What in the Word: Introducing Sheila

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We are really excited to get a start on these on going series, and this is the final introduction of our new contributors.  Sheila Thomas will be joining Trish Jones on our scriptural study series: What in the Word!  Take a moment to get to know Sheila a little better.

Let me begin by saying in my most southern voice, “Hey, Y’all!” Those of you who know me, know that I speak very southern. Even my kids make fun of me. Haha! But that’s okay.

I have been on a journey in life of trying to break free from people “please-itis”. Trust me, it’s a curse! Worrying all the time about what somebody’s thinking of me is 100% bondage. But due to my personality, on top of the fact that I was raised in a pastor’s home, I got a very good dose of that disease! But I digress. Let me formally introduce myself first.

When I was invited to be on the team for the Women’s Ministry Council, I felt very honored. For many years I have loved working with women, so this just felt right. As one of my responsibilities, I have been given the honor of writing monthly for our website. My heart leaped inside about this because another one of my passions is writing. But first let me tell you a little about myself.

I was born in South Carolina while my parents were attending Bible College.  Upon their graduation, they moved to Alabama, where they had been born and raised, for my daddy to pastor a church.  When I was 11 years old, once again we moved. This time to Hobe Sound, Florida for my parents to join the faculty at Hobe Sound Bible College, with my daddy later becoming the pastor of Hobe Sound Bible Church as well. 

After graduating from High School, I went on to earn a BA in Music, majoring in piano, with a minor in voice.  I have spent my adult life as a voice and piano instructor. I also spent many years as church pianist, soloist, choir and praise band director, as well as Director of Women’s Ministry and a mentor with MOPS and the public elementary school.  I have also been the guest speaker and soloist at women’s retreats. Having been a licensed realtor in the state of Florida, I also spent several years in real estate.

I have been married to my husband, Orlan, for 45 years, (Yes, I got married as a baby!) and we have three grown children and ten grandchildren. We homeschooled our children for 12 years. That was such a joy and honor. My family is my utmost fulfillment and pleasure. I LOVED being “Mommy” and adding the title, “Nana”, was over the top fabulous!

Some of my passionate topics to speak on are worship, mothering, friendships among women, personal development/growth, and the journey of deliverance from the bondage of legalism. I look forward to chatting with you here on these and other topics as well.

Lest you think my life sounds perfect, let me assure you that it has NOT been that way at all. I have had my share (and sometimes I felt like I had more than my share) of hard times in life. God has brought me through some very difficult times. Some things I’ve lived to tell about are the early death of my sweet and precious daddy, heart break over close family members and close friends, struggling with chronic health issues, extreme financial difficulties, etc. But God has grown sweeter and sweeter as I have learned to trust His love for me. Learning that He is indeed a good and loving Father as changed my whole life.

So I look forward to sharing some more moments with you here. Until then, have a blessed day. Breathe. Take one moment at a time. Live IN THAT MOMENT! Don’t miss ANYTHING in life. Get out of your comfort zone. Open your eyes and see the beauty. There is much to enjoy!

Love and Blessings,

Sheila Thomas

Leading Ladies Series: Introducing Jenny

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My name is Jenny Andrews (Big Crow), I have heard the saying that to understand a person and what they do you should first understand where they came from and their past so I will start there.

When I was 13 years old growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation I encountered a heartbreaking situation that gave me the desire to help others. It was in the middle of winter when my family and I drove past an unconscious man on the side of the road. He was in, White Clay, Nebraska a small town next to my reservation that sells mostly alcohol and groceries. I begged my step father and mother to turn around and go back to check on the man. They did and the man seemed frozen. I got out of the car and went to cover him with my coat. I called 911 and they came with an ambulance to rescue this man. The paramedics told me that the man shows signs of hypothermia and that they were grateful I called them. As I stood by the ambulance, and watched them load the man, he stopped and looked me in the eyes with tears, he said, “Thank you! If you didn’t stop I would be dead.” I will never forget that look in the man’s eyes and how I made a difference in his life. At that moment in my life I knew I wanted to help people.

My experiences growing up on the poorest reservation in American exposed me to alcohol, drugs, and violence at a young age which was very challenging. However, in the spring of 2006, I had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, which changed me from the inside out, and I knew that I wanted to help people the same way I helped that man so many years ago. Although, I want to help people physically, my uttermost desire is to provide an eternal impact on people’s lives. I begin college and ministry work as a result.

