By Jeff Hensley
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV)
Have you ever noticed that? It’s easy to gloss over and pay no attention to it. After all, it’s not like there’s blatant application in the verse on the same level as “fan into flame the gift of the God”. But there it sits, equally inspired, equally true, equally relevant, and often ignored.
Timothy is Paul’s guy. His disciple. But more than that. He’s a son to Paul. In his first letter to Timothy, he refers to him as his “true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). Not words Paul throws around elsewhere. Timothy is a young man who has been trained and taught by Paul and has been placed as the pastor of the church in Ephesus– a very influential church that needs leadership. Clearly, Paul values Timothy’s gifting and ability to place him as lead in such an important church. He’s a gifted young leader that Paul is passionate about and proud of. But though he’s Paul’s disciple, Paul can’t take credit for everything. In particular, Timothy’s faith.
When Paul considers Timothy’s sincere faith, he tells us that this faith was passed on from his grandmother Lois, to his mother Eunice, and then down to Timothy. The reason Timothy has come to faith in Jesus is because of two very important women in his life. No credit at all is given to his father, or grandfather, or a pastor or elder around him. It was the women in his life that discipled and raised him in the faith. These women loved Jesus, and devoted themselves to raising Timothy in the faith. The reason we have the Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy is because of the leadership of these two women.
Timothy is not the only one to owe his spiritual inheritance to the women in his life. I do too. Many others would say the same. Many of us can point to the faith of our mothers or grandmothers as the reason we follow Jesus today. Many of us have come to faith in Jesus and love Jesus because influential women in our lives loved Jesus first. This is fantastic and beautiful! This should be celebrated and honored! Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s not. In fact, texts like this are used merely to point out and lament the absence of men of God, instead of celebrating the faith of women of God. And that is wrong.
I remember many years ago I was involved in a deacon-type ministry in a church where only men were allowed to serve as ushers or servants in the Sunday service. Women were not allowed to help with seating congregants or collecting the tithe that morning, serving communion, or even handing out bulletins. I didn’t question it. It had always been that way. But at some point a woman asked to be part of the team and was rejected because, “We hold these positions for men only because we want to encourage men to lead. If we don’t, historically, men will eventually fade into the background. This is an area we reserve for men only as a way to encourage them to lead.”
At the time I didn’t question it. I was young and what did I know? Now, after 15 years of ministry, I look back at that decision and see it for what it really is: dumb, chauvinistic, and sinful. There is no place of service that the Bible reserves for men only other than elder/pastor. That’s all. Nowhere in scripture will you find anything forbidding women from serving. So to prevent women from doing things that scripture gives them freedom to do, or even encourages them to do, is sinful. Adding to scripture is legalism, plain and simple.
But even worse, to prevent women from leading in different areas simply out of fear that men won’t? That’s chauvinistic and short-sighted. I can’t imagine why we would discourage women from pursuing and serving God simply out of fear that men won’t keep up.
I am so proud of the women of Heritage Christian Fellowship. In so many places, its been the women that have set the pace and led the way. The bible studies, the gatherings and retreats, and this blog (I read your writings regularly and am blessed so much by them!) are incredible tools for our church, and that’s just in regards to “women’s ministry” itself. We have women teaching our children, serving in youth ministry, serving on set up teams, leading the way in our connect ministry. Truly, I can’t imagine what Heritage would look like without the leadership and servant ministry of so many women that we have been blessed with over the years.
Women of Heritage, let me finish with the same exhortation that Paul gave Timothy. Stir up the gifts that are within you! Continue to pursue Jesus with a passionate heart and let nothing hold you back from using the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. We need the women of Heritage to continue to model for us how to effectively make disciples for Jesus. Continue to push beyond mere bible studies into active service. Keep showing us that there is a better way than the consumeristic Christianity that so many have settled for in our day, and pursue the joy that can only be found when serving Christ as He has called you to do. As we pursue disciple-making-discipleship more and more in the months and years to come, we will need you! I for one am thankful for your service, ministry, and example, and am blessed to see how God uses the women of Heritage. You are servants and daughters of the Most High and warriors for the Kingdom of God! May God continue to encourage and bless you all in the same way He blesses us through you.