The work of Seventh-day Adventist shepherdesses is coming to the fore. The Christian church at large is taking another look at ministerial companions and their work, and Adventism is not behind the times. Are not these women in partnership with the ministry? They with their husbands are destined to play an important part in molding the thinking of the world. The woman who is ranked a minister's wife today carries a great responsibility; she is not merely a member of a respectable profession.
Frankly, we as Adventists are not too concerned about following established patterns, not even for our shepherdesses. We are definitely interested in developing the type of women who will meet the needs of the work we have been called to do. But while we are better known today than we were years ago, we also are faced with the responsibility of bringing emphasis to the work of Adventist ministerial women.
Let us first consider the minister's wife, for important as all other professions may be, the ministry is still the highest calling of the Christian church. The minister is not a draftee or a selectee, or one guided into his profession by trained personnel directors, as may be the case in other reputable lines of Christian service. The minister is a man called of God. That makes him God's choice, and if he has responded wholeheartedly to this call, he is God's leader for the church. Then does it not stand to reason that the woman closest to him, the one who must share his joys and sorrows, should also share his consecration?
We seriously question whether the weight of such a responsibility is sensed by all of our ministerial couples. God's ideal for their service is so elevated that many young people aspiring to become ministerial workers fail to place such a purpose first in their lives. It is human to think of ministerial prestige and prominence, but it is very important to ponder well that this is a service of human effacement. That is exactly what a call to the Advent ministry implies. Oh, yes, it is indeed a very high standard. Remember, however, that it was Jesus who set it, not the General Conference Committee.
In the early years of the Advent Movement our ministers were drawn from various backgrounds of education and preparation. With their consecrated wives at their side, these men sensed God's call to herald the message. Our work in those days was difficult. Because it called for more self-denial than our softer times demand, the spirit of worldliness was less likely to intrude. While their husbands were away from home for long stretches of time, these hard-working wives managed farms and instructed their families in the counsels of the Book. Groups of believers were widely separated during those days of the circuit-riding ministry. A minister was far from being a homebody.
Although newer ways have entered the program of the Adventist ministry, the spirit of simplicity and self-denial remains the same. Despite the world's progress and its wonderful advantages, do our shepherdesses today come as naturally to a ministerial preparation as did the women of earlier days? We say it gently, but it is nevertheless a fact that the world is dangerously close to some of them, and at times the confidence that has been placed in our shepherdesses by the church may be denied in their lives. Too often young wives compare their lives with the lives of the more comfortably placed church members, or perhaps with those of other ministers' wives.
Think what it means to be God's woman, united with a man of God. Here again love must remain the actuating motive of service, so that no task will be too difficult and no self-denial too great. Each day's work should be joyfully accepted as an opportunity to do for God what many other women have not been called to do. Again we stress that ministerial work is not a common responsibility. It is a high calling.
Another Ministerial Assistant
We must focus the camera to take in a complete picture of our shepherdesses, for after all, the Bible instructor also is a ministerial assistant. Although she is not as intimately associated with the minister as is his wife, her association takes in some factors that the wife, because of family functions, cannot encompass. The Bible instructor must carry much of the toil of the work, without the offset of those blessings the minister's family life provides. Speaking for Bible instructors, we may say that an understanding minister's wife can add much to their joys. Where this understanding is lacking, these women's mutual labors of love may become impossible burdens. How many opportunities present themselves to encourage this fellow worker, the Bible instructor, who may be living entirely for her work, without even a semblance of a home! But each may be satisfied and happy with her own role, cooperating in joyful service for the Great Shepherd of souls.
Shall we now refocus the camera to take in the growing groups of other shepherdesses in the Adventist cause? What about the pastor's secretary, his Bible school helpers (that group of consecrated laywomen), the deaconesses, the Dorcas sisters, and all the other church shepherdesses? They may be functioning for God in their particular corners, but today, as always, they are the strongest battalion of the church militant. As in other denominations, women are still in the majority in the Adventist Church. So, God bless the women of the church! May they grow in usefulness.
Our Institutional Shepherdesses
Shall we take another picture of our Adventist womanhood? Let us now swing around and include the large service group in our schools and sanitariums. A great number of church school teachers substitute for mothers many hours each day. And at every stage of the child's educational program, teachers, dormitory deans, and their helpers assume shepherdess responsibility. And where would our cause be without our medical shepherdesses? Under the Great Physician, what toil and drudgery lie behind the consecrated service of nurses and lady doctors! Are there not thousands of true shepherdesses around the world whose humanitarian services are performed less conspicuously than the work of doctors, and yet are of equal importance?
If all the women of the Advent cause would now lift their vision to take in this larger group of consecrated shepherdesses, what power would be felt in the ranks of our work! Should we not look beyond our own specialized field of service and do what we can to strengthen the work of the shepherdesses in our churches, our offices, our schools, and our medical institutions? We might then sing from the heart:
Like a mighty army
Moves the church of God;
Sisters, we are treading
Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity.