It may sound odd to hear a Christian say: “I am glad I wasn’t involved in a church from early adolescence to early adulthood.” It seems even more eccentric to view this as a blessing. However, that is the way I have to see that span of my life.
True, I could have learned much more about the Bible and Christian practices had I been churched. But how do I know that I would have been strong enough to resist the images and verbiage I would have experienced? Even as I became a member of a traditional evangelical church after graduating from college in my early twenties, I was impacted by the lack of females in any role except Sunday school teacher of women or children. The one female missionary who spoke at our local Southern Baptist church during missions’ week was asked to speak from the right hand corner of the sanctuary floor rather than from the pulpit where all the male missionaries had spoken. I silently noted this inconsistency and intuited that females can be missionaries (perhaps freely ministering on the mission field but restricted at home). I felt hurt for her especially as I perceived her address to be the most anointed and effective of the entire conference.
Not being immersed in a local Body of Christ from mid-childhood to early adulthood meant that I did not intellectually accept as normative the full culture of the church. Many aspects of traditional church institutions seemed illogical to me in terms of pragmatic use of best talents/gifts and the biblical mandate given to the church. Yet, at a mostly subconscious level, I was still deeply and personally affected in my spirit and soul.
I was at that local church for a few years when I began having serious health problems that puzzled medical doctors. Hospital administered tests were inconclusive. My weight and health declined to the point that friends offered to take me to Mayo Clinic. However, I just didn’t feel that was the answer. I looked for other solutions. A chain of events led me to visit a small church co-pastored by a couple who had been trained at Bethesda Missionary Temple in Detroit, Michigan.
As I entered the church service at Bethesda Bible Church that next Sunday morning, I noticed that the ambiance of the praise and worship felt just like the presence of God I had once experienced as a child. The female minister, Mildred Lindsey, was the lead pastor and main expositor of the Word. Her ministry that day did not seem awkward to me in any way. Scripture, pastoral presence, and authority seemed to flow from her naturally as she preached.
I was so captivated by the atmosphere and preaching that I returned to the church that same week for the Wednesday night teaching service. Mildred Lindsey was again ministering the word. In the midst of her teaching, she turned briefly from her exposition and looked directly at me. In an unemotional, matter-of-fact voice, she said, “You have anger and bitterness against God.” She went right back to her teaching without missing a beat. Although the aside directed to me was unusual- something I had never experienced, I kept her words in my heart and went home to ponder them for a few days. On that Saturday, I set aside a special, solemn time for prayer. I stretched out my hands toward God dedicating my body, mind, soul, and life to Him asking that He take away any bitterness or anger that I had toward Him. Instantly, I felt something happen in my body and knew that I was healed.
While at the Baptist church I had attended previously, I perceived God strongly calling me to full time service. The call resounded deep in my soul. It was holy and solemn. I was excited and sincere in my “Yes” to God. I felt treasured by Him, honored that He would want to use my gifts and my talents. Since all I knew a woman could do was become a missionary, I applied to the Southern Baptist Missionary Board.
While waiting to hear from them, I began checking off the list of requirements. I had a college degree as required and was almost finished with my masters. I was not yet debt free, so I created a plan that would satisfy that goal in less than a year. I began praying more earnestly and spending more time studying the Bible. I was in church every time the doors opened. Several weeks passed, and I received a letter from SBMB.
It was a letter of rejection. I was devastated! What I did not realize then was that I had made God and the denomination synonymous. When the institution rejected me, I intuited that in a sadistic act of cruelty, God had called me then rejected me. As I swallowed the decision and went on with my life, my broken heart quietly became bitter and angry. And I began to die. The disappointment was buried so deeply that I couldn’t even perceive it.
The life-giving word of insight given by Pastor Lindsey led to the restoration of my health, but it was by no means the most important thing I was to receive from her ministry. Pastor Lindsey saw my child-like faith, sincere heart, and desire to learn the Word and follow Christ. She made sure that I (and my young son) had a strong foundation. She led us to take an Understanding God course. We memorized scriptures that answered the most often asked questions about the Christian faith. The course was not easy. We did significant homework and wrote responses that showed understanding and application of scripture. At completion, we participated in a special dinner in which each person gave a testimony of their personal experience of God during the course. The next day, we knelt at the altar as ministers confirmed the Word and gifts in us through the laying on of hands and prayers (sometimes prophetic). This experience became a milestone which I will never forget.
Throughout this whole period, Pastor Lindsey intentionally made herself available to all the young Christians. She took us under her wing allowing us to participate with her in prayer, showing and teaching us how to enter God’s presence, hear His voice, and follow the Word and Spirit as we prayed. During the next five years, God developed this discipline as I made myself available to Him as an intercessory prayer warrior.
Pastor Lindsey also taught us that following God meant being a servant. She said that if we were called to minister or lead that we must first learn to clean the toilets and participate in the care of the physical building. And we did, each taking turns for a season. God spoke some good words to my heart as I cleaned that restroom!
I was so intensely following after God’s heart during this time that I would question whether I had enough faith or enough of the Spirit. Pastor Lindsey would just put her arm around my shoulders and in the most loving way say, “Oh, honey. You have plenty of faith” or “I see the Spirit of God all over you.” At times, she would point out gifts she saw in each of us. Instead of killing our spirit with can’t and not, she helped open our hearts to God and every possibility of service. I felt that I was truly a full member of the Body of Christ. I could come as close to God as I would even laying my life before Him to use for His glory and the work of His kingdom.
All of us young Christians admired Pastor Lindsey so much, yet she would caution us not to put her on a pedestal. “If you do”, she would say, “I will do something foolish that embarrasses me and you.” Oh, she knew she had authority from God and used it as needed, but she consistently let us know that all members of the Body were equally servants and equally important. In her motherly way, she let us know God loved us, valued us, and called each of us to service.
Many of Pastor Lindsey’s feminine qualities made her especially suited to pastor. She was more egalitarian than hierarchical. Although she never mentioned it, others described some of the persecution and discrimination she suffered within the local community and circle of ministers. Her motivation wasn’t power, status, or money. She led as a fellow servant.
While many of the male ministers I encountered seemed unapproachable and removed, relationship was keenly important to her. Like many women, she was good at creating and fostering relationships not only people to people but people to God. She was warm and loving setting a positive atmosphere conducive to growth. She knew her “children” and the best way to relate to each individual. Like a mother, she was able to both correct and encourage. She was perceptive and intuitive, humble and open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. She saw and pointed out gifts in her “children.” She also perceived and pointed out sin, speaking words of correction with love. She created a desire in us to follow her as she followed Christ. Even today, her words of wisdom echo through my heart and life.
Moves and changes have brought me into contact with several local churches and pastoral ministries. I was blessed to spend several years in diligent study obtaining my Master of Divinity. I learned much and received many invaluable lessons from the seminary experience and professors who took a genuine interest in me. However, my greatest gain was during the year or more at “Sister” Lindsey’s church. I observed the beauty of true pastoral ministry by a female called and empowered by God for that position.
Kathy A. Meisner, M. Ed., M. Div. is a graduate of Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN. She currently resides in the Nashville, TN area. She is writer of Redemption and Restoration: Reversing Life’s Greatest Losses (A study of Ruth and Esther) and Passing Faith’s Tests with Love and Joy (A study of James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude). Both are components of the Spirit-Filled Life Bible Discovery Guides of which Jack W Hayford is executive editor.