Serving in the Absence

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When we began this series, we asked that our readers and members expand their definition of single women and single mothers.  We wanted to ensure that we didn’t look only at the young single girls and the single mothers, but all the variations of singleness.  The never been married, the divorcee, the widow… and those women who are married but live in the absence of their spouse.

What do we mean by living in the absence of their spouse…?

A husband who is in the military and on deployment.

A husband who is in rehab fighting through addiction.

A husband who is incarcerated due to poor decisions.

A woman who is married but currently separated (possibly hoping for reconciliation).

A husband who has a job that keeps him away from the family for long stretches.

A husband who is present but has a chronic or terminal illness that is stealing him from the family.

There are probably more circumstances than the examples given, hopefully that is enough to get us all thinking.   In the last year, a good friend of mine was married with an absent husband.  His father lived in another state, he was being treated for cancer.  Because of his work flexibility, my friend’s husband was able to travel back home to spend a lot of time with his father.  It was such a blessing that he was able to do so, but that meant my friend was left here to run life as normal for their kids without her husband by her side. There were things that needed done around the house, that she would normally leave to her husband.  Now she was talking about getting a handy man to come and make the repairs.  We were all offering up our husbands to come by and get the job done.

Circumstances will arise that can leave a woman flying solo temporarily.  Just because it is not permanent, doesn’t mean it comes without complications and struggles.  As we become aware of these people in our churches and communities, we can begin to find ways to help them through these periods.  

A mom struggling during the absence of her husband may be in desperate need of a baby sitter, in order to maintain life as normal.  The times when she would normally depend on her husband have now fallen on her shoulders.  She can’t be in two places at once, and many parents do not want their kids’ lives to be disrupted.  Having a second set of hands to divide and conquer when the kids need to be in two places at the same time… that is a blessing.

All of the things she depended on him for, may be overwhelming her.  What can we do to lift that weight off her and ease her life until he returns home?  What can we do to ensure that when he comes home that he is returning to a house that has been maintained versus a laundry list of things to do once he is home?  How can we minister to him and his wife at the same time?

She made need a person to sit on the couch with her and listen as she pours out her heart about her absent husband.  She misses him.  She is worried about his safety.  She hasn’t heard from him in a few days, and is concerned.  She doesn’t know when he is coming home.  The rehab center won’t let the kids visit him yet, and they miss their dad.  His court date keeps being postponed and she has no idea what to tell her children.  Sometimes, they just need to unload the weights in their heart to someone who isn’t going to try and fix it or give them sage advice.  They may need someone to hold their hand, to stand in agreement that this is a hard road, and pray with them.

A mother of sons, would appreciate men in the church stepping in and being a guiding influence while her husband is gone.  A mother of daughters, may need a seasoned mom to walk along side her helping with the decisions that she would normally bounce of her husband.  Perhaps you could include her in your own family activities, making her an honorary member of team so that she doesn’t feel alone and isolated in her space.  

Take advantage of any opportunity you have as a ministry leader to speak with women and families in your church that have been down these specific roads, and glean from their wisdom.  Pray that the Lord will show you who to serve, and new ways to meet their needs that you may have overlooked.  

Serving the Widow

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It could have been a long time coming.  She may have been caught by surprise.  But, one day she was holding her husband’s hand… the next he was in the arms of Jesus.

Her days may have revolved around going on adventures and surviving the daily grind.  She may have spent the last years dressing him and dosing out his medications.  But, one day she was planning for their future… the next day she was planning a funeral.

How do we as ministry leaders, sisters in Christ, come along her during this time?

Unless you have walked this road, it is really hard to answer that questions with authority.  We may feel like we are ill equipped and flying by the seat of our pants.  We don’t know what we are doing, how we should respond, or even if we should respond.  How much is too much?  How do we know if it is not enough?  When do we speak? When do we quietly hold her hand?  What can we do?

The first thing, I believe, is that we educate ourselves.  Nancy Gutherie has a book titled:  What Grieving People Wish You Knew (about what really helps and what really hurts).     Taking the time to read books like this, that discuss grief that you have not personally experienced can give you perspective.  There are books on general grief, loss of a child, loss of a spouse, etc.

Take the time to read, and take the time to talk with people who have walked through grief already.  Ask the widows in the church about their experiences.  Learn about what things people did for them during their grief that was helpful and what wasn’t.  Ask these women what they wish people would have thought about or what things were overlooked.

Bring the Men’s Ministry on board.  Perhaps there are things they may be better equipped to help with, when a woman is becomes a widow. Teams that can help with simple house or car repairs, mowing the law, tending to the trees and bushes.  Have a plan in place ahead of time so that when someone in the church is actively walking through grief your teams can go into immediate action.

Acquire a pool of resources related to grief.  Books or booklets on grief that you can give to her, a helpful option.  Build up a list of support groups, local Christian counselors or grief counselors, services that she can benefit from , and whatever else you can think of that would make this time easier on her.  Include a list of phone numbers for your prayer warriors who are willing to go and pray with her, or women who are happy to just sit on the couch and hold her hand (or fold her laundry, do her dishes, etc.)

