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Fulfilling the Call: Being a Woman of God in Today’s World

Interview With Sherilyn Benvenuti, Beverly LaHaye, And Carolyn Tennant

WHAT DOES THE PHRASE, "BEING A WOMAN OF GOD," MEAN TO YOU?

BENVENUTI: Being a woman of God has to do with being God’s woman. Wherever God has placed us, in whatever roles we have, Jesus is Lord. A woman of God lives in obedience to the Lord, and loves Him and His people.

Sherilyn Benvenuti

The key for Christian women is to be obedient to the will of the Father and do what the Father would have us to do in spite of all the responsibilities we have.—Benvenuti

 

TENNANT: In the Gospel of John, Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing, said only what His Father wanted Him to say, and did nothing on His own initiative. That is the epitome of being a woman of God. It comes from what people see us doing, saying, and being in our everyday lives. All of this should point to God. It is part of our wholeness of who we are as individuals, and having

people see the Lord in us.

LAHAYE: A woman of God is one who is willing to submit her life to the Lord in total control and obedience. This is a God-fearing woman. Her whole life is directed by, "What would Jesus do in this situation?" She also reflects the fruit of the Spirit in her life, actions, and speech. This is what sets her apart from other women.

It’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. I had not been taught about the Holy Spirit and the importance of the Holy Spirit in my life until I met Henry Brandt. He became a friend, a mentor, and my spiritual father. I learned then that it makes a difference in everything if you let the Holy Spirit take control of your direction, your fears, your anxieties, your anger. Whatever it might be, the Holy Spirit can change all that. You can walk a totally different life.

HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A WOMAN OF GOD IN THE 21ST CENTURY TO THOSE OF 50 YEARS AGO?

TENNANT: My perception is that 50 years ago, life for a woman was simpler. Today our world seems to be more complex. It’s more challenging to live for God in the midst of so many facets of society. There’s such noise around us. It’s important to let all other voices quiet down so we can hear and obey God’s voice. And there are more demands and expectations for our time than there were 50 years ago. We need to let Him rule our schedules rather than allow everything else to push us around.

BENVENUTI: In many ways things were a bit simpler 50 years ago. However, in some ways it was a confusing time for women because many had to decide their roles. At the end of World War II, women had been in the workforce due to a lack of men. These women had a taste of earning a paycheck every week to help support their families. Then the men came home from the war. Women had to decide whether to stay home as housewives or continue working outside the home. Women began to think about the opportunities they had in the workforce. But if a woman continued to work outside of the home, she had the double requirement of running the home, cooking the meals, and taking care of the kids along with her job.

Because of this post-war phenomenon, 1950 was an incredible time in American history. And I’m not sure if we have come out of the confusion. Today it is very complex for women because we are wearing so many hats. The key for Christian women is to be obedient to the will of the Father and do what the Father would have us to do in spite of all the responsibilities we have.

LAHAYE: Women today are pulled in many directions. Society is changing. There are some things we can give in to, but we cannot compromise biblical principles. That is absolute. It is yesterday, today, and forever. A woman of God in the 21st century has to be careful she isn’t pulled in the direction of the world and forgets to pay attention to "Thus saith the Lord." It can be done, but it takes dedication and commitment, because it may go against the tide. Women need to be more interested in pleasing God in everything than being up to date in the world.

WHAT TENSIONS DO YOU FACE BALANCING FAMILY TIME AND YOUR OTHER MINISTRY ACTIVITIES?

TENNANT: There is a constant tension to know exactly what I should do with my time. My position here at North Central is time consuming, and I’m also involved in other ministry. It is challenging to balance my time so there is space for myself and quiet time to be with God. I must keep who I am and my relationship with the Lord intact. Everything else has to flow out of that, including knowing what I should be saying yes and no to.

Carolyn Tennant

Men will reap the fruit of their encouragement to women who are making an impact on the kingdom of God.—Tennant

 

BENVENUTI: So many things are pulling on us, including women wanting to be in ministry who are asking to be mentored. Usually, the first thing to go is our time with the Lord. If we don’t protect our quiet time with the Lord, we will lose our mooring. We lose the spirituality in ourselves.

WHAT DOORS DOES THE CHURCH NEED TO OPEN FOR WOMEN IN MINISTRY?

LAHAYE: I pray that pastors will be more open to let women who have a message to share speak with other women. This has changed a great deal since my early years in the ministry.

When I’m invited to speak at a church, I ask the pastor to tell his congregation that I’m speaking under his authority and under his umbrella. When he does that, I feel the freedom in the pulpit to speak what God has laid on my heart.

My husband has helped a great deal in this area. In the earlier years when I was doing seminars with him, many couples attended. People would write, "Why is Beverly speaking to men?"

My husband had the sweetest way of answering them. He said, "Because I asked her to."

