Adams, an adjunct professor at the seminary and senior lead women's ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, reflected on her beginnings with women's ministry in the 1980s. She began at her local church in Tyler, Texas, by participating in a young women's Bible study group.
"It grew as a ministry to each other as we raised our kids together and helped each other. The more I got involved and discipled, the more I wanted other women to experience that too."
Eventually, her desire to disciple women in the church led to a small part-time position in her church and then to a full-time position as special ministries coordinator. In 1994, LifeWay invited Adams to join their team, and she's been helping women reach women in churches nationwide ever since.
Though Adams is quick to point out that women's ministry has always been a ministry and not a program, she acknowledges that today's young women see and do ministry differently than when she started, with intergenerational leadership having become a key focus for her and other women's ministry leaders.
"I want to see this generation not just handing off the ministry but walking with them as they take the ministry in new directions -- to be an encourager, but at the same time walking it with them," Adams said.
Kelley, professor of women's ministry at New Orleans Seminary, agreed that women's ministry is about people, not programs. The seminary, for example, is intentional about offering courses that provide relevant training to a wide variety of topics, ages and stages of life, she said.
"We don't want to say your ministry has to look a certain way. We're saying you can learn to do ministry in a way that fits your personality and calling," Kelley said at the October workshop.
A COMMON PURPOSE
Regardless of their generation or calling, Adams said all the women she comes in contact with during her training have a common purpose.
"They all have a heart for women and a heart to make a difference. Outside of that, things are different. They come from differing size churches, different age groups and cultures."
Kelley said she has seen various types of women's ministry in her classes.
"Some of the women who come through our program are not in women's ministry, per se, but they are ministering to women through their own ministry -- whether through speaking or Bible teaching or going on the mission field."
Kristy Mullins, an insurance investigator in her day job, serves in women's ministry at Calvary Baptist Church in Shreveport, La. She is working toward a women's ministry certificate by taking classes at New Orleans Seminary.
"My full-time job is investigating insurance fraud, which means I deal mainly with men all day, so doing women's ministry is something very different for me. What I appreciate is the different perspectives and different ideas that you can take home," Mullins said.
Fellow student Rachel Moyers of Corinth, Miss., serves as her church's youth and children's director. She is interested in starting a girls' ministry at her church but said she also is interested in helping promote other women's ministry opportunities.
"Women are our teachers and our leaders and they need something where they can get fed. Of course, we're fed through the worship service, but there are times when women need women," Moyers said.
DIFFERENT AGES AND STAGES
Kelley said one key to helping churches bridge the leadership gap in women's ministry is to intentionally involve the different generations.
"At the seminary, we're very intentional about choosing classes that are relevant to traditional and younger women," Kelley said. "You have to be very intentional about and not just let the ministry become about one group of women."
Mullins' church in Shreveport is seeing growth in their ministry from an intergenerational approach. They host a multigenerational knitting group that focuses on service projects.
"We have all ages from third-grade girls to women in their 70s, and everyone is welcome," she said.
The group, which is in its second year, has knitted scarves for children in a Mongolian orphanage the church helps sponsor. Their latest project is knitting baby blankets for a local crisis pregnancy center.
In addition to reaching across the generations, Mullins said the knitting projects have helped them reach beyond the church's doors.
"We've had women come and get involved in the church through the knitting group that might not have otherwise," Mullins said.
Moyers said she hopes her women's ministry training will help her in other aspects of ministry.
"Right now, I'm looking very seriously at doing some things for the youth girls, and maybe by doing something for them someone will also step up and want to do something for the boys."
Adams said younger women are interested in ministry and making a difference in their world.
"The next generation wants to be involved in spontaneous ministry, but they don't want to study about it. They want to do it," she said. "Today more and more women are getting out in the community, going on mission, and feeding the homeless and building relationships."
One of the current trends Adams sees is a desire for deeper Bible study that is "less topical and more verse-by-verse" with a focus on application.
"The most important thing for them, though, is building community. It's, 'How does this apply to my everyday life?'" Adams said.
The application and relationship-building offers an opportunity for the more mature women to walk alongside the younger women for encouragement and support, she said.
"When we were doing research, we found that their biggest need is in building relationships. So many have come from dysfunctional backgrounds, they don't know what a healthy relationship looks like."
New Orleans Seminary, like other seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, has built a strong reputation for equipping women to reach women of all ages and stages of life. At NOBTS, for example, the seminary's offerings have grown since 1997 to two certificate programs for women's ministry as well as a bachelor's degree and three master's degrees. A variety of class options are offered to accommodate different types of students, including short workshops, online courses, independent studies and traditional semester classes.
As for the future of women's ministry, Kelley said, "I think there will always be women's ministry in the church because you're always going to have women in the church and community who have needs that Christ can meet. Whether or not you call it women's ministry, women's ministry must be done."
Suzanne Davis writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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