Conference focuses on women as leaders

By Frances H. Bailey

True leaders have the ability to influence others, according to Dr. Mary Hilgendorf, director of the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) in Mequon, Wiwomens.jpgs.  So all women — whether they know it or not — are leaders because they routinely influence their friends, families, and coworkers, Hilgendorf says.

As a speaker at the second WLI conference, held April 4-6 in Milwaukee, Hilgendorf told some 150 attendees that God has a purpose for every woman, regardless of her vocation, and she encouraged them to serve as His disciples, even though, at times, they may not feel qualified.

The conference was designed to encourage and equip women of all ages for Christian leadership.  The event included presentations, devotions, and fellowship, and all the activities focused on the need for women to share the love of Jesus with others and the abilities God has given every woman to lead.

Keynote speaker Dr. Paul Maier shared biblical accounts of how God has used women to build His kingdom on earth and how Christ continues to influence the lives of women today.  He encouraged conference attendees to realize their own potential for service to God.  Maier is professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo; LCMS second vice president; and a noted author.

Dr. Gloria Edwards, a member of the LCMS Board of Directors and a former president of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML), expanded upon the theme of servant leadership as she discussed the essential traits of women who reach out into the community to inspire others to live with a “moral purpose.”  Such Christian women, Edwards said, must be vulnerable, listen to others, and practice “personal restraint” through their service and humility.

Also speaking were Karen Lippert, director of women’s ministries at Divine Redeemer Lutheran Church, Hartland, Wis.; Linda Reiser, a member of the LCMS Board for Mission Services and former LWML president; and Dr. Barbara Brunworth, a marriage and family counselor in Dallas.

Members of a young women’s panel discussed a number of topics, including technology, getting youth involved in ministry, vocation, worship styles, spirituality, and outreach.  Panel member Kristina Neumann of Cincinnati explained the importance of reaching out to young women in LCMS congregations through “organizations, opportunities, and technology” in order to encourage growth and facilitate networking.

Allison Zehnder of St. Louis encouraged women to be “genuine and authentic” in reaching out to others, and said younger generations need the reassurance that others care and value their opinions.  Zehnder said it is “imperative” that young women have a voice in women’s leadership in the church.

The next national WLI conference is tentatively planned for April 16-18, 2010, in Milwaukee.

The Women’s Leadership Institute, located on the campus of Concordia University Wisconsin, was established in 2002 to provide “opportunities for women to grow in the unique gifts of leadership and character that God gives to them for service to Christ in the church and the world.”

The Institute is organizing its first retreat for directors of women’s ministries in LCMS congregations.  The retreat — to be held next spring in Milwaukee — is designed to bring the directors together for mutual support, leadership training, and idea-sharing.

If you’re interested, please contact WLI Director Mary Hilgendorf at

For more information about the WLI, visit its Web site at

Frances H. Bailey of Palatine, Ill., is a junior at Concordia University Wisconsin, majoring in elementary education.

Posted May 1, 2008

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