Getaway with God Part 2 of 3

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It’s been really exciting planning my first Getaway with God, the idea of a personal retreat sounds just like the thing I need right now.  Sometimes we just need a moment to get our head on straight, focus back to where it should be, and I can’t wait.

I must admit some of the planning aspect has been easy since I am tacking this on to an existing trip.  So answering the when and where questions were a bit of a no brainer.  In fact, I think if I had to plan it from scratch verses adding it to an existing trip… it may have been harder.  My focus in planning, now, has been the details.

Am I going to lock myself in my space for the day and just really concentrate on God?  Do I want to venture out to enjoy His creation?  And where will I do that when I am staying in a major city?  I do have access to a small kitchen, so I could stop by a store and load up on snacks and meals to munch on, or I could go for a quick bite or order in.  So many options!

Since my retreat isn’t off in a quiet location, I had to veer off from the book a little bit.  I need to get my hands on a map of the area, locating a local park perhaps.  I know there is a zoo in fairly close proximity, and that could be interesting.  I can’t think of a time I have ever gone to a zoo completely on my own.  But what an opportunity to see such variety in God’s created animals.   I can also use the map to find places to eat that are near by and figure out what will work in my budget.  I’ve decided that being my first personal retreat, I won’t be fasting (at least from food).

In the book there is a sample schedule for the 24 Hour Retreat, and I think that will really helpful to follow for my first retreat.  It also helped me to figure out what I would need to pack.

My largest hurdle is determining what type of retreat this will be, especially knowing that following the retreat is going to be a fast paced conference weekend.  On the one hand, I think a Restorative Retreat would be a beautiful way to prepare myself for the conference.  I would be able to rest up, prep my heart for what God would reveal to it during the conference, and set my mind into the right mode to learn.

A Listening Retreat could be a great way to put a cap on some things that have been weighing me down before the Lord reveals new things to me at the conference.  I have some lingering questions regarding certain situations that I would love to address.  Perhaps getting away and being alone with God is exactly what I need to find that peace.

I also have the ministry that I work with, and having a solid 24 hours to dedicate to Goal Setting would be wonderful.  My only caveat with this option is that I’m not sure I can do too much goal setting without the rest of my team there.  So perhaps this is a different retreat for another day.

What does this all mean?   It means my biggest priority right now is to be in prayer and covet the prayers of those closest to me about WHY I am going on this retreat and what God would have me do with this time.

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Getaway with God, Part 1 of 3

getawaywithgodSometime ago, I messaged my Pastor’s wife questioning if she had ever planned a personal/private retreat.  She had not, but encouraged me that it would be worthwhile.  After all, spending intentional time alone with God can’t be anything short of a blessing.  I still didn’t know how to go about it though.  I asked around a bit more, no luck.

What do you do on a personal retreat?  In my head I envisioned myself sitting in a cozy chair with my Bible, reading.  Then I thought about purchasing a Bible Study with video set and doing the whole thing over the course of a weekend.  Perhaps I would journal until I couldn’t journal another word, or use it as a working retreat to write a book.  Maybe I would fast the whole weekend.  Then of course the logistical questions came rolling in …

When and where?   How will I pay for it?  Can we spare the time away, when I already have a few travel events this year.

As I cracked open the book, Getaway with God (by Letitia Suk), I learned a few things.

  1.  I’m not the only one who felt called to go on a personal retreat.
  2.  I’m not the only one who asked these same questions about planning one.
  3.  Letitia Suk has been doing this since 1977.

Now, I have in my hands the wisdom of someone who has figured this concept out.  She’s answered the questions, from what to pack to what type of retreat you should have.  Additionally, she speaks to not only what this retreat can mean to you today (in this season) but also down the road.  There are suggestions for short retreats (one day) to longer ones, a few examples of when we can bring a friend along and still consider it a personal retreat.

I’m also a big fan of the portions where she shares what other women have said about their own personal retreats. More women are doing this than we realize.

