My travels to different parts of the world have led to a worrisome discovery: Serious concerns exist about the role of women in the church, particularly in its evangelistic mission. These reservations are shared not just by members and pastors, but also leaders and administrators. In the past, we as a church have not used to the maximum the skills and capabilities of women.
I cannot forget the day a church invited me to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings, while at the same time the church elders asked me not to preach from the pulpit. The church pastor was not sure how to handle the situation. But after some persuasion on my part, I was allowed to use the pulpit to preach that Sabbath morning.
On another occasion, at the end of a series of lectures, over 60 people responded to my altar call for baptism, but the elders, along with the pastor, decided to postpone the baptism for a future date when a male evangelist would follow up with more meetings.
It is gratifying to see that recently some of the officers of the church at all levels have been moving toward correcting this bias against women's full participation in the life of the church. In fact, different departments are seeking ways to integrate women in a more direct way to fulfill the mission of the church. This is a step in the right direction. Clearly, women can make a significant contribution in advancing the message and mission of the church.
The role of women in the Bible
The Old Testament speaks of several women who dedicated their time, homes, vocation, and unselfish service to God's church, setting an example for today's women. Indeed, the Scriptures recognize that in Christ and thus in His service, men and women are of equal value (Gal. 3:28).
Throughout history, men as well as women have made important contributions to the progress of God's cause in different ways. Consider some biblical examples.
Deborah, the prophetess, led Israel through decisive battles and judged God's people wisely, resulting in 40 years of peace and freedom from the Canaanites (Judges 4:4-7). Huldah, a messenger of God, delivered the word of God to Josiah even when the message was not a pleasant one (2 Kings 22:14-20). Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, was filled by the Holy Spirit and announced to Mary that the Child she was carrying would be the Savior of the world (Luke 1:39-45). Anna, a prophetess, saw her faithfulness and devotion to God rewarded when she saw the Child who would be the Redeemer (Luke 2:36-38).
Jesus' earthly ministry was supported not only by the 12 male disciples, but also by several women disciples who followed Him and served Him actively (Luke 8:1-3).
On the Resurrection morning, it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus first appeared. Thus God gave her the privilege of announcing the immensely important news of the Resurrection to the disciples (John 20:11-18). Then there was Dorcas, who defined the com passionate concern involved in the gospel proclamation. Paul's ministerial partners included several women, some of whom are named in Romans 16. Philip the evangelist had four daughters whom the Holy Spirit used to prophesy, supporting the mission of the infant church (Acts 21:8, 9).
All these biblical examples indicate not a token role for women in the church, but a vital contribution women can and must make in the life and outreach of the church.
Women in the Adventist Church
During the early, developmental years of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, women played a significant role.
God chose a young woman, Ellen G. White, to bring inspiration, counsel, and guidance to the newborn church. During her 70 years of ministry, her influence was enormous when it came to issues of worship, faith, evangelism, administration, health, family life, education, and many other aspects of the growing church. And it is very important to note that even among those ambivalent about the authority and role of women in the church that this woman's influence is still very strong.
Rachel Oaks, a Seventh-day Baptist, brought to our church the doctrine of the Sabbath.
While visiting the Piedmont, the land of the Waldenses, I learned about Catherine Revel, who was one of the first Seventh-day Adventists in Europe. Alone in her beliefs for almost 20 years, she not only remained faithful, but spread her faith among her neighbors. As a result of her work, a church was organized in Torre Felice in 1885.
One of the first persons to motivate the laity of the church to be involved in the mission of the church was Maria L. Huntley. She firmly believed in the need of training lay persons, including women, to spread the gospel everywhere.
These are only a sampling of the women who, through the years, have effectively evangelized in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In our times, the participation of women in personal and public evan gelism, as well as leadership of the church, is increasing in a marvelous way. In 1975, Betty Holbrook and her husband, Delmar, led out as the Home and Family Services Directors at the General Conference. As a couple, they initiated team ministry, inspiring many other workers to follow suit.
Marie Spangler and Ellen Bresee began a pilot program in 1984 for Shepherdess International, traveling with their husbands as they ministered to the pastoral families around the world.
In 1990, the General Conference appointed Rose Otis to be the first director of the department of Women's Ministries, to train and lead the women worldwide in different ministries of the church, including personal and public evangelism.
It was in 1990, I was convinced of my call to do public evangelism, and I began to hold weeks of evangelism in the churches of the Greater New York Conference. Then, in 1995 I resigned my work at the General Conference Ministerial Association to dedicate my time fully to public evangelism.
