"There are women who are especially adapted for the work of giving Bible readings. . . This is a sacred work, and those engaged in it should receive encouragement."—Evangelism, p. 469.
According to this statement the Bible instructor is actually a part of the gospel ministry. But is she in practice? Or have we assigned her the place, in our thinking at least, of a kind of general servant in the church who gives a few Bible studies? Certainly, giving Bible studies is not to be underestimated, but after all, many of our good laymen are both capable and willing, and in many churches they are giving Bible studies regularly. Why then should a Bible instructor be paid from conference funds to do something that laymen are willing to do on their own time? If Bible instructors are not essential to the work of God, but simply a luxury that only a few "wealthy" conferences and churches can afford, then why have them at all?
We often hear words of praise and commendation for our faithful literature evangelists, teachers, and medical workers, and this is as it should be, for they all form an essential part of our great soul-winning program. But when do we hear more than a passing reference to Bible instructors? This is not a matter of coveting praise but a question of the kind of image we have created in our denominational thinking about one of the most important professions in the church. The image is sadly reflected in the apparent lack of interest on the part of young women to enter this field of service. What is the role of a Bible instructor as a professional church worker? Are her services worthy to be called part of the gospel ministry?
Let us Bible instructors take a second look at our sacred calling. Are we measuring up to the standard set for us in the divine blueprint? Could it be that our own failures are responsible in part for the lack of a correct image in the minds of our people?
Tact and Kindness Needed
We live in a complex age, and in soul winning we are dealing with the even more complex personalities of human beings. Often the Bible instructor must spend much time in preparing the soil of the heart before she can begin the actual work of teaching. She must be adept, for instance, in pouring the oil of kindness upon the open wounds of the backslider. She must know when to persist with some and when tactfully to retreat from others until the seed has taken root. In short, she must be an artist in handling people.
Those who are set to do visiting, soon come to think that anyone can do that work, that anyone can speak words of sympathy and encouragement, and lead men in a humble, quiet way to a correct understanding of the Scriptures. But it is a work which demands much grace, much patience, and an ever-increasing stock of wisdom.—Ibid., p. 471.
Soul winning is much more than teaching people a set of doctrines. They must be initiated into a new way of life. Often this means dealing with difficult personal problems, marital difficulties, problems of child training, et cetera. Even if the worker does not always give such counsel directly, she should be prepared in a professional way to guide her people to the proper sources. There is a wealth of material available on the subject of counseling, and every Bible instructor should take advantage of it. I have found classes in family life, child psychology, et cetera, of great value in my work. People will welcome counsel that is given in a tactful, professional manner even though the person giving it may not have experienced personally their particular problems.
There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. . . . The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. . . . Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit. . . .
We greatly need consecrated women who, as messengers of mercy, shall visit the mothers and the children in their homes, and help them in the everyday household duties, if need be, before beginning to talk to them regarding the truth for this time.—Ibid., p. 459. (Italics supplied.)
The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. . . . They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. —/bid., pp. 464, 465. (Italics supplied.)
We have considered the Bible instructor as a soul winner and as a counselor. What is her role in the church? It was mentioned earlier that laymen should and do give Bible studies. But laymen must be trained even for the simple task of visiting, for what may seem routine and easy for us is often frightening and difficult for them. How are they to be trained? Can we place a projector and script in their hands and expect that they will automatically become experts at giving Bible studies? Unfortunately, all too often this has been the procedure. The best way for a layman, or anyone for that matter, to learn is by firsthand observation. This is the way Jesus taught and trained His disciples for service. He spent three and a half years showing them how it ought to be done. The best service that a Bible instructor can render to a church is to take the lay people with her on studies and calls, thus showing them how it is done. This takes time and effort, but it is worth while, and in the long run it may be more effective than spending all her time simply giving studies. Thus the Bible instructor in a church setting is a teacher of laymen, their inspiration, and a leader in missionary activities.
As such she becomes a leader in the church. She is actually an assistant to the pastor or to the evangelist. (Some Bible instructors are locally referred to as the pastor's assistant. This is much less confusing because our college and academy Bible teachers are also called Bible instructors. "Pastor's assistant" also is more meaningful to the nonmember of the church and is effective in getting into homes.) Sometimes the members of a church are not even aware that their church has a Bible instructor, much less who she is. She should relate herself to the activities of the church in such a way that the members are made aware of her spiritual leadership in a very definite way. This can be done in many ways—by teaching a Sabbath school class, greeting people at the door on Sabbath morning, teaching a class in soul winning, and visiting the members as time allows. But above and beyond these tangible methods the worker's influence as a person and as a spiritual leader will be felt the most in the kind of image she creates in the church of her profession.
Should She Preach if Necessity Arises?
While the Bible instructor is not ordinarily called upon to preach and this is not her main responsibility, yet there is no Biblical injunction or church policy that prohibits her from stepping into the pulpit if the need or the occasion arises, provided she is qualified. People will listen if she has a message; the fact that she is a woman need not detract from it. This does not mean that every Bible instructor will be an aspiring preacher, but it does mean that she should feel it her responsibility to improve her speaking voice and develop the fine art of public speaking. Probably few other things the woman worker does will go so far to enhance her work.
Women can be the instruments of righteousness, rendering holy service. It was Mary that first preached a risen Jesus. . . . If there were twenty women where now there is one, who would make this holy mission their cherished work, we should see many more converted to the truth. The refining, softening influence of Christian women is needed in the great work of preaching the truth.—Ibid., pp. 471, 472.
Last but not least, we have not been left without counsel as to the personal qualifications necessary for the woman minister of the gospel. In fact, as we read the list we are led to exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Here are only a few items from the blueprint in Evangelism:
- "God calls for earnest women workers, workers who are prudent, warmhearted, tender, . . . persevering."—P. 478.
- Women who "will preserve their integrity at any cost."—P. 477.
- "Be expeditious."—P. 480. Do we have a schedule for ourselves? Are we organizing our work and our time to the best advantage?
- Those "who will correctly represent our faith."—P. 477. What about our appearance? The salary of a Bible instructor will not permit extravagance, yet it is a must that she be well dressed and well groomed. Shortcomings in this area are unforgivable and will neutralize the influence of an otherwise effective worker.
- Those who teach others must feel it their sacred duty and responsibility to go "to the bottom of every subject you seek to teach."—P. 479. How much time are we spending in feeding our own souls from the deep wells of spiritual truth? We should fear to skim the surface of the Word, we are told. While we may not be classified as theologians, we should know our theology and be able to give a clear reason for our beliefs.
Hold Standard High
These are high standards, but God has promised strength and help equal to the task. The question is whether we are doing everything we can to measure up to our high calling. If by His grace we will accept the challenge, there will be a new impact made on the thinking of our members. Young women and older ones too will catch a new picture of the Bible instructor. They will see her as a professional woman dedicated to the work of the church, and will be inspired to take up this sacred calling themselves.
Are Bible instructors a necessary part of our organization? Is their ministry vital to the finishing of the work of God on this earth?
This question is not for men to settle. The Lord has settled it. You are to do your duty to the women who labor in the gospel, whose work testifies that they are essential to carrying the truth into families. Their work is just the work that must be done, and should be encouraged. . . . The cause would suffer great loss without this kind of labor by women. Again and again the Lord has shown me that women teachers are just as greatly needed to do the work to which He has appointed them as are men.—Evangelism, p. 493. (Italics supplied.)