HENRIETTA MEARS

Born October 23, 1890

Should she enter full-time Christian service? The single, 39-year-old Henrietta pondered that question in 1929. When she and her sister, Margaret, visited Hollywood First Presbyterian Church, the pastor offered Henrietta a job: overseeing the church’s Christian Education Department. She took that as God’s invitation. Thirty years later, Henrietta had become one of the most influential Christians in Hollywood.

A BETTER SUNDAY SCHOOL

Henrietta Mears. Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

Henrietta Mears. Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

Henrietta took her job seriously. In the months follow-ing her move to California, the former school teacher from Minnesota studied available Sunday school materials. She frowned on most of the curriculum. Much of it didn’t properly address the age groups it targeted. Too much of it wasn’t biblically strong. Most of all, she looked for Christ-centered lessons. Her disappointment at the lack of quality Sunday school material led Henrietta to develop her own.

She personally taught the college-age Sunday school class. In the shadow of America’s movie-making empire, Henrietta came to church well dressed, usually including a hat with a colorful plume rising from it. She taught with style too, getting her listeners’ attention with humor, but always bringing them to the cross. They came to endear her as “Teacher.”

Sunday school attendance under her leadership reached box office numbers. Within five years the average attendance at Hollywood First Presbyterian rose from 450 to 4,000. Word got out. Other churches requested copies of Henrietta’s lessons. Due to high demand she formed Gospel Light Press in 1933.

INFLUENCING FUTURE INFLUENCERS

Henrietta made “To know Christ and to make Him known”  (Philippians 1:21-22) the scriptural theme of her ministry. She made Christ known to some who went on to lead thousands of others to embrace Christianity. The list includes Jim Rayburn (founder of Young Life), Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ), and Richard Halverson (U. S. Senate chaplain).

Bill Bright  Image- courtesy of Cru.

Bill Bright Image- courtesy of Cru.

In 1945, Bill Bright, a gung-ho businessman in his 20s, came to Hollywood First Presbyterian to increase business contacts. In  Sunday school, he heard Henrietta tell the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion. Bill committed his life to Jesus Christ and furthered his spiritual formation under Henrietta’s teaching.

Richard Halverson, U. S. Senate Chaplain from 1881-1994, gave his former Sunday school teacher the highest possible marks. He said, “There is simply no way to exaggerate her effectiveness as a teacher, communicator and inspirer.”

BILLY GRAHAM’S DECISION

In 1949, a young Billy Graham came to Los Angeles to speak at the annual College Briefing Conference. It was held at Forest Home Christian Conference Center, which Henrietta had opened in 1938. At that time Billy entertained doubts about the authority of Scripture and his future role as God’s servant.

Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

His questioning arose from Neo-orthodox writers he’d been reading and from the cutting words of a liberal-leaning, long-time friend. Billy discussed his doubts with Henrietta. Her strict adherence to the validity of Scripture brought balance to his thoughts. The evangelist conquered his uncertainties one night on his knees in the woods outside Forest Home.

A few weeks later Billy returned to Los Angeles planning to preach a three-week crusade. The majority of those who responded to the altar calls were everyday people, but the famous and infamous also came forward. The press highly publicized the Los Angeles meetings. Three weeks extended to eight. Those services, which happened shortly after he settled his doubts while in prayer at Forest Home, launched Billy Graham into the national spotlight.

HENRIETTA’S GREATEST LOVE

Henrietta lectured and wrote passionately about Sunday school’s power to teach others the Bible. One of the sayings she lived by was “Saturate yourself with the Word of God.” In 1953, she wrote a book overviewing God’s word titled, “What the Bible is All About.”

Henrietta Mears. Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

Henrietta Mears. Courtesy of Gospel Light. http://www.henriettamears.com/.

Henrietta never married. She devoted her energies to traveling the world, telling people about the greatest love of her life, Jesus Christ, and the urgent need to personally know Him. Her effervescent personality made her a favorite speaker at conferences, where she inspired Christian workers to shape young lives by faithfully teaching God’s word.

In 1961, two years before she died in her sleep (March 19, 1963), Henrietta co-founded GLINT (Gospel Light Inter-national). The organization further extended her Sunday school curriculum ministry to other nations.

Henrietta’s life is a reminder that God uses those who seek His will. He makes the most of our willingness and touches others in ways we could never imagine.

L4G—————————————————-L4G—————————————————–L4G                LET ME KNOW:  How has Henrietta’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography—————————————————————————————————————

  • Graham, Billy. Just As I Am. New York: Harper Collins, 1997.
  • Kooiman Hoosier, Helen. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century.  Grand Rapids MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000.
  • Powers, Barbara Hudson, The Henrietta Mears Story (Old Tappen, NJ: Revell Publishing, 1957), http://ccel.us/mears.toc.html.
  • Woodbridge, John D., ed. More Than Conquerors. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992.

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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