Ann Maree Goudzwaard of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, knows the value of walking the halls at church. Its how she gets a sense for which women are struggling with unspoken crises and who might benefit from encouragement and care.
Goudzwaard, who holds an M.Div. with a counseling emphasis from RTS Charlotte, has learned to counsel those in crisis and is now helping train other women in one-another care through a ministry she helped to found called Help[H]er.
Freeing Women from Suffering in Silence
The Help[H]er Advocacy Training Program allows church leaders to equip women in their congregation to provide care for those in crisis. These crisis include such issues as abandonment, financial loss, pregnancy issues, and domestic violence.
Far too often, women suffer alone and in silence, said Goudzwaard, acknowledging that many women have suffered in the hands of abusers, as highlighted in the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. She acknowledges that women also suffer from the repercussions of their own sinful choices and behaviors. And all of these circumstances reflect the reality of living in a fallen world.
The primary goal of the Help[H]er ministry: for struggling women to be restored to a gospel-centered walk with God, their families, and their church communities.
But due to the highly personal nature of some of these experiences, women are sometimes reluctant to seek help from the church. And in an age characterized by scandals, many wonder how the local church can minister effectively to women in a safe, caring, and understanding environment.
Help[H]er was developed as a way to respond to these concerns. And as the Christ Covenant ministry has grown in recent years, others saw its value and began asking how to replicate it.
In January 2020, the PCAs Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) released the book Help[H]er: A Churchwide Response for Women in Crisis, coauthored by Goudzwaard and Bernie Lawrence, a retired senior associate pastor of Christ Covenant. According to Lawrence, his work with the Help[H]er ministry is, the most important thing Ive done in 30 years of ministry.
The book outlines the ministrys primary goal: for struggling women to be restored to a gospel-centered walk with God, their families, and their church communities. The book includes stories of women served by the ministry along with accounts of church officers, pastors, and women who have come alongside those in need.
Recognizing that small and medium-size congregations likely dont have the resources to build this type of ministry, Goudzwaard and CDM have created a training program that includes a 10-part video series, study guide, and additional resources.
Marlys Roos, publications coordinator for CDM, believes this type of training can be a powerful resource for local churches.
Roos praised the efforts of men and women in the church who worked together on the Help[H]er project. Although the target audience is godly, mature women who desire to come alongside other women in crisis, Roos said she hopes male leaders within the church will participate as well. The content is so rich. I strongly encourage male leaders to be part of the training, too, so they can be part of the conversations, said Roos.
Bob Goudzwaard, Ann Marees husband and the director of pastoral care ministries at Christ Covenant Church, sees Help[H]er as a powerful way for male leadership to shepherd women well. He points to the roundtable discussions, one of the components of the training, as an example of how the teaching works itself out in real life. I cant stress enough how much of a blessing this ministry has been, not only to the women in our church but to the shepherds at our church as well, Bob Goudzwaard said.
What Does the Training Cover?
Help[H]er training sessions include such topics as understanding the role and calling of an advocate from a biblical perspective, spiritual discernment, peacemaking, Reformed doctrine, and church discipline.
The complete training program is now available in an online video format via subscription to individuals and church groups. Help[H]er, the book, serves as the primary text for the program. The program includes a study guide to help participants gain a thorough understanding of the topics covered throughout the training.
Nine additional readings round out the curriculum, including, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies, Instruments in the Redeemers Hand by Paul David Tripp, The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, and Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman. The program also offers a list of additional recommended readings that reflect a commitment to a Reformed and complementarian approach to church ministry.
The course is comprised of 10 sessions, each session includes discussion of assigned readings, training videos, and roundtable discussion videos.
For more information and a free sample of the Help[H]er Advocacy Training Study Guide, visit pcacdm.org/helpher/.