This weekend I was asked to share about Ephesians 5: 21- 33 as a guest preacher at a church called The Meeting House, based in Ontario, Canada. They have been doing a series called “Her Story,” about making space for women’s voices in the church. (I recommend checking out all the links to the sermons in this series, and the “After Party Podcast” with exceptional Bible scholar Dr. Cynthia Long-Westfall). I had a chance this week to dig into one of those “prohibitive passages” that sometimes get tossed at us as women leaders…Example: “How can you be a pastor if you are supposed to submit to men?” Well, here is my 36 minute answer.
My last post (“When You’re a Woman Pastor and You’re Over It Already”) struck a cord with a lot of people. I wish I could give all the amazing women pastors who have commented and shared stories here a high five and a hug. I am so proud to call you all sisters. This sermon fits in well with the theme of why we can “keep working!”
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I have learned not to get de-railed on a Sunday morning when someone walks out after they realize I am the pastor of the church.
Once a woman showed up a few minutes before the service and explained she was new to the city, wanted to find a church, etc. She was very excited because we were “right around the corner” from her. She told me a bit about her church background, and I had an inkling that she might have an issue with a woman pastor. I welcomed her warmly and subtly mentioned that I was the Lead Pastor. I saw her face fall, briefly, before she forced herself back into a smile. To her credit, she tried to be discreet. “You know?” she said, “I’m…um…just going to go home. I just remembered something.” She didn’t come back.
A few months ago it happened again. A young man showed up, very friendly, “looking for a church.” We had a lovely talk as he found a place to sit. He stayed most of the service, until I got up to preach. The look of shock on his face was far from discreet this time around. He looked to his left, and to his right, stood up in the middle of my opening paragraph and quite literally BOLTED to the door. Like, I mean bolted. His body was sort of bent over in a pointy shape as he took several giant steps out, stopping for nothing.
Sometimes people ask me what I do in those moments. My answer is simple: I preach anyway. I keep going. I do what I’ve been called to do.
There has been a lot of talk online in my circles in the last couple of weeks about women pastors and the things we face. This week on Twitter, for example, someone compared women pastors to sex offenders! (That was a new one!) “Wow,” my husband said when I told him, “What did you do?”
“Well,” I said, “I kept working.”
I have been in my role as a Lead Pastor of a church for 14 years now, and in those 14 years I have lost count of the number of “how-can-you-do-what-you-do-don’t-you-take-the-Bible-seriously?’ comments I have received. Yes, it is annoying. Yes, it makes wrong assumptions about me. Yes, I want to defend myself.
But, what do I do?
I keep working.
And then every few weeks there seems to be another social media flurry when some leader (or, just as often, some random dude with 32 followers on Twitter) says that women shouldn’t teach in a seminary or that women pastors are an abomination or that our disregard for Scripture is akin to men who dish out abuse. What do I do in those moments?
I keep working.
I visit someone sick. I go to the board meeting. I lead the Bible Study. I preach the sermon.
I keep doing what God has called me to do.
At one time in my life, I couldn’t tell you exactly when, it became so obvious to me that the only life I could lead that would be God’s plan for me was one where I was a pastor. Sometimes I laugh when people talk about women pastors as if we have taken some lucrative, enviable job with sinister motives to increase our own power.
My people, I would have been delighted if God called me to just about anything else (though I’m sure glad God didn’t). It isn’t actually fun for us women pastors to have to defend ourselves all the time, online or in person. We don’t enjoy wondering if we are going to get into debate when we arrive at a pastors event, if we will be ignored, looked down on, chastised. It would be nice not having certain people assume that we just don’t take the Bible as seriously as they do.
But at some point, to even be a woman in ministry, you decide that you have to listen to God’s voice above all the others. And you follow, and you pastor. And you keep following THAT voice, day after day – even when an inane Twitter debate could easily deter you.
It’s not that I don’t want to hear the feedback of others, or that I don’t consider those with a different understanding of the Bible than me on these matters to not be my brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s that, and I say this with all the love in the world:
I am OVER IT.
I have stuff to do. I have a call to live. I have a church to pastor. (And children to raise and meals to cook and sleep to get and friends to love). I know, already, that not everyone agrees with me and what I do. And it’s okay – I know who has called me.