I graduated with my BBA in accounting in hopes that my education will help me make an impact for those around me through my knowledge and gifts of accounting. I am pursued this degree to gain knowledge in business and finance to prepare myself for ministry in nonprofit organizations. Currently, I work part-time at my church as the Financial Administrator. I also trained under a one-year discipleship program that provided me with a solid base of practical and theological training in biblical studies and church planting. Through this program I earned a Certification in Practical Theology which I use to help others grow.

I started a women’s discipleship ministry over 6 years ago that has grown into a great mentoring ministry within our church body.  The ministry had such a profound impact that the men started the ministry as well. I equip women in the ministry to fulfill their callings as disciple-makers and to encourage other women to embrace their callings in discipleship.  This ministry has taught me a lot about myself and others. I do training meeting with other churches who would like to begin a One to One mentoring program in their churches.  

I have taught others to study the bible for over 10 years. I enjoy teaching women how to study the word of God thus a passion to see women grow has been my life calling. I encourage and equip women to study the word so they can see who they are in Christ and rightly divide truth. I love teaching but I also love learning and growing in my relationship with Christ.

 I am a public speaker and use my gifts to bless others with the wisdom and knowledge that the Lord has given me. I spoke on the radio, at conferences and just about anywhere the Lord will open a door for me to use my gift. I also do mission work to Native American reservations across America teaching women and children about Jesus. I desire to see my people be set free in Christ and for them to know they are created for a reason.

The role that is most important to me is being the wife to Neil Sr and the mother to 3 handsome boys, Elijah, Neil Jr and Malachi. I love my family and strive to live godly as a wife and mother.  I am blessed daily to be with my children. They make me proud.

While all of this is great I consistently strive to stay humble because I know where I can from and the brokenness I had before I met Jesus. I am a work in progress but I am Jesus’ work in progress and He is doing a great job at refining me into the woman He has called me to be. It is an ugly process at times and can even make me want to give up some days but He is faithful to me through it all.  My prayer is that over the next few months you will see that I am just your average woman wanting to walk out my faith the best way I know how to. I am looking forward to sharing my heart with you women.

Fishers of [Wo]men

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This weekend, I attended a workshop on the topic of branding.  As the leader of a ministry, and knowing the direction we are taking in the coming years it is important that I am learning about all aspects of ministry building.  The speaker, Faith James, said something that caught my attention.  She was giving an illustration related to fishing, and pointing out that to have a successful fishing trip you must know “what you are fishing for”. 

Do you know who your ministry is fishing for?

As a ministry leader, you may be tempted to give the most obvious answers…

Everyone.  Women.  The Lost.  The Unchurched.

I am going to challenge you to take that a bit deeper.

As Faith James continued her illustration she said, “You can’t boil the ocean”.  Her point rested in that we have to have a more focused vision of who we are trying to reach because everyone is a concept that is as big as the ocean.  This doesn’t mean that there is not an ocean of people who need help, but rather it is going to be impossible for us to help everyone with our resources and time.  We need to have focus.

Putting this in terms of Women’s Ministry, let’s explore the following questions.

If every Women’s Ministry started a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, that meets during the week… who is serving our single mothers, or teen mothers?

If every Women’s Ministry was focused on serving homeless women and children… who is serving our women who have suffered the loss of miscarriage?

If every Women’s Ministry chose to stand with their local Crisis Pregnancy Center… who is supporting the women who chose life, or supporting the local foster/adoption agency to care for these children who were given this chance to thrive?

If your Women’s Ministry is spread thin trying to serve too many different organizations at once, are you really making an significant impact vs. making the choice to choose one and serve it at full capacity?

What if instead of each Women’s Ministry focusing on a broad scope of issues, we each chose one that we were going to give our full attention to?  We come together as leaders and identify the needs of the community of women we serve (in and outside of the church walls), then each Women’s Ministry leader picks one that will become their ministry focus?

Imagine a wheel with spokes.  The center of the wheel is the Cross, that is where we are trying to bring women… to Jesus.  The outer ring of the wheel is all of the women in our community.  The spokes are the individual Women’s Ministries.

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Quite simply, there are just too many needs in our communities (and within our church walls) for one ministry tackle it all.  However, if we work together and decide which needs each of our ministries will focus on… then we are working together to meet all the needs more effectively.

How do we do this?

  1. Collectively identify the needs in the community we serve.
  2. Check with other WM Leaders to determine which needs are already being served, need more help, or have not been addressed by the local church.
  3. Meet with your Pastor to determine if the church already has a focused need, that you can bring the WM under to address the women of that “need group”.
  4. If there isn’t a specific “need group” that your church is currently focused on, meet with your WM Team.  Pray that the Lord would help your team identify which need will become the WM focus.
  5. Connect to local ministries and organizations serving these need groups to determine how you can come along side their work.  Research online if there are national organizations already working in this area that you can partner with and introduce to your area.  Or, research online the ways you can begin to serve this need through your ministry directly.

