Since the prevailing stereotype of the fluffy, fuzzy women’s ministry is so predominant here in the U.S., women often ask if there are any women doing women’s ministry right. Mary Delk, the Minister to Women at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, has established a women’s ministry that manages to be unified and diverse, serious but not averse to occasional fun, but most of all committed to the discipleship of women and the teaching of the Word. In doing so, she regularly deals with criticism because the women’s ministry is not “fun” enough. This is what she has to say about building a solid women’s ministry and standing up to the critics.
Mary, can you describe your passion for women’s ministry?
When I first got saved, the Lord gave me a hunger for His Word and I could not get enough of it! I got involved in Bible studies and my love for God continued to grow. It didn’t take long to realize that women need to be grounded in the Word.
I have no problem encouraging women to be involved in ministry! It’s not a duty – we are the ones blessed when we use our spiritual gifts! There’s so much joy in serving, and I want every woman to experience that. True fellowship happens when we serve together… much more so than when we go to a spa together!
What are your roles and responsibilities?
My title is “Minister to Women”. I’m not a “pastor”, but my position is one of shepherding and discipling women. I’m serious about women being grounded in the Word and transformed by the Word. Men and women are different – just consider how we approach the different seasons of life, from singleness to empty nest. My responsibility is to consider how to best encourage women to grow in their faith.
Tell me about the leadership team you have in place.
My leadership team consists of women from all ages and stages—several are under 40. Having younger women speaking in to the ministry is helpful; it’s good to get fresh eyes and a younger perspective. We fight against the stereotypical caricature of women’s ministries…doilies and teacups. The women on my team are very solid and serious about their faith. [On the leadership team] we have singles, working moms, single moms, empty nesters and minority women … a good representation of the women we serve.
What are the most pressing issues concerning your ministry?
Because of our pastoral leadership and the particular ethos of our church, we have a high regard for theology and most women at Bethlehem have a respect for the Word of God. The difficulty can be in helping them think through how the Scriptures apply to their lives. Sometimes there’s a disconnect in how to apply the truths of the Word personally. Also, in helping them to see the relevance of theology and how to live according to what they say they believe. Culture is so strong and it bombards us daily. There’s no respect for God or His Word at all. True Christianity looks really countercultural, so it’s a challenge helping women figure out what that looks like in the workplace and at home.
I am blessed by the fact that when you offer spiritual food, it cuts across all ages and stages. Women of all different walks of life can come and be fed. God will take his Word and tailor it to the heart of each woman. God can take his Word and speak to every woman present because He is powerful and His Word is living. We may apply it differently because we have different challenges, but His Word is the same and He is the same.
What are the key elements of a successful women’s ministry?
Every women’s ministry has to understand and embrace the particular vision of their church. You serve and tailor your ministry in line with the goals and vision of your church leadership… rather than going off and doing you own thing.
You also have to discern what’s really important – what are your priorities? I don’t believe in catering to women’s felt needs. We offer our women what we believe they really need, which is the opportunity to deepen their relationship with the living God. What can we do to help women fall more in love with Jesus?
Our women’s ministry is a serious discipleship ministry. Some women don’t like it—we get criticized that we’re not fun. We do have fun, but our focus is more serious. There are lots of opportunities everywhere to socialize and have fun! But the church is a unique place to offer spiritual food, and you’re not going to find that everywhere. As a ministry of the church, we want to offer opportunities to grow in faith. We have really good Bible studies that include both solid content and sweet community. They are not generally a lecture format, but a time to discuss what you have studied during the week and to apply those truths to your life. Our church leadership supports the focus of our ministry.
What’s your advice to young women interested in women’s ministry?
Be a student of the Word because ultimately, that is what you have to give other women; that’s where your wisdom is going to come from: your knowledge of God and His Word. What has made the biggest difference in my life is that I’ve been in the Word for thirty years. I encourage young women to be involved in women’s ministry and to be mentored by older women and to be equipped so that they will have the tools to move into leadership as they mature. Study the Word. Be involved with and love the women in your church and encourage them in their faith so that they can be salt and light.
I’m definitely not opposed to a higher degree in theology—that’s one way to prepare for discipling women. I usually have an intern working with me —a woman interested in pursuing women’s ministry. Generally, a full-time position requires someone with a little more life experience.