So if you are a woman pastor who feels over it just like me, I feel you. It sucks. Now, let’s turn off our phones, open our Bibles, and keep working. God’s got stuff for us to do.
A few pics of me doing what I do – one also does not preach in order to get a flattering picture of one’s self. Clearly.
I did your job once and remember it well. I was 22 when I started and had energy like I could only wish for now. I was willing to do anything to give my youth a good time, even if that meant climbing on the church roof to watch fireworks on Canada Day or suggesting we all walk to 7-11 in our pajamas at 3 in the morning at a sleepover. Waivers? What waivers?
One year I had planned a youth retreat out of town that required a long drive on a bus on an isolated highway. The weekend it was planned, there was a terrible snow storm settling in for Friday night, and parent after parent called to suggest we postpone it. I didn’t see the big deal. The youth were excited and I didn’t want to let them down. I mean, accidents are very rare and we could drive slowly.
When some parents finally said they would keep their kids home whether it was cancelled or not, I relented and postponed the retreat to a later date, but I was totally frustrated. Why did parents have to be so PARANOID? Why couldn’t they just RELAX and let their kids have some fun? Didn’t they see the life-changing potential of this weekend? Didn’t they TRUST me? Didn’t they care about their kids’ faith?
The questions came up again and again as I vented to friends or other youth leaders during my two years as a youth pastor:
Why is that parent not willing to send their child to camp? It will be amazing!
Why won’t they let their kid do the mission trip overseas?? Missions trips are life changing!
Why do they seem so anxious about everything? Why do they ask so many questions? Why do they have to hover as the bus drives away whenever we go somewhere? Why can’t they just CHILL OUT?
These seemed like very reasonable questions to me.
But now – I’m a parent, and this weekend, I am sending my eleven year old son on his first youth retreat. On a bus.
And it is three hours away.
And it is supposed to snow.
And I am so sorry, beloved youth pastor, to have asked you every question I was ever asked. Plus a few more. (I am also sorry, in advance, for lingering at the bus and also for how many texts I will send “just to see how things are going.”).
But this is what I want to say to you, since I didn’t understand it then.
It’s not because I don’t trust you.
It’s not because I don’t want my kid to have fun.
It’s not because I don’t, more than anything, care about my child’s faith.
It is about some other things, that I didn’t understand back then.
It’s about me learning to share my child’s faith journey for the first time.
Up until now, all this stuff was the stuff I did with my child. Now, I realize, you are taking a role that marks a real change for me. I am thankful for you and I know my child needs more than his parents to teach him about God, but it is also hard to hand him over on a bus and not be going with him. Not to be the one he is asking about his faith questions. Not to hear where he is struggling. Not to be part of the fun stories and memories. To share this journey with you is a big change. Important, but hard.
It’s about this happening faster than I was ready for.
Youth pastor, I feel like it was yesterday that I nursed my child in my arms. I know that you see the already-very-grown-up boy that is ready for things like packing his own suitcase and moshing to worship songs, but I can’t help but still see him as the child that needed me to cut up his chicken fingers and sang along to Veggie Tales in his car seat. This all came faster than I expected, and it’s still a bit jarring.
And it’s about this being just plain HARD.
This child is part of my heart. And his faith is the thing that I long for most for him. It is hard to trust someone else with this important task, to invite you in, to remember that it is not about trusting you – but trusting God.
(It is also hard not to worry about driving in bad weather, I now realize. Sorry very-reasonable-parents of my youth group…)
So, dear youth pastor, please be patient with me and my questions. Send me a text once in a while. Tell me the good stories….tell me the bad ones. Keep letting me be part of this and feel like we are doing this together. Remember that we are a team, and that the mere fact that I am handing my most loved and precious gift over to you for this weekend is BECAUSE I trust you – even if all my questions seem to say otherwise.
(Also, please check the snow tires on the bus and for the love of all that is sacred make sure the bus driver doesn’t speed and also remind my kid to change his underwear).
I totally love Christmas, but let me cut right to the chase: Christmas can be emotionally draining, physically exhausting and financially stressful. It is a time that we can feel pulled in every direction, even by people that we care about.
