I came across the name Henrietta Mears (1890-1963) several years ago when thumbing through her book What the Bible is All About as I waited for a prescription to be filled. Since that time, I have been fascinated by her. She was a Christian educator and influenced the likes of Bill Bright and Billy Graham. She was definitely complementarian, but smashed the idea that women were only suited for roles of support to their husbands and children. Never married, she dedicated herself to the task of teaching the word of God, holistically, purely and simply and the development of quality resources to accomplish the task, including teacher training and development. Talbot School of Theology did a nice write up on her. I encourage you to read the whole thing, including the quotes at the bottom. But here’s an excerpt that I think really sums it up.
Henrietta Mears as an influential woman in ministry was something of an anomaly-a woman far ahead of her time. When one searches for contemporary examples of conservative Christians who have changed the way people view women in Christian service, she leaps to the forefront. The scope of her ministry and the variety of leadership positions she assumed was remarkable, given the fact that vocational ministry opportunities for women were fairly limited during her lifetime. It might be fair to say that she has broken ground and raised the consciousness of those of both genders concerning options open to women within and outside the church.
Her theological understanding regarding gender appeared to be that of male headship, and she clearly believed that men should be the leaders in the church. Yet she did not understand this to mean male domination. Though she subordinated herself to the pastors, practically speaking she functioned as an equal. She most likely would not have accepted ordination had it been offered to her and did not preach from the pulpit, believing her ministry to be that of teaching and mentoring under the authority of the pastor (Madden, 1997). Aware that certain opportunities were denied her because of her gender, she never made this an issue because of her clear sense of calling and her confidence in God and what He was leading her to do. This gave her a strong sense of authority, and Vonette Bright noted “she could be impatient with a person who did not give her an opportunity to do what she had been called to do” (Madden, 1997, p. 111).
As a woman surrounded by men, her manner was a model of effective interaction. Highly competent and successful at what she did, she went out of her way to help the men she worked with to succeed as well; they appreciated this and esteemed her highly for it. She could be insistent if a situation called for it, yet she would often refrain from pressing a point at other times with a wonderful sense of tact and diplomacy (W. T. Greig, II, personal communication, June 13, 2002). Her respectful attitude, enthusiastic spirit, winsome personality, and disarming sense of humor seemed to render questions concerning gender inconsequential (Madden, 1997). In this as well as on many other issues, because of her consuming passion for God’s work, she was above the pettiness to which even Christian leaders sometimes fall prey (W. T. Greig, II, personal communication, June 13, 2002).
What I appreciate most about this description of her, as that she didn’t press the point or feel the need to make herself heard regarding gender. She just did what she did, focused on that, looking to contribute where she could. That is what earned her respect and even invitations. Ladies, whether complementarian or egalitarian or anything in between, I think there’s something to be learned here. I say that as a woman in a degree program with a low percentage of women, and miniscule percentage in my track of systematic theology. In a few of my classes, I have been the sole female voice just looking to contribute where I can for the task at hand. And it has earned respect. So I hope that the men can take note that women actually do have something to contribute beyond gender specific teaching of being wives and mothers though that is important too.