The whole time she was preaching, I was thinking “Oh, if I could only be like her.” I said it over and over in my 18 year-old brain as I observed the anointed woman preaching the word with great power and authority. It was in those few moments that I was convinced, not only in my head, but also in my heart that God could also use me. How could I ever forget this single moment? How could I ever forget evangelist Irma Contreras? Seeing her and interacting with her impacted my concept of women in ministry for life.
In an area where male leadership is predominant, female role models are essential for young girls and women responding to God’s call to ministry. I see a longing in the hearts of so many young women for someone to walk alongside them and coach them in their journey. I am challenged in every encounter I have with them, knowing that they are observing me, and feeling the responsibility to be an Old Testament Deborah, a New Testament Lydia, or a modern day Irma. How I would have loved to have a woman take me under her wings during my early ministry years. You and I can make a difference for young girls and women who are being called into ministry today.
One of the great obstacles for most of us women in ministry is time. Where can we possibly find the time to invest in these upcoming leaders? Let me share three ways I have creatively found myself being a role model in my day to day ministry life.
The first is what I call “one time encounters.” This would be just like my experience with Irma Contreras. I met her that one evening and though I never saw her again, she marked my life profoundly. This means that we should take advantage of every moment we know there is a young girl or woman in our midst to encourage and speak life into her soul. You may just be the one God is choosing to use at that moment to model life, hope, and truth to someone you may never see again.
The second is what I call a “seasonal role modeling relationship.” These are young women who are a part of your ministry for a short term. A good question to ask yourself is: Who do I already connect with in ministry? Who do I already invest time with in ministry? Be intentional in giving to her. In this relationship, ask her or allow her to ask you as many questions as needed to work through and process her own calling.
The third is what I call a “long term role modeling relationship.” These are the girls that are in your life for long seasons. As a pastor, I have the amazing opportunity to see little girls grow up in church. I see them fall in love with Jesus as they grow in worship and the word. It is so important that we create an affirming environment in the church where they can believe at a young age that God can and does call them to ministry, too. I think of Eden at my church. She is just seven years old and is already falling in love with the Chinese people. I recently told her mom I believed she was being called as a missionary to China. What a privilege I have to speak God’s divine purpose into Eden’s life at such a young age!
And it isn’t always just younger girls or clearly called young women you may be impacting. It can be the most unlikely person. What began as the inconvenience of sharing a small office with a woman (ten years my senior) who was helping out at church, ended up with the two of us serving together full time, and finally, seven years later, with her responding to God’s call to prepare to be a pastor. She says it was the observation of my character through ongoing, vulnerable relationship and sincere caring for her that most contributed to the growth that brought her to this point. The impact she describes took place not when she was awed by a superhero pastor, but rather when I allowed her close enough to see me in the midst of my hardships and conflict and loved her unconditionally through hers. As she saw me in my times of greatest weakness, she was able to trust that God’s strength would be perfected in her weakness, also.
Oh, may we grasp the incredible value and impact we can have as ministry role models willing to be real and vulnerable before our sisters in Christ. May we look not at the outward appearance, but at their hearts, and see the “unlikely” ones God has placed in our paths with his limitless potential! In his hands, our investments of time and love, like the loaves and fishes, will multiply exponentially to people we could never reach alone. Will you join me? How can you be intentional and real with that younger or older sister God has placed in your path today?
This article was previously published in Women in Ministry Mobilized E-Newsletter on 09/23/2012.