Throughout history, people have been set apart by God for the furtherance of the gospel. Henrietta C. Mears was such a person. Those who knew her best called her “Teacher.” And she was always the teacher—the educator.
On Easter Sunday morning in 1895, five-year-old Henrietta explained to her mother as they were getting dressed for church that she was ready to become a Christian and join the church. Her mother was only too pleased to pray with her daughter and lead her to the Lord, but she tried to reason with her that everyone would think her too young to understand what it meant to join the church at age five. However, after further conversation which indicated Henrietta knew exactly what she was saying and doing, her mother promised to talk with the pastor about the matter.
A few weeks later, young Henrietta stood before the congregation, responding to questions put to her about her faith. She spoke with unusual clarity and frankness and was accepted into the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Henrietta Mears was destined by God for teaching and for Sunday School work. Her religious and secular training all pointed her in that direction. At the age of twelve she taught her first Sunday School class and from that moment on her abilities and ambitions stretched out to encompass the lives of tens of thousands of boys and girls, men and women, for Christ. As a college freshman, Henrietta was superintendent of the junior department in the Sunday School in her church. Upon graduation from the University of Minnesota she entered the teaching profession and became the principal of a high school in a small town in Minnesota. She moved to several towns and taught everything from chemistry to dramatics—but whatever she taught she loved her work and her students, and gave sacrificially of her time and energy both to her profession and to the local Sunday School.
She enthusiastically entered into the various school activities of her students: coaching plays, organizing choirs, raising money for special projects—she even found a coach and organized a football team in the high school where she taught. She never missed a game and could be seen rooting for the team from her spot on their bench. Not so remarkably, those same football players eagerly occupied the first rows of her bible class and looked to their teacher for spiritual coaching.
In 1928, Miss Mears accepted a position to become the director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California. That same position was filled with enthusiasm and amazing ability until the day of her death 35 years later.
In Minnesota she had been a successful teacher but as Director of Christian Education she had a different challenge. She would organize and train others to teach the Bible, God’s Word. Organizing the teacher training came easy for Henrietta but the attendance growth that resulted created problems. There was never enough room; facilities were never adequate. Two and a half years after her arrival at the Hollywood church, Sunday School enrollment increased from 450 to 4,200 and would eventually top of 6,500.
Soon the Christian education facilities at the church became a major focus of the church leadership. Three education buildings were built and literally thousands of students—young and old—were reached with the gospel and encouraged in their faith due primarily to the vision of this woman called and empowered by God.
“Dreams do come true. The first thing I did in Hollywood was to write down what I wanted for my Sunday School. I set down my objectives for the first five years. They included improvements in organization, teaching staff, curriculums and spirit. I wanted a closely-graded program, teaching materials that would present Christ and His claims, a trained teaching staff, a new education building, choirs, clubs, a camp program, missionary vision, youth trained for the hour.”
Henrietta Mears was a unique blend of abstract dreamer and down-to-earth doer. God quickly transformed her vision into plans and reality.
“Our Sunday Schools must become vastly more efficient institutions. Their sessions must be carried over into daily life, for no child or adult can receive all the Christian instruction and training her or she needs in one hour on Sunday morning. And to meet this challenge we must have educational plans that are adequate, materials that are educationally and biblically sound, and teachers who are skilled communicators.
Sunday School is in fact the only teaching a person will undertake without training. The church must change her standards. Everything offered must be excellent. A person’s association with the gospel must be of the finest quality.”
It was to this vision that Henrietta Mears dedicated her life—a compulsion that became a global ministry.
Hundreds of children and scores of young men and women launching out into careers in the 1930s had a common need that challenged Henrietta Mears to action—their need was to know Christ and to make Him known. God’s challenge to her did not go unmet. We will never know the amount of fruit that resulted from her years of ministry, but there is no shortage of testimonials to her influence in the lives of Christian leaders the world around.
There is no magic in small plans. 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.
—HENRIETTA C. MEARS