Capturing the hearts fo women

If you're a woman at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, you can bet that Susan Nash (RTS '80) is out to get you -- into Women's Ministries, that is. As Director of the very successful multi-faceted program, Susan, with her team of leaders, is committed to helping as many women as possible grow spiritually and develop their God-given gifts.

When Susan became director of the program a decade ago, the concept of having a staff member devoted just to women's ministries was brand new. Since the church had never had such a ministry before (and few existed nationwide), she had to evaluate the needs and write her own job description.

Several challenges lay before her. Although the church had a strong, solid Women of the Church (WOC) program, including circles, service ministries, and fellowship luncheons, it met the needs of only a certain segment. A sizable portion of the church's women were now working moms or career women who couldn't attend daytime activities. A good number were divorced or single parents who had special needs. Where were the young women -- single, married, or with children? Hardly any were involved in women's ministries, providing a real leadership crisis.

"My task was to get all these ladies involved and complement the Women of the Church program," reveals Susan. "While we recognized the need for change, we also realized the crucial value of our traditional women's ministry. We knew that ignoring either would bring divisiveness, which does not honor the Lord.."

What followed in the development of the Women's Ministries is a happy blending of traditional programs and new, innovative ones, coupled with wise flexibility in adjusting activities to fit ever-changing needs. The result is a ministry with broad appeal to many different age groups and social situations.

"Every woman who wants to be plugged in can be," says Ann McCormick, Women's Ministries Advisor. "We think providing avenues for different groups to work together is important."

One of Susan's goals has been to bridge the generation gap among the women of Second Presbyterian and allow them to get to know each other well. She sees that happening. "In a large church, we often find grouping along marital and age lines," she explains. "We want to see interaction between our older and younger members. While providing a diverse ministry dealing with many needs, we want to bring women together to help them see that they all have the same spiritual needs before God. They also need to know that they all can help each other no matter what stage of life they are in or what style of life they lead."

Another goal has been to help women realize how much God loves them. Susan is convinced that many women today perform to please others (or God), not understanding that Christian service does not equal love of God. God loves them simply because He set His affection on them. They do not have to perform for Him; the works of service spring from the faith He gives them.

"It took me a long time to see that God is abundant in grace," says Susan. "I can't do anything to make God love me. Knowing what "grace alone, faith alone" means has been so freeing for me that when I see people bound in legalism, my mission in life is to show them how much God loves them."

What Do Our Women Want?

Upon becoming director of the program, Susan began surveying women's needs. "Scripture tells us the real needs of a woman," Susan explains. "First, she must seek to know Christ as her Savior and Lord and have a growing relationship with Him, then demonstrate His love through service to Him using her spiritual gifts. Other needs usually relate to people's lives: moms wanting to bring up their children in the way of faith or widows needing fellowship with others."

She noticed immediately that a big priority for Second Presbyterian women was childrearing. So A Mother's Heart was birthed with two tracks --one for preschool and elementary moms (SWAT-Succeeding With Time and Affection) and A-Team (Moms with Adolescents). The response has been overwhelming. It draws not only women from the church but also from the entire community. Most of the women attending have not been involved in church women's ministries before coming; almost half are non-members. One of the keys to its great success over the years has been the church's willingness to be flexible and change the program to fit the needs of the participants.

The Weekly Bible Study soon followed. Today it offers both day and evening sessions to give all an opportunity to attend. About forty-four per cent of the women in the studies have not previously been involved with the church before attending. Attendance skyrocketed (and went coed) last year when Susan taught a series on Revelation.

The Memphis Christian Women's Dinner Series appeals to working women who are looking for fellowship, encouragement, a sense of order and beauty, and refreshment. They have monthly dinners in the homes of the members. It is very much a community ministry, with members of other churches on the leadership team. Again, most of the women in the program have not been involved in church women's ministries before attending.

An evangelistic summer program called Slices of Summer began two years ago and has Second Presbyterian women bringing friends to the enjoyable programs. A six -week series features demonstration talks on several subjects, including wardrobing, interior designing, and selecting children's books, with a devotional message corresponding to each subject.

The Women of the Church have an exciting luncheon speaker series called Terrific Tuesdays, enlisting the help of young women in the church. Women meet for lunch and hear a well-known speaker (this year's have included Nancie Carmichael, Editor of Virtue Magazine and Gwen Shamblin of Weigh Down Workshop). In the past the WOC's general meeting and luncheon have attracted 85-90 women. Today, Terrific Tuesdays draws an average of 300 -- one meeting had 500 attending!

