Of all of the ministries out there, one-to-one women’s ministry is one of my favourites. I’ve sat at cafeteria tables and coffee shops and seen women move from death to life before my eyes! I’ve seen women who thought that God could never, ever love them suddenly become secure in his love and grace shown in the cross. One-to-one ministry is one of the most powerful ministries there is, and it is amazing to be part of what God is doing in women’s lives.
Why is it so rare in churches?
So often, one-to-one ministry is put into the ‘too hard’ or ‘not enough time’ categories. We think to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be better to lead a Bible study of women where we hit eight at a time instead of one?” One-to-one ministry is so labour intensive. It is also a little bit intimidating. We can find ourselves thinking, “I’m not good enough to set myself up as a mentor for someone”.
My aim is to get you excited about women’s one-to-one ministry. I want you to see how valuable and important it is, and to help you start the one-to-one journey or to reignite your passion for this kind of ministry.
One-to-one ministry is one of the most powerful ministries there is. You really do see dramatic changes in people. One-to-one ministry is short-term pain for long-term gain. You are putting heaps of time into just one person, and it seems like maybe it would be better to be leading a Bible study so that lots of women grow all at once. But the amazing thing about one-to-one ministry is that while it is just two individuals reading the Bible together, the changes that are seen in them are extraordinary. The intensity of the time, the flexibility for really specific application to the individual situation, and the chance to share lives and the gospel together—these things change people in a way that nothing else does. One-to-one ministry is about reproducing yourself. So while it might seem like a very big time commitment for one person, that one person can go on to do extraordinary things for the kingdom. It is not surprising that both Jesus and Paul chose to devote time to invest in a few key people in their lives.
There is also something really special about the intimacy that arises within women’s one-to-one ministry. I love what you get to see and I love what you get to share. In 1 Thessalonians you see Paul “ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). That is one-to-one ministry! You read the Bible and you share specifically what it means for your day-to-day lives. The women I meet with are so dear to me! I get to be a sister to these women like I do to no-one else, as we reflect on and delight in our joint relationship with our heavenly Father.
What does it look like?
So what does one-to-one women’s ministry involve? Basically, lots of hot beverages, Bible study, chatting and prayer!
The main things I do with women are read the Bible and pray. I think it’s important to keep the Bible at the centre of our meeting. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. God’s word is what changes people, not our great wisdom or experience. The temptation for us as women, both as the mentor but also the mentored, is to spend our meetings just chatting about life and to be lazy with our Christian growth. But the mentoring relationship is the perfect position to push each other to work hard to grow.
I tend to read through a book of the Bible. I’ve found that when I’m meeting with a woman and we are mainly just ‘chatting’ or doing topical studies, they don’t seem to grow as well as those with whom I just sit and read the Bible. Reading through the Bible also means that God’s word is setting the agenda, not me. I am often amazed to find how often the things that come up when I’m reading the Bible with someone are so completely relevant to their situation. But I shouldn’t be surprised! God’s word is powerful and if we take that seriously we would be foolish not to use it in all our ministries.
Topical studies also have their place within the overall mentoring relationship. With young Christians I’ll almost always do the Matthias Media Just for Starters studies. And some topics just keep coming up! Relationships, marriage, sex, guidance, predestination and assurance are all great things to cover. With so many obvious and also subliminal messages in our world about being a woman, it is important to sit down with our Bibles and see the wonderful things God has to say about what it looks like to be a woman of God. One-to-one ministry is also the perfect opportunity for training people at whatever stage they are at. As a woman matures, I will usually talk to them about what ministry skills she wants to work on and spend some time teaching her things like apologetics, or how to give a kids talk, or how to write a Bible study, or whatever else she might be excited about.
What do the meetings look like?
Different people do it in different ways. I usually work straight from the Bible. When I started out my lack of confidence led me to rely heavily on published booklets or studies, but over time I have gravitated towards a more simple approach. I now mainly just read the passage and perhaps have five or six questions in mind to ask throughout the discussion. Part of what I’m doing is not just encouraging women with God’s word but also training them to read the Bible for themselves, so that when I move on or get hit by a bus they will have the tools they need to keep growing!
One-to-one ministry can be pretty preparation-intensive at first. So it should be! We have to be careful how we handle God’s word. But the more you do it and the more familiar you get with the passages you use, the less preparation time you will need.
