Besides their obvious love for Christ, what do Bill Bright, Billy Graham and Jim Rayburn have in common? Or better question, who do these leaders of monumental impact have in common?
A little lady who loved hats and the Scriptures named Henrietta Mears.
I read an excerpt of a book by her in a used bookstore years ago, but chose to pass over the dollar investment. The few pages that I read were enough to haunt me in the best possible way ever since. Since then, I have begun to study her life. She is a hidden hero of mine, and I want to introduce you to her.
This one little woman had a hand at influencing some of the major shapers of Christianity in the modern era. On the influence that her faithful ministry had upon him, Billy Graham writes, “I doubt if any other woman outside my wife and mother has had such a marked influence.” Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade, says “her life was a life of spiritual multiplication and the world is a better place in which to live because she surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ to serve him with all her heart.”
Her impact on Jim Rayburn, the founder of YoungLife, led to my own coming to treasure Christ at a YoungLife camp modeled after Forest Home, a camp she founded.
Interested yet? Who was this little power house of a woman and what in the world did she do?
Single, after passing up many suitors who did not have the same passion for Christ, she and her sister gave themselves to the coming generation, an American sister duo like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom.
She wasn’t showy or particularly beautiful. She was playful, yet intense. She loved hats and adventure. Most significantly, she loved God’s word. She did not have a seminary degree, but she studied the Scriptures with zeal and a singular focus.
After teaching high school for years and investing in youth, she moved to Hollywood, of all places, to work as the Director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church. She devoted her life to creating environments for youth and college students to learn to love the Scriptures and, more significantly, the Christ to which their entirety pointed. She loved God’s Word and taught it with passion. She held her leaders to high standards and expected excellence out of them. She inspired an entire generation of young men and women to give their lives to the Lord.
I am particularly interested in her life because of the way that the she, a strong and passionate female leader, championed men and influenced them in a way that so many of them would honor her and ask her opinion. She was not a pastor, nor did she fight to be one. She was proud to wear the mantle of Teacher. She partnered with these influential men in the making and they listened to her, heard her opinions and learned from her.
In a day and age where gender roles are a hot topic in the Church and culture alike, there is much to be gleaned from the partnership that existed between Henrietta and the men in her world.
She didn’t pout about the roles that were not opened to her or her limited opportunities, like I sometimes do. The kingdom had too much work to be done for that. She didn’t try to overpower or overshadow the male leadership of the local Church, she championed them and set them before her throngs as often as possible.
On the male side, there was an incredible respect for Momma Mears. She wielded great influence even though she had no official authority. She was not put into a corner with a broom or put in charge of coffee but was championed to run in the way of her gifts and passions. These men saw her passion for God, His Word and His people and aided her in every way possible.
Oh, how I long to be a modern day Henrietta Mears in my own circle. I long to be a model of a woman who loves to study and teach the Word in a way that is useful in the Kingdom and honors the men in leadership around me. I long to lean into the spheres of influence in which God has already placed me rather than pine after the authority for which our culture and our flesh pant.
There is so much work to be done. The generations beneath us are being decimated by culture and the tyranny of their flesh. They need to see both men and women who are passionate about the Word of God and longing to engage in their lives.