Book Review: Spiritual Mothering

Spiritual MotheringWhen our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.

She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.

To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).

No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).

[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).

Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).

Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.

It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).

The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).

Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).

She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.

Other quotes that stood out to me:

Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)

This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).

A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).

Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).

There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).

But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.

The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday) and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Our Church Ladies’ Booklet

Last week when I mentioned the blessing of having a chunk of uninterrupted time in which to work on our church ladies’ booklet, someone asked in the comments what kinds of things I include in it. As I started answering and my answer became longer than I intended, I thought maybe I’d expand it into a blog post. I’m always a little wary of doing things like this – I know Scripture says we’re not to make a “show” of what we do for the Lord. But I enjoy seeing and reading about other people’s ministries, and I don’t ever suspect them of having wrong motives in sharing it. So I mean this in the same vein.

The booklet started several years ago when visiting my in-laws in another state. My m-i-l had a few copies of a booklet her ladies group did. I really liked it, asked if I could take a couple of copies, showed it to my pastor back in SC, and asked if I could do something similar for our ladies. He wanted a preview of the first one I did, and after checking it out said to go ahead. I did one for almost ten years there. Then when we moved to TN, after being here a couple of years, our pastor’s wife asked me if I’d like to compile a ladies’ newsletter for our church here. I showed her what I had done before and asked her what features she would like in it, and I have been doing that booklet for almost 4 years now.

The booklets in each of those places has been slightly different. The one at my mother-in-law’s church dealt mainly with group news and activities, with a few inspirational poems or paragraphs here and there. These days with e-mail notifications that can get to everyone so easily and explain details fully and in a timely manner, there is less need of “group news” in a booklet or newsletter that only comes out once a month. But sometimes it’s good for that kind of thing. They also included recipes, tips, birthdays, anniversaries, and even a “classified” section for selling or seeking items. I’ve been hesitant to include birthdays and anniversaries in our current booklet for fear of hurting someone’s feelings by accidentally leaving them out.  But if you have a way to keep on top of that, especially with new people coming in, that could work well.

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Ladies booklets from my mother-in-law’s church

I’ve written here before of how missionary biographies have blessed me. One former church whose ladies’ group had officers had a lending library for the ladies’ group, and the librarian used to tell about one or two of the books each month. So I incorporated that idea into the ladies’ booklets I have done, and each month have either a brief biographical overview of a missionary’s life or an excerpt or scene from their lives. I call that section “Those Who Have Gone Before.” I used some of those for the 31 Days of Missionary Stories and 31 Days of Inspirational Biography here on the blog.

In one of our ladies meetings at our church in SC, we had an open discussion about spending time in God’s Word. The fact that we all had various struggles with doing so – either making the time, or avoiding distractions, or getting into a rut, or engaging with the text vs. just running our eyes over the page, etc. – led me to start a column in the booklet called “Women of the Word.” Sometimes it’s encouragement in one of those areas, sometimes it’s a devotional or a result of my own Bible study, sometimes it’s an excerpt from a book or blog post along those lines. I’ve kept this and the “Those Who Have Gone Before” column in the booklet for our church here in TN as well.

After a few years of doing this in SC, I began to think we could use some encouragement along Titus 2 lines about our roles, responsibilities, and character as Christian women, so I started a column called “Christian Womanhood.” Some of the columns there dealt with marriage, motherhood, homemaking, etc. I haven’t kept that as a regular column in the TN booklet, but I do include some articles along those lines as I have space and feel led.

A big section of the SC booklets were correspondence. Our group sent out care packages for many years to missionaries (before it got too expensive to be feasible) and college students from our church, and we put the thank you notes we received from them in the booklet so that all the ladies could see them. The ladies group here doesn’t send out packages, so we don’t have that correspondence.