The role of women in evangelism today
Jesus gave the Great Commission not just to His disciples or to male members of the faith community, but to all His followers, including women. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the world" (Matt. 28:19, 20, NIV).
Peter's understanding of the gospel proclamation was both prophetic and universal: "In the last days, God says, T will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit'" (Acts 2:17, 18, italics supplied).
Today women make up close to 72 percent of the membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What an enormous potential of strength and talents to advance the church's mission! If only all the women were challenged and trained to become partners in the fulfillment of the gospel commission.
Pastors with vision know how to value the women in their congregations and how to give them opportunities to develop their talents as teachers and nurturers of children and youth, music directors in the worship hour, directors in Personal Ministries, and leaders in other avenues of service.
Women, trained and motivated in witnessing, can reach women in homes where no male evangelist can enter. They can serve as Bible instructors, hold cottage meetings, and lead out in public evangelism where opportunity presents itself.
Perhaps, we need to acknowledge the great need we have to educate the church membership to see women participating actively in our worship services.
The presence of women on the church platform is a testimony of our appreciation of them. Their collaboration and participation should be accepted and recognized. When a woman is invited to preach, this testifies to the healthy open-mindedness of the church and its pastor. The best teaching we can offer our members is our own example, practicing what we believe as leaders of the church. I praise God for those pastors who have this Christian attitude toward women.
Every church should become a training center for evangelists for everyone. Every pastor who is truly concerned for this aspect of the ministry converts the congregation into a soul-winning army, bringing them to a joyful experience in their service to the Lord.
A few years ago I was invited to conduct an evangelistic campaign in Cape Town, South Africa. As is my custom, before I arrived, I sent to the pastor a set of Bible lessons, "Building a Happy Home," which the members of the church used in doing the groundwork for the meetings.
The pastor efficiently organized the whole church into groups who visited the families in the community with the purpose of studying the Bible course with them.
When I arrived at the airport, the pastor welcomed me by saying: "Sister Campos, if we don't baptize one soul at the end of the evangelistic meetings, I will still be very happy and satisfied." When I asked him why he would say such a thing, he simply replied: "The church members have been so busy doing the Lord's work in evangelism, that they have forgotten all about their problems, and the peo ple are united in one purpose: soul winning."
Ellen White and women in evangelism
Even though Ellen White lived most of her life in the nineteenth century, she was ahead of her time when she talked about the participation of women in the preaching of the gospel in varied ways. Here are a few sample statements Mrs. White has written along this line:
"There is a wide field in which our sisters may do good service for the Master in the various branches of the work connected with His cause." 1
"In this time of crisis the Lord has a work for women as well as for men.
They may take their places in His work at this crisis and He will work through them. If they are imbued with the sense of their duty, and labor under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will have just the self possession required for this time. The Savior will reflect upon these self sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men can not do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the heart of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed."2
"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."3
On one occasion Sister White said to a church member: "Teach this, my sister. You have many ways opened before you. Address the crowd when ever you can; hold every jot of influence you can by any association that can be made the means of introducing the leaven to the meal. Every man and every woman has a work to do for the Master. Personal consecration and sanctification to God will accomplish, through the most simple methods, more than the most imposing display."4
All these inspired passages have guided me to commit myself to public evangelism. It was my privilege to be born in a Christian home where I saw my father do evangelism. On many occasions I collaborated as an evangelistic singer for his meetings.
Later, in my university days, I dedicated this talent to only praise God. Also, I have had the joy of being a pastor's wife, and as such I have collaborated with my husband in his evangelistic meetings as a singer.
God has allowed me to work with well-known international evangelists, such as Elders Carlos Aeschlimann, Kenneth Cox, Milton Peverini, and others, learning from them the ways to present the gospel before an audi ence, bringing people to Jesus' feet.
But it wasn't until 1990, when I was invited to lead out in a youth week of prayer in New York, that I experienced God's call to do public evangelism. Since then, 12 years have passed. God has taken me to make presentations in auditoriums and stadiums to preach His glorious gospel to thousands of people.
God has shown me in a personal way that women need not have their talents buried. They have a role in the life of the church, and God is willing and wanting to use them if they respond to the call of the harvest. The Holy Spirit will empower anyone who like Isaiah will respond, "Here am I, send me."
1 Ellen G. White, Welfare Ministry (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1952), 147.
2 ———, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1970), 464, 465, italics supplied.
3 Ibid., 471, 472. Italics supplied.
4 ————, Daughters of God (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1998), 130.