Begin a ministry in the church with the sole purpose of serving the widows and widowers in your church.  It may be a support group, or a team of people who are volunteering in various capacities.

There may be occasions where the loss of the spouse is expected.  Speak with her BEFORE and ask what she expects her needs will be.  Let her know that you want your team to be able to spring into action as soon as she needs them.  What would she like help with, who does she need during this time, begin making those arrangements in advance when her mind is a bit clearer.  She may need a person to help her make phone calls to out of town family, arrange for their travel, etc.  At some point she may want someone to go with her (or for her) to pack up her husband’s office or go through his clothes for donations.  If you have someone in your church with a gift of administration, creating a check list of ways your church can serve might be helpful.

Remember her.  Remember her on the holidays… not just Christmas morning.  Remember her anniversary, his birthday, father’s day, etc.  Remember her children, and help love on them through this time.

These are just a few thoughts on how we can serve our grieving women.  Share your own ideas or experiences by commenting!

Single Women in the Church

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I’ve learned quite a bit about single women in the church.  I’ve learned they are not all the same.  Some long for husbands, others have embraced singleness as a blessing.  Some desire children, others are content to love on others’ children.  Some single women are young, some are not.  Some have never been married, married for a season, or widowed.  Some have children, some do not.  Some have pets, some do not.  Some have homes and debts, others have roommates and live debt free.  Educated, not educated.  One ethnic group, or another.  Some are lonely, some enjoy their solitude.

Their experiences and expectations vary like snowflakes falling to the ground.  To better serve the single women in our church, we can not expect that there will be a one size fits all solution. A “singles ministry” may not work for every single woman.

Our best solution to serving the single women in the church is to actually take the time to meet these women, get to know them, and serve them where they are at.

In preparation for the June 30th Women’s Ministry Council meeting, we reached out to women nationwide.  We acknowledged that we knew the church and women’s ministries could do a better job reaching and serving our single women.  Then, we asked the women to tell us how because we dare not assume to know the answer ourselves.

Overwhelmingly, the first response was appreciation that we recognized this need.  It was the one thing that all of the single women agreed upon, that the church could do a better job.  From there, the opinions on how varied. Some women wanted a formal single women’s ministry, others simply wanted us to be more aware of them as we selected speakers and study topics.  Let’s face it, we can’t have every brunch speaker and Bible study revolve around the topics of marriage and children.

If we are going to serve a mixed audience, we must understand the mix.

Learn more about the women in YOUR church and in YOUR community. Then come up with a strategic plan to start serving, even if it is just a small gesture in the beginning.  Figure out ways the men in the church and serve the single women too.  Start the conversation, be willing to try things, be willing to fail… the women will appreciate that you simply tried!  Then regroup and try something else if need be.  Add.  Adjust.  Grow.  Serve. Love. Thrive.

It can start by an invitation to meet for coffee.

It can grow into a ministry that reaches further than you can ever imagine.

Single Mothers in the Church

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I’ve been contemplating over the June 30th Women’s Ministry Council meeting, and some of the words shared by our guest speaker Willow Sanders.  One particular nugget that really stands out was her guidance that we need not be focused on why a woman is a single mother but instead we need to focused on how we can love her and serve her well.

These words brought to mind an article from several years ago, about how we view babies born out of wedlock in the church.  Too often we have viewed the sin as “having a baby before marriage” vs. “having sex before marriage”.  In other words, we tie the child in with the sin because it was a result of that relationship.  This has caused women and teens to feel guilt and shame over an unexpected pregnancy. 

What does the Word say about babies and children?  The Word tells us that babies are a blessing, a gift, an inheritance.  In fact, I can’t think of a single piece of scripture that every identifies a baby as sinful.  The article went on to encourage people to stop viewing these babies as a consequence of sin and instead flip the narrative to viewing them as a blessing inspite of sin.  Imagine if we embraced these pregnancies and babies as blessings?  How many girls would never even walk into the abortion clinic?  How many struggling mothers would walk through the church doors to seek help and guidance?  If they did not fear having to face judgement, shame, and ridicule … how many more women and children could the church reach and serve?

To our single mothers, the circumstances of how you became a single mother are between you and God.  I am sorry for any occasion where you have been made to feel less than by the church.  I am sorry for any occasion where you felt your child was bearing the weight of judgement and criticism.  I am praying for you, your family, and that the Lord will be a light in your darkness, a provider when you need provision, and that you can put your heart into the Father’s hands.  I pray that the church would open our eyes to the blessings that these children are, and the embrace the courage it takes to make the decision to choose life when the world is telling you that there is an easier way.  I pray that we do not let you walk alone. I ask for your forgiveness.  Help us learn how to serve you better.

To our churches, I ask you to be honest with yourselves in how you have viewed and served the single mothers in your church.  Take inventory of how you serve these families currently, and ask the Lord to show you how we can do a better job.  Encourage your women’s ministries to make provisions and concessions to ensure your single mothers can be included in activities.  Encourage your men’s ministries to share their gifts and talents for cars, home repairs, and sports with these families.  Encourage your small groups leaders to find ways to provide childcare.  Encourage your finance committees to create funds to help single parents with Bible Study curriculum, expenses for youth trips, and whatever other church related activities they and their children are a part of.   Pray that the Lord opens up new avenues to serve in your community beyond your church walls.