Some of these barriers are changing because more and more women are being bold, are able to speak, and have a message from God.

TENNANT: There has been a real openness to me as a woman in ministry. I have had opportunities beyond what I ever could have imagined. The problem is figuring out which open doors to walk through; which ones are of the Lord.

I get many calls to preach and speak; I can’t possibly take all of them. I preached about 90 times last year, and I had to say no to a lot of opportunities. Which ones does God want me to take? Where does He want me to be? Where can my unique gifts be utilized to bless the church with a prophetic word that is going to be meaningful for that time, and am I supposed to be the one to deliver that message? These are my major questions, and one of the tensions of my life.

BENVENUTI: In my own ministry, there have been open doors. But when I think about my 30 years of active ministry, it certainly was not always that way. The more degrees Carolyn and I have earned, along with our good reputations, help people feel safe asking us to speak. They know who they are getting. It becomes easier for doors to open for us.

I worry about the women graduating from our universities and Bible colleges who want to go into ministry but have not built this kind of reputation. I wonder how easy it will be for them to find a job as a youth pastor or an associate pastor. If they are put in a pool of applicants for a position as senior pastor, are they going to be treated as equally as the men candidates? In reality, probably not. If you have a man and a woman with equal giftings and equal opportunities, will the woman be hired? Do church boards understand that 60 percent of the constituents in our congregations are female, and they need to have women sitting on the platform?

I’m not sure that women starting out in their ministry careers have equal access to the places of ministry that men have. I don’t know whether that is always going to be the case. But it is a little more difficult for women who are graduating from our institutions to find jobs in ministry than it is for men.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE A YOUNG WOMAN WHO SENSES THE CALL OF GOD ON HER LIFE FOR MINISTRY?

LAHAYE: The first thing I would say is make sure you are doing this through the Holy Spirit and not yourself. If you don’t live the life, you can’t teach other people. You’ve got to have it in your heart, in your head, and in your daily living, or you just can’t give it to other people.

Beverly LaHaye

A woman of God in the 21st century has to be careful she isn’t pulled in the direction of the world and forget to pay attention to "Thus saith the Lord."—LaHaye

 

BENVENUTI: If women will hang in there and not bow down to the status quo, God will open an effectual door of ministry for them. Their gifts will make a way for them.

I would encourage them to understand that it is God who has called them, and they should determine to do what He has called them to do. Keep knocking on doors until God opens a door. I used to feel like the woman in the New Testament who kept bugging the judge. There is something to be said about persistence. If God has a call on your life, then out of obedience you must bend your will to that call and hang in there. God will open the right door at the right time.

TENNANT: My advice is: Don’t let anything stop you. Satan would like to knock anybody off the road with discouragement, self-doubt, fear, jeers, and difficulties. I realized a long time ago that I couldn’t let these things get me down, because I’d be spending valuable energy and strength in coping. I decided I wanted to get things done for the kingdom of God rather than waste time thinking about myself or worrying about what other people thought. I’ve gotten more done this way, simply by focusing on God and trusting Him with the rest. My advice to women would be to not let anything get you down. Just keep going after the call that God has on your life.

AS A WOMAN OF GOD, WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND ENCOURAGEMENT?

LAHAYE: In the early years, I was fearful, hesitant, and anxious. My husband did not suffer with these emotions. I thought, If he’s not going to worry about some of these things, somebody has to. I guess it best be me. I worried for both of us. When I met Dr. Brandt, he told me something that gave me strength: " ‘For God has not given us the spirit of fear (timidity or anxiety); but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ And that means a disciplined mind." I then realized, Beverly, you are letting fear direct your life. And God wants you to get power, and love, and a sound mind–a disciplined mind. My source of strength has really been not Beverly, but God giving me the power to do what needs to be done, because I have turned my life totally over to Him.

In Concerned Women for America we have prayer chapters all over the country. Prayer has been a great source of strength for me because every day a group of women pray for me. I could not do what I do without that source of strength. Their prayers enable me to be a greater person than I could be without their prayers. I have linked with women who are real intercessors.

TENNANT: A number of men have encouraged me. One of them has been my husband. He has encouraged me to be everything that God intended me to be. This has really helped, because there aren’t that many women in ministry who can be models for us. You have to step out on your own and figure out how to do it. And there are many times when I haven’t had another female I know who is doing exactly the same thing I’m doing. There’s not another female academic dean. With whom do I talk? It really helps when there are men who will be friends and encouragers. That is a role I would encourage men, as well as women, to take with other women. It’s wonderful to see how women can be used in the kingdom of God. Men will reap the fruit of their encouragement to women who are making an impact for the kingdom of God.