That’s why I think we all need reminders that there is space for “no” at Christmas, and I’ve decided to write about it. Please embrace these “no”s on whatever day of Christmas they are needed.
No to Gifts We Can’t Afford (or are just plain unreasonable)
I get it. When our kids ask for something, we don’t want to let them down. It’s especially hard if they answer: “But can’t SANTA get it?” No. This year, our daughter wanted a gift that was well over our budget. When she pulled the Santa card, I simply said that in our house we aren’t allowed to ask Santa for such big gifts. Parents, YOU CAN SAY NO. Setting limits is one of our jobs, even at Christmas.
This applies to lots of areas. A few years ago, a friend of mine was complaining about the high cost of stockings. I was surprised to think of stockings as something costly. I said: “We only spend about $20 on stockings.” She was stunned. Her stockings had always included things like DVDs, books, and even jewelry, usually costing up to $100. I told her our stockings are things we need – socks, underwear, or new markers. And that we don’t always “fill” them! She was excited to learn she could say “no” to $100 stockings!
Is the family “secret Santa” limit out of budget? You can say no.
Is the gift your child wants a piece of junk you don’t want to buy? You can say no.
Are you going to have to go in debt to afford a certain kind of Christmas? YOU CAN SAY NO.
No to Over- Giving
I LOVE buying my kids gifts at Christmas time. It’s hard to resist sometimes, as I picture their excited faces on Christmas morning. But here is a little tactic that has helped me keep giving under control. When I picture Christmas morning and it makes me want to buy ONE MORE THING so badly, I pause, and I picture January. I picture that EXACT gift on a Tuesday in January. Where is it? Is it on a shelf somewhere? Has it been forgotten? Is it just added to a toy pile somewhere? This gives me pause and helps me avoid getting sucked into buying “just one more thing.”
No to Food you Don’t Want
“But I made these JUST FOR YOU!” It seems like everyone has a reason to make you eat one more cookie. If you want to, great. But if you are done eating, if you are full, if you want to eat healthy, if you don’t LIKE cookies (or pie, or turkey, or ham or candy canes) – you can say no. (*Note: As someone frequently accused of “aggressive hospitality, I will also work on saying “no” to begging you to eat more of my food).
No to Endless Visits
I see a lot of people struggling in what I call the “Christmas sandwich generation,” quite common with people my age. This is when people are still expected to do EVERY family tradition they did while growing up, even though they now have children of their own. They go to grandma’s on Christmas Eve, Great Aunt Sue’s for Christmas breakfast, hubby’s dad’s for lunch and Mom’s mom for dinner. It’s even more tricky with people from blended families.
Here’s the thing – at some point, no one can do it all, and we shouldn’t be expected to. (Remember that in order for your MOM to have started the tradition of Christmas breakfast at her house, at some point she STOPPED going to HER mother’s). I know it will be hard, but yes- you can say no endless visiting and say “yes” to days in pajamas!
No to “But All the Other Kids….”
Every other kid has an Elf on the Shelf. Every other kid goes to the Santa Clause Parade. Every other kid gets a new Christmas dress. Etc. Etc. Etc. It doesn’t matter. Your family can do exactly what YOUR family can manage.
No to “But It’s Tradition!”
If you have kids, you’ll hear this all the time. You do something once, and for the next 10 years they’ll ask to do it again and whine “But it’s tradition!!!!” Traditions can be fun, but sometimes you start something you don’t want to do again. If you can’t manage something this year, for whatever reason, it’s okay to say “no,” even if a tradition is broken.
Now this is where you might be saying. “This is too much! You don’t know my family! I’ll never be able to say no to these things!” That’s where the next one comes in.
No to Guilt
Do you need to say no to something this Christmas? You can do so – and you DON’T have to feel guilty about it. This is true, even for the especially hard ones, like the ones I am about to share…
No to Having to Love Christmas
Not everyone loves Christmas. Some people find Christmas hard. Maybe you are grieving. Maybe you are going through a hard time. You don’t have to love Christmas. If you’re sad, you can be sad. You don’t have to put on a happy face. You don’t have to celebrate. You can be what you need to be.