All the Single Brothers

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With all of our talk recently about single women and single mothers, the Women’s Ministry Council would like to take a moment to acknowledge our single brothers and single fathers. 

So much of what has been said about our single women translates to our single men and fathers.  He may not need a woman to go with him to a mechanic shop to haggle over car repairs, but you know what he may need?

He may need a woman that is willing to come over and talk about puberty with his daughter, or take her shopping for her first bra.  He may need a woman who is not interested in being his girlfriend or wife, but rather a positive influence on his daughter and a steady confidant in her life as he navigates the complexities of relationships.  He may need someone to come and teach him how to shop with coupons and meal plan.  He too may want a group of single peers to go about life with, learning with one another, without the pressures of a singles group with the goal of fostering couples.

He may be a recent widower, who had a wife who did everything for him and now he is lost without her.  Who will iron his shirts just the way he likes them?  Who will he buy flowers for, just because?  He may have dreamed about being a father and grandfather but that dream eluded him, perhaps he has no where to go on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas morning.  

As the women in the church, we can come alongside and serve our single brothers and fathers in a loving way.  We can volunteer in order to provide childcare during the men’s ministry breakfast.  We can invite the widower into our home during the holidays.  We can foster a relationship with an older man who wants to love on our children like a grandpap.  We can be a woman who is present for his daughter in ways that he doesn’t feel equipped, we can teach them how to braid hair and paint little finger tips.

When you think of the singles in your church, don’t forget the men.

Our research has shown that the churches with the strongest Women’s Ministries also have a thriving Men’s Ministry.  Let’s be a helpmeet to the Men’s Ministries by serving their single men and fathers well.

Why Women’s Ministry?

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Years ago, when sharing about our upcoming Women’s Ministry plans with another church member… her husband said “I don’t even understand why we need a ministry just for women”.    He was not the first person to ask this question, women have asked this question.  So, why exactly do we need “Women’s Ministry” in the local church?

1.  Community – women thrive in community.  As we have become more technologically advanced, we have lost community.  We no longer need to go to the well daily for water, or the salon each week to get our hair set, we do it ourselves.  We don’t even shop like we used to, as we can have it delivered right to our front door.  There are so many things we once did collectively that we now do independently, we’ve lost community.

Statistically, we are seeing that people are reporting feeling alone or lonely to the point that it causes depression on very high levels.  We got to work, we come home, we shuffle to activity after activity, hundreds of social media friends… and yet we feel alone.  Often.  Women’s Ministry gives women an opportunity to connect at deeper levels, and on a regular basis.  It gives them something to look forward to on their crazy calendar.  Some of my greatest friendships came from a woman who sat next to me at a brunch table.  Some of the moments where God brought me just what I needed to hear, came in a random conversation at a brunch table.  I’d have never had that opportunity on a Sunday morning after service, or cinched up in my secure small group.

2.  History – some women enter the church with history.  That history can include abuse from men in their lives.  It can make women very untrusting of male leadership.  Having a Women’s Ministry with a leadership team, gives her a safe place to land.  This abuse could have been at the hands of a father, spouse, employer, and even sadly in at the hands of church leaders.  Recently, I have had the opportunity to listen to women who were once part of churches that we recognize as cults.  Their stories are illuminating as to why they are hesitant to enter a church again, and distrusting of male leadership.  What statistics have taught us about domestic abuse and rape, we would be foolish to think these women are not sitting in the pews with us each week.

This is why it is also important to invest in the women who are part of the leadership team with quality training.  A Women’s Ministry Leader and her team can not just be someone who raises a hand and is left to their own devices.  We need to equip these leaders just like we do our other leaders and Pastors.  Conferences, workshops, books, etc. that will add to their knowledge base couple with wisdom and gifts of leadership will create amazing women who are leading well in the church.

3.  Understanding – women think differently than man.  There is a reason that books like Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus exist.  There is a reason we need Bible study materials like Marriage on the Rock and Love & Respect exist.  These materials are designed to help us better understand one another.  It is for this reason, understanding, that women are prone to go to the Pastor’s wife verses the Pastor with certain issues.  But, quite often, the Pastor’s wife is not a paid staff member… she may even hold down a full time job outside the home.  Her time is equally valuable as the Pastor, and should be protected.  Why put the weight of 60-70% of the body on one woman?  When we can build a team of women to support her?

As for teaching, can women sit under and understand male teachers? Absolutely.   However, a female leader is going to better relate to her & thus are better equipped emotionally and relationally to teach her.  Titus 2:3-5 compels the older women to teach the younger women.  It isn’t just about teaching her Scripture through weekly Small Group Bible Studies, but also every day life.  How to be a better wife or mother.  How to navigate singleness.  This is where Women’s Ministry comes in, as a community of women teaching and guiding one another.

In July we are going to finish out our series on Serving our Single Sisters.  In August, watch for our new series on “The Bible Defense for Women’s Ministry” to begin.