Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

10 Mistakes We Make in Women's Ministry (and How to Overcome Them)

  • Chara Donahue
  • 2019 13 Mar
10 Mistakes We Make in Women's Ministry (and How to Overcome Them)

What ministry pitfalls should we be watching out for? This is a question many women’s ministry teams have asked. They know there is something holy about the way women minister to women, but also are aware that as programs, people, and politics of local churches push in, problems can arise. If you see any of the following cracks in the foundation of your ministries there is still time to fill them before they widen into dangerous pitfalls.

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  • 1. Creating a celebrity culture

    1. Creating a celebrity culture

    This pitfall is just too easy to fall into. When the Holy Spirit has clearly gifted a woman as a strong communicator, leader, and connector, it is easy to push her into public view, but this is a dangerous foundation to build a ministry on. If we build ministries around any one person - other than Jesus - they are not built to last. If that person fails, or fatigues, who will your women look to for godly counsel? This is why it is important to build a strong core team that the women you are serving are familiar with. Most ministries have a Director or Pastor to look to, but building a strong team of godly voices and varying gifts helps to build something that can last. Ministries are to be built around Christ, not charisma.

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    2. Not aligning the ministry's vision with the church's vision

    We are one body, and when parts of the body go to war you can only expect self-destruction. Think of the great concern transplant patients have about their bodies’ potential to reject their new organ. If the body sees the new part as too different it begins to attack. The thing that was meant to help the whole body function more effectively has now become detrimental and threatening. In Experiencing Growth: Developing a Discipleship Focused Women’s Ministry, Julie Bernard and Emily Dempster encourage all women leaders by writing, “What a difference it would make if we viewed ourselves as being on the same team. All too often we get sucked into the idea it is us and them and not we.”

    Do not try and build a ministry that stands on its own, build one that meets the needs of the women, and by doing so helps Jesus’s church to thrive. Ministries are not in competition, they are to be complementary. We serve a rich God and when one ministry thrives it doesn’t take away from another; instead it strengthens the church as a whole. 

  • 1. Creating a celebrity culture

    3. Women are not connecting outside of planned events

    Many women’s ministries have figured out how to run an impactful event, but if there is no introduction for how to connect further, the opportunities for real community are often lost. The best way to achieve this is to face the awkwardness it takes to make sure people are aware of what other connection points are available. Do you offer Bible studies? Are there mentors or counselors available to those in need? Is there a place they can go for prayer? It is also helpful to have your leadership team trying to offer those connections to those they interact with and to have a table that introduces all your ministries at large events. Women can hide at events, but godly community consists of being known.

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    4. Being book-focused, not Bible-focused

    We must teach women to read their Bibles because people will not trust a God who is but a mystery. The only way to get to know God well is to read his word where he reveals himself. While many are gifted to write books that help us understand the Bible, why would we trust them more than God?  Many women love a good book about the Good Book, but as Jen Wilkin says in Women of the Word this equates to using the telephone game approach to Bible study. She says, “A well-rounded approach to Bible study recognizes that books about the Bible, like topical studies, are a supplement to personal study, not a substitute for it. Unless we grow in Bible literacy, their ability to help us will be limited. The more we grow in Bible literacy, the more helpful supplements and commentaries become.”

    If we do not teach our women to love and understand the Bible, then we begin to outsource our ministry by placing instruction of women God has placed in our care into the hands of someone who may have received their book deal due to platform size, not theological competence, or more importantly—love for Christ. It is not a risk we can take, and if we want our women to flourish they need to know their Bible.

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    5. Not creating safe places for confession

    It is too far often an occurrence that women explain that the church cultures they are a part of are not somewhere they feel comfortable expressing their struggles. If we cannot help people when they are hurting, what good are we doing? We know that faith is something we walk out, and we will battle sin throughout our lives. We need not do this alone. While we are made righteous through Christ we will not reach perfection until we are with him, so it is imperative we create cultures of confession. False perfection is a fool’s game.

    Wise vulnerability should be promoted in the right settings, and women should always be encouraged to not share what is revealed in trust with others. Always, ALWAYS squash any form of gossip appearing in your ministry. Not only will it make your ministry healthier, but it will reassure other women that slander and hearsay are not allowed, even as an exception.

    Sin is present in our churches: there are people being abused, lives being damaged, and there needs to be a safe place people can go to confess or find help without being shamed. This isn’t just opinion we are commanded to confess in James, so how can we not create a culture that welcomes it? “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). 

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    6. Leaders teach spiritual disciplines but forget to practice them

    Leaders have to keep in mind that they are likely to replicate their own habits. As we try to help others in their journeys of biblical living, we must not just teach it but live it. This means leaders need to take time to pray, be in their Bibles to connect with God not just to prepare for teaching, and to gather with other believers for encouragement, discipleship, and confession. No one is above needing to live as God instructed. Leaders should be held accountable for their actions and live in a way that is above reproach not only in the ways that man can see but as God can see. 

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    7. Too much Focus on Marriage and Motherhood

    Marriage and motherhood are blessings from God, but they are not a mark of spiritual maturity. If we treat them as such we alienate the women in our ministry who are single or without children. Some women do not want to be married or have children and the apostle Paul seems to applaud this in 1 Corinthians 7:8. Would we be so brazen to exclude them from Bible study or serving, because we want to talk mostly about how Jesus impacts our wifehood and child-bearing?

    There is room for emphasis on those things. For many it is quite relevant; it just can’t be all that is available to your women. We would never want to increase the deep loneliness for those who are hoping for a spouse or those who are battling infertility. This is a pitfall that exists in many young churches especially, and it excludes women from feeling like part of the community. When we study the word together all stages of life should be welcomed to the table, because the word is timeless, and for every generation. 

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    8. Ignoring the need for childcare

    Yes, we just covered not overemphasizing marriage and motherhood, but when it comes to women’s ministry the reality is you need childcare. If you don't have it some women will never show up, and if you do, some women who might not have otherwise stepped into a church will. This is worth the investment and the time to figure out because we want people to have the opportunity to meet and know Jesus more. Diapers should not be a deterrent to those seeking discipleship.

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    9. Placating to people’s expectations and not God’s

    Opinions run rampant and while they can be helpful so that you understand the needs and desires of the women in your ministry, being driven by opinions can easily steer a ministry off track. This can come in all different forms, maybe it looks like not discussing hard topics that the Bible clearly doesn’t shy away from, hesitancy in introducing new leaders due to hurt feelings of people who have been there longer, or simply not moving towards the direction God is leading you because you don’t want to deal with the backlash.

    It is crucial that we ask ourselves the same question Paul asked of the Galatians if we want to truly serve our women, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

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  • 1. Creating a celebrity culture

    10. Losing sight of God

    The most dangerous pitfall of all is running what looks to be like a successful Women’s Ministry from the outside but being one that has lost sight of God. Making people feel better, creating atmospheres that encourage friendship, and helping women lead more fulfilling lives are all good things; apart from Christ—these eternally stack up to nothing. We must make sure that everything we do helps women take their eyes off themselves and place them on our savior.

    Paul Tripp offers words that all of us whom seek to serve Jesus must grasp the truth of in Dangerous Calling“Awe of God must dominate my ministry, because one of the central missional gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give people back their awe of God….The spiritual danger here is that when awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced by our awe of ourselves….So a central ministry of the church must be to do anything it can to be used of God to turn people back to the one thing for which they were created: to live in a sturdy, joyful, faithful awe of God.”

    Chara Donahue is a co-author of the Bible study 1, 2 & 3 John: Experiencing Transformation and is working on her next book. She enjoys serving as a biblical counselor, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God's truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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