Navigating what ministries to begin and which to forgo can be a daunting task for church leaders. The topic of whether or not to pursue a women’s ministry in the local church is often on the top of the list.
For Daniel Montgomery, lead pastor of Sojourn Church in Lousiville, Ky., the answer was clear: He would provide a women’s ministry but wouldn’t lead it. This model has worked well for their local congregation, and I’ve asked the co-leader of their women’s ministry, Amanda Edmondson, and Montgomery to give us a peek into why their ministry has been fruitful.
Did you establish a women's ministry as you established the church or was it developed after? If so, why? If not, what provoked you to begin a women's ministry?
Daniel Montgomery: I think women’s ministry, like men’s ministry, has been semi-provisional at time, addressing specific concerns and issues. We now have a more formal women’s ministry in order to:
- To embed a theological vision for life in ministry for women.
- For the purpose of creating and maintaining sisterhood among the women in our church.
- To empower women to do ministry in the church.
We want to intentionally meet women who want deeper theological reflection where they are. It won’t just happen. Women’s ministry also allows us to directly address the challenges of cultivating friendships across generations—whether someone is mentoring or being poured into. In addition, if you look at any renewal movement in history, women were at the helm. We want to empower and free women to do that kind of ministry.
Daniel, why did you feel it was important to have a woman lead the ministry?
Montgomery: The fact that we even ask this question shows how oppressive our churches can be toward women. There are several reasons to have a woman lead:
- Women need to lead women (Titus 2) with conviction and creativity.
- It’s hard for me to imagine raising up women in leadership without women leading women.
I believe reform and renewal will only take place in the church when women can fearlessly lead as women—with all their feminine beauty and power that God has specifically designed for them to use in various roles throughout the church.
What is your role in the women’s ministry?
Montgomery: I am there as an advocate and advisor for women’s ministry.
Amanda, what were your first thoughts when you were approached about leading this ministry?
Amanda Edmondson: I have a strong passion for women to know the Lord and to teach them how to know the Lord and make him known. Before I was on staff at Sojourn Community Church, I was leading a Bible study with another woman that took place in our houses. So when I was approached about Sojourn, I was excited for the opportunity but unsure of what it would look like for a multi-site church. I was also excited to be co-leading with a wiser, like-minded woman in our church.
What do you do day-to-day?
Edmondson: I have two roles at Sojourn. The majority of my time goes to being Daniel’s executive assistant. About 30 percent (some weeks more or less) go to women’s ministry. No day is ever the same in ministry. From July to April, a lot of focus and energy goes into our Women’s Leadership School, aside from that I am meeting with and discipling women, working with ministry leaders on raising up women and coaching women from other churches on how to lead or start a women’s ministry.
What are the goals of the women's ministry?
Edmondson: To equip women to know the Lord and lead with strength, using their gifts and talents in order to serve in the church, reach the world and make disciples.
Some would say that women's ministry is detrimental to the church because it could become separated from the mission of the church. How have you established boundaries or a general framework for protecting your ministry from straying away from the mission of the church?
Edmondson: Women’s ministry shouldn’t be a separate entity of the church but rather a ministry that supports the church as a whole. With the majority of seats in churches today being filled by women, there needs to be an opportunity for women to learn from women (Titus 2). I have two suggestions for boundaries:
- Use your women’s ministry as a place where women can get equipped. It should be a place where women are learning to lead—specifically—as women, then being released to serve the church along side everyone. The church’s vision isn’t lost when the ministry isn’t siloed.
- Make sure men are involved. In our church, Elders and church leadership take an interest in women’s ministry and care what we are taught. They teach on it from the pulpit and partner with us to equip women to lead.
What does a healthy women's ministry look like?
Montgomery: It’s not pulling women out of and away from participating in the church as a whole, but equipping women and training them in godliness to serve the church.
How might a church determine when it's time to evaluate a ministry’s effectiveness?
Montgomery: For us, it goes back to our vision and asking questions like: Is it supporting the overall vision? Are they reaching people? Building them up? Making disciples?
How might you encourage a church to start a women's ministry?
Edmondson: Most churches we speak to have a group structure where both men and women are gathering together throughout the week to discuss sermons. As most churches have moved away from having individualized ministries for both men and women, they are discovering there’s still a need for men and women to gather separately. I always encourage pastors and leaders to listen to the men and women of their churches. What are they hungry for? What do they need to learn about the Lord in this season? Is there a need for the men and women to meet separately?
As we mentioned earlier, we see a great value and need for women to be under the teaching of women in order to learn what it looks like to lead as a woman. If we want a woman to lead as a woman, then women need to see women leading biblically in the church and in the community where they live and work.
Depending on the size of the church, start with what you have the capacity to do. Provide a space for women to be empowered and taught by women, to gather and fellowship together, and to be free to go deep and grow together. This is going to look different for each church, depending on their need and availability.
Montgomery: Like Amanda said, start with what you have. We are a church that does a lot from art and mercy, so we are always looking for opportunities for women to lead in worship, arts, mercy, and children. If a woman has a gift of teaching, ask how you can we nurture that woman? For example, we noticed that one of our ministries was male-dominated and neglecting the equipping of women to lead, so we’ve taken measures to address it, though it’s not without it’s challenges.
Another suggestion would be to take time to figure out how you can cultivate the ministry, mission and leadership of women in your church, instead of just adding a women’s ministry. We don’t want to merely create a massive silo of women’s events; we want to reach women with the gospel, build them up as the church, and release them in the world to make disciples.
What are some of the things your Women’s Ministry does throughout the year?
Edmonson: Women’s Leadership School: This is a seven-month leadership program that trains women to serve and lead within the context of the local church, the places we live, and work. We believe that the local church has a responsibility to train and equip women to lead with strength wherever the Lord has placed them.
The training is divided into two semesters and covers a variety of topics, such as God’s glory, Bible study, theology, discipleship, leadership, biblical womanhood, and evangelism. Each woman who participates in the Women’s Leadership School is receiving discipleship from their group leader and is using what they’ve learned to disciple another woman within Sojourn.
One-Day Conferences: Women gather from all four of our campuses to worship and learn together.
Women’s Gift Exchange: This event is held at each campus during the Advent season and is an opportunity for women to connect with one another and exchange gifts while participating in a time of worship and teaching.
How do you encourage participation in the women’s ministry?
Edmondson: Most times, it’s from a one-on-one conversation with a woman during the week or on a Sunday. We communicate from the stage/pulpit on Sundays about Women’s Ministry and events and through our Community Groups that meet throughout the week. It’s not hard to encourage women to participate when they are hungry to learn and desire to gather with other woman. As we communicate and share, we are always communicating the bigger vision of why we provide these opportunities for women.
How has Daniel supported the ministry and encouraged your gifts?
Edmondson: Within my first month at Sojourn, he told me to lead out of freedom and not fear. He has to frequently remind me of this, but it has greatly affected the way I lead. Being given the freedom to lead, using my talents and gifts, takes a huge weight off of me. I know I don’t have to fit within a cookie-cutter mold, but I am free to do ministry the way the Lord has uniquely gifted me. He has also been a great advocate and advisor for women—he listens and gives counsel to help us all move forward.
If you’d like to read more about women’s ministry, you might want to check out these books: Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt and the forthcoming book from The Gospel Coalition by multiple contributors, Word-Filled Women’s Ministry.