When I was a youth, there was one individual whose life and legacy set the tone for my own calling in ministry. That person served in the children’s ministry at the church I grew up attending. What made her presence there unique is that she was there not because the church was healthy, but because the church was struggling. In fact, she viewed herself as a missionary, sharing the gospel and bringing stability in a church that was otherwise filled with turmoil. Her name was Miss May and her devotion to Christ and the sacrifices she made to lead children to the Lord have had an impact on the Kingdom far beyond her lifetime.
Miss May wasn’t alone in this work. There was also Miss Ruth, then Mrs. Worley, and Mrs. Mylin. These humble and kind women all served pivotal roles in my life during foundational times. That statement, “pivotal roles during foundational times,” should not surprise us. It’s actually a regular theme in Scripture.
Look, for instance, at Exodus. We cannot overlook the role of women in the beginning chapters of the book. There would not have been a Moses without the female forerunners that God was working through to position him as a leader. There would be no leader if there was not first a mother, a sister and a princess.
These women responded to God’s movement in their hearts and it started a movement in the nation. They acted in faith and confidence despite a context that was hostile. The midwives disobeyed direct orders that ran contrary to God’s commands. After them, Moses’ mother and sister did everything they could to preserve his fragile life. Pharaoh’s daughter plucked baby Moses out of the river and saved him despite her own father’s decrees. God was at work in them, and the entire exodus would be founded on their faithful behavior. Even at a cursory reading it is clear that the narrative of Exodus deliberately and rightly draws our attention to notice the women who were forerunners to a great movement.
It’s not the only time we see this trend in Scripture. God readily and repeatedly used the influence of faithful women to bring about dramatic change. Consider the birth of Jesus. Who does the Angel speak to first (Luke 1:28)? What about the resurrection? Who first sees the risen Christ (Matthew 28:9)? We often assume Phillip was the first missionary to the Samaritans, but there was a woman leading others to Christ before that (John 4:28-30). Of course, we also know of Esther, Ruth, Deborah, and Rahab.
One that is often overlooked comes from a short story in the book of 2 Kings.
2 Kings 11:13 (NIV)
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family. 2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. 3 He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.
This is a fascinating story. Athaliah, daughter of the infamous Jezebel, is the first one to pose a threat to the Davidic covenant. All but one of the descendants in the line of David have been murdered by this power hungry grandmother because she wants to rule for herself (she takes after her mother). While Athaliah sought to exterminate the line of David, a savior was found in a woman named Jehosheba. The throne would have been lost and the promised lineage would have been compromised if it was not for one woman who saw more than her own life at stake.
Here are 4 thoughts to ponder in our own ministries in light of the women above, and the many women in our congregations who are forerunners in their own right.
1. WE SHOULD CONFESS WHERE WE HAVE ERRED BY OPPRESSION AND/OR OMISSION.
Confession is the foundation for authentic change at a spiritual level; we need authentic change here. I am not talking about changing the way we understand the gender roles in Scripture. Rather, I am talking about the way that we honor what God intended those roles to be in their fullest sense. If God created woman to be a “suitable helpmate,” is that true of the way you allow them to have a voice in your church? In a mission as imperative as the Gospel, the last thing we want to do is sideline someone God plans on using in a foundational manner.
2. GODLY WOMEN OFTEN HAVE THE ABILITY TO DISCERN WHAT GOD IS DOING WHILE MEN ARE LOOKING ELSEWHERE.
Look, I understand there are examples of times when this is the opposite experience, but I have seen this to be true more than I care to admit. I can think of two times off the top of my head where God has done major work through modern missionaries only after some incredible women patiently convinced their husbands to let go of American comfort and really dive into what the Gospel called them to do. Personally speaking, there are many times when my own wife senses when we should be generous long before I do.
3. FORERUNNER WOMEN HAVE GRANDER CONCEPTS IN MIND.
I am often amazed at the polar opposite responses my wife and I have to the same question. Ask me, “how was your day?” and you will get “fine.” Ask her and you will get a wonderfully detailed explanation of what happened, who felt what, who knew who, and what might have happened because of it. Her ability to process a web of connection leaves me confused and scratching my head, but it also challenges me. She saw so much more than I did.
It really seems that women of faith can make grander connections on a spiritual level as well. Look at Hanna in 1 Samuel who endured years of shame and suffering only to ask God for a child that would not even be hers to enjoy. She sacrificed so much to “give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.” Her thinking was connected to a much larger narrative than her own life. Hannah, like the incredible woman of Proverbs 31 is known for her compassionate foresight and the anticipation of the needs of others (Prov 31:14-16). When you consider that, we may very well be wise to utter the words that Hannah’s husband does, “do what seems best to you” (1 Samuel 1:23).
4. CREATE SPACES FOR WOMEN TO BE HEARD AND FOR YOU TO LISTEN.
Because many Godly women portray the characteristics of 1 Timothy and live a quiet and contented life, you may have to seek them out to gain their insight. I was recently challenged at a conference when the speaker encouraged pastors to ask female leaders in their church this question, “What is it like to be a woman in leadership at this church?”
First of all, I was on the hook because several of our female staff members were sitting next to me (and looking at me) when the challenge was issued, but I was also very intrigued at what they would say. I asked several women that question and expressed a deep appreciation for their spiritual maturity, willingness to serve and practical wisdom. I gained tremendously valuable insight from their answers. Mostly, I learned that this is a conversation that we need to keep having. I need to create space in my schedule to hear from godly women. I have little doubt that, if we do, we will begin to see God unfold some incredible opportunities we never knew were there.
When conversations like this happen, forerunners will have a voice and an opportunity, when it comes to the Gospel, that’s a great thing.