No to Making OTHERS Love Christmas
It’s not our job to fix Christmas for everyone who is struggling. Give space to those who need it to be sad. This is especially true of people newly grieving. If they need to skip a party, or step back from an event, let them.
No to Boundary Crossing
This is a sad one to have to address but it’s important. Sometimes being with family for some people means being in a room with their abuser. Let me say this clearly: You do NOT have to visit/kiss/hug/thank your abuser EVEN IF IT’S CHRISTMAS. You are allowed to say no.
This also applies to your kids. Please don’t make your children kiss or hug someone they don’t want to hug. Say “no” to telling kids they can’t control their own bodies. In our house, we give three options: “Fist bump, high five or hug?” We can say “no” to having anyone cross someone else’s physical boundaries.
No to Emotional Manipulation
I know what’s going to happen when you say “no” to some of these things.
“But this could be Grandma’s last Christmas!”
“Don’t you care about tradition?”
“Everyone will be so disappointed if you don’t come!”
It’s hard, I know. It’s hard to feel responsible for someone else enjoying Christmas. AND – it’s not your job. You can say no.
This “no” works both ways – we need to be able to hear when people say no without trying to manipulate them into doing what we want. It’s hard when our loved ones make decisions that change things for us – but we can respect their “no” and show them love by doing so.
No to ____________
This is your fill-in-the-blank for whatever you need.
No to sending Christmas cards, if it’s too overwhelming.
No to throwing a party, if it’s more than you can manage.
No to Christmas baking, if time is running short.
No to french hens and turtle doves and partridges in a tree if you don’t feel like getting stuck with a house full of birds.
No to THE THINGS THAT WILL STRESS YOU OUT INSTEAD OF BRING YOU JOY.
My friends, this week there have been times that I have felt more discouraged and defeated about the state of the world than I have in a long time. A few weeks ago, if you had told me the process of appointing a supreme court justice in another country would affect me so deeply, I wouldn’t have believed it. But then, how could I anticipate a week where we would have to listen to abuse and assault survivors feel a need to defend their own integrity? How could we be prepared for a week when victims would be turned into villains? And, oh Lord, how could I be ready to hear that the majority of evangelical Christians in the United States would say that they believed that a man should be appointed to the supreme court EVEN IF he had committed an assault?
There have been so many times I have prayed: “Come Lord Jesus, and take me with you.”
(And, also, “Could you leave a lot of these other guys behind? Because they scare me.”)
Interestingly enough, the news and social media weren’t the only places I heard stories of sisters sharing that being a woman can be just plain exhausting this week. Two days before the hearings, I sat and listened to stories of other women who have had some uphill battles, when we gathered as a group of women pastors in my denomination for our first ever female clergy conference, hosted at my church.
A Dream for a Women Pastor’s Conference
It was something I’ve dreamed of for a while, ever since a season when I kept hearing the same story from a lot of my sisters who work as pastors: “Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes it’s tiring. Sometimes I need other people who get it.”
To be clear, these were not stories of abuse. We work in a supportive denomination, and many of us feel this support even from our brothers who hold different views on our roles in the church. These aren’t victim stories – but they are stories of women saying: “I don’t feel like there are places where my experiences are heard.”
So on Tuesday we got together. There were over 50 of us! I have worked in this denomination for 13 years and even I didn’t realize how many women pastors there are (and we weren’t all there!). But even though I didn’t know a lot of these women, I did know a lot of the stories – even without having heard them. I knew them because we all have versions of the same story.
We heard the stories of not being sure God could call us to be pastors as women. We heard the stories of being afraid of what people would say about us, being challenged in our calls by our loved ones, and worrying we wouldn’t find a job. We heard the stories of trying to negotiate taking maternity leaves and the sadness of going into ordination councils knowing there would be people who would oppose us before they’d even heard what we had to say.
But we also heard the story of Lydia, one of my favourite women in the Bible.
A Pastor Named Lydia
Some of us may have heard about her before – she is famous in the Bible for being the first person to become a follower of Jesus in Europe. She is also listed as a “dealer in purple cloth.” This means that she was a successful business person, likely quite wealthy (since purple cloth was a luxury), and, I like to think, probably had a good sense of style. What is most significant about Lydia is that it says that after she decided to become a Christian, that her “whole household” believed and was baptized – and that later Paul and Silas (the missionaries who were part of her conversion), met in the “church in Lydia’s home” (Full story in Acts 16).
