So, recently I’ve read some things written about women’s ministry and women’s conferences by women in ministry that has bothered me. Some of the things written I nodded my head in agreement, but some of it left me shaking my head.
I want to share from the viewpoint of a founder and director of a women’s conference.
Perhaps hearing the words women’s ministry or women’s conference just makes your eyes automatically roll. Maybe you tried going to the Christmas tea or the Pajama Party at your church and to you it seemed like a big pep rally for Jesus Girls. Maybe your idea of a deep God-get-away isn’t spending the weekend in a hotel listening to speakers, getting a gift bag at the registration table only to leave for home on a holy high that disappears before you pull into your driveway.
For some, this works for them and for others, it just doesn’t and they say no to any and all organized events put on by a bunch of women.
But, be careful in slamming these things.
When I started the Refresh my Heart women’s conference it wasn’t something that I woke up one day and just did. It was something GOD put on my heart to start. It didn’t make any sense. It was before my speaking ministry started so it was really outside of any zone of comfort I had. I confided to my friend Charlene in a Starbucks and she didn’t look at me crazy. She prayed. Right there out loud over our mocha and frappucino and continued to pray over it for 3 years along with other praying friends and family. Then in 2012, the planning began and Charlene and my sister Michelle helped me form a planning team. The only detail God let me in on for 3 years was that it wasn’t supposed to be in a church. I think He wanted to leave it open to the women who don’t attend church to feel welcomed.
We planned in coffee shops and we had no idea what we were doing, but when people tell God yes, He just makes plans fall into place.
We serve cupcakes on Friday night. Delicious pretty cupcakes made with lots of sugar and love by my friend Amy. We hand out beautiful gift bags with things that make women go “Yay!” when they look inside. We have a team that puts a lot of thought into decorations and have even paid out of their pockets to make it pretty and inviting when the attendee walks in the room. We have a jewelry table full of all sorts of bling for sale. And we have books for sale with pretty covers. And sometimes there is pink splashed around the room.
But that’s the stuff the eye sees. It has been very important to me from the beginning that we do REAL.
The tagline on our website says this:
Encouraging women to refresh their heart in the Lord with real women living real lives
The speakers invited aren’t high paid speakers.
They’re single women and married Mama’s who have lost a child or have survived cancer or abuse. They’re housewives who have never spoken at a conference before. They’re college graduates who have battled an eating disorder.
They say yes because God told them to.
We aren’t able to pay our session speakers yet, so we provide them with a room and food and they’re okay with that. They pay for their own flight or fill their car with gas and they let God interrupt their daily routine to be an encouragement to a group of women they’ve never met. They arrive in Nebraska City nervous, but excited with the message God has given them to be shared. Real women living real lives.
Our emcee for the weekend is my friend I’ve known since 9th grade. A mom of 4 boys who had never attended a women’s conference before becoming part of our team. She has embraced her role and does an amazing job leading us. Our team consists of a single woman, an empty-nester pastor’s wife, a mom with a child in elementary, jr. high and high school, career women to a stay-at-home equally hard working mom and wife, a 60-year-old retired woman with 7 adopted school-aged children, a toddler chasing woman and even a grandma. Our skin is all shades of beautiful and the only thing some of us have in common with each other is our love for Jesus. The jewelry sold at the conference is handmade by a woman in Mexico and all proceeds go to an amazing missions ministry started and run by a woman in a small town in Nebraska. Real women living real lives.
This is the 3rd year of the Refresh my Heart conference and the first two years sold out.
The only explanation I have for that is that this conference, this women’s ministry event is God’s ideas packed into not even a full 2 days. From the beautiful centerpieces, gift bags lovingly filled and all the special touches that are prayerfully added by the team that make women feel special. From the cupcakes that my sweet friend Amy makes with love in her kitchen. From the prayer room that invites women to lay down their burdens before their Savior. From the worship music carefully chosen.
It’s just all about God and I love women’s ministry and I love women’s conferences because God does.
In the last few years I have seen women sacrifice financially and come to the Refresh my Heart conference not knowing what to expect and shed tears they tried to hold in. Not because the speakers delivered dramatic lines, but because real women living real lives share what God has done in their lives and when stories are told heart walls are broken down. Hearts are refreshed in Him because only God knows what the heart of each woman needs.
So please. If you have, don’t slam women’s ministry and women’s conferences. Because God does amazing things at them in the hearts of the attendees as well as the hearts of the speakers and behind the scene teams. He’s just that kind of God.
A lot goes into planning and forming a team. There’s a woman on our decorating team who has said, she wouldn’t attend if she wasn’t involved as it’s never been “her thing”. It was so cool to watch her at the first year of the conference as one of the speakers bravery of sharing of her brothers depression and suicide encouraged her to open up and share of her own battle with depression. Real women living real lives.
So see, the frilly girly touches some conferences have where a woman uses her gifts of decorating might just be how God gets her to the place He needs her to be. A place she wouldn’t venture out to on her own. It’s where he takes a mom of boys and puts her on a stage in front of women and uses her talents to emcee an event that God uses to grow her. All the touches that go into a conference is important as long as God remains the center.
And as long as God is the center of the conference, retreat or whatever you choose to label it, what does it matter if it looks like Hobby Lobby exploded on the tables. Just let Him do His thing.
There’s just something God led that happens when a group of women choose to leave the daily things of life aside and just be real with each other. It allows God to do things in their lives that perhaps everyday life blocked Him from doing.
One thing I have a passion for is that when women leave our conference, they apply whatever God showed them over the weekend, but I know from experience that this is hard. I have experienced what I call the “conference high”…where you go home feeling great and full of Jesus and then you crash and become cranky and frustrated once you’re back to paying bills and clocking in at work. This is why we have the Refresh my Heart community Facebook page. It’s a separate team of women who provide daily encouragement…Melanie Dorsey from Florida, Rebecca Evans from Florida, Lauren Williams from Arizona, Kelley Kizer from Kansas, Michelle Jane from Nebraska and Kirsten Stokes from California. I am so grateful for how God uses these women to bless the Refresh my Heart Facebook community.
So, instead of tearing apart the work God is doing through different events, let’s build each other up in the Lord and pray for one another. And if it’s not for you, don’t attend, but never criticize. It takes a lot for someone to do something out of their comfy little world and if starting or running or decorating a women’s conference or women’s ministry is what God told them to do, your words might discourage them. Women’s ministry is needed, so if you are involved in one, keep going.
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