Ministry to women is a vital aspect of life in any church, but few churches have a director of women’s ministry on the paid staff. For women such as Abby Hutto who do work on staff as a director of women’s ministry, it can be difficult learning to navigate relationships as a staff member but not a pastor.

Hutto, who works on staff at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church outside Columbus, Ohio, also struggles with loneliness, as no other PCA churches in the Columbus area have women in her position.

In order for women who serve their churches in this vital role to connect with each other for support and training, the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) offers an annual Director of Women’s Ministry (DOWM) Conference for full-time and part-time staffers at PCA churches. The conference’s purpose is to encourage and equip these women for their jobs.

Participants learn from teachers who can validate their struggles and offer practical tips on how the Gospel speaks into those difficult areas of ministry and life. Tasha Chapman of Covenant Theological Seminary taught at the 2015 conference from her research on resilient ministry, and for Hutto, Chapman’s message encouraged her in her roles directing ministry at her church, working with Parakaleo ministry, and also as a mother.

“Ministry is hard, and it is a particular kind of hard that people not in ministry cannot get. [Chapman] normalized the hard and then gave tips to live within the tension,”she said.

Hutto said the conference also gave her the space to think with other women about how to approach ministry. She said working in so many ministries requires you “to bring your heart to the table every time you come,” and she cannot compartmentalize her work easily. The DOWM conference allows her to connect deeply with other women who have the same struggle.

Becky Kiern works as the director of community life and women’s ministry at South City Church in St. Louis. Her church is young and urban, and most of the women in the church are bivocational. As a result, Kiern must think outside the traditional ministry box when it comes to loving the women of her church well.

The DOWM conference brings together women from diverse church settings, and Kiern was encouraged by hearing other women share their passion for ministry and their desires to see the women of their churches studying God’s Word together and on their own.

One part of the conference is a “show and tell” during which women can trade ideas on events and activities that have worked at their churches. Initially Kiern was skeptical that she could glean many ideas from women who serve in contexts different than hers, but she was excited to discover new ideas that she could adapt to her own church.

As a single 30-something, Kiern sees that there are generational divides in the church, and it is easy to dismiss women’s ministry models from earlier generations. But the DOWM conference allowed Kiern to get to know women ministering in these different contexts. As she heard them talk about ministry, she said she was forced to let go of her preconceived ideas of what makes effective ministry.

“Now I know women who are working in different contexts, and I no longer make assumptions about [their] intentions. [The conference] opened my eyes to the diversity of the larger community and seeing the heart these women have for the Lord and for ministry.”

Like Hutto, Kiern also appreciated the camaraderie that developed at the conference as she discussed difficult aspects of ministry with other women who experience the same thing. Kiern also had the chance to bless more seasoned women by sharing her insights on how the church can love single women well.

The 2016 conference will be held Oct. 10-12 at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. In addition to teaching and times of encouragement, women who serve some of the PCA’s largest women’s ministries will have time to interact with female seminary students who may one day be their colleagues.

For details on the 2016 DOWM conference, click here.