It just so happens that the Lord has made a way for me to plan a short personal retreat, before I even put my hands on this book.  In a few months, I have a conference to go to.  It’s going to be a very busy few days.  The conference starts early in the morning, and my friend and I planned to arrive the day before to get settled into our hotel.  As I was preparing to buy my airline ticket, I was a little sticker shocked.  Out of sheer curiosity, I looked at what the price would be to fly in an extra day early.  Amazingly not only was the flight less expensive, but I would also be able to stay at a quaint little Bed and Breakfast and still save some money.

So, I booked the ticket.  I’m flying in a day earlier.  I’ve got a Bed and Breakfast booked.

I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with all this free time.  Now that I’ve read the book, “Getaway with God”… I know EXACTLY what I am going to do with my extra day! I’m planning a personal retreat.    Over the next few weeks, I’ll post Part 2 which I will talk a bit about my planning process.  Then, I’ll post Part 3 after my personal retreat and fill you all in how it went!

The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference 2016

To register for the conference, or for more information click on the image below:

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For the majority of my Christian walk, I would attend just about any women’s conference I could with my church. I enjoyed going with my church versus on my own because I saw it as a bonding experience among the women, a chance to fellowship, and an opportunity to retreat into worship and teaching. A few years ago, my good friend mentioned The Gospel Coalition’s conferences to me. As a church we were not going to it, I had limited funds and opportunities to get away, and there certainly wouldn’t be any group discounts on tickets or rooms for me that year. So, I turned her down despite her glowing review of the speakers and workshops.

The next year, she asked again. I said yes. I had no idea what I was setting myself up for either. This particular year was the 2014 Women’s Conference, and the speakers were going to explore the book of Nehemiah. I registered for the conference, selected my workshops and focus groups. I even received an invitation to a special writers workshop. The date approached, I was eager with anticipation at what this new conference was going to be like. There was no way that I could have known the profound impact that conference, and the following year’s conference, would have on my life.

It is my desire to share these experiences with you, as you may be sitting on the fence of decision.

The first blessing I received at the conference was watching the scales of how I was reading the scriptures fall from my eyes. I had spent too much time looking at the scriptures for “me” in the pages. I was trapped in asking how a piece of scripture applied to my life, or what it meant for me. Instead, I should have been seeking God first in His Word. It seemed so obvious. As if this was something I should have always known, but somehow missed.

Throughout the conference another friend kept coming to mind, she and her family had gone on a missions trip to Nicaragua. It was very apparent to all of us, upon their return, that a piece of their hearts was left behind. There would be comments made throughout the weekend that would draw my thoughts to this family. I would write her name down in my notes, circling tidbits I felt compelled to tell her. I would message her every night recapping these things. She would reply to my messages in excitement because the very things I was conveying to her… were the very things the Lord was laying on her husband’s heart at the same time. What a blessing to see the Lord work in such a way! He was sending her confirmation, and she wasn’t even at the conference!

As if having the scales removed from my vision of study wasn’t enough, the next blessing I would gain from the conference was attending Carrie Sandom’s two “Bible Tool Kit” workshops. The scales were gone, and the Lord was putting the tools into my hands that would enable me to see the bigger picture of the scriptures. It began a stirring in me that would push me in to deeper study and begin to shape my views on the importance of Bible literacy.

The final blessing from the conference came during the Writers Workshop. Several women who were successfully writing for their own blogs and even became published authors were available to share their experience with us. This workshop was the fire I needed to begin putting my thoughts to paper; as I began to look inside myself, the world around me, examine my faith and beliefs, and finesse my writing. This was just the catalyst for something more to come.

In 2015, I attended The Gospel Coalition Conference again, it was time for the second step in the journey. This go around, I would examine the importance of Bible literacy in more depth. There was motivation to write more, about deeper things. I would be catapulted into pursuing my Bachelors in Divinity Degree. I would pick up a copy of Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word in the Exhibition Hall, which would result in my teaching about Bible Literacy through five small group studies over the next year. Then, ultimately writing a course on Women’s Ministry for Christian Leaders Institute.

