I love the writings of female missionaries such as Helen Roseveare and Florence Young. One of the reasons for my appreciation is their honesty. I tend to put missionaries on a pedestal, as if you need some special gift to be one. But hearing them in their own words, you recognize these missionaries are a lot like us.
This makes sense as no matter who we are or where we live, we’re all called to be involved in the same mission. Since the beginning of Christianity, women have participated in Christ’s work as full members of Christ’s church. Women were among Jesus’s earliest disciples. Alongside the men who received his Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20), women were partners in the initial spread of the gospel and, still today, are sent out as missionaries.
When we read the New Testament, we find women among Jesus’s first followers. In fact, Luke’s Gospel bookends with women. In the opening chapters Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna praise God for who Jesus is and prophesy what he’ll do (Luke 1–2). At the end of Luke, it’s Jesus’s female disciples who don’t abandon him (23:49). After his death, they find his tomb empty (23:55–24:3), believe the angel’s words, and become the first eyewitnesses of Jesus’s resurrection—despite the apostles’ initial disregard for their testimony (24:4–12).
Luke recognizes these same women as patrons, supporting Jesus and his disciples from their own possessions (8:1–3). As many have noticed, Luke includes women throughout his account of Jesus’s life and ministry. Like most men in his Gospel, they’re largely silent since the focus is on Jesus. But what’s important is how they rightly respond to Christ. They’re not passive. Instead, these women are doing the most radical and freeing thing a woman can do: trusting Jesus at his Word and joining in his mission.
Partners in Ministry
The focus in the book of Acts—also written by Luke—is very much on the apostles. However, we also see evidence of women participating in the church’s mission as colaborers in the work.
In Acts, women pray with the apostles (Acts 1:14), receive the Holy Spirit, and—we can assume—testify at Pentecost (2:1–4). Along with men, women respond to the gospel and receive the apostles’ teaching. As the church grows, both men and women are persecuted and scattered. They then carry Christ’s gospel wherever they go (8:1–4). Women also have the ability to prophesy (21:9; cf. 1 Cor. 11:5), fulfilling the promise in Joel 2:28–29 for men and women.
Throughout the New Testament, women serve as valued coworkers in Christ’s mission. Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila, travel and minister with Paul (Acts 18:1–3; 18–19) and teach Apollos the way of God more accurately (18:24–28). They host churches in their homes (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3–5), as other women do (Col. 4:15). In fact, Paul says this amazing couple were willing to risk their lives for his sake (Rom. 16:3–4).
Throughout the New Testament, women serve as valued coworkers in Christ’s mission.
Along with Priscilla, several other women are mentioned by Paul in Romans 16. He commends to the church Phoebe, a deacon and gospel patron, who carries his letter to the Corinthian church (16:1–2). Paul also acknowledges Junia, who’s imprisoned for her faith, as well as other women who work hard for the church (16:6–12). This is similar to how he describes Euodia and Syntyche, women who labor “side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of [his] fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
Women on Mission Today
We live in a different time than these women, but their examples can help us think about the involvement of women in Christ’s mission today. Here are some lessons we can learn from them.
1. Women join in Christ’s mission by following him as disciples.
The women in Luke’s Gospel model for all of us (men and women) what it means to respond rightly to Jesus’s call. They show the pattern of the Christian life: to repent of sin, trust in Christ, and obey his commands. They also model loyalty and faithfulness in the face of suffering.
2. Women spread the gospel and teach the Bible.
These earliest Christian women were involved in the church’s worldwide mission. Still today, women can and should be spreading the gospel, holding out the Word of God to those we meet each day. We can reach out to our friends who aren’t Christians and offer to read the Bible with them. Or we can pursue younger believers, discipling them by studying Scripture together.
3. Women participate in the Great Commission by giving resources.
Like many of Jesus’s female followers, many women today are and can be gospel patrons. We can give our possessions or even our time to the work of missions. Like Priscilla, we can open our homes for ministry. Some of my friends volunteer time to do administrative work for a missions organization. Others generously give money. Women in the church should reflect on their gifts, skills, and life situations to consider ways they can support the work of Christ around the world.
4. Women are coworkers in Christ’s mission.
Paul viewed women as valuable coworkers in the spread of the gospel. Still today, the church should recognize the essential contribution of women in our global mission, and men can appreciate us as valuable partners in the gospel. Together, we should be thankful that God uses ordinary women like Helen Roseveare and Florence Young—and you and me—to participate in his beautiful ministry of reconciliation among the nations.