In conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham a few weeks ago, my friend and I attended a gathering for Southern Baptist women in leadership, the first of its kind. I’m not certain what I expected but upon arrival we were instructed to choose a table signifying the area of leadership most in line with our particular ministry. There was a table for children’s ministry, women’s ministry, writing and publishing, and so on. I chose “Discipleship;” my friend sat at the table for pastor’s wives.
At each table was a list of questions to be discussed, a literal roundtable as it were! My table was comprised of 6 women, including myself, spanning different ages, different ministries, and different sized churches. We talked about the challenges of our specific ministries and ways we have been and would like to be supported by our local churches.
My friend and I talked afterwards, both of us confessing a smallish level of disappointment especially in regard to how much of the discussion about women in leadership is difficult to apply in the small church context. While all the women at my table shared a common desire for women to know and serve the Lord Jesus, yes of course we did, our challenges were far different. Which is not to say I didn’t learn from or benefit from their perspective; I did. The passion and focus of the young twenty-ish woman on staff at her multi campus mega church were inspiring. However, in comparison, I felt quite keenly the smallness of my calling.
I know my ministry has value. But there are certain challenges inherent in a smaller sized ministry that, let’s be honest, can easily lead to discouragement. Just consider the numbers. Whatever the drop-off rate is from the start of a new Bible study to the end–and there is one and it’s probably higher than we all think–it’s a bigger deal in a group of 15 when 5 or 8 or 10 drop out than say in a group of 50 or 500. It’s discouraging. And besides, everywhere you turn, numbers and attendance and membership all are extolled as manifestations of health and effectiveness. Speaking of the SBC convention, you need only listen to the nominating speeches for confirmation that we love numbers, the bigger and the more impressive the better. What then of the small church pastor?
This is part of what frustrates me about the current discussion on the role(s) of women in the church. So much of what is presented as affirming of women yet maintaining distinct gender roles is really only applicable to the large church. I recently listened to a podcast affirming a generous complementarianism and while I greatly appreciated the conversation and was encouraged by much of it, I laughed a little when one of the hosts proposed one way to affirm the calling and gifting of women as the intentional consideration of qualified female candidates for open staff positions. Talk about a large church bias! My church doesn’t even have a secretary!
My passion, the heartbeat of what I do, is for women to know the Bible, to know Jesus, to know the deep things of the Lord are for them too, and to know their participation in kingdom work is not necessarily limited to the nursery or the kitchen. Of course, those are valid and needful ministries, but they do not not comprise all that women are called and gifted for. This, then, can be a challenge for the small church leader. In my church the nursery and the kitchen are the main avenues of service for women; not only that but we need the women there. In a small church there is no one else!
That being said, what makes small sized ministry challenging is also what makes it rich and rewarding. My Sunday school class is small; the Bible study I teach is small. Thus I know each of the women who attend by name and when I see them in the grocery store and at TJ Maxx, I can talk to them about their children and their job and other details of their lives. I know them. What a blessing. What a privilege.
Just the other night I hosted a book club here in my home. We went around the room introducing ourselves and nearly every women shared how she and I knew each other: from Bible study or from church or from an acquaintance dating back more than twenty years. My heart was full. I am so blessed to know them and to love them and to serve them, and to be known and loved by them. I’m so grateful the Lord called me here, to this. It may be a small thing in another’s eyes but to me it is the grace and goodness of the Lord.