Most of us have some recurring fear. Maybe it’s needles. Or spiders. Or maybe you just have this thing about making sure you don’t run out of gas in your vehicle.
We all are prone to various kinds of fears, but a couple of years ago, I led a small group of young women through Scarlet Hiltibidal’s book, Afraid of All the Things. I don’t consider myself to be a fearful or anxious woman, but I was struck by the fact that every young woman dealt with anxiety on some level or another. For several weeks they confronted their fears and talked through personal struggles. In some ways, I think they were relieved when we finished the book because they were “done” talking about fear, but it did give me new insight into dealing with the fears women face.
Less than a year after we finished going through the book, COVID-19 entered our world. A culture already riddled with fear now meant more isolation, more online gatherings, and new fears we had never encountered. We all donned physical masks, but many of us strapped on new masks of fear and uncertainty. For ministry leaders, everything shut down. I had just started a new Bible study with women in my church and it vanished as quickly as it formed. Our women’s worship gathering that was planned to coincide with Easter was no longer an option. This wasn’t a virus that only caused fear, but it was a real and present danger that endangered the lives of those we loved.
Fast forward. Vaccinations are plentiful. Masks are optional. Churches are gathering. And yet, the gathering of women in many churches has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. They are weary of online gatherings, yet they continue to hold back on whether it’s safe to plan or attend live events. As a leader, how do you manage the continued fears of women and how can you begin to move forward in light of a new post-pandemic world? I don’t claim to be an expert on confronting fears, but here are some practical suggestions as you look forward to planning ways to help women gather without fear.
1. Acknowledge the fears. Don’t dismiss people’s fears or anxiety. Show empathy to those who are still hesitant to return. You may not fully know their reasons, so be careful to avoid judgmental statements that diminish concerns. Some will choose to be vaccinated while others aren’t confident in them. It’s easy to take a side, so guard your opinions and consider listening to their fears.
2. Submit to the authorities in your church. Ask your pastor or staff about ways you can safely gather and if there are guidelines they want you to follow. Your plans for being together should be consistent with those set by your staff, whether it’s a gathering at church or off-site. This also includes submitting to your local government guidelines.
3. Protect those who are vulnerable. Consider others in your ministry who might have physical conditions that cause them to be fearful. For instance, you may not require masks of those who attend a Bible study, but it would be considerate to offer special seating for those who feel more comfortable wearing masks or sitting further away from others.
4. Continue to practice good hygiene and safe food distribution. Ensure that bathrooms are fully stocked with soap, provide hand sanitizer at tables, and evaluate the way you are serving food. It’s probably not time to bring back the breakfast casseroles and free-for-all potluck lunches, so consider ways you can offer food safely or not at all.
5. Continue to provide online options. If there’s one thing everyone has learned in the past eighteen months, it is the ability to offer digital and hybrid solutions. If you are offering a Bible study at your church, consider having a video conferencing link where women can join from the comfort of wherever they may be.
6. Provide opportunities for smaller gatherings. If women aren’t ready to meet with hundreds of others, they might consider meeting in a small group of eight. As you consider your future plans, make sure you offer a variety of options that eliminates the fears of being in a crowded room. Besides, the value of small groups provides opportunities to build relationships and deeper community with the women you lead.
7. Consider outdoor opportunities. Depending on where you live and the options that are available to you, some women might feel more comfortable gathering outdoors. Encourage them to bring a lawn chair and their favorite coffees as they open God’s Word and build community.
Facing the fears of others who are still not sure about returning to gatherings is still a reality, but it’s also a lesson in the way we love each other with the love of Christ. Let’s listen carefully to the writer of Hebrews, who said, “And let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Encourage being in the presence of one another, but let’s be women who see each other in love and as neighbors.
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.