Many have long understood this to mean that Lydia was the leader of this church – since churches met in homes at the time, the church leader and the host of the home were usually one and the same. I think it’s a logical conclusion that Lydia was a pastor, in the modern sense of the term. This was the inspiration behind our conference’s title: “Lydia’s Daughters.” Lydia set the stage for the calling and ministry of women like me and I believe women pastors continue her legacy.
But, as Dr. Cynthia Westfall shared with us in her plenary address about Lydia, even I had not noticed the shaft that Lydia often gets in some Christian circles. In the very chapter that she is mentioned, there is another, more famous story, when Paul and Silas are in jail and they start singing – there is an earthquake as a result, in which no one is hurt but they are freed from their chains. Famously, the man who was guarding them, quite moved by this experience, asks: “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answers: “Believe in Jesus!” and it says that the jailer and his household are saved.
I love this story. It is one of my favourites in the whole Bible. But I had never thought about it before: If you have spent any time being taught about the Bible, it is quite likely that this story of the jailer’s conversion is well known to you. We are often told about this man who asks how to be saved and how that leads to the conversion of his whole houshold….but what I hadn’t noticed (Me! Who had named a whole conference after Lydia!) – was that THE EXACT SAME THING HAPPENS TO LYDIA!
She seeks salvation.
She follows Jesus.
She leads her household to faith.
And yet in evangelical circles we hardly ever talk about her – we talk about the man in the story, whose name we don’t even know. We talk about the jailer, even though at the end of the story, it is Lydia’s house to which Paul returns for hospitality and care – not the home of the jailer. We talk about how the man was the impetus for his whole house finding Christ, when the same thing happened to a woman mere verses earlier.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate this man’s amazing story – it’s a good one. But how have we so long overlooked the woman’s?
The fact that we have done that, quite frankly, is why we had a female clergy conference this week.
That fact that we have done that with countless women before and after Lydia is why so many women all around the world are angry this week.
We are tired of people not noticing, listening to, or believing our stories.
I don’t know any woman pastor who wants to downplay or take away the work of their brothers in ministry (in fact, when we were asked by the head of Baptist Women what ways they could further support us, our longest discussion was about if they could do anything to support our husbands. Bless). What I know is that we don’t want to always feel invisible. We don’t want our stories to feel less important. We want to be heard and seen, the way we know Jesus sees and hears us.
Sadly, this doesn’t always happen when we gather with other pastors, because we may be the only woman in the room. It doesn’t always happen because our stories have not been heard for a long time – and sometimes even when we share them, it gets flipped to be about how the MEN are affected by it all. And friends, we are just over it. So sometimes – we need to talk to other women who do what we do.
That’s why this women’s pastors’ conference was a gift and I thank our Baptist Women and our denomination for making it happen. This week was a good week to be a woman pastor in the CBOQ – which meant a lot during a week when it sure wasn’t easy to be a woman.
A Bigger Dream…
Maybe, men and women, if this week has been discouraging for you, and you’re looking for a way to respond: look for the Lydias in your life. Are there women’s stories you have not heard? Are there women that need to get some air time in your life, in your church, in your pulpit? What would it look like to share these voices in a place where the response will be: “We are GLAD you shared. We WANT to hear you” ? That’s my dream for the church.
My dream goes far beyond a day of gathering women pastors to hang out and get to know each other. My dream is that the CHURCH can be the place where ALL women can say: “THIS is where my story is heard.”
THIS is where I am not afraid to speak.
THIS is where people will believe me, and help me heal.
THIS is where converted jailers AND converted business women can each lead as Jesus has called them.
THIS – the church – is a safe place for Lydia’s daughters, and all the daughters of God.
I’m hoping a women’s pastors conference can be one thing that helps make this dream a reality – but it shouldn’t be the only thing.