 

 

Women’s & Men’s Ministries – Statistics

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In the past, I’ve spoken to the topic of successful Women’s Ministries are usually in churches that also have active/successful Men’s Ministries.  Over the last few weeks, several articles have crossed my desk about women leaving the church and what the impact of that exodus will have on the church.  I decided to do a little bit of research on the topic.

What we know, and research supports, is that post industrial revolution there was a shift in the home and thus in the church.  As the men went to work outside of the home, women began to take on a larger role in the spiritual development of their children.  They also began to take on a more prominent role in the church as leaders and volunteers.

What we know, currently is:

 

  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories.  (Some churches the % of female members can reach up to 70%)
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches.
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. (Even if their husbands profess to be Christian)
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.

There are more women attending, and participating in the active life of the church.  This is why you may see that Women’s Bible Studies outnumber their male counterparts. Or, why Women’s Ministry is still a vital ministry in the church… but Men’s Ministries are waning.

Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish

or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

 

As I try to discover the roadblocks and obstacles for Women’s Ministry, one of the first questions I have asked is in regards to the presence of a Men’s Ministry.  Until I began this research, I didn’t realize that Men’s Ministries had declined to such numbers.

But why?  We have less Men’s Ministries because we have less active men participating in the church.

 

  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church.

 

We have a realization now that in order to get the family to attend church on Sundays, we need to reach the women.  When the women come, they bring their husbands and families.  I’ve heard from several Pastors that they notice when the wives are not at church due to retreat, business, etc. that the men do not come and bring the children.  They take the weekend off too.  However a healthy church needs the men to attend… married or single, with the family or not.

When I was in MOPS Leadership, one of the most common complaints that I heard from these young mothers was a deep desire for their husband to return to the role of Spiritual Leader of their home.  They didn’t want this burden on their shoulders, and the Bible tells us this was never their burden to bear in the first place. 

A study from Hartford Seminary found “that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.”

We must, as a church, begin to really understand WHY men have been on the decline in attendance and participation.  We must, as a Women’s Ministry, become advocates for Men’s Ministry in our church.  I have seen the effects of a waning Women’s Ministry on the church.  When a Women’s Ministry slows or stops functioning, we see the impact on the church as a whole.  Women’s small groups decline.  Women’s attendance and volunteerism in the church declines.  Women will begin going to parachurch events or events at churches which do have active Women’s Ministries.  This will often result in the matriarchs of the church moving to churches which do have active Women’s Ministries.

I would suggest the same could be said for Men’s Ministries.  As men’s ministries declined, the community connection or family connection of church went with it.  The men feeling less connected to their church and more connected to the people they spend 40+ hours a week with in their workplace, or people they have connected with over hobbies have taken precedence.   With their free hours, they would rather be actively doing something than seated in the pews.

New statistics are showing that one of the major reasons people are leaving the church is due to their desire to not be passive participants in church but active members.  Church has become a spectator sport for the majority as churches seek volunteers to fill the holes they need vs. allowing people in the body to use their gifts and talents as God has called them to.  They want discipleship, mentoring, and spiritual growth more than entertainment.

What can we do about it?

  1. We should engage the women who are already attending.  We are starting to see the exodus of women, and we need to stop that in it’s tracks.  Create and support Women’s Ministries that are discipleship focused, out reaching into the community with the purpose of bringing women to Christ.  Encourage the women to attend regularly and support their husbands attendance and participation.
  2. We need to encourage the creation and development of a Men’s Ministry.  This may begin with a conversation with our own husbands.  Just because they start the ministry doesn’t mean they have to stay in the leadership.  I’ve seen women take over or begin a ministry with the goal of finding and developing the eventual leader… Pauls finding their Timothys.  If your husband is willing to help get if off the ground, you can offer up your ministry skills & experience to help him.  This is not only an investment into the Men’s Ministry but the Women’s Ministry… and the church.
  3. Think ahead and work directly with your Pastors on the occasions that your women will be absent from church.  If you are taking your women to a weekend long Women’s Retreat or Conference, have a plan in place with your Pastor and Children’s Pastor about ensuring that weekend has something special for the men and children.  A post church barbeque, special kids program, special speaker for the men, etc. are all ways to entice the men to attend in the women’s absence.
  4. Begin a movement of spiritual gifts testing in your church, where you are actively helping people to identify what their spiritual gift is and figure out where they can be plugged in to the church.  The statistics suggest that men need a reason to attend church, so let’s give them one.  The same for our women who may have one foot out the door, lets find a place to help them connect to the church in tangible ways.

