, I weed out of my schedule things which I don’t want to spend my time doing: going to hundreds of home-selling parties, going to showers, going to some kinds of social events, talking endlessly on the telephone. When my children were small, I stopped doing regular visitation. Since there has been no clamor for my return to that ministry, I now visit as I feel directed by the Holy Spirit.
I suppose some feelings have been hurt, but I do not think I have lost a friend because of my “don’t” list. In other ways, I try to let the ladies know I love them. Occasionally, someone will extend an invitation with the remark, “I know you don’t go to showers, but I just wanted you to know you are included.” Whatever small misunderstanding there may have been has been more than compensated for by the contented pastor’s wife who serves the church. There is no vocation which I would desire more for my husband than the one he has.
If the time comes for you to release many of your responsibilities to other people, perhaps to a full-time Director of Women’s Ministries, don’t let jealousy spoil your good record. God has planned your release from those activities so that He can lead you into another realm. He hasn’t abandoned His plan for you. He is only giving you a respite before the next endeavor. Don’t betray His confidence in you by pouting as a spoiled child.
If your church is experiencing growth, it may well be that the Lord wants you to spend more time with your husband. As the pressures increase, he needs the companionship and counsel of his best friend more than ever.
And now back to that woman who wants to know why you aren’t doing more for your women! I was discomfited every time someone approached me in this way. I became flustered and meekly agreed to see what I could get going. Nowadays when someone comes to me with, “I think you (or the pastor, or the church) should do something about this!” I level my most righteous look at her and say, “God has evidently laid that burden on your heart, and I have no doubt he wants YOU to pursue it. I’ll pray with you that you’ll know how to fulfill this concern. I would be robbing you of a reward if I tried to perform that ministry. If I can give you any advice, let me know.” We then take hands and pray. If perchance the idea is of God, the woman will pursue it. If not, I haven’t lost a wink of sleep because of it.
This article “Volunteer Women’s Leaders” by Mary L. Phillips was excerpted from: Reaching Women. Victor Books, 1982. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.”