Carolyn Tennant

My advice to women would be to not let anything get you down. Just keep going after the call that God has on your life.—Tennant

 

BENVENUTI: When I was a 24-year-old Assemblies of God youth pastor, I had the opportunity to be under the leadership of Dwight Brown for approximately 8 years. Women tend to look to other women for mentors, but here was a man who treated me as his daughter in the Lord. I learned from him. He saw something in me and mentored me. He told me, "Sherry, God’s hand is on your life." We spent time talking about ministry.

He would put me in circumstances and positions. If I made a wrong decision, he would ask, "What should you have done?" I still use his phraseology because I think, What would Dwight do in this case? So the Lord gave me a great opportunity in my first position of ministry in a church because He gave me a person that enabled me.

What men and women face in ministry is a great deal alike. We have the same discouragements, circumstances, and situations. If we look around, God will give us individuals who will help us and encourage us.

IF YOU WERE 20 YEARS OLD AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY TO BETTER FACILITATE THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S PURPOSE IN YOUR LIFE?

LAHAYE: When I was 20 years old, I was saved, but I didn’t know anything about letting the Holy Spirit take control of my life. I was very fearful. I did not accomplish the things as a young woman that I could have accomplished if I’d had the infilling of the Holy Spirit in my life. I would have been a better mother. There are areas in my kids’ lives where I could have built stronger principles and living techniques into their lives if I’d known about the Holy Spirit. But I didn’t. I have to make it up now. I now have the great joy of being a grandmother to nine grandchildren. I get to impart some of those things into their lives, because God has enabled me to have several years of developing and maturing.

TENNANT: I would try to find a woman mentor. My mentors have come out of the pages of books. I think I’d start early on to look at women role models that could encourage me. One time Richard Dobbins asked me, "Who are the four people in Scripture who have had the most impact on your life?" I named all men. He shook his head and said, "I’ve asked that question over and over of women. And I have never had a woman who brought up a female role model out of the Scriptures."

I thought, My goodness. Never?

He said, "I thought you might be the first one."

That started me thinking about trying to bring alive in my understanding the women in Scripture, like Deborah and Esther, and what they were like. And to start to look up to them as women who had gone before me. And that was very encouraging to me.

I’d also start preaching at a younger age. I wouldn’t be afraid to give strong altar calls and to minister with God-given authority. That took me a while to learn.

I would begin a deep prayer life earlier. I find the more I pray, the more I discover the depths of God. And the more I find, the more I want to know.

BENVENUTI: I had been in ministry for 14 years before I decided to go to Bible college. My dad is an Assemblies of God minister. Dwight Brown encouraged me to come to Bible school. I thought, What more is there for me to learn? I know everything. I’ve been in ministry. I’ve been a person of the Word all of my life. I remember the first week in New Testament Survey. I was flabbergasted at how ignorant I was. I recently defended my dissertation. My Ph.D. is done. I would have started this process much earlier, because I learned that education is vital in the way I do ministry, in the way I think, in the way I view the world, and in the way I understand the will of God. When I was a student, I found some mentors here with the faculty at Southern California College (now Vanguard University). Now they are my colleagues. If I had had this when I was 20, I would have been much further along in understanding those things that one gets from education. My understanding of the Word, of people, and of God’s will would have been so much deeper earlier on.

WHAT SIGNIFICANCE DOES HAVING OFFICIAL CREDENTIALS MAKE IN A WOMAN’S MINISTRY?

BENVENUTI: I’m licensed with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The credentialing process is the affirmation of the call of God on my life by the body to which I am loyal. This body of believers says to me, "We agree that God has His hand on your life. We agree that God has anointed you to do ministry."

In the ordination process you have hands laid on you, and it’s addressing the fact God has called you. It’s important that we throw our loyalty into a body of believers where we feel God has placed us. It’s important that we become a part of something that is bigger than we are, and it is necessary for fellowship and for a system of checks and balances. I encourage all of our women at Vanguard to take our Women in Ministry course. At the end of the course I hand out applications for ministry in the Assemblies of God. I say, "If some of you feel a call to full-time ministry, pray over this and see if this is what God wants you to do." I’m strong on making denominational commitments, simply because I find a great safety and a fulfillment in being part of a denomination.

TENNANT: I appreciate a Movement that recognizes the call of God on both men and women; not every Movement does. This is one of the reasons I treasure the Assemblies of God. Since I preached as much as my male counterparts, I saw no reason why I should not seek the accountability, fellowship, and spiritual mantle that ordination brings. For me, it’s a meaningful attestation by the Church as to what God has already done in my choice of how I spend my life. My calling is clear to me. Everything I do pours out of my understanding of that calling. I’ve always felt like Paul–I can’t help but preach. And I can’t help but administrate and lead, as well as prophesy. When women feel like that in their hearts, there is a specific calling. They need to take the route that the church has laid forth to find the accountability, strength, and fellowship that calling entails with other believers.

 

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