I remember staring at the television screen in disbelief and horror. I was 23 and working as a youth pastor at a church in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. Someone came into my office and said to come to the television. The other pastors, the janitor, the church secretary, and the guy who shredded our paper stood around the TV in the church nursery as the towers fell. I remember saying out loud as I watched people jumping to save their lives: “Those are real people.”
It was later that we heard that the planes were landing at our local airport, not very far from where we were sitting. It was later that we found out that 150 people were coming to spend the night in our church gym, and we would need to get ready. It was later that the day started to change in my memory.
Of course, I remember the devastation and the heartbreak. I will never forget.
But, because I was living in a city in the most easterly part of Canada, where planes diverted from the U.S. air space were forced to land, and because I was working in a large church, and because our church had a gym big enough to hold a lot of people, I remember a lot more about 9-11 and the days that followed, than the horror. I remember how people came together and created something beautiful, when it seemed like there could only ever be room for ugly ever again.
I remember the generosity.
I remember when we had to start asking people to stop bringing sleeping bags to the church that first night. Our church was listed as a temporary shelter on the news, and within an hour, we couldn’t handle anymore blankets or pillows. People just kept showing up with more, and more, and more. Everyone wanted to help. Within a couple of hours of being told we would have 150 people staying with us, we had set up 150 beds, each with air mattress, pillow, sleeping gear – all donated.
I remember walking through Sobey’s at 1 in the morning, the only grocery store in town open that late, buying breakfast for 150 people. I remember that the next day, we had so much food donated that we didn’t even need what we’d purchased.
I remember walking into the church every day for the next five days that the plane people ended up staying to tables overflowing with donations of food and clothes. I remember when a small town on the other side of the island donated a gourmet fish buffet hosted by a local restaurant for everyone staying at our church. I remember when the most expensive restaurant in town came and hosted a prime rib dinner, with their top chef carving the beef for 150 guests.
I remember when a few people couldn’t sleep one night because of snoring. I went to a Shoppers and asked if we could get some ear plugs for our church because we were hosting plane people. They handed me over a box of 200 packs, no more questions asked.
I remember moments of joy.
I remember taking people around the city in a borrowed van. I remember watching their amazement when they got to the top of Signal Hill and said “we didn’t even know this place existed in the world!” I remember walking into stores and tourist spots and being told everything was free because we had “plane people” with us.
I remember staying up late with the stragglers and singing karaoke. I remember how much our English friends ended up loving Tim Horton’s, especially Tim Bits. I remember when one guy decided to dress up as Santa for the children.
I remember laughing until our sides hurt when a woman came to a group of us saying she couldn’t find her “nickers” – her underwear – which had been sent out for dry cleaning. When she explained where the dry cleaning rack was, one woman realized she had taken them thinking they were a donation. “I’m wearing your nickers!!” she declared, to her shock and shame. And we all cried we laughed so hard.
I remember friends.
I remember forming a group with six people that became our pose. I remember one of the guys showing me the engagement ring he was carrying his pocket, ready to propose at just the right moment when they finally got to Los Angeles. I remember bringing one woman to my house so she could have a bath. In our bathroom there was a little wooden sign that said, “Baths’ -5 cents.” I remember a few days later discovering a nickel left on top of the sign.
Yes, I remember the hard stuff too.
I remember the stares of people who didn’t turn away from the TV news. I remember the never ending lines for the phones, those desperate to get home, the couple that missed their son’s wedding and the woman who sobbed on my shoulder because she was so tired and overwhelmed. I remember how scared everyone was to get back on a plane. I remember crying together, often.
But I also remember…love.
Yes, it sounds cheesy, but I can’t think of a better word. It was a surreal time – we had just witnessed the worst act of hate most of us had ever seen in our lifetimes, and I was living in a corner of the world where love was everywhere. It was like we were surrounded by an anthem everyday: “Hate will not win.”
Terror had happened, it was true, but we were still able to eat together, laugh together, cry together – and accidentally share each other’s underwear.
It is one of the times in my life that I have felt the very closest to God. God was everywhere it seemed to me, reminding us in our little corner that what seemed like the end wasn’t going to be. Hate would not win.
So forgive me if it seems a bit callous to say, but it is true that on September 11, even as I feel very sad, I can’t help but smile a little, too. I smile because – I remember.
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.