In SC I was asked/strongly urged to include a “helpful hints” section. I tried to get the ladies to contribute to this, but with little response (I think we all felt like we needed tips more than we felt we had any to share), so after I exhausted my own small repertoire, I had to go searching for that kind of thing in other newsletters, books, etc. Nowadays with Pinterest and Google, that kind of thing is so easily accessible that I only rarely include anything along those lines in the current booklet I do.

Usually on the first page I include a poem or quote about the season, the month, or an upcoming holiday…though I don’t usually have this much clip art. 🙂

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When I started doing the TN booklet, we had a “question of the month” that I would ask in one booklet, and then ladies e-mailed me their answers throughout the month, and I compiled them in the next month’s booklet and then asked a new question. Some of the questions used were, “What’s your favorite household tip?”, “What characteristic did you most appreciate about your mother?” (in connection with Mother’s Day), favorite Christmas ornament, fall tradition, something bad in your life that God used for good, openings you’ve found helpful in witnessing, etc. I really enjoyed getting to know the other ladies better in this way, but after a while, the response petered out, so I discontinued it.

At the request of our pastor’s wife here, we included a section where we “interviewed” one or two ladies a month. I sent out a questionnaire asking about were they grew up, how they came to TN,  how they came to know the Lord, where they went to school and what they studied, how they met their husband (if married), their children’s names and ages (if they have any), and then some fun questions, like their ideal vacation or day off, favorite restaurant meal, etc. This was originally designed to introduce new ladies to the group, but after a while we decided to include all the ladies, because of course the new ladies don’t know these things about the rest of us – and we don’t even know them about each other. This has been one of my favorite sections of the booklet.

I also started out trying to include a similar questionnaire about the wives of missionaries we support, but only a half dozen or so responded. I am assuming they were just too busy, understandably, or perhaps they were wary of sharing information with someone they didn’t know, though I tried to reference our church and pastor’s name. One year I emailed them about how Christmas was celebrated in their area, and we got quite a bit of response to that. That was fun to put together. I try to periodically put something in as a reminder to pray for them.

And lastly, I include a page of humorous items. Because what’s life without humor. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” after all (Proverbs 17:22).

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I “fill in” the empty spaces with poems or quotes. I have been collecting poems, quotes, jokes, anecdotes, etc., on all these subjects, ever since I started the first booklet, so I’ve got tons of files now. One of my biggest challenges is trying to keep track of what I have used before so I don’t repeat myself

Since I did the booklet for ten years in SC and have had a blog for almost ten years, naturally I draw on a lot of that material for the booklet I do now in TN. But I do edit, update, or revise it as needed. And sometimes I do write something totally new for this booklet – which usually eventually shows up in the blog. 🙂 Sometimes I end up compiling things I have read in books rather than writing anything of my own. I do try to pray before starting each month for the Lord’s guidance and direction in what to include and how to say it.

I use Microsoft Publisher to do these because the screen is laid out like the finished book will be. I do it in what they call the 1/2-letter size, meaning one sheet of computer paper, in landscape or sideways position, is 4 pages in the booklet, so your number of pages will be in multiples of 4. The finished booklet is 8 1/2″ by 5 1/2″. That seemed best to me so it could be easily tucked in one’s Bible, though I have seen other newsletters on 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets stapled at the left corner. I also like that with Publisher I can put a text box or photo box wherever I want them and move them around at will without having to figure out how to “wrap” the text around it. Before I started using Publisher, I used Microsoft Works (way back when!), but I had to print out each section and literally cut and paste the paper sections where each should go and then copy and paste the text on the computer so it all worked out right. Very tedious. Thankfully my oldest son had a copy of Publisher from the church because he did the youth group’s web site at the time, so I could also use it for the booklet. Years later either he or my husband bought me my very own updated copy of Publisher. You could probably also do this in a PDF file – I’ve just figured out how to convert my Publisher file to a PDF but otherwise I have no experience with PDFs. The ladies’ booklet at my m-i-l’s church was 8 pages; the one at my SC church could run from 12-20 depending on what all I included. The one I do now I keep to 12 pages.

