At the beginning the month, I led a women’s retreat for the Western Region of PA. Having lived and loved alongside these women for four years, it was a joy to return and spend some intentional time encouraging them to deepen their roots in Christ. Then, mid-month I attended the Missional Women Conference in Denver, where I lead a breakout session titled, Discipling Unchurched Women 101.
In both places, I was reminded of the hard work of discipling unchurched women, because both of these regions offer living illustrations of Jesus’ parable of the rocky and hard soil in Matthew 13. And in both of these places, a relatively small number of women are doing the hard work of cultivating healthy disciples in hard soil.
“20) But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21) yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” Matt. 13:20-21
Growing disciples in rocky soil is much harder than your average discipleship efforts. In fact, discipling a woman who is unchurched looks differently than discipling someone who has grown up in nutrient-rich soil of a church culture.
That’s because in areas with hard soil, discipleship is first and foremost a root building ministry. When you disciple an unchurched woman, you aren’t just concerned with positioning her to listen to the Spirit’s leading so she may bear fruit, rather, you are concerned with helping her develop deep and healthy roots from the gospel.
The reason many churches fail at seeing disciples with unchurched backgrounds thrive and bloom is because growing roots is a hard and time-consuming process. And much like a real garden, producing healthy roots in hard soil almost never happens without intentional efforts to provide a disciple with the right conditions where she might grow and bear fruit.
This is a lesson that God has taught me time and again, particularly as he keeps planting our family in places with hard soil.
I first became aware of this identifier “unchurched” when my husband and I moved to Southeast Asia for a work opportunity. We had no missionary designs upon arrival, but God continued to bring young women to me who desired to know about him. I found myself scrambling to discover how to disciple these women. Imagine trying to introduce Jesus to someone who had no framework for God, sin, or the spiritual world! I had to throw out all my “church words” and instead learned to share the story of the Scriptures – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
Then, about five years ago, God moved our family to the difficult soil of Pittsburgh, where only 7 percent of its 2.5 million people are affiliated with any evangelical church. In the steel city, we teamed up with a North American Mission Board church plant – Living Faith Community Church – our family’s biggest faith-building adventure so far. It was in this church plant that God solidified his call on my life to unchurched women, because one of the largest demographics that came to our church were women – many of whom could be described as radically unchurched.
When these women decided to follow Christ, their walks looked very familiar to that of my international friends. Despite being bright and intelligent, they were starting their journey of faith from scratch – learning that the Bible had two testaments and each book was divided into chapters and verses.
Ultimately, the need for discipling these new believers became so great, I began to piece together a discipleship strategy for women who had no Bible background – not simply to provide them with much-needed Bible knowledge, but to help them become fully-formed disciples of Christ capable of replicating themselves.
In the coming weeks, I’ll begin to share some pieces of that strategy and the principles behind it. I’ll also share some of my biggest discipleship mistakes, and of course, stories of God’s biggest successes in hard soil.
Here’s what you can expect in this series:
–What is an unchurched woman and how can you spot her?
–Roots, shoots, & fruit – creating a discipleship strategy for unchurched women
–3 keys area for growing healthy roots among unchurched women
Are you ministering to unchurched women or struggling to know how to reach unchurched women in your area? Discipling women who have no shared worldview, Bible background, or church home is my passion. Join me in this series, and we’ll grow together in learning how to better engage this growing demographic in our churches and beyond.