I admit I didn’t notice it at first. I went to church after church. I shook hands. I met pastors. I heard good music and good preaching.
It was at about week twelve that I realized:
“I haven’t heard a woman preach in three months.”
A couple sang.
Some made announcements.
Not one preached.
And I sighed a heavy sigh, as I wondered: “How is this still happening?”
As part of a recent Sabbatical leave I took from my role as a pastor, I had been visiting different churches to learn from them and experience worship in new ways. I had gone to a couple churches who had theological positions that wouldn’t allow women to speak, but most churches I visited did not fall in that category. This is what made it so shocking when I realized that I had managed to go several months without hearing a woman preach.
What was even more shocking? When I realized, with even more sadness, that in that time I had only seen one preacher who was a person of colour – a guest speaker at Hillsong New York.
In fact, by the time I got to the end of my season of visiting, with the exception of the guest mentioned above, I had only heard the Bible taught by white men between the ages of 35 and 60!!! IN FOURTEEN WEEKS AND FOURTEEN DIFFERENT CHURCHES!!!!
My friends, this is a problem.
Before everyone freaks out at me, let me say to my Caucasian brothers: I love you. I’m thankful for you. I don’t want you to stop what you’re doing. Please keep preaching and sharing about God. We need you.
But we need more than JUST you.
The family of God is diverse. And we live in a diverse country. With diverse churches. We NEED the voices of people from different ages, and genders, and races. Different voices speak from different eyes that let us see things in new ways and, I would argue, let us see the fullness of God and God’s Word in ways that we can’t if we only ever hear from one particular cohort. I would go so far as to say that when we DON’T hear from these range of voices that we will actually MISS things God has to say to us. Seeing the fullness of the family of God represented in preaching also says to those of us often in the minority: “Your voice matters in this family. You can do this, too.”
I can only speak as a woman, as I am not a person of colour. But as a woman, it matters when I see people like me do what I do. I can forget how much it matters sometimes. I was reminded again when I spoke at a youth conference this spring. After I shared, I lost count of the number of girls who came up to me saying: “This is the first time I’ve ever heard a woman pastor!” And it mattered to them.
Men, can you imagine being 18 years old and never hearing anyone like you preach? EVER? Can you imagine what would happen if you did?
Now, I’ve heard the arguments about the “feminization of the church,” and how too much female leadership “turns off” men, etc. etc, blah, blah. A couple of years ago when I published a blog that mentioned that our church’s three pastors were all female, an angry commenter talked about how this was what was wrong with the church and why men don’t go to church anymore. I laughed out loud. I didn’t bother to respond, but if I had my response would have been: “I think men will have no trouble finding churches with male pastors.” For example, they could attend ANY OF THE CHURCHES I VISITED IN FOURTEEN WEEKS.
But where, angry commenter, might you suggest I go, or my sisters go, or my daughter go, even once in a while, to hear voices like our own? To remember that God has also called us, and wants to use us and that the word of God can be spoken through our lips?
(Of course, women are welcome at our church, but we only have 220 seats and our city has half a million people, so we may need more than MHBC as an option…)
We need to do something about this. We need to make space at the table – by making space at the pulpit.
This starts by giving women the chance to speak. This is as simple as adding women to your preaching rotation (and please, please, please don’t talk about how you “can’t find” any women to preach. Look harder. We haven’t had a lot of chances, as you know, so you may need to take a risk or two, but we have to start somewhere). In my church, with its all female staff, I consciously make sure to have men speak when we need guests, because having different voices matters to us. I realize that we have not done a good job with diversity in our speakers in terms of race – I name that that needs to change.
Obviously, this message isn’t relevant for churches that don’t allow women to preach for theological reasons. I’m not trying to address that here. If I had only attended complementarian churches, I wouldn’t be writing this post because it wouldn’t make sense to do so. But I didn’t. Most of the churches I attended fully ordain women because they feel convicted by Scripture that it is right to do so. And still, I didn’t see any women preach in four months. I know you’ll all be able to give me examples saying “You should have went here!” or “There’s a women at this place!” Before you do that, stop and see the point. When I didn’t go specifically looking for women preachers – I didn’t find any.
No wonder girls at conferences keep treating me like a unicorn after I speak! For many I really do seem like a mythical creature that they had only hoped was real until I prance across the stage.* (Note: I don’t prance).
This is why of all the things I will take from visiting fourteen churches, one of them will definitely be the conviction that I have got to keep doing what I’m doing. I need to keep preaching, teaching, and speaking, because God has called me to do so, and because I want other women to see that God can call them, too. If I must be the token woman at events, conferences, and workshops, so be it. I’ll token away until we don’t need tokens anymore.
And when I get a little weary, I’ll look at this picture. My daughter drew this a few months ago. It’s me, doing what I do almost every Sunday. I’m preaching. And she is sitting in the front row, listening. Learning. Seeing she belongs. I’ll keep doing it for her, and every girl and woman that may sit beside her.
But please – don’t make me do this alone.
Brothers, invite your sisters to the pulpit. Pastors, build up women with the gifts of teaching. Conference leaders, do the work to find women you can invite to share at your events. It’s time for women preachers to stop being surprising.
We are tired of being unicorns.
This is my fourth and final post in my series on what I learned from visiting churches over four months. You can read the previous three posts on this site.