INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The Esther Project, a one-time event for women sensing God’s call to ministry in their churches held Oct. 7 at Indiana’s Highland Lakes Baptist Camp, was the culmination of more than two years of work.
But its beginning goes back to 1998 — and its impact may extend years into the year.
Heather King, director of WMU/women’s ministry for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, brought together 12 women, six actively involved in WMU and six actively involved in women’s ministry, to form a women’s advisory council in 1998. Her primary responsibility in her position on the SCBI staff, as instructed by the executive board, was to find a way for WMU and women’s ministry to work together in Indiana.
“I didn’t want to go at that alone,” King said. “I wanted the input of the women on this council.
“We spent about a year and a half just praying, getting to know one another and discussing how WMU and women’s ministries can complement one another.”
In April 1999, the council invited three women to attend their meeting: Chris Adams, women’s enrichment ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources; Jaye Martin, women’s evangelism director for the North American Mission Board; and Laura Savage, ministry consultant for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Woman’s Missionary Union.
“It was time to bring these ladies in to show our women that they are working together, that their resources can go hand-in-hand in the local church and that there is no competition among them,” King said.
It was at that April ’99 meeting that King shared her vision of women’s ministry in Indiana (“That Indiana women be growing in God’s Word and as a result their lifestyles would reflect evangelism and missions”) and the council, working with all three ladies, developed a ministry model. That ministry model served as the centerpiece for The Esther Project.
The ministry model states: “The ultimate goal for any ministry involving women reaching women should be to help a woman prayerfully develop her Christian lifestyle that includes 1) Ongoing spiritual enrichment through personal Bible study, 2) Hands-on missions involvement, and 3) The practice of verbally sharing her faith.
“These three [areas] represent the national Southern Baptist organizations in which each has a unique focus on equipping women to develop such lifestyles. LifeWay Christian Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union and the North American Mission Board are faithfully providing resources and involvement opportunities that can work together in the local church.”
A graphic of the model shows three intersecting circles. One is labeled “enrichment,” one “missions” and one “evangelism.” Where they intersect is where the Christian woman’s lifestyle should be.
Ninety-four women representing 13 of Indiana’s 14 Baptist associations came to study the model. They included laywomen, pastors’ wives and the wives of associational missionaries.
“This meeting was not just for anybody,” King said. “We were targeting leadership. It was for women who are already in leadership positions in their church or women who feel called of God to lead in some capacity in their local church.”
Adams, Martin and Savage each had opportunity to teach the women about their particular area of ministry, after which all three came together on the platform for a panel discussion and a question-and-answer time.
“It was helpful to see that all three national leaders have a common goal in mind,” said Lori Jones, a participant in The Esther Project and a member of the women’s advisory council. “The key word was balance. Any ministry to women needs to be a balanced ministry. I was impressed with the way all three national leaders worked well together and are in frequent communications with each other.”
Mirroring that sentiment, King said, “For those three women to be sitting together on that panel spoke volumes to our ladies about unity and the need for a balanced ministry. It is a necessity for our women that WMU and women’s ministries work together. We are all aiming for the same goal. We are all aiming for spiritually mature women. We are just taking different paths.”
Another participant, Emily Albright, said, “It was a great time for us to learn about a balanced women’s ministry incorporating missions, evangelism and enrichment. The national leaders were very knowledgeable. Each had such an expertise in their area and it was a privilege to have them with us.
“In the panel discussion, I paid close attention to the answer to the question, ‘How do you do all this in the time constraints of a one-hour Bible study?’ What I gained was you don’t have to do it all, but do one thing well and build from there,” Albright said.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of The Esther Project is how the ministry model is being used outside Indiana.
“There are huge implications on a national level because, for a year now, Jaye, Chris and Laura have been using this ministry model in other places,” King said.
The model has been presented at the Women’s Forum in Nashville, Tenn., and the Women’s Leadership Consultation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Becky Summerall, director of women’s ministries in Tennessee, has begun using the model in her state and Heather Ruiz, director of women’s ministries in New York, has adapted it to fit her state’s needs.
“Wherever I go I share this with our leaders,” Martin said. “The thing I like so much about it is that it makes it easy for the local church person. When I began in ministry I really didn’t know where to go for resources.”
“Southern Baptists do not lack resources for getting women involved,” Savage said. “The challenge is connecting the women to the resources. This opportunity to hear from all three SBC entities that provide specific resources for women provides a picture of how all these resources can be used together in the local church.
“Chris, Jaye and I have spent many hours dreaming, praying and planning for training sessions like this where we can model what working together looks like. Even though we work for three different organizations, our hearts are one: we want women to discover who they are in Christ, use their spiritual gifts and reach out compassionately to the lost in both word and deed,” Savage said.
“As the three of us have been on the platform together showing how to balance women’s ministry to include enrichment, missions and evangelism, we have had a great response,” Adams said. “It has helped women to see how these work together and not in competition.”
From The Esther Project forward, follow-up and assessments are needed to better network women in the state so they can use one another as resources, King said.
“I think all of us are appreciative of Indiana for leading the way and for pulling us all together for training,” Martin said. “This was the first time all three of us were together for training and someone needed to lead the way.”
(BP) photo and logo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Titles: WOMEN’S MINISTRY LEADERS and MINISTRY MODEL LOGO.