If I were to think of myself as the model godly woman, I'd picture myself sitting at the table in my breakfast nook, steam rising from the fresh cup of coffee in my hand, reading my study Bible and Beth Moore book by the rays of the early morning sunlight that stream through my windows, the faint sound of birds chirping in my flower-filled yard.
As I've struggled for years to reach this spiritual "ideal," I've finally realized there are a number of problems with it: 1. I don't like coffee; 2. I am not a morning person; 3. I have two young boys who fill the house with noise the minute they awaken; 4. I don't do flowers, just ask my husband; 5. I don't have any of Beth Moore's books.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual formation.
Each woman has a completely different story, personality, and lifestyle. Therefore, as leaders it is important for us to help women develop their own plan for spiritual growth, instead of just pointing everyone toward the same program or method as the guarantee of success.
When I visit a personal trainer at the gym, she doesn't give me a pre-designed, standard exercise plan; she observes my strengths, weaknesses, and lifestyle, and develops a customized workout plan based on that information. The ultimate goal is total body fitness; however, there are hundreds of baby steps that contribute to meeting that goal. She would never expect me to start by running five miles or setting the weight machine at the heaviest setting. Instead, she encourages manageable activities that show fairly quick results, creating a natural hunger for more.
In the same way, as Christian leaders we should seek to join women wherever they are on their spiritual journey, helping them take the next step instead of focusing on how far they have to go until the reach the "ideal." Following are some manageable yet effective ideas for the most basic elements of spiritual formation.
Community: This is more than the typical church grapevine or casual associations. Women need deep friendships that include personal accountability, but this can take so many forms. Some women do best in a structured small group or Bible study; others, like me, feel safer initially yet ultimately very challenged in a less structured setting. At a previous church, I started golfing regularly with a group of women. It didn't take long before we were sharing the depths of our hearts at the same time we were improving our handicaps. Community can never be forced. Whether it's a shared meal or a shared interest, look to capitalize on natural connections.
Bible reading: There is absolutely no substitute for personal time spent reading the Bible, even if it's just several verses a day. Women need to know that God speaks to them personally, not just through their spouse, pastor, Bible study leader, radio preacher, or favorite author. I am sometimes discouraged by how many women depend on study Bibles and Bible study guides to interpret Scripture for them, instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to illumine their reading of God's Word. Instead of providing more study tools, challenge them to use less.
Prayer: Many women struggle to carve large chunks of time out of a schedule that is often dictated by others' needs: work, household, children, spouse, friends, etc. Yet all Christ-followers need to quiet their soul on a regular basis, so they can hear God speak and can talk to him, as well. Therefore, encourage the women you know to take advantage of even the smallest quiet moments. That may be in the stillness of the morning or evening, in the car at a red light, or even (perhaps often!) in the bathroom.
As with diet and exercise, in your spiritual life you can't rely on the big event or program to take the place of regular discipline. As leaders, we can help women recognize and maximize their own unique situation to foster lasting life change.