“You’re preaching in a few weeks, right?”
Standing in a parking lot on the edge of campus, I stared blankly at my co-worker, who had just asked what he assumed to be an innocuous question. Did he just say preaching? What in the world?
I knew what he was referring to. The pastor of the church that this co-worker and I attend had announced days earlier that he and I would be sharing the message portion of an upcoming service, as we discussed introverts and evangelism. This fact was not news to me; I had been preparing my portion for weeks already.
The fact that someone would consider it preaching was news to me.
I stammered out a deflecting, “Uh, well, I guess so.” He just looked at me, for some reason not satisfied with that response. “You guess so?” He obviously didn’t understand my uncertainty. In his mind, this event was happening.
In my mind it was too. It just wasn’t preaching.
I couldn’t tell him that the first thought that darted through my mind, too quick for me to stop, was I’m a girl. Girls don’t preach. Girls can’t preach. All of my conservative childhood teaching that women couldn’t be pastors rose to the surface before I could squash it down, and I was terrified like a little girl that someone would hear that this man thought I would be preaching. The ridiculousness of that!
A split second later, I felt crushed. Why was this still inside me? Why did I still limit myself and my gender, limit God, and invalidate the gifts he gives? Why can’t I get past this?
Later that day, I had the chance to have lunch with some amazing women of faith. The guest of honor was an eshet chayil named Rachel Held Evans (yeah, I’m name-dropping again), but the table was peopled with teachers, ministers, mothers. We had an honest and open dialogue about being strong women of faith and thought in a faith culture still stuck in the past. We talked about how it can be hard to be strong, how it can be perceived as bitchy (pardon my French), and how we fear becoming “the token females,” because it’s not a compliment; it’s condescension.
That conversation, plus Evan’s book A Year of Biblical Womanhood and other voices that have spoken out about this tension, have caused my own perspective to change and morph. Very few things about faith to me are crystal clear. But I do know a few things.
For one, I would like people of faith to recognize God’s feminine qualities and not be afraid of thinking of God as nurturing and motherly. In fact, I just want us to stop being scared, as if somehow opening up the conversation about inviting women to rise into positions of leadership undermines all of Christianity and the structure that has been put into place.
To that I say a few things. One, we’ve already shaken up the kingdom. None of us are “God’s chosen people,” unless you’re actually Jewish, which is awesome. Most of us are Gentiles, which means we’ve already undermined the system.
Second, the system doesn’t usually work so well. In the past, our religious systems have been machines of war, murder, abuse, shame, and suppression. Unfortunately, in many ways, they still are. Let’s not pretend they’re perfect as they are.
And third, implied in the others, Christianity has evolved. I know that’s a scary word too, but we’ve changed. Women in my faith tradition are not required to cover their heads to pray. Why should I assume that other things can’t change as well, like women taking an active role in church leadership?
I’m not looking for a fight on this. I know there are biblical reasonings for women taking a lower role in the church. But I think that limits what the church could be. Women can be missionaries and Sunday school teachers, but not preachers. How can we make these distinctions? What gives us the right?
Two days ago, I spoke in church. I don’t consider what I did “preaching,” but not because I don’t feel that women can preach. To me, preaching is exegesis, taking a passage and explicating it; I just simply shared some stories from my experiences, however limited they were.
Even so, a man came up to me after the service. He said some kind words about what I had shared, and then said, “You obviously have a gift of preaching.” This man should know; he’s married to an excellent preacher.
This time, I didn’t shy away from that word. Because it is in fact a word, and one that has been absent for far too long in conjunction with my gender. I want to claim it, not because I believe all women have the gift of preaching; not even most women, or maybe it’s just a few. I just want to open up the idea that God could give a woman the gift of preaching, even of pastoral ministry. We believe in a God that can basically do whatever he wants, right? He’s limitless? Then why do we put limits on him and tell him what gifts he can parcel out, based on gender?
I know some of my more conservative family members may be horrified by this. I don’t mind if any of you start praying for my soul, because frankly, I’ll take any prayers I can get. This issue is complex, and I’m not pretending to give a biblical defense. I’m just saying what I feel in my heart, based on what I know about God, his people, and his church.
For me, this issue revolves around the following: does an individual, male or female, have the inspired word of God flowing from their mouths? Does godly wisdom flow out of them? Do they receive insights from the written Word and from the Living Word? Do they tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it?
That’s enough for me, enough to quiet that scared little girl in my brain.
So, ladies, preach.