Church history is full of stories of amazing, inspiring men—Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Billy Graham, the list goes on and on and on. But Church history was also impacted deeply by many women! These women faced incredible obstacles and loved Jesus, and the Church still rejoices in their contributions today.
We’re raising Christian kids in a world that points to all kinds of strong secular role models for our girls. Some of those role models are good, some are not so good. If you really want to inspire your daughters (and sons!) with stories of strong, brave women who changed the world, all you have to do is look through Church history.
5 Amazing Women in Church History
Marie Dentière was a woman theologian during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. She had been a nun in France, but when she heard the teachings of Martin Luther, she joined his movement. She married a pastor in the Reformation movement and they planted a church. But Marie also was a writer, scholar, and theologian—three words not often ascribed to women in the church in the 16th century!
Marie wrote several published books: a history of Geneva during the Reformation, a letter to the Queen of Navarre defending reformed theology, and a famous preface to a sermon given by John Calvin.
In her letter to the queen, she wrote: “For what God has given you and revealed to us women, no more than men should we hide it and bury it in the earth. And even though we are not permitted to preach in public congregations and churches, we are not forbidden to write . . .”
Her Strength: Boldness
“Such confidence we have through Christ before God.” (2 Corinthians 3:4)
You may know a lot about Susanna Wesley’s sons Charles and John, both famous for their contributions to the start of the Methodist Church. But Susanna herself was a powerful religious force, often called the “Mother of Methodism.” Charles and John were two of 19 children, ten who lived past childhood.
Susanna not only raised her children to love God and His Word, but she often took an active role in the spiritual health of other women in her parish. They gathered in her home for prayers . . . ultimately almost 200 of them!
Susanna Wesley offers us a wonderful example of a woman who offered her gifts and ideas to the Church through her prayer gatherings, but also through raising and educating her children.
Her Strength: Prayer
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2
Jarena Lee was the first woman to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is a prominent and popular black protestant denomination founded before the Civil War. Jarena Lee began trying to preach very early in the denomination’s history, paving the way for women to take on a significant role in AME church leadership.
Jarena preached in churches all over the United States, primarily in the north. Initially the bishop of the AME church was hesitant to let her preach, but she convinced him through her preaching talent. She was allowed by the AME to preach and teach, and established a critical precedent for women in many church traditions.
Her Strength: Preaching
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:6–7
Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie Ten Boom grew up in the Netherlands, where she and her family lived and attended the Dutch Reformed Church. Corrie became a watchmaker. When World War II started, her family home became a hiding place for Jewish people who were being arrested by the Nazis. Because of their Christian faith, Corrie and her family were willing to put themselves at risk to protect more vulnerable people. Corrie played a very big role in the Dutch resistance movement, which provided safe houses and protection for the Jewish people.
Eventually Corrie and her family were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where her father and sister died. Corrie was released and became a missionary. She spent the rest of her life sharing the gospel and hope of Jesus.
Her Strength: Perseverance
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
Mother Teresa lived her life as a missionary in Calcutta, India. She was born (her birth name was Agnes) in Macedonia, but she became a Catholic nun when she was a young woman. She worked at a school in Calcutta, but soon decided she wanted to serve the poorest people in the city. She founded the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, which provided care for lepers, orphans, and other suffering people.
Throughout her life caring for the “least of these,” Mother Teresa shared the hope and love of God. She became canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church after her death, and she also won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Her Strength: Compassion
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2