If the Women’s Ministry is supposed to be a ministry that supports the vision of the church, then that means the whole church.  While our focus may be on taking the vision to the women in our church, our leaders need to connect back into the church by supporting the other ministries and our Pastors.

Aimee Nelson once told me that “where the women go, so goes society”.  So, where do we want our men and children to go?  Let’s set the bar and encourage them to rise to it.  Let our Women’s Ministries be known to love women well, and the men too.

  • Our married women want their husbands to attend services.
  • Our children want their fathers to attend services.
  • Our single ladies want the single men in our community to be active members.
  • Our widowers need other men in the church that they can have community with.
  • Our older men need younger men in the church that they can mentor.

* All statistics are from http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

Three Years Later

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By Gena McCown

A little over three years ago, the first Women’s Ministry Council meeting was held.  I look at where we are today, I see where we are heading.  I sit in awe of what the Lord has done with an idea that was formed over two coffees and cheeseburgers at a McDonald’s late one Monday evening.

For those who do not know our history, let me take you back to that evening.  We had just wrapped up a Women’s Ministry meeting for our church.  Laura Masoner and I decided to meet over at the McDonalds and chat.  Laura and I can talk Women’s Ministry for hours without exhaustion.  It was during that conversation that the big “what if” question was posed.

What if we could get together with other Women’s Ministry Leaders/Teams and talk shop.  In our earliest inceptions we saw a networking group at best, conversing over coffee and pastries.  But then the Lord gave us the vision for something much bigger, a task that would require our faith and obedience to His will.  Not a move has been made in this ministry that was not laid in advance by God.  Not a step was taken at our pace, but rather we have been hustling to keep up with Him.

We knew that the majority of materials and websites that dealt with Women’s Ministry were either antiquated or still focused on the fellowship side of ministry with little focus on the practical.  We knew that Women’s Ministry was heading in a direction where the old programs were not working for women any more, and they were looking for something deeper and more meaningful.  Women’s Ministry needed to be renewed and refined.  It was time to take Women’s Ministry into a direction that was Gospel Centered, Disciple Making… SERIOUS MINISTRY.

In the three years since it’s inception, Women’s Ministry Council has been meeting the goals and mission consistently.

  • Providing FREE practical ministry training to local Women’s Ministry Leaders/Teams
  • Connecting Women’s Ministry Leaders/Teams to tools and resources to help build effective ministries, and encourage their gaze to ever be on Christ as their purpose.
  • Building relationships between Women’s Ministry Leaders/Teams so that they can help each other, when possible by sharing resources, materials, and experience.

In mid 2016 we realized that we had created a space that was unlike anything we had ever experienced.  Women gathered, from many denominations and even unaffiliated, putting aside denominational differences UNIFIED in the goal to bring women to the Cross.  It has been a tender place, where we have been able to share our vulnerabilities.  It has been a brave place, where we have dared to tackle heavy topics with grace and love.  It has been a place of healing, where we have had our hearts broken as our eyes were opened … YET the hope of coming together as one body to make a difference in our world.

When I prepare for our upcoming meetings, I am filled with excitement and joy.  I know that four Saturdays, each year, I am surrounded by women who are different than me in many ways but are filled with the HOPE of Jesus.  Women who sacrifice to serve their church and community well, who strive to be and do better.  Women who are willing to listen with soft hearts, embracing one another, learning from one another.  It is a glimpse of Heaven for me.

I see what we have done here among a group of leaders, and I pray that is what is also happening in our individual churches.  Creating community, building relationships, spurring one another on to good, lifting up those who stumble, equipping each other… and preaching the Gospel to one another.  Talking of His goodness.  Sharing your testimonies.  Interceding for each other. 

2018 is going to be a big year for Women’s Ministry Council, and we can’t wait to see what the Lord is going to do in our lives, churches, community, and beyond.

Thank you for a great three years. 

The Starting Point

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It can be hard to come to terms with a subject that is just completely outside of your scope of understanding.  To have someone think less of you for nothing more than the color of your skin, or your country of origin.  To be treated as less than, to have lower expectations on your ability, or marginalized by how you look before someone even takes the time to get to know you.

Something else that is also hard is a willingness to call out sin for what it is, especially when it a sin you don’t want to admit is still present.  Even more so when that sin is being committed by yourself or others you know, particularly when you know that they are a good person.  From tasteless jokes to out right discrimination, we must come to terms with the fact that racism still exists in our country.  Yes, there are areas in the country that are more progressive than others.  There are people who have fought for civil rights in the past, and those who are still doing so today, because they believe in equality for all people.

