This past week, we said goodbye to a real soldier of the Lord. I had the privilege to grow up in a place where women in ministry were not a big deal. We had two female assistant pastors at my church when I was a little girl. Not too far from my childhood home, was a couple who co-pastored the relatively large Jericho Baptist Church long before ecclesiastical duos became a trend. In 1996, James Peebles passed leaving some to wonder who his wife, Betty, a credentialed minister in her own right, would get to “cover” her. They had three sons, but Betty Peebles held the reigns tightly as if to say “I got this.”
The concept of a female needing “covering,” or supervision by a man to perform ministry, is contrary to the transcendence the gospel provides. Ironically, the twelve disciples disapproved of the woman at the well evangelizing after her encounter with Jesus in the fourth chapter of John. At that point in the narrative, they had not won one convert, let alone comprehended the gospel. That’s the peril of promoting the penis over the power of God.
Phoebe was also a deacon in the Church whose ministry preceded the Apostle Paul’s. He commends her to the church at Rome in Romans 16. Tradition and poor interpretation have conspired to consign her to “deaconess.” But the identical form of the Greek term is used to describe Phoebe’s title as is attributed to males in the same role throughout the New Testament.
If I can take one issue with Betty Peebles, it is that she made it look so easy. It could not have been considering that Jericho was originally part of a denomination whose first criterion for ministry was a pair of testicles. Have they not read There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28)? The witness of scripture does not support such a patriarchal framework. The prophet Joel foretold:
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)
I know for a fact that Betty Peebles endured a lot of sexism in the church, but she never said a mumbling word. The answer to her disposition can be found in the title of one of her many books, Performing for an Audience of One. She tells of being so keenly focused on God that she didn’t pay attention to what others thought about her. She remained steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in her work for the Lord.
You see, her God was bigger than her obstacles. Men who barred Betty Peebles from their pulpits were left in the dust (no pun intended) as she achieved heights in ministry to which they could only dream. All the while, she pressed on, bearing her signature smile that was bright as the sun. Clearly, she kept in mind that:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Betty Peebles’ mere presence commanded authority. She journeyed on to found the non-denominational Jericho City of Praise and became the only female to pastor one of America’s largest 100 churches. At the time of her passing, over 19,000 members were on the rolls. Jericho’s sanctuary accommodates over 10,000 with a warmth that makes you forget how big it is. Not only that, she expanded the range of ministries to include a day care, elementary school, ministry training academy, professional counseling center, and a senior residences so well-appointed that they rival major hotels. All of these services are housed on the church’s campus which spans over 100 acres and is entirely debt-free. She did not simply acquire property. She used those resources, along with the power of God working through her, to change lives.
Now that Betty Peebles has gone from labor to reward, sisters who are holding up the blood-stained banner must likewise fight for our rightful place in the kingdom. No more merely carrying a man’s cup. God is not a respector of persons (Acts 10:34). If someone tries to downplay your call on grounds of gender, rest on the sufficiency of God’s anointing. As the spiritual says “no man cannot (sic) hinder me.”
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me (Philippians 2:17-18).
I think I get it now. Well done good and faithful servant, well done.