A Sunday school teacher full of energy and contagious enthusiasm would stamp an indelible mark on twentieth-century Christian education and motivate hundreds of young adults to become pastors, teachers and missionaries around the world.
Dr. Henrietta Mears, was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1890, the youngest of seven children.Â From an early age she struggled with her eyesight and doctors told her mother that she would be blind by the age of thirty.Â However, Mears was convinced God had a purpose for her life so she read, studied and memorized large portions of Scripture in case her eyesight failed.Â Against the advice of her physicians, she enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota.Â She graduated with honors with her eyesight still intact due to her determination to keep reading to a minimum through memorization.
In 1928, Mears became the director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.Â Surprised and frustrated over the lack of solid biblical material, Mears began writing her own lessons that she and her staff would teach to the growing number of young people attending the church.
The lessons were filled with clear presentations of orthodox doctrines with a challenge to apply biblical truth in everyday life.Â As she would later write, â€˜Learning is more than the ability to repeat the ideas or writings of another. The purpose of the teacher is to ‘draw out’ not to ‘cram in.’ We must create an interest in the heart and mind that will make the learner reach out and take hold upon the things that he is taught.â€™
Within two years of her arrival, the classes had exploded to over 4,000 students and it wasn’t long before requests for copies of her material came in from all across the country.Â Mears and a group of businessmen established Gospel Light Publications in 1933, which consistently produced materials in the Christian education field.
She believed that knowing Christ was the most positive, energizing experience one could have and that the Christian life should reflect this enthusiasm, â€˜I think of Jesus as vital, alert, enthusiastic,’ she said, ‘full of zest and zeal. He inspired men to do their best, to be their highest self. I see him walking through cities, his head high, his shoulders thrown back, bursting with good will, kindness and good faith.â€™
Mears was often decked out with big rings, hats and flowered dresses debunking the view of many Christians who believed that plain equaled spiritual.Â Her primary focus was on high school and college age youth. On any given Sunday, 500 college students would cram into the church. To expand her influence in young peoples lives, Mears established Forest Home Conference Center in the Southern California hills in 1939.Â Over the next 25 years, more than 400 young men and women would enter full-time Christian ministry due to the ministry of Mears at Forest Home.
Among the men she influenced were Bill Bright, who later founded Campus Crusade for Christ; and Billy Graham, who would later write, “I doubt if any other woman outside my wife and mother has had such a marked influence [on my life]. She is certainly one of the greatest Christians I have ever known!”
Not content to stay within the walls of the church in California, Mears traveled extensively all over the world as a much sought after conference speaker and Bible teacher as she would later write, â€˜When I consider my ministry, I think of the world. Anything less than that would not be worthy of Christ, nor of his will for my life.â€™
She was constantly giving herself to the thousands of young people who came under her influence. â€˜If you really mean business with God,’ she said, ‘there will be many sleepless nights. I have learned to judge my own spiritual condition by the people who are pounding at my door and ringing my phone. I will spend and be spent in this battle.â€™Â After 35 years of non-stop ministry, she died on March 20th, 1963.
The Lord Jesus Christ said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
There is no greater sense of fulfillment than a life that is deeply in tune with the Lord Jesus Christ. Western culture is filled with individuals who strain hopelessly towards happiness and completion without the realization that these are by-products of a life surrendered to the plans and purposes of the kingdom of God.
As we respond to Jesus Christ in faith and step out in obedience to Him, our God given life-purposes become clearer and a profound sense of joy begins to permeate our service for Him. Henrietta Mears’ life demonstrates that those who give their lives fully to Jesus Christ, live life to its fullest.
Kobobel, They Called Her Teacher
WW Challenge, Mears’ Christianity: One Woman’s Spectacular Spirit
Baer, Henrietta Mears