As the 2016 Women’s Conference for The Gospel Coalition approaches, I find myself growing more and more excited. I am looking forward to seeing what God is going to expose my heart to. My mind longs for the opportunity to hear from some of my favorite voices on theology. My heart longs for the continuation of this refinement in my life. This is not the conference where we get lost in the worship songs that we hear on the radio, but instead it is the one where we get lost inside the Word of God. It is truth spoken in concert from those God has called to teach and lead. It has become one of the most valuable resources for me as a place to pull away from the world, and into a congregation of believers who call to the Lord to pour more of Himself into our minds, hearts, and lives.

God is still doing a work in me. I’ve seen more growth in the last two years than ever before, and I credit that growth to those the Lord has commissioned to invest in me. These are men and women who spoke at a conference, to a room full of faces. They couldn’t know the impact their words would have on that gal, sitting somewhere in the middle, hand cramped from taking notes.

If you have found yourself on the fence, wondering if this is the conference for you… I would encourage you consider this investment. With all of the great speakers in line for the plenary sessions and the workshops being offered, this is an opportunity to let the Lord pour into you. And, who knows… perhaps your journey is about to take off!

Swept Away Retreat, Honoring God

As I stated in my previous post, I love conferences and retreats because of how they allow us to pull away from life and focus on God and fellowship with our family of believers.  If you’ve never been to one, they are often based on a theme for the general sessions.  Then, there are often breakaway sessions where you can get a little more personal in a smaller group. These sessions may be related to the theme, or offer additional topics.

I am a person who likes to take full advantage of these events, and soak in as much information as possible.  But, you can usually only sign up for a few topics and will have to pick and choose wisely.  When you are a presenter as well, then it means you have even less options.   This past weekend’s event included topics like coping with loss and sharing your faith, as well as personal testimonies.  I presented on a topic that is dear to my heart, the pursuit of knowledge.   The session I attended was about honoring God with our words.

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This couldn’t have been more perfect timing, since just last week I was reflecting on my propensity for sarcasm.   So, I’m going to start my personal recap on that session first.

Honoring God with Your Words

The first thing I wanted to point out, and I think this something we all need to hear, is that our speaker spoke from her own struggle. Too often when we have an opportunity speak on a subject, we will begin to disqualify ourselves based on our personal failures.  Yet, the best speakers do not speak on subjects that they never had trial with.  NO!  They speak on the subjects they overcame (or are in the process of).  Our speaker shared how this was an area that God had been working on in her life.  What I also appreciated is that she quantified that statement with the fact she had struggled with it for YEARS, God had been working on it in her for YEARS, and she still had more work to come.

The second thing I wanted to point out is that her presentation was almost entirely based on scripture.  She put the effort into finding the scriptures on the subject, and even shared how she went about it.  She was pointing us all toward the process of seeking God’s word on a subject, over our own opinions or how the world wanted us to view the subject.

We were given a two sided paper, each side had four columns.  On one side the columns were the ways that we use our words in a God honoring way, but on the other side were the ways we use our words in a way that does NOT honor God.  I don’t think there was a single woman in our session that didn’t feel the sting of conviction.    We began talking about the dishonoring ways.

Lies:  Proverbs 6:2, Ezekiel 13:8, John 8:44, and Proverbs 19:5

Gossip:  Proverbs 18:8, Proverbs 16:28, Romans 1:29-30a, Proverbs 20:19

Quarrels:  Psalm 64:3, Psalm 55:21, 1 Timothy 6:4, Proverbs 21:19

Long Winded Speech:  Proverbs 10:19, Ecclesiastes 5:3, Ecclesiastes 6:11, Job 11:3

I couldn’t help but recognize how conditioned we are to lying, that society has created acceptable levels of lying.  Or, how prone women are to get caught in gossip or quarreling over ridiculous subjects.  For myself, I noticed that I am prone to sarcasm in ways that do not honor God or my relationships… or an inability to know when better to stay quiet.  I also realized how threaded together each of these categories are when our speaker pointed out how women have difficulty with awkward pauses or silences.  We tend to speak when we shouldn’t, to fill the void.  The words we speak to fill up that space are often peppered with lies to be relevant, gossip to make conversation, sarcasm or inappropriate humor or harsh words about our husbands and children.

There is a reason so often in the scriptures we are warned to guard our mouths, that the tongue is referenced as a weapon, or that we need to avoid foolish quarrels….

