Pastor, you need to know

Does your pastoral leadership have the necessary gifts to properly nurture and shepherd the women in your church?

Heather-Dawn Small, MA, is director of women’s ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. She is currently pursuing a PhD in intercultural studies.

Over the years, I have observed that pastors have not only supported the department of Women’s Ministries (WM) in the church but manifested a special interest in the spiritual and emotional well-being of our sisters. Nevertheless, unless a more urgent focus is given by pastors and church members alike to particular situations that women face, both in the church and in the world, our women will not only fall further behind their male counterparts but, and more importantly, fail to fulfill the God-given purpose of their creation.

The challenges

We have identified six challenge issues that affect women in the church and community in every country around the world: poverty; illiteracy; abuse; health; workloads; and lack of education, mentoring, and leadership opportunities.

As a church, we place much emphasis on evangelism, which is a clarion call in these last days as instructed in God’s Word (Matt. 28:19, 20). In WM, we realize that women play a major role in evangelism, and so we seek to prepare them for outreach spiritually, emotionally, physically, and socially.

But we are aware that women face many challenges (as listed above) and carry much pain. They deal with family problems, physical and emotional pain, depression, and the list goes on. Women need shepherding—but by other women. The question arises, “Is there a relationship between shepherding and pastoral care?” Pastoral care consists of mentoring, pastoral counseling, discipling, and spiritual guidance, but that also describes shepherding. Both pastoral care and shepherding have similar goals.

As I travel the world, I hear the many stories from my sisters in countries so different from each other but where the pain that women experience is the same. No matter our language, culture, or social status, women cry the same, laugh the same, love our families the same, and hurt the same.

I listen to the stories of my sisters, women who have suffered abuse in their homes for many years, and they are either afraid to tell the pastor because of his gender or have shared their pain with the pastor or male elder and in return too often received only suggestions about what they can do to improve their situations.

Other women tell me of the years they have suffered with depression and have been afraid to share it because they wonder, Who would understand? Or there are other women who are experiencing life changes that are affecting their lives and do not know how to handle them, and they can find no one who can identify with their emotional pain to help. And the list goes on.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, for one, needs more women in leadership positions in the church. Having grown up in the Adventist Church, I saw only men in leadership roles. I recall the days when only men could participate in the eleven o’clock service (pastor, elder, and deacon), and I wondered why a woman was not part of that group. I especially missed a woman to shepherd me in difficult times. I was most grateful for the pastor’s wives who did their best, yet many were working women or had little children and were limited in what they could do.

The darkest time in my life was when we lost our four-year-old son, Joseph Jr., and I could find no one to help me through the valley of darkness, fear, and uncertainty. There was no one I trusted in my home church who could understand my pain and disappointment with God and who could tenderly walk alongside me.


Women need another woman to shepherd their hearts. Why? Let me share a few reasons with you:

A woman can be an example of feminine godliness. It has long been agreed that the language of women differs from that of men. Women speak the language of emotions— “heart language.” This impacts our relationship with God. Negotiating our emotions and relationship with God can be a struggle for many women. Titus 2:3–6 underscores the need for women to help other women in their daily lives and Christian walk. Women “shape each other’s attitudes and selfdefinitions as we converse, and from each other we learn what it means to be female.”1 Having a woman seeking after God be a mentor to other women is a blessing beyond words.

Most times women and men process pain in different ways. Women need to talk out our feelings, and this can be accompanied by many tears. We need to go through that process of talking it out before we can begin to think about how to fix things. Men seem to go straight to the solution stage. Many a well-meaning pastor has inflicted unintentional pain on a woman who comes for help and his response does not speak to her pain but to the solution. A pastor may say, “Maybe you need to spend more time in the Bible, pray more about the problem, love him more, and God will help.” These are well-meaning words, but they do not speak to the emotional and, often, physical pain a woman experiences.

Women understand each other. “There are times when being a woman just plain hurts.”2 This can be physical pain brought on by the seasons of our lives or emotional pain that results from our hormonal changes and the multiple roles we carry in the home and society. “We are different [from men] anatomically, hormonally, socially, sexually, psychologically, and emotionally.”3 Peter writes, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner” (1 Pet. 3:7, NIV). I believe that God is instructing our husbands to remember that women experience much emotional and physical pain in the normal course of life, such as our monthly cycle, menopause, childbearing, and other “normal” aspects of our lives. At these times, we are weak. Only another woman can understand what we are experiencing and how to relate to us.

Women are natural nurturers. This nurturing gift God has given enables us to be excellent shepherds to other women. “Women proceed from a different frame of reference than men. They work first from a position of concerned involvement and caring. . . . Their frame of reference includes sensitivity unique to them . . . and includes deepened empathy [the ability to comprehend another’s experience]. . . . Girls and women focus on care.”4 Women in pain will respond best to someone who can identify with them emotionally and to whom nurturing comes naturally.

