My personal legacy as a minister of the gospel began when, as children, my two sisters and I never once heard from our father, “You can’t do that; you’re a girl.” This legacy continued into my adult life as I followed God’s call to me to serve him as an ordained minister (officer) within The Salvation Army. The Army’s strong legacy of equal ministry opportunities for women dates back to its 19th century founders, William and Catherine Booth, two of the best (if not the best) examples of those who believed in gender equality with all their hearts. Here was a couple who practiced mutuality, and worked as partners in mission through all the years before Catherine’s untimely death. I have been blessed with a strong, secure legacy.
Legacies are to be kept, not lost. Referencing the Army’s staunch historical gender legacy, one of our women leaders observed, “Women of the Army are not fighting for their right to be ordained as ministers, but to regain the place that our Army Mother won for us that was lost along the way. I do not believe this was intentional,” she said, “but crept in unawares, reflecting the male-dominated society in which we live.” Loss of a legacy is regrettable, even when unintentional. Legacies can be fragile. They must be handled with great care. The misunderstanding of the word “equality” and its practical outworking tend to create difficulties. What should women called to the ministry do about these difficulties? I offer three suggestions:
1. Be Sure of Your Calling. “Do not neglect the gift…” (1 Tim. 4:14, TNIV)
God calls women as he calls men—on a direct line. In 1872 after the Southern Baptist Church had appointed only one unmarried woman as a missionary and had vowed never to do it again, Lottie Moon responded to a higher calling and left for China in 1873 where she lived and worked until her death in 1912, becoming an icon of missionary obedience in the Southern Baptist denomination (International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October, 1993, Vol. 17 No.4). Stand true to your calling. Pray. Bemoaning our fate gets us nowhere; beseeching God for the courage and strength to go on gets us everywhere.
2. Let Your Words Be Heard. “Fan into flame the gift…” (2 Tim. 1:6, TNIV)
Women, the time has come for us to no longer keep silent in the church! Let your voice be heard. Granted, it is not always easy to speak up. Being labeled “militant,” “strident,” or, “feminist” is unpleasant. Nonetheless, it is up to you, the women called of God, to ensure that new pathways into the future are taken, and to speak up for those who will follow in your footsteps. There is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion learns to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter” (Zenzele). Your calling is a gift from God that deserves to be claimed. Don’t let it be taken away from you. Become a voice. Let yourself be heard. Speak not only on behalf of yourself; speak on behalf of your sisters in Christ; on behalf of those for whom Christ died; speak on behalf of the kingdom.
3. Walk the Walk. “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:14, TNIV)
Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk. God promises to walk it with us. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exod. 33:14, TNIV). Swiss psychologist and author Dr. Paul Tournier used to say, “God guides us when we are walking in the way, not when we are standing still.”
According to her biographer Dr. Roger Green, Catherine Booth entered public life reluctantly. Few realize the courage required of Catherine Booth who stood to her feet at the close of her husband’s sermon and said, “I want to say a word.” So impressed was her husband he invited her to preach that evening. It was the beginning of a great preaching ministry, and the beginning of a reputation as one of the most striking personalities and one of the mightiest spiritual forces of the 19th century.
Walk the walk. Preach if asked to preach. Envision yourself as a minister of the gospel. The world needs you. As Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37, TNIV). The task is too great for only half the force. We need the full force to win the world for God.
Assured that the voice at the tomb was the Master’s, Mary ran to tell the disciples. Was she to be well received? Did they think her words foolish? Mary had one thing and one thing only on her mind. “The Master said, “Go!” Eager to obey, this brave bearer of good news, Mary, the first evangelist, guarded the trust. Women, men, you too must guard the trust. Let’s not lose our legacy!