I admit it. I still love to gather women. After all these years of serving the local church as a women’s pastor, I still get excited as the cars begin to stream into the parking lot. A smile breaks across my face as they line up at the door, waiting for them to swing wide. My heart skips a beat and my palms sweat a bit as they pour into the lobby. And as the opening moments of our gathering draw near, I feel a deep satisfaction and a realization that all the hard work is worth it. I’m definitely not a traditional pastor, as I would define it. I don’t prepare a weekly sermon, conduct many funerals or weddings, or even walk around with a robe or collar. But I do care for, think about, and gather the female members of our church with the intention of shepherding them into greater faith and stronger community on a regular basis. In my early days of serving women, my “pastoring” looked more like friendship and a face-to-face conversation across my kitchen table. With our Bibles opened and a cup of coffee in our hands, we’d begin to share our lives. As I welcomed her into my own home, I created a sense of warmth, hospitality, and beauty. I thought about her needs and what would make her feel most valued. I prayed for her and hoped that our time together would be an encouragement for her heart and a catalyst for spiritual growth. Soon I wanted to reach more women, so I opened my home to a small group who began to meet on a regular basis. Every week, I was excited to welcome them into my home and into my life. Here I learned a lot about what makes a woman feel cared for, heard, empowered, and loved. Eventually we started hosting events at the church or retreat centers, building getaways, larger Bible study groups, and training opportunities for leadership development and evangelism. I discovered the joy of being a part of a larger community of believers and experienced the empowerment of a corporate gathering. Today, I am privileged to serve as a part of a team that is committed to the value and vision of gathering women. For the past fifteen years, we’ve gathered women countless times for all kinds of reasons: conferences, women’s nights, global trips, leadership development, small groups, community service, prayer events, and even just for fun. Regardless of the size of the gathering, I still fall back on the essential building blocks I first learned around my kitchen table. I still think about every element of the gathering and ask myself what is required to get her interest and how can I create a gathering place that is beautiful, safe, and honoring to God. Today, my “kitchen table” is a bit larger and my bringing many friends together a bit more complex. My pastoring must look like a strange mix of corporate representation, relationship building, and party planner. Although gathering women is a ton of work, it is essential in order to build the local church. Women often represent 60% or more of the local church membership and are the primary volunteer force. In addition, if you can capture the interest and heart of a woman, she will bring along her family. She sets the emotional environment of her home and is often the person that draws her family into a deeper investment in spiritual life. This is the whole reason that most women’s ministries are birthed. Generally, there will be a couple of women who want to get together to encourage each other. They want to study the word, share life, and pray for one another. Out of this healthy desire, more formal and broader reaching gatherings naturally occur. Before you know it, someone’s gone to the leadership of the church and asked to do a thing or two to gather women, and suddenly, another women’s ministry is launched. Other ministry leaders often ask me questions about gatherings. How do you get women to come? How do you decide what to do? What kinds of things should we include? When is the best time to gather women? How do you know if a gathering is successful? Although these are goods questions, I don’t think they are the most important. The question I’d rather you ask is “Why?” Why gather women? There are many reasons to gather but there are two primary reasons that motivate me. First, it is important to create a place of safety and belonging where a woman can effectively experience the presence of Christ and secondly to fulfill the mandate of Titus 2: teach the younger. This used to happen naturally in homes, families, and local communities. Several generations often lived in the same home and if not in the same home, most certainly in the same community. Our mother and grandmothers taught us the basics of our spiritual development, our family relationships, and our sense of belonging. Today, the average woman’s life is much more complicated. She is far more likely to live in a different location than her parents or siblings. She usually works outside her home, is involved in some type of volunteer organization, and still manages to care for her family and home. She has aspirations for her life to be purposeful in many ways yet often feels isolated and alone. The sense of community and camaraderie that were common for our grandmothers is unusual for us today. We now form community around social media tools and depend upon the worldwide Internet for our counsel and education. Don’t get me wrong! I love the generation in which we live, and I think that women are in the midst of the most empowering, meaningful season of any prior generation. But no amount of on-line community or education will replace the sense of belonging that happens when you are a part of something bigger than yourself. We have an inherent need to be a “living stone” in the house of God. Women are natural gatherers. If you leave them alone, they will intuitively form clusters and groups. They tend to find someone they can relate to and who shares a similar passion or life season. They gather around all kinds of issues and topics, from workplace interest to PTA; from life stage or personal interest; and even from passions for music, movies, books, or videos. Without intention, she will search for and relate herself to others for influence, relationship, and fun. This tendency definitely makes the work easier, but it doesn’t make it simple. The church is competing with thousands of voices and opportunities for women. If we want women to develop a healthy, Bible-based, God-centered world view, and healthy relationships to boot, we’ve got to create gatherings that are varied and interesting enough to draw them into our circle. Just consider these questions: To whom is she listening? Where is she getting her counsel? Who is helping her to grow as a woman, a leader, a wife, a mother, a daughter, an employee, a friend? Why would she add a church gathering to a long list of life demands? What do we offer that she can’t get anywhere else? How can I provide a gathering that will draw her attention from so many other voices and bring her near to experience a divine connection, a spirit-led inspiration, a unique gathering that will meet her needs? If you ponder these types of questions until you begin to find the answers, then you will build a gathering for women that are based upon the “why.” All the other questions about how, when, what, or where will naturally fall into order and clarity. So go ahead. Invest the time, thought, and energy into building, stewarding, and enjoying gatherings for women. Your work will be rewarding, and the Kingdom of God will be expanded. The women you serve will grow healthier and more confident. Your own heart will overflow with joy at the work of your hands, and the church will fulfill its mission. Christ will be lifted high.
About Jan Greenwood
Jan is an integral part of the Pink team, helping to lead an amazing group of women who develop opportunities and resources for the women of Gateway Church, including Pink Impact. She speaks, writes, and ministers on issues related to women, leadership, and healing. She is also a breast cancer survivor who shares freely about her experience and encourages others to navigate with faith in difficult times. She became a part of a project of the National Breast Cancer Foundation called Beyond the Shock, where she is featured as a documentary participant, sharing insights and perspectives as a cancer survivor. Jan and her husband, Mark, have been married for 29 years and have four children.