Words cut, and they cut deep.  Words betray our heart.  We can put on a mask, an illusion of who we are… but when the words start flowing it’s really easy to begin to see the real person and their intentions.

We have a responsibility in how we use our words, our words should be pleasing to God.

After the sting of conviction, we were able to turn the page and begin to find freedom and comfort in His Word.  God tells us exactly what He wants our words to be.

Words of Praise:  Psalm 34:1, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 35:28, Deuteronomy 32:3

Words of Wisdom:  Proverbs 16:23, Proverbs 12:18, 1 Peter 4:11, Proverbs 17:28

Words of Encouragement:  2 Corinthians 13:11, Job 16:5, Acts 15:32, Job 4:4

Words of Commission:  Matthew 28:19-20a, John 4:41, 1 Peter 3:1, Philippians 2:11

When our words honor God we are blessing Him, and those around us.  Our words are beautiful, and reflect the heart of a daughter redeemed by her King.  They are uplifting, prayerful, thankful, intentional, purposeful, do no harm, sincere, put us in our place in His plan, open doors, and put Christ first.

How much greater is our testimony when we speak of love over condemnation.  How great is our witness when we are lifting others up instead of our own self?  How perfect is our love, when we choose to see the best in others and encourage them as they walk forward?  How many doors do we open when our words are welcoming instead of divisive?

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.”  —- Luke 6:45

You can view our speakers hand out here: Swept Away: Honoring God with your Words

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This weekend, I will conclude this recap with my presentation on Pursuing Knowledge in Changing Tides, from the Swept Away Women’s Retreat.

Swept Away By the Lord & In Fellowship

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I am a big fan of Conferences and Retreats, they are places where we get to pull away from the every day and put all of our focus on Him.  There are no distractions, there are no interruptions.  They are an opportunity for total immersion into fellowship with your brethren in Christ as well as God himself.

This weekend, my home church held a women’s retreat.  We were blessed that a few other local small churches joined us for this time of fellowship and communion.

Speaker Michelle Howe pointed us toward having a “Swept Away” life in the Lord.   It is easy to be swept away by the world, the enemy… but it is a great thing to be swept away into relationship with God.  She suggested these daily actions:

  1. REJOICE (Isaiah 44:2) — the Lord has swept away our sins, therefore we have cause to sing for joy!  Rejoice in thanksgiving, prayers, song, praises, gratitude.
  2. REBUILD (Nehemiah) — when our walls are dropped, we rebuild them with HOPE that is found in the Lord and find we are restored.
  3.  RENAME (1 Cor 5:17) — we are a new creation in Christ, the new is here and the old is gone.  Our new name is Image Bearer, Christ Follower… not the labels of our oldself.

She then had the women at each table write their name at the top of a piece of paper.  Then, we were to pass them to our right.  As we received another woman’s paper, we were to allow the spirit to lead us to a word or statement about that woman… and write it down.  I’ve done this exercise before, but it has always been with a group of women that know me.  This time, with so many women at the event, many of us were seated among women we had never met or at least didn’t know very well.

After we received our paper back, we were instructed to circle 3 things… a statement that surprised us, a statement we expected, and a statement that we longed for.  What I found interesting was that the word I circled that surprised me, was the same thing I knew the Lord has been working on in me.  PATIENCE.  I don’t see myself as patient, but I have released my need to know and control the Lord.  It was interesting that someone would see that in me, a work that is coming to fruition.  The second word, was something I expected which was STUDENT.  I’m a student of the word in many ways.   But the third, the thing that I longed for someone to see in me was CHRIST.  In the past, when I’ve done this exercise… I’ve gotten a lot of great compliments.  But I’ve always longed for CHRIST LIKE to be in that list.  It’s been a “few” years since I’ve completed this exercise… and a woman wrote I was “light, like a city on a hill”.  It means my love for Christ, is no longer something that is inside of me… but a light that shines for others to see.  PRAISE GOD.

You can view Michelle’s full presentation notes here:  How to Live a Swept Away Life

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A member of our church then shared her testimony, and I’ll respect that sharing by letting her story remain her’s to tell.  But I wanted to share a few things that I took away from it personally.

