RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Bible study author Beth Moore is concerned that the fast-paced communications of today’s culture is pulling people away from meditating on the messages God has for them.
With texting and Twitter, Moore told the National Women’s Leadership Forum, “We are coming under simultaneous scrutiny. You can be graded on what you said almost before you finish getting the words out of your mouth. With that kind of instantaneous communication, there is no time to digest the information.”
More than 1,300 women attended the yearly women’s gathering, which was held for the first time at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in Asheville, N.C.
As a featured speaker, Moore said the vast options for communication available today boggle her mind, even as she takes advantage of the tools. The immediate sharing of information, she said, may be translating into shorter times of pondering what God has to say.
“I fear that we are losing the art of meditation [when] we don’t take time to absorb the message before passing it on,” Moore said. “We must take the time to be still and quiet before the Lord. We are transmitting a ton of information but not taking time for reception.
“We must take time to hear a message from God and allow it to go deep into our hearts and minds,” she said. “We have to give it time to make an impression on our lives.”
Chris Adams, senior lead women’s ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and host of the November sessions, said women were in attendance from more than 360 churches from 18 denominations in 38 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and internationally from Australia and Canada.
“This is the biggest, most diverse group we have had in the 15-year history of this event,” Adams said.
Travis Cottrell and his praise team opened the general sessions. Cottrell, worship pastor at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., has been a familiar face at LifeWay-sponsored women’s events since teaming up with Moore for Living Proof Live events more than a decade ago.
In their general sessions, women heard from speakers who shared their own successes and failures in ministry. In addition to Adams and Moore, speakers included author Margaret Feinberg, Curtis Jones of Living Proof Ministries, author Sara Horn and Ester Burroughs, a former staff member at the North American Mission Board.
A panel discussion addressed ministry issues women face. Panelists were Adams, Feinberg, Burroughs, Selma Wilson of LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group, authors Kelly Minter and Jason Hayes, and Rachel Lovingood of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Women’s ministry, Feinberg said, is in a state of transition.
“I see a decentralization of women’s ministry. We can’t expect them to come in to us. We have to go outside the walls of the church and meet women where they and their needs are,” she said.
Among the most pressing issues in women’s ministry today, the panel said, are cultural intrusions, such as time, exhaustion, loneliness, social expectations, divorce, lack of biblical knowledge and isolation from neighbors.
“I see so many young women who come from broken homes,” Hayes said. “They lack the practical skill set to know about church and home.”
Wilson said, “Women have so many opportunities for education and careers now. They’ve had it all. But at the end of the day, it’s not enough. There is a desperation.”
These and other issues can be addressed through a ministry of mentoring, the panel said.
“Women have traditionally learned from their mothers and like-mothers,” Burroughs said. “But, in ministry, older women can learn so much from younger women as well.
“The church I grew up in didn’t have a lot of authenticity,” she said. “Women dressed up and all wore their hair in buns. I look at young women now and I love the way they dress. I love the way they worship.”
Wilson said one gift older women can give to busy younger women is to remind them that Scripture recounts that Jesus never ran. He was always interrupted, but He also did everything the Father told Him to do.
“With jobs, children, ministries and everything young women do, it’s hard to know how to slow down,” Wilson said. “We need to remind them that it’s OK to slow down. Spend some time with God every day. When you spend your life running from one thing to another, you will miss something.”
Adding to that, Hayes said, “Remember to use the existing hours in your day for ministry. Don’t try to add hours to your day. Use the environment you have for your ministry. My wife Carrie and I are committed to using our home as our place of ministry.”
The panel agreed that while it is important to draw single women in to ministries, it can be challenging. Church can be perceived as a place for children, students and married couples.
“The best thing a church can do for single women like me is to just treat us like normal people,” Minter said. “Don’t segregate us. We want to be part of a community.”
Adams suggested pairing a single woman and a married woman together for projects such as teaching a Bible study.
Burroughs reminded the ministry leaders not to forget that while churches tend to think of singles as young people who are not married yet, widows are single too.
“My husband and I had eight of the widows from our church over for dinner one night,” she said. “My husband is a marvelous cook and he went all out. We had the china on the table and candles. It was beautiful. As the women were leaving, my husband and I gave each one a hug. One of the precious women teared up and said, ‘It has been so long since someone hugged me.'”
In addition to the general sessions, more than 40 breakout sessions were offered during the three-day training event. Topics included compassion fatigue, mentoring, reaching young adults, women’s missions, team-building, spiritual storytelling and leaving a spiritual legacy.
Author Angela Thomas, in her breakout session, spoke about the necessity of going to God with honest questions, such as, “Do You know that I’m worn out?” “Do You know I’m suffering?” “Do You know I feel invisible?” She assured them that not only does He know, He will answer.
In her session on compassion fatigue, Linda Lesniewski, a women’s minister at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, said it is entirely possible to get physically, emotionally and spiritually worn out ministering to people who have such a variety of needs. She helped women see the symptoms of compassion fatigue and how to take time for refreshment and repair.
Pam Case, director of LifeWay Women, led a session on using social media as a ministry tool. She talked about Facebook, blogs, vlogs, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and women’s leaders are going to have to jump onboard, Case said.
Next year’s leadership forum will be Nov. 10-12 at LifeWay’s home office in Nashville, Tenn. For more information, visit LifeWay.com/Women.
Adapted from reporting by Polly House, a corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.