Other ministries include Community Awareness, One to One Discipling, and Mentoring. Women also serve in many church groups not specifically under the Women's Ministries. Communication is key; each program has a leadership team, the head of which reports monthly to a Women's Ministries Team, which also includes representatives from other church groups outside Women's Ministries.

Women's Ministries not only brings in new members and encourages activity from current members, it also creates new leaders for the church. Regularly Women's Ministries leaders are spun off to various committees and work groups, where they have a chance to further develop their spiritual gifts.

Senior Pastor Sandy Willson recognizes the value of the Women's Ministries program to Second Presbyterian. "I am deeply grateful for what the Lord is doing in our church. In every congregation, the ministry of the women is vital to the life and mission of the church; therefore, when it is healthy and growing, as ours is under Susan's leadership, it elevates the vision and effectiveness of the entire church. Susan dedicates herself vigorously to the work and provides strong leadership without drawing undue attention to herself. This has encouraged scores of women to rise up and take key leadership roles in the church."

Second Presbyterian is currently talking to RTS about an internship program for training in Women's Ministries. Women would receive their academic and theological training at the seminary and come to the church for practical experience.

Will it work in a small church? Yes, but modifications are definitely necessary. (see inset) Small churches have some advantages --they have inter-generational ministry naturally and most of the women in the church know each other.

A Woman for Such a Time as This

Susan deeply understands that her entire life has been training by God for her leadership of Women's Ministries. Even when she seemed the most confused, she sees now that God was shaping her to accept the challenges at Second Presbyterian.

Born in Memphis, she grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the daughter of an entrepreneurial father and a mother who was a professor of music at the University of Alabama. Although brought up in the church, she marks the beginning of her conscious Christian life at sixteen. She surrendered her life to Christ as she heard a speaker at a Youth for Christ meeting tell the story of Jesus searching for the lost lamb in Scripture.

But (as would be the case for a long time to come) the Christian life was not peaceful for Susan. "I had a lot of deep, probing questions about God," says Susan. " I didn't doubt Scripture, but for ages I doubted that I was really a Christian because I could not be perfect. I've always been performance-oriented -- A+'s are great, B's are complete failure. A great number of years marched by before I grasped the depth and breadth of God's unconditional love for me. Once I did, I have not been the same person since."

An excellent, well-rounded student, Susan was bedecked with awards in high school from good citizenship to valedictorian, but the accolades were bittersweet. Ironically, she never felt as if she made it -- all those awards and still she was trying to prove something.

As a French major at the University of Alabama, she immersed herself in her studies, spending a summer at the Sorbonne in Paris, and graduated magna cum laude in May, 1973. She received a year's assistantship to teach English conversation at a high school. in Paris beginning in October. Having a bit of time on her hands before the job started, she had the opportunity to do short-term missionary with Greater Europe Mission in Paris. As it worked out, even when her assistantship began, she was still able to teach her French children's Sunday school class.

She absolutely loved mission work. In fact, the only reason she returned home was to attend Bible college to prepare for the mission field. But going to Bible college turned into a compelling desire for seminary training as she developed an insatiable passion for theology; she wanted to know God and understand Him. She had no well-defined goal in mind after seminary, although she thought with her love for languages (she had studied Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch) she still might end up on the mission field.

At RTS she excelled in her studies, working in the development office and in the New Testament Department as a Greek tutor. But when she received a Master of Christian Education degree in 1979, she was still searching for God's will in her life. First she taught English at Briarwood Christian High School in Birmingham. While she loved teaching and adored the children, she had also become interested in Christian political issues, such as abortion and school prayer, and so she determined she would try to reform her culture.

Soon she found herself working in Washington, first as a caseworker for Alabama Congressman Tom Bevill, then as a legislative correspondent for Iowa Senator Charles Grassley. But again, something was missing, although she loved being in the middle of national events in Washington. She learned that she was people-oriented; she studied to teach people, not make policy.

"I realized for the first time that I was going to have to do something with my life that I was willing to die for," she recalls. "I was not willing to die for politics, but I knew I would for God's Kingdom."

Perhaps missions was indeed where she belonged. But after searching her heart, she knew if she went to the mission field she would be running away from unresolved issues in her life--not toward goals.

