Last week I went with two women, Jana and Kathy, from our church to Atlanta to attend the Presbyterian Church in America’s Leadership Training conference for women in ministry (PCALT). We flew together, leaving the San Antonio airport at 7 am on Thursday and returning at 6 pm on Saturday. What happened in between departure and return is still dancing through my brain like a Cuban wedding—nonstop, energetic, all over the place, and beautiful.
Sunday morning as I was walking into church service after Sunday school class, preparing to give an announcement to the church about an upcoming Bible study, a church elder stopped me and said, “While you’re up there, why don’t you give the church a 60-second look at what you ladies did at the conference?”
Ya’ll, I haven’t even unpacked my suitcase, much less my thoughts about the conference!
So, I stood up there, trying not to look like a fish gasping for air, and said, I don’t know, something.
Now that I’ve had a couple more days, let’s see if I can organize my thoughts a bit right here. I will put them into three categories, though there will be some overlap.
Personally, for me:
God used this time in Atlanta to connect me to other women who are not only dear sisters in Christ, but who are valuable resources for several of my children. Our regional advisor, Renee, has a daughter who lives in Chattanooga, where my oldest daughter is soon moving to begin the next phase of her still-young adult life. These daughters of ours are also artists. I sent my daughter the relevant contact information. My daughter replied to me that the friends who have been luring her to move to Chattanooga know—and work with—my Renee’s daughter. Wow.
Now, that sort of connection is not unusual when you get a group of women from across the country together, but the next connection is narrower.
The PCA has only recently recognized the need for someone to come alongside those church members who are in the military, and therefore not remaining in one church or even one region for more than a few years at a time. Military families face unique challenges, and the PCA now has an Advisor-at-large, Chandra Oliver, who is focused on finding and assisting women in the military and military spouses with their unique needs. I was fortunate to meet Chandra at the very beginning of the conference. It took a couple of hours to sink in, but my oldest son’s wife is a member of the Air Force, and they will soon be moving to somewhere else in the country and as part of that move will be looking for another church. They will need help in ways they don’t yet realize, and Chandra will be just the person to help them meet at least some of their needs.
And now for the ‘needle in a haystack’ connection. I’m still amazed…
I met Paula in our first West Region gathering. When we left that meeting, we ended up going to the same workshop, so I sat next to her. We struck up a conversation, and I’m still not sure how it began, but it ended with the realization that the Christian adventure camp (a couple of hours from where I live) where she lives with her husband (who is the director of operations) needs people for the summer who do precisely what my youngest daughter and her husband have done for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) every summer for the past several years.
See, my baby girl has never had a normal job. Every summer since she was 17 years old she has worked for BSA either at a Scout Reservation in the mountains of Virginia or the high adventure base in the Florida Keys, where she met her husband. This is basically what she is majoring in at college. She and her husband are both trained in emergency first aid (and have had to use it on numerous occasions in the wilderness and on the waves), in leading Scouts through outdoor adventures, and training in a variety of skills. And they are both looking for a summer job. You can’t see how animated I’m becoming as I describe this, but, trust me, this is So Cool. They sent their resumés and filled out the application on the camp website before I flew home. I am not assuming they have the jobs, but I also know that God did not arrange for me to meet Paula for no purpose.
For ministry in my church:
At the conference, we each had the opportunity to attend three different workshops, and Jana, Kathy, and I each chose according to where we are serving in the women’s ministry at our church. I chose to go to a workshop on preparing Bible studies, because that is my role in ministering to the women at our church; a workshop on prayer, because it’s an area where I personally feel weak and we have identified it as an area that needs strengthening in our ministry to and with the women of our church; and a workshop on using the gift of writing to build up the church because, well, I have been writing for a number of years now and I hope to hone my skills to be a blessing to our church and perhaps even beyond.
In the workshop on preparing a Bible study I was encouraged to learn that I do not need to re-invent the wheel with every study. Many of the points that the leaders of the workshop made affirmed the direction that we have taken in the class: to teach through a book of the Bible rather than topical studies; that studying the Bible is not only about filling our heads with information, but allowing our hearts and minds to be transformed by God’s Word; and it is not my job to change hearts, I just need to keep pointing to the Gospel in the Word and allow the Holy Spirit to do his job.
In the workshop on prayer I learned that I am not the only one who is intimidated by praying in a group with others, but that the blessings of doing it outweigh the fears, difficulties, and inconveniences. The leader of the workshop shared several ways to incorporate prayer into the life of the church, many of which we could begin even now with our women. We were taught that using Scripture as a prayer book is a resource we all have ready at hand. Using the church directory as a guide to pray for church members and the list of missionaries supported by the church, and even other churches in our presbytery, are simple ways to focus our prayers.
Most importantly, I learned: just pray.
I have been a member of PCA or OPC churches for over 17 years now. The first thing I learned about the PCA is that in this denomination, from one church to the next, we share the same beliefs regarding God and his Holy Word. It has been a joy to study the Bible with an understanding of Covenantal, Reformed theology. Wherever we have lived in the last seventeen years, I have known that if I walked into a PCA (or OPC) church I could trust what they believed and taught about the Bible. Belonging to the PCA also means there is a structure of authority and governance from the local church all the way up the denominational ladder. Having belonged to independent churches in the past, and seeing how that independence can “go wrong,” I find comfort in knowing that my pastor and elders are submitted to authority.
What never occurred to me until I stood in a room filled with approximately 400 other women from all across the country, there for the purpose of learning together to minister to women in their local churches, is that belonging to the PCA means that there is a network of living, breathing people ready and eager to equip us for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Our good and wise God has prepared women in churches across this country who can train up others in the church, who are then equipped to minister to those in their own churches. Way out here in Texas, where PCA churches are “thin on the ground,” we are connected to a wider body of godly women—and men—whose purpose is to teach, train, encourage, and exhort us to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
There is much to be done in our church, and though I know that I am inadequate to the task, I am encouraged to know that the Lord is equipping me and other for this blessed work. Please join me in praying that he will be glorified as we move ahead with what we learned in Atlanta.
And now, to unpack the suitcase...
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen” (Ephesians 3:20,21).