(This post was originally published by the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality Blog of the Evangelical Covenant Church. To see the original post and comments, go here.)
My friend John (not his real name) is the lead pastor of a small church. One day, as we talked ministry over coffee, John said, “Women aren’t gifted preachers.” His manner was as startling to me as his message. He spoke casually and with assurance, like this was an indisputable fact. I asked John how many women he’d heard preach in his life. He said three. One was during summer camp, the other two during chapel services at Bible college.
In 2011, a Covenant church hired me as their interim associate pastor. Preaching and teaching were part of the job description. A married couple in the church believed so strongly that women should not preach, that they left the church shortly after I was hired. They’d never heard my testimony, heard me preach or seen any of my gifts in action. All they needed to know was that the new pastor was a woman.
Many Christians form negative conclusions about women preaching with a simple reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Sincere, devoted followers of Jesus, some of them my family and friends, believe that women who preach are sinning. But for those of us who’ve been called to ministry, and for the men that advocate for us, it’s not that easy. We believe these seemingly prohibitive passages – like all scripture – must be examined, interpreted and applied under the light of the full gospel. We believe these verses must be reconciled with passages like Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2:14 and 4:16.
I think this debate often comes down to a matter of authority. I can’t speak for all women, but I certainly didn’t go to seminary, become a pastor or get ordained to get attention and status. Not a step of my spiritual journey has been motivated by the desire to have spiritual authority over others. I wanted to serve God, the church and the world in love. More than anything, I minister out of obedience to God.
If I’d known how difficult a life’s work it is to lead and serve the church, this would not have been my recurring prayer since childhood: God, my life is yours. Show me how you want me to serve you.
If I’d know that, as a female pastor, pain and persecution would more regularly come from my brothers and sisters in Christ than it would from unbelievers, I might not have had the courage to follow the call to ministry.
It’s this call that will not let me escape or quit or back down from the pulpit. God called me. God’s love compels me to preach. Sometimes I’m so in awe of the privilege and responsibility of preaching, that I feel like nothing I say could be enough. I wonder – who am I to pass on God’s story? (Really, who are any of us?) Then I remember that God gave me the gifts and talents needed to shepherd his people, and it all comes down to this – who am I to squander them?
As the children of God, we’ve been beautifully crafted in God’s image, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, joyfully adopted into one family, and commissioned to spread the gospel. Because of Jesus, I have a testimony that can encourage the broken-hearted. My testimony is just as critical as any of my brothers’. God called me to add my voice to the chorus of preachers around the world spreading the gospel.
When I preach, I’m usually trembling inside. It’s a quaking of both holy fear and abiding joy. My sermons spring from the joy of what Christ has done for me and for us all. As a woman, I don’t preach just because I can, because I’m entitled, or because I think I’m great. I preach because God is great.
I preach because of God and for God.
I preach because the gospel heals and I want to spread that medicine.
I preach to worship God and so that others might worship God.
I preach to proclaim God’s matchless glory.
I preach as surrender to God.
I think if you’re doing it right, preaching requires surrender. Surrender of ego, personal opinion, and your agenda for your congregation. To preach well we must first listen well, to the Spirit that is in us and in the text.
Preaching requires all that we are. In my experience as a congregant, the most powerful sermons always have personal stories. When preachers are vulnerable and share their stories with others, something incarnational happens; God takes a seed from one heart and sows it into another.
My experiences as a girl and as a woman are elemental parts of my testimony. After I preach, women often come up to me and tell me that the sermon connected with them in powerful ways, ways that the stories and experiences of a man could not. That is why I believe God has called women and men to preach, so that his gospel might penetrate every human heart.
If you believe that women aren’t gifted preachers, I invite you to listen to the sermons from Triennial XIV. Using a variety of styles, each of the featured speakers powerfully preached the gospel. Through these women, the Spirit brought healing, accountability and forgiveness to me and hundreds of others. I was challenged, inspired and empowered. Their sermons continue to impact my life.
Our sisters have the good news in them, news that can transform our souls.
Will we listen?
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We humans each have unique gifts which we are called upon by our Creator to use and share them to help one another. Not allowing our fellow human beings, be they male or female, to accomplish that expected task, is going against God’s wishes for us, to my humble way of thinking. I’m certainly not chastising anyone, that’s not my place nor my call, but simply asking every Christian to seek God’s word and God’s direction from every opportunity. Sometimes Inspiration comes from the most unexpected sources! True love is inclusive and enriching rather than exclusive and limiting.
Amen. Great stuff!!!
I’ve heard story after story – women who on their first chance to deliver a sermon have a number of men walk out, women who are not allowed to speak from the stage unless their husbands stand beside them, women who are not allowed to speak from the pulpit but can speak from a music stand, women who are not allowed to speak from the stage at all, and women who have had to hear impolite comments that imply they are second-rate to the usual guy. The debate online is full of venom and vitriol against women – but I hope we’re at the point where God is making some changes. Just like when the Council of Jerusalem was called to realize that God was opening the doors to Gentiles to become believers on the same level as Jewish believers, He’s opening the doors for women to be preachers on the same level as men. We will be able to hear amazing testimonies of how God is moving and doing great things with his whole church – I look forward to that.
Jamie, I’ve heard, seen and experienced the same. Like you, I anticipate witnessing how God will use the testimonies of all of the church — men, women, children to seniors — to grow the kingdom. I pray that in my lifetime I will see the church move beyond the “debate” of women in ministry. I work toward a day when we will all be equally unleashed, empowered and equipped to share the gospel on every platform.