I have heard over and over from experienced women in ministry that they wish they had known of the other women working in their church body when they started out. Almost every woman I interviewed alluded to it. They would have been encouraged to know that there were others out there, others who had gone that way before and were ahead of them on the trail. Instead of blazing each new trail themselves, perhaps they could have walked in wiser footsteps and had the support of a fellow traveler.
Have things changed or are we still working in isolation? Are you able to find venues in which to share and learn from women colleagues? Are you investing yourself in mentoring relationships that can challenge and help you grow? I hope that this column has at least given you a peek of the many women role models and leaders throughout Scripture and in our church. You don’t need to be alone!
Your life, personal characteristics, and demeanor speak volumes to the young people you serve. They will remember more about who you are than what you’ve said. Do they see a woman frustrated and beaten down, or a servant leader always striving for new ways to grow and learn? Their willingness to open up to you as a mentor will increase as they become aware of your openness to have a mentor yourself. If you want to be a mentor to the girls in your congregation, show them it is important by having mentors yourself. The next generation of women in ministry are learning from watching you. What are you teaching them?
The people I look to as mentors have shaped my ministry. Looking back I can see the voids when I didn’t have a mentor to support, encourage, and exhort me. Each place I have served has been marked by the influence of older, wiser women and men who have befriended and mentored me. Some have listened and advised me on my personal life and relationships, others have given me professional guidance and still others have offered spiritual care and concern. They have shown me aspects of my self that I was blind to, reminded me of God’s hidden will, and allowed me to air my hurts and wounds in a healing, non-coddling environment. Each time I have moved to a new ministry location it has been these relationships that I feel the lack of most. The void is sorely felt, and yet God provides others who allow me to grow in new ways.
I met Jane when her two children were in the youth group that I was working with. What began as a typical youth leader-parent relationship grew into a friendship. Jane was about 20 years older than me and I admired the kind of woman she was. My observations of her character showed that she was a caring and level headed wife and mother. She had such a real and genuine way of sharing her faith in a non-assuming way. She was active in Bible study, a helpful volunteer at church, and brought a positive atmosphere with her wherever she went. While she wasn’t a colleague in the professional sense, she was every bit a co-worker in the ministry of that congregation. We enjoyed each other’s company, had fun chatting. As time went on, Jane became one of my mentors. Her wisdom and insight were a source of comfort and encouragement, as well as a reminder of my own blind spots. Her vantage point of my ministry really helped me see a fuller, more complete picture. When situations became stressful, her guidance was an answer to prayer. While she was a member of the congregation that I served, she served me with her mentoring.
You were never intended to work in ministry alone, looking down from your pedestal on the sheep you were sent to care for. In many ways the great Shepherd uses those in ministry to help shepherd His flock, but we are all still sheep and we need the herd. Find your mentors and learn from them! Allow them to minister to you. Allow yourself to be humbled by their service so that Christ can be exalted through your growth.
Women in ministry, you are not alone! God works through other women to teach you. He uses the community of saints to help shape and form you. Seek out your mentors! Listen and learn!