The risk of pastors’ involvement in both emotional and physical adultery can be decreased by women shepherding other women. “Particularly in situations of sexual abuse, for example, the problem in pastoral response is not too little empathy but too much indiscriminate empathy by an uninformed pastoral caregiver that surfaces long-repressed feelings that overwhelm rather than help the person in need.”5 Women who are emotionally insecure can misinterpret the pastor’s kind words and actions and see them as they want to see them and not what the pastor may intend. In all relationships, there must be boundaries and accountability, but the danger to the women seeking counseling and to the pastor is greatly reduced when she is helped by another woman.

Women who have been hurt by men may not want a man to shepherd them. A fact exists that many women in pain can point to a father, brother, husband, male friend, or other male who has been the object of their pain. No matter how well-meaning the pastor may be, the fear of men that this woman carries will always be a barrier between her and the pastor. She may never be able to articulate her fear, but seeking help from a male pastor will only deepen her trauma.

Women bring a balance to the leadership of the church. Ellen White counsels, “When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined.”6 In many situations the pastor seems overloaded with church administrative work, the needs of members, and conference expectations. More women are needed in leadership positions in our churches because their perspective will be undeniably helpful to the church planning and care. In addition, if each pastor has a resource list of women who could shepherd other women in need, that would be an invaluable asset both to the pastor and to the church.

God has given spiritual gifts of shepherding to both men and women. When the Bible lists spiritual gifts in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, there is no gender discrimination. No limit exists to the gifts that God may bestow on men or women. The gifts needed to shepherd are given to both genders.

The gift of shepherding

There are women in our churches who have the gift of shepherding other women and who would gladly support the pastor in his ministry to the female members. There will be times when the female shepherd, like the pastor, may have to refer the woman in need to someone who is trained in counseling to assist them. But in many situations, a female shepherd can walk alongside the woman in her journey, not only to pray with her, which is needed, but also to stay in touch with her through her period of healing, to encourage her to join a support group, or to participate in a women’s ministries event that would nourish her emotionally and spiritually.

The need for women shepherds becomes even more vital when one considers the many parts of the world where professional counselors are scarce. The pastor may have multiple churches, which increases the demands on his time, or professional counseling may not seem financially feasible for the woman in need to seek professional assistance.

Ellen White emphasizes that “in the various branches of the work of God’s cause, there is a wide field in which our sisters may do good service for the Master. . . . In the different churches, much work which is often left undone or done imperfectly, could be well accomplished by the help that our sisters, if properly instructed, can give. . . . The labors of such Christian women are needed.”7

In women’s ministries, we seek to nurture and empower our sisters through training in various areas so that she can be an effective woman of God in reaching out to other women who need Jesus. We believe the following words of Ellen White to all women and pray that our brothers in our church willingly make room for the ministry of women in our churches: “Woman, if she wisely improves her time and her faculties, relying upon God for wisdom and strength, may stand on an equality with her husband as adviser, counselor, companion, and co-worker, and yet lose none of her womanly grace or modesty. She may elevate her own character, and just as she does this she is elevating and ennobling the characters of her family, and exerting a powerful though unconscious influence upon others around her. Why should not women cultivate the intellect? Why should they not answer the purpose of God in their existence? Why may they not understand their own powers, and realizing that these powers are given of God, strive to make use of them to the fullest extent in doing good to others, in advancing the work of reform, of truth and real goodness in the world?”8

Final appeal

The global statistics for abuse against women state that one in three will experience abuse. That includes women in our churches. Over and over I am asked by abused women, “What is my church doing to help me?” In 2001, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee voted the fourth Sabbath of August as Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day. In 2009, the General Conference Women’s Ministry and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) launched the End-It-Now campaign. This global campaign was to raise awareness of the pandemic abuse of women and girls. The name was changed from Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day to End-It-Now Day.

From its inception in 2001 to the present time, this special day has been supported throughout the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I appeal to pastors and church leaders worldwide to encourage your membership and departments to be involved in planning and implementing this very important day. We understand if you must change the particular day to one more convenient for your church calendar. All we ask is for you to facilitate the keeping of one Sabbath a year as End-It-Now day.9

Pastor, we continue to pray that God will abundantly bless you, your family, and your ministry. We want to be a strong support for you in your church. Remember, “it was Mary that first preached a risen Jesus. . . . If there were twenty women where now there is one, who would make this holy mission their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. The refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth.”10 Thank you, Pastor, for your continued support of women, both in the church and in the community.11

1 Brenda Hunter, In the Company of Women (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1994), 21, 23.

2 Jean Lush, Emotional Phases of a Woman’s Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 20.

3 Ibid., 20.

4 Maxie Glaz and Jeanne Stevenson Moessner, ed., Women in Travail and Transition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1991), 19.

5 Jeanne Stevenson Moessner, ed., Through the Eyes of Women: Insights for Pastoral Care (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1996), 20.

6 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), 469.

7 Ibid., 466.

8 Ibid., 467.

9 For resources and more information on how to plan a special End-It-Now worship service at your church, visit the enditnow website at

10 White, Evangelism, 471, 472.

11 Special thanks to Dr. Bev Hislop, my seminary professor, for her two excellent books, Shepherding a Woman’s Heart and Shepherding Women in Pain.

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Heather-Dawn Small, MA, is director of women’s ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. She is currently pursuing a PhD in intercultural studies.

May 2017

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