In God's timing, one of her former RTS professors, Dr. John de Witt, then Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian, called to ask if she would be his assistant. She accepted in 1986 and for the next two years researched sermon illustrations, handled special projects, and became the staff liaison to the Missions Committee.

Dr. de Witt, now Senior Pastor of Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is still close to Susan and remembers her fondly. "She is intelligent, creative, and industrious -- a quite wonderful combination. She is also extraordinarily gifted in her ability to work with and reach out to people. So entire has been Susan's success that I was often quite sure the congregation would have chosen her over me, were the matter put to a vote!"

In addition to leading the Women's Ministries, Susan has written three study guides. She teaches intensive summer theology classes to women and a segment in the new members classes. The church so appreciates her abilities that they have made her Program Coordinator; she will now oversee leaders of other ministries including Women's Ministries.

She has served in numerous leadership positions within her denomination. A frequent speaker at women's conferences and seminars, she has also made a number of overseas missions trips.

Do You Want to Start a Women's Ministries Program?

Second Presbyterian is a large congregation, but women's ministries can be developed in any size church. Below are Susan's guidelines for successful planning. For more information, you may write her at Second Presbyterian Church, 4055 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38111-7699; call 901-454-0034 Ext. 126; or email her at

  1. Assess your own situation. Do you already have a women's organization in place or are you starting from scratch? If you have one, do you want to restructure it as the base for Women's Ministries or recognize its value as one of the ministries?
  2. Gain the support of your pastor and session or ruling board. Keep them informed and be sure your design for ministry reflects the mission statement of the church.
  3. Survey the real and felt needs of your women, either formally through a written survey or informally through a representative group of women in the church. (Caution: surveys must be used carefully because they create expectations).
  4. Gather a team of recognized leaders representative of women in your church. Pray for wisdom as you set about gaining a vision and defining a mission statement and developing a philosophy. Read and study together a book on Women's Ministries. (See Bookshelf)
  5. Assemble a ministry team based on the needs of your church. Include coordinators of Bible study, discipleship, prayer, missions, small groups, etc. In matching the person to the position, consider spiritual gifts and special interests. Provide leadership training and job descriptions.
  6. If your church has no Women's Ministries staff position, the chairman of the ministry team should attend church staff meetings or have consistent communication with the pastor.
  7. Plan your programming for one year based on the needs of the women and your goals. Each coordinator is responsible for planning within her area.
  8. Meet regularly for prayer, evaluation, and planning.
  9. Be careful not to let the program or structure become more important than the ministry.

Those who work closely with Susan have high praise for her gifts. Says Ann McCormick, "Susan has the knack of appealing to every age group of women. She has great insight for the wives and mothers among us. My twenty-eight-year-old daughter loves her, and all the older women feel as if she's their daughter."

Others echo the sentiments. "Susan has taught me so much and really stretched me," says Margaret Donato, Chairman of the Women's Ministries Team. "She has encouraged me and given me countless opportunities to use my spiritual gifts."

As for Susan, she feels she has come home. "For the first time in my life I feel that God has placed me in a ministry that I was made to do. I believe so strongly in women's place in the local and global church. Scripture shows clearly that God appreciates women. They were the first at the tomb, and they've often been message-bearers of good news. I think throughout the ages women's gifts have been used but not always recognized. Recall how many jobs women do in the church -- providing food and flowers, teaching, heading mercy ministries, and leading in prayer ministries. A church can't do without women, but often they are taken for granted.

"Women are hungry to know Christ and His call on their lives. I have been amazed at their thirst to know theology; they beg for more. We have so many talented, zealous, intelligent, giving women, and I am committed to helping them find God's calling on their lives for the Kingdom."

Women's Ministries Bookshelf

  • Women's Ministry Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Reaching, Teaching,and Training Women in the Local Church edited by Carol Porter and Mike Hamel.
  • Designing Effective Women's Ministries: Choosing, Planning, and Implementing the Right Programs for Your Church by Jill Briscoe, Laurie Katz McIntyre and Beth Seversen.
  • Women Reaching Women compiled by Chris Adams.
  • Women Mentoring Women: Ways to Start, Maintain, and Expand a Biblical Women's Ministry by Vickie Kraft.
  • The Women's Ministry Leader's Guide by Pat Clary.

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Last updated 12-22-98.