  • We do not fool the believers around us.  Whether we speak up or not, believers can sense when we are struggling and will pray on our behalf.  The Lord brings our names to the attention of our intercessors in the church.  You have people praying for you, and you may not know it.
  • We swim at our own risk.  We may see the signs that the waves are dangerous, we know what lurks in the ocean.  We may dip our toes in the ocean of sin, slowly walking deeper and deeper.  There will be those of us who feel a little nibble, take heed, and return to shore.  Yet, some of us will continue to wade deeper, ignoring the bites.  We may not be paying attention to the waves coming overhead… or we are pulled into the riptide.  Taken deeper, unable to save ourselves from our circumstances.  Life may be a “swim at your own risk” event, but Jesus is the Life Guard who is always on duty.
  • Pursue the Lord in PRAYER, HIS WORD, IN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM

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Speaker and Counselor, Amy Oliver spoke directly to my heart as she engaged us on the importance of seeking God directly in His Word, as well as a solid perspective on the Proverbs 31 woman.   Some highlights of her presentation:

  • Knowing who Jesus is, and being thankful for Jesus is not enough.  We must be in active submission to His Lordship.
  • Our prayer accepting Christ as our savior is not a stopping point, but a launching point.
  • The Word constantly and consistently calls us to RETURN TO GOD, to FOLLOW JESUS.
  • There is a difference between REGRET (being caught) and REPENT (broken and called to change).
  • His Word helps us to not only know WHO God is but to recognize the counterfeit that the world and enemy will try and sell us.
  • The fruit of our spirit is not a works based faith, but instead a natural response to act in obedience to the Lord.
  • In Christ there is REAL FREEDOM, in the enemy/the world there is an ILLUSION of freedom (but a price will be paid).
  • Good Christian things can become an IDOL in our lives if we allow them to take precedence first and foremost over our personal, devoted time to God.

A Proverbs 31 Woman is:

  • FIXED – she is rooted/grounded/secure in her role as an image bearer.
    • Women have a tendency to shift their identity as their circumstances or seasons of life shift.  If our identity is in Christ, then we need not shift but be rooted, so that no matter how things shift or change… we are still first an image bearer.
    • Women’s image or worth is not found in comparison with other women or the amount of likes a photo or story gets on social media.
    • Media tries to tell us who we SHOULD BE, God tells us WHO WE ARE.
    • The standards of the word are cheap, and they don’t last.
    • God knows our BEST, he is our MEASURE or STANDARD
  • FOCUSED – she is focused on HER mission, not the mission or calling of others.
    • Her success is not based on the success of her husband, her children, or her activities.  Her success is based on the mission the Lord has given her, thus what things we say YES to matters, why we say YES matters.
    • Requests of her time are weighed against her God given mission, she seeks the kingdom first.
    • Her life looks distinctly different from non-believers because she is mission focused.  Distinctly different, reflecting him, illustrating redemption.
  • FIERCE – she is fiercely dedicated to her task, she is not distracted or strayed.
    • She does not multi-task between her walk with God and the ways of the world, it is impossible to do so.  She is sold out for the better, kingdom calling… abandoning the world for Him.
    • She doesn’t have a guilty pleasure that is of the world, because she knows that it bears no fruit.  It does not set her apart from the world as a redeemed follower.
    • She does not repeat bad choices or behavior with a false expectation that this time it will turn out differently.  She knows the result of all sin is the same.
    • She wears the full armor of God, saturating herself in the Word.
  • FEARLESS – she is not afraid of this world, but fears the Lord.
    • Fear of the world = anxiety, depression, worry, etc.
    • Fear of the Lord = awe, reverence, worship, trust, etc.
    • Fear of the Lord casts out all other fears from the world.

When we have an encounter with God, we are changed.  There is a visible and noticeable difference.  How do we encounter God, how are we changed?

