DALLAS (BP) -- Amid growing awareness of difficulties women often face in ministry, speakers at the 2018 Pastors' Wives Conference reminded the audience they are God's "beloved" amid ministry that can be both "brutal and beautiful."
The June 11 gathering in Dallas was held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, site of the June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
Calling this week a "momentous convention," Lisa Harper urged ministers' wives to "stand, even when expected to sit, with strong conviction and soft hearts."
"Misogyny or not, we all have to go back to what it means to be beloved," said Harper, a popular speaker and author of "The Sacrament of Happy" and "Job: An Unlikely Story of Joy." Harper is also mom to Missy, whom she adopted from Haiti in 2014.
Drawing from the Song of Solomon, which she jokingly called the "Danielle Steele-like steamy literature of the Bible," Harper shared how this "greatest song ever written -- the Song of Songs" conveys the keys to understanding intimacy with God, something she confessed she didn't understand until reading the Old Testament book.
Growing up in an extremely conservative Southern Baptist household, Harper said she was taught not to pursue men and to let men be the initiators in relationships, but in Song of Solomon 1:2-4, the Shulamite woman boldly declared her love for Israel's king.
"I initially felt the Hebrew woman was trashy," Harper admitted, noting she couldn't comprehend a woman being that strong and godly.
Even the Hebrew woman paused and reconsidered her worthiness, Harper paraphrased from Song of Solomon 1:5-7, "I just told the king of Israel that I have a crush on him! What was I thinking? He could date any woman he wants!
"And yet, so many of us stay in this chapter of our lives, asking 'How can a God like that be interested in a girl like me?'" Harper said, noting how many godly women labor with their heads down.
Harper understands. She came to Christ at age 5, when her earthly father had abandoned her family and when she learned about her heavenly Father, who "wouldn't walk away." She later went into vocational ministry after earning her undergraduate degree.
"I loved God's Word, but I labored with my head down," she said regarding how her past had shaped her self-esteem.
She explained how her promiscuous dad, who recently died as a godly man, once left her alone in a bar while he visited a woman. There, she was seriously molested by drunk men, which led her later to believe she was "damaged and dirty."
Accordingly, she soon found herself drawn to abusive men. In college, she was raped. In her early career, she "worked for a series of misogynic men," all furthering the negative impressions of herself.
It wasn't until she studied the Song of Solomon that she understood she was God's "beloved." It changed everything, just as the Shulamite woman was changed when the king returned her love.
"I am just a regular girl," Harper paraphrased the Shulamite woman's flowery words (Song of Solomon 1:8-10). "I can't believe the king is enamored with me!"
As the king came "leaping over the mountains" toward her (Song of Solomon 2:8), rather than hanging her head, the Shulamite woman looked right into his eyes and held her head high.
To those in the room who had experienced abuse at the hands of fathers, husbands or other men who took what wasn't theirs, Harper urged the women to lift their heads.
"Our hope is in that He loves us with an everlasting love," she said.
Author and speaker Beth Moore's message also affirmed God's love -- even in what she called a time of "collision."
Moore is the founder of Living Proof Ministries and author of numerous books and Bible studies read by women of all ages, races and denominations.
In 2 Thessalonians 2-3, Moore said, the early Christians were dealing with what people still deal with today: the church and all its beauty and brutality.
Globally, universally, corporately, through the global and the local church, and in families, there are collisions -- "like two cymbals crashing together," she said, between God's goodness and the enemy's evil.
While people are "lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive ... heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal ..." (2 Timothy 3:1-3), God is pouring out His Holy Spirit, Moore said.
Referencing the balance between affliction and affection in Psalm 25:18, Moore told conference attendees, "In your situations you're called to do, it's not the circumstances that get to us. It's the relational side -- the people side" where there is "brutality" and "breathtaking beauty."
"Please ask God to not let you ever miss the beauty because of the brutality," she said. "God will do the most gorgeous things, and it will involve people."
Moreover, Satan is a "hinderer" (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18), Moore said. The devil tries to keep us apart, she said, because he knows there is joy, boasting before the Lord, and glory to the Lord coming (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Moore urged the audience to evaluate whether their joy was waning or non-existent.
"Is there a disconnection? Who is the cause of that disconnection? It's not the Holy Spirit. It's the devil himself!" she warned.
"At the beginning of our ministry, we thought it was us against the world. But the enemy has honestly convinced us that the world will be nicer to us than those inside the church."
Satan knows with hatred, dissension and a divided house, that house cannot stand, she said.
Moore additionally warned it will always be the negative that grabs one's attention.
"But if we miss the holiness and beauty ... not only has the enemy won, but the whole structure of the church breaks down," she said.
Satan also is a murderer, she continued, noting that "unrelenting disappointment is a murder weapon meant to kill you so slowly that you don't know you are dying until you are dead."
Furthermore, cynicism is "discouragement in a better mood" whose "mood changer is pride."
"Cynicism is disappointment that thinks it is smart," she added, saying it persuades people to stay in the dark rather than in the light.
"[Cynicism] adjusts to the dark so that eventually dark is all it sees," she warned.
The apostle Paul feared "the tempter had tempted" those in the Thessalonica church and that their "labor would be in vain" (1 Thessalonians 3:5). But, Moore said, the apostle was fully alive when he learned they were "standing fast in the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
She asked the pastors' wives, "As a direct result of what God has called you to do, who will be steadfast in the Lord because you have served?"
She stressed, "There is nothing more precious in this world than the body of Christ -- the church! Don't you ever give up on the church."
In addition to the two keynote addresses, Donna Gaines, wife of SBC President Steve Gaines, interviewed Sherri Pomeroy, wife of pastor Frank Pomeroy of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Their church was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history when a gunman took the lives of 26 worshipers on Nov. 5 of last year. (See related Baptist Press story.)
Amanda Moore Jones
Kathy Litton, director of planter spouse care for the North American Mission Board, interviewed Beth Moore's eldest daughter, Amanda Moore Jones, who is married to Curtis Jones, pastor of Bayou City Fellowship in Houston.
Jones shared some of the things that she wasn't prepared for when she and her husband became church planters: children's ministry, people with a controlling attitude and spiritual warfare.
Noting a time when "2-year-olds were the largest demographic in their church," Jones candidly shared how hard it was to serve outside her giftedness to help nurture the church's children until others better prepared took on the ministry.
She also shared about controlling people who wanted to take advantage of "the wet cement of the church plant" to force their own agendas. She and her husband learned how to stand up for the vision God had given them.
"As Beth Moore's daughter, I have seen a lot of spiritual warfare," she said, "but this time, it was targeted to us." Her husband, plagued by nightmares, often with snakes in them, could not sleep at night. Eventually, men in the church took turns to wake up and pray throughout the night so he could sleep.
Though she also struggled through the church's growth pains and loneliness as a church planter's wife, Jones excitedly reported on the church's ministry during Hurricane Harvey and her efforts toward racial reconciliation.