I used to do the cover of the booklet with decorative computer paper from one of the office stores until the numbers we were printing exceeded the number of papers in the package. Then I started using frames, borders,  and clip art included in Publisher. Then I expanded by finding free clip art online. I had a few CDs of clip art but some were hard to use.

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Ladies Booklets from our former church

Lately, though, I’ve switched to a full page picture – I think it looks a bit more contemporary. I usually search online for free wallpaper pertaining to the season or holiday of the upcoming month – wallpaper because it’s a bigger photo, and stretching a small photo to try to fit the page doesn’t always work. I always have to crop the bigger photo to fit, but that works out better than stretching a smaller one.

Current ladies booklets

Current ladies booklets

So….I think that is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about our ladies’ booklets. 🙂 I very much enjoy doing it. Sometimes I wonder how in the word l I ever got the privilege to do so or why anyone would read anything I have to say. 🙂 The couple of years in between leaving SC and getting settled here in TN when I wasn’t writing or compiling one, it was nice in a way not to have to think about it, but I sorely missed it as well, and I was very glad to be asked to do it again.

If you are interested in starting something like this for the ladies at your church, I think the first step would be to talk with the coordinator of your ladies’ group, if your church has one, and your pastor, about what you’d like to include, the format you’d like, etc. At our former church, there was a printer which would fold and staple the booklets, but we had to be selective in how much color we used. At our current church, a printer is used and there is no restriction about color (I’ve asked several times, especially when switching to a full page color cover), but we have to fold and staple them manually. You’ll have to work out the logistics of whether your church can print these. I have no idea about how much it would cost to take them to Office Max or Kinko’s or some place like that, but if your church doesn’t have a printer or copier that can print something like this, and you have money in your budget to take them somewhere to print, that might be an option.

To sum up the types of things you could possibly include:

Member testimonies
Biographies of Christians “gone before”
Group news, calendar of events
Helpful hints or tips
Recipes
Thank you notes
Missionary information
Poems, quotes about the season, holiday, Christian life, missionaries, womanhood, etc.
Devotionals
Birthdays and anniversaries
“Interviews” or “Getting to know you” section
Funnies 🙂

Depending on how big you want the booklet to be, you probably can’t use all of these, and you may change along the way as you see what works, what people have interest in, etc.

There used to be a site online that had missionary biographies that could be printed out as bulletin inserts that I used sometimes for the missionary biography section, but the url I have for those does not work any more. I found the text of a couple of them at christianity.com, like this one on Ida Scudder and this one on Anne Bradstreet (not a missionary, but a believer of note).

One word of caution: just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s free to copy. If it doesn’t specifically say you can use it, it’s best to ask. I’ve never had anyone tell me no when I have asked if I could use something online for a church ladies’ newsletter. And of course always attribute anything like that to its source.

We’ve always made these books available and about all the ladies of the church, not just whatever group meets together. But your ladies’ group will probably be reflected in your booklet. For instance, the ladies’ group of our former church was much more focused on our missionaries than the group in our current church (not that the church neglects our missionaries – our news of and ministry to them is just handled in a different way), so that emphasis showed up in the booklet. Of the ladies’ groups in the various churches I have been a part of, some are very seriously “all business,” some are more casual and social, so that will be reflected in your booklet as well. You might have various people contribute to various sections: I think the lady who took over this booklet from our former church after I left does that.  Personally I find it easier to compile it myself – the times I’ve had others doing parts of it, there was some tension with getting things back in time, etc. I’m not opposed to making it a group effort rather than a personal one, but so far it has just worked out the way it has. We do have some group contribution through the questionnaires and used to through the “question of the month” section. I would be wary of making it an “open mic” kind of set-up, because you have people at various stages of Christian maturity in any group, and it might cause hurt feelings or worse to have to tell someone why you can’t use what they contributed or why you have to correct it.

I’d love to know if your church ladies’ group does any kind of newsletter, what you include, what programs you use, etc.

Sharing With Literacy Musing Mondays.