Yet, there are still places where racism exists in very blatant ways.  Many more where racism is far more subtle.  If we call racism what it is, SIN… then we know exactly what we are supposed to do with that sin.  Which is tackle it head on.  It can be far easier to justify someone’s sin, by pointing out a persons checkered past or giving a good person a pass for an inappropriate joke.  Jesus never gave sin a pass.  Nor should we.

As our eyes become more open to the wounds that have not healed, we feel conviction over our thoughts and words.  We make the effort to change ourselves, to influence those around us.  For others, and for any number of reasons, their eyes are still covered by scales.  They can not see the sin, and as leaders we have a responsibility to not allow sin to go unchecked.

What are some practical ways you can be apart of change in your life, Women’s Ministry, Church, and community?  To confront sin, we must identify it and then actively work against it.

  1.  Take the time to understand the feelings of others by choosing to be quiet and listen.  Ask people who come from other cultures and ethnicities to share their experiences with you, and do not interject your opinions.  Allow them to speak, listen to what is being said, and take time to reflect on that conversation before you respond with more questions.
  2. Read.  There are plenty of books on the subject of racism and also on racial reconciliation.  You can watch interviews online, panel discussions, and more.  Google “Race and the Church” or “Racial Reconciliation and the Church” and you’ll find a trove of useful information.  I recommend “UNITED” by Trillia Newbell.
  3. Challenge your Women’s Ministry team (or church leaders) to go through “The Bridge to Racial Unity” Bible Study as a team.   You can access this through the ministry Be The BridgeEnter this study with humbleness, willingness to listen, and as the leader of the ministry set the tone of respect.  If you do not have any women of color serving on your ministry team, considering inviting a few willing women to go through this study with your team.  Women who are willing to field your questions with grace and mercy.
  4. PRAY for your own life to become open to diversity, that the Lord will bring the women to add to your Women’s Ministry team, and convict the heart of your church leaders to create a space that is welcoming to all of God’s people (even when it means getting out of our comfort zones in how we worship) including bringing people of color onto staff positions.

Change Begins Within

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Leaders from Women’s Ministries in St Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties gathered for a special Women’s Ministry Council event.  We began a conversation about race, diversity, and unifying our ministries and churches.  This conversation is just the beginning, and we are going to continue working through this topic through articles and future meetings.

One of the overwhelming themes from this event was that if we want to be a part of a movement of change in our ministries, we must being within our own life.  As ministry leaders, the practical steps are more obvious.  Broaden the authors of your Bible studies to women from various ethnicities, as well as the speakers you hire for your brunches or retreats.  Make sure you invite women to serve on the Women’s Ministry team that represent all the cultures in your church.  Partner up with churches of other cultures for events or come together for a fellowship event.

Making changes in our personal life is a bit harder.  It means stepping out of our own comfort zone.   Have you invited someone of another ethnicity to your home for dinner or coffee?  Are you reading authors or following influential speakers who are from another culture than you are?   Have you made an effort to learn more about the other cultures who make up the community you live in?

Some suggestions:

  • PERSONAL:  Go to a women’s event at a local church that is a different culture/ethnicity than your own.  LEADER:  Go as a WM Team.
  • PERSONAL:  Read Bible Studies, books, or attend an event where the speaker is from another culture/ethnicity than your own.  LEADER:  Use these materials in your church.  (I recommend Kristie Anyabwile, Trilla Newbell, Priscilla Shirer)
  • PERSONAL:  Attend local cultural festivals in your community.  LEADER:  Host a multi-cultural event at your church or in conjunction with other local churches.
  • PERSONAL:  Invite a woman from another culture out for coffee or to your home for lunch/dinner.  LEADER:  Invite a WM Leader from that church for lunch to talk shop, and see how you can partner together.
  • PERSONAL:  Intentionally build relationships with women of other cultures.  LEADER:  Intentionally build a women’s ministry team that is as diverse as your church.
  • PERSONAL:  Volunteer at a local culture church’s fundraiser or drop items off for their charity drives.  LEADER:  As a team, volunteer.
  • PERSONAL:  When a new friend of another ethnicity celebrates a birthday, send a birthday card and take the time to translate it into their native language (if they are fluent).  LEADER:  Send cards of encouragement or prayer to leaders at local churches, taking the time to translate it into their native language.  Google translate is a help, but I bet you can find a friend online/facebook that can help too.

If you have made efforts to build bridges between the various cultures in your community, we’d love to hear what you have done!