Things to keep in mind when you embark on one-to-one ministry
Because it is so intimate, it can be really heartbreaking. You see up close and personal when people reject God’s word! I met up with a non-Christian girl from Taiwan to read through Mark’s Gospel. She seemed so interested, but when we got to the reality of what it might mean for her family if she became a Christian, she suddenly stopped showing up. Heartbreaking!
Probably my single worst one-to-one experience was sitting down with a dear friend who had just started dating a non-Christian and had suddenly disappeared from church. I told her what I thought of what she was doing. That night she sent a text to a mutual friend saying how horrible I was to her, and how she was glad she was out of our ‘cult’ of a student group. It was devastating.
Rebuking is another big challenge. It’s easy to stand up the front, or even sit in Bible study, and say “Don’t do X or Y”. It’s another thing to look someone in the eye and say “You are not living as God commands”. One-to-one ministry can be hard, because as much as you love the people you’re meeting with, you have to always keep their best interests and particularly their relationship with God first. And even though it’s important to share your lives and be open, it’s also important to keep a certain level of detachment for this very reason—so that you remain strong enough to say hard things. One-to-one ministry is more than just friendship. Over time it can grow into more of a peer relationship—but you always need to keep in mind the end goal.
One-to-one ministry is addictive. One of the hardest things about one-on-one ministry is that you can’t meet with everyone. You look around and you see non-Christians, new Christians and growing Christians and you think, “How great would it be if someone could meet with them? Maybe I could meet with just one more woman!”
In one of my years of full-time ministry, I narrowly avoided burnout. One girl came to me in tears because she realized how much she had squandered her Christian life and how much she needed to grow. I asked her, “Would you like to read the Bible with me?” and she enthusiastically said “Yes!” By then we were both crying, because I had suddenly realized I’d agreed to meet with 12 women and that it was going to kill me! Praise God, after some thinking time and some wise mentoring, I was able to cut back and survive. It is important to step back and to remember that God is in control. Do what you can and trust God with the rest.
One-to-one ministry is exhausting in a way that no other ministry is. You can’t just look at your spare time and fill it up with meetings! You need to work out what you can do, and until you figure out your limit, ask a mature Christian to keep an eye on you. Realistically, an introvert will probably need to meet with fewer people than an extrovert, but those relationships might be more regular and intense than an extrovert’s. An extrovert has to be careful because they won’t realize they are burning out because they are enjoying it so much!
Another potential struggle can be dependence. Some people you meet with may become dependent on your time and approval. You yourself might become dependent on their respect and love for you. You need to be very careful not to let the relationship become unhealthy. If it appears that a person is starting to count on you for self-worth or meaning, then that might be a good point to introduce some extra boundaries, or maybe even professional counselling.
Finally, always protect against the ‘guru mentality’. You are teaching them to walk with Jesus, not with you! This is another reason why it’s so important to keep the Bible at the centre—so that the women can’t help but know that it is God who is the authority in this process. A mentor can be a powerful figure. You need to look at your own heart and see whether you have the ability to resist the adulation that can come from one-to-one ministry.
Accountability is really important for this. Always have a godly, wise, older Christian who knows who you are meeting with, and how it’s going. And think hard about when is the best time for the relationship to become less formal, or for the person you’re meeting with to perhaps move on, or start mentoring someone else themselves.
So is one-to-one ministry something you should think about doing?
Yes! I think if you are a growing Christian woman, you should do it! I think if you have Bible teaching gifts and are able to relate to other women, you should do it!
It can be hard at first. I had no idea what I was doing when I first began. I just grabbed a Bible study and we worked through it together. I’m sure I made lots of mistakes. But God’s word is powerful, and despite my limitations the woman I was meeting with grew! One-to-one ministry is something that you get better at with practice.
If you have the opportunity, find a godly, mature woman in your Christian circles and ask her to mentor you first. This is a great first step to learning. But you don’t have to wait until you are perfect to mentor someone. I know it can be scary. But the benefits are enormous!
Talk to your pastor/minister or staff worker about who they think you could meet with. See if you enjoy it. See how people respond to the ministry. And if you decide that you want to spend some or all of the rest of your life discipling women, then praise God—that will be a great thing for Jesus and his kingdom!