  • Know Him in His Word – evaluate the things in your life closely to know if this is something wasteful or worthy.  Anything outside of Jesus is fake, when we know Him through his word and our relationship with him, we can identify what is false and counterfeit.
  • Know Your Place in Him – Image bearer, then wife, then mother… and so on.  You are a priority to God, He gave his son for you.  Find your value and worth in knowing you are a priority to God, not based on what the world sells as valued.  Don’t try to be someone else, envious of their gifts and talents.  Instead, know what you are good at and DO IT.
  • Know How to Care for Yourself – your spiritual health is important, be intentional about your time with God, take a break away and invest in your spiritual health.  Jesus often retreated to be alone with God, to hear from Him and be away from the noise and distraction of the world.   When our spiritual health is in check we are mission focused, dedicated in prayer, deepening our relationship with Jesus.  Learn to set boundaries.  Find contentment with what the Lord has blessed you with instead of what others have that you lack.

Thoughts => Feelings => Beliefs => Words => Actions => Habits => Character => Destiny

(=> means influences, builds)

You can view Amy Oliver’s full presentation notes here:  Swept Away!

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This will be continued on Thursday with some take away notes from our breakout discussions/presentations.

Women’s Ministry – Everyone Has an Opinion

As a member of the leadership team for our Women’s Ministry, I have spent a lot of time researching the subject.  We want to make sure that we offer activities that interest the women of our church.  We want to account for the various ages, stages of life, marital statuses, and availability of the women who make up our body.  At the same time, we must find balance with the church schedule and other ministries.  A ministry should not overwhelm the calendar, but meet the needs of those whom the ministry is intended to serve.

We can not please all the people… all of the time.    We can, however, please some of the people some of the time.

What is interesting to me, as I researched the subject of Women’s Ministry over the years, is that there are a LOT of opinions on what IS and ISN’T an effective Women’s Ministry.  There are open letters, on blogs, about what we don’t need.  Things like fancy brunches, with hired in speakers.  We don’t want fluff, we want substance.  Deeper studies, testimonies, formal education, accountability, prayer groups, etc.

On the other hand, you will find women who are happy with their Sunday services and small groups, who are looking for social connections.  They want to fellowship, build long lasting friendships and create community.  If you try and research Women’s Ministry on the internet, I promise you…

You will be more confused than you started.

So, what DOES an effective Women’s Ministry look like?  How do we really know what Women’s Ministry looks like, for our church?

1) Ask Your Church –  This may seem like a no-brainer, but really it is the easiest and most over looked starting place.  You don’t have to sit down with a team of women, and decide what you think the women want out of the women’s ministry.  A simple or complex survey is always a great starting place.  It also gives you are great way to find out what women from your church want to help.  Not everyone is called to a leadership position, but many are willing to be the hands and feet when needed.

Also, be sure to ask your Church Leadership.  It is important to know from the staff, what the vision the Church has for the ministry.  What is their “measure of success” and also what would their concerns & boundaries for the ministry look like.  Nothing can hamper a ministry like the lack of communication between the team and the church leaders

2) Reference, but Don’t Imitate Other Churches –  A great starting point for building a ministry is to look at what other churches in your area, denomination or similar size to your church are doing.  However, I would caution you to not make your Women’s Ministry identical to their ministry.  The women of your church, they may want something entirely different.  However, knowing what other churches are doing will give you a launching point. 

3)  Start with Variety – In the beginning have a calendar that offers some variety.  You may have events on weekdays, weeknights, weekends, one day retreats, or weekend long get away.  Your activities may include brunches, ladies night out, dinners, movies, bible studies, community service, church service, etc.  Have events where baby sitting is provided (for free or a small fee), and have events where there is no baby sitting provided.  Variety helps you reach the whole body of women, but over the course of time with different events.

4)  Review Every Event You Hold – Establish a guideline for your ministry, something that you measure every event against.  It might be guideline the church leadership suggested, a verse, a mission statement, or even establish a scoring system with the ministry team.  When each event is over, run it by this guideline & determine if it was a success.  If it was a success and meets the criteria your ministry established, repeat it again.  If there was low attendance or the outcome wasn’t what you expected, you know to let it go (at least for the immediate future). 

It’s easy to write an open letter about what YOU want in a Women’s Ministry.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  However, what YOU need, and what the woman sitting a few pews away from you needs… may be entirely different.

The best way to impact your Women’s Ministry doesn’t begin in open letters on the internet, but instead starts when you join the team.