Women, Keep On Preaching On

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With my elbows on my knees, my body hunched over, and my head down, I nervously clenched my leather preaching bible as I was only minutes away from preaching a sermon before a congregation whom I loved, knew, and cared for. A rainbow of emotions flooded my mind, body, and soul. My heart raced. It was the same swirl of emotions that always seems to overtake my heart before preaching – a tiny bit of fear, but enough courage from the propelling of the Spirit to get me up there. I could only rely upon what the Spirit would do within the next few minutes.  

It began at the age of 15. I was sitting in a bible study with other students and the youth pastor put his Bible down and said, “I just feel like we need to stop the Bible study for a moment. I sense that the Spirit is calling one of you in this room to become a fisher of men and enter into full-time ministry. I’d like everyone to bow your heads, close your eyes, and if it’s you, please stand up.” I gripped the sides of my chair with my sweaty palms as my heart and mind raced. Not me, Lord. It didn’t come in an audible voice or a paralyzing vision, but it came in a holy whisper. “It is you.”  What seemed like hours of wrestling and arguing, was only a few minutes before I was standing up in front of the rest of my peers, surrendered. I had no idea everything my calling would entail, but I began preaching on a regular basis in my early 20’s.

Sixteen years later, I stood up before the local congregation I had been serving and delivered another sermon. There is nothing quite like preaching. Sometimes I can almost tangibly feel and see the Spirit working not only in the room, but also in the hearts, minds, and souls of the congregation. I always sit down and say, “Wow, the Spirit is definitely at work in me and in this community!”

This particular Sunday presented a different challenge. In the middle of the sermon, a middle-aged man (who we’ll call Joe), made his way down the center aisle and sat in the front row and listened intently; I almost thought he was going to stop me from preaching. As the service ended, Joe quickly jumped to his feet and handed me a sheet of paper with several scriptures written in red ink. “This is the Holy Word of God,” he said; “I can’t argue with God.”  When I looked down at the paper I noticed that it was saturated in passages similar to 2 Timothy 2:12.  “Since you are a woman, you have no business preaching and teaching,” Joe said. As I attempted to gently walk Joe through some of the passages, I realized I was getting nowhere as he only got angrier. Joe’s words were piercing and left me feeling wounded as I have felt other times through emails, letters, and phone calls similar in content.

I wish I could say this was my very first encounter with opposition, but it was not.[1] It has shown up in the form of a youth pastor explaining to me that God would only call me into ministry if men didn’t step up to their calling first; or a classmate in Bible School explaining why I can’t be a lead pastor, or a friend sending me a 3,000 word Facebook message as to why he “wishes” he could be excited for me serving in his church, but cannot because I am “blaspheming the name of God as a woman preacher”; or a denominational leader who ignores my emails and phone calls for six plus months; or even a friend standing in my kitchen after feeding him a meal, as he explains to me that he is not comfortable with a woman preacher. Oh, how I could go on. Opposition can come in the form of an angry email, red letters on a paper, or blatant ignoring.  

“What’s That Got To Do With You?”

In chapter 21 of John’s Gospel, we catch a glimpse into a picturesque moment between Jesus and Peter having an intimate conversation. As Peter and Jesus slowly walk along the shore, Jesus cuts to the heart and asks, “Do you love me?” After Jesus asks Peter this question three times and Peter responds, Jesus commissions him a fresh challenge and a calling: feed lambs and sheep.  Something profound happens on those shores; Jesus trusts Peter to participate in the ministry of shepherding. Peter then learned that by participating in the ministry of Jesus, his task would be complete by the laying down of his own life.

But then Peter’s mind begins to swirl with questions and insecurities. He looks over his shoulder to see the “beloved disciple” in view and asks Jesus, “What about him?” (Jn. 21:21) Jesus reminds Peter that his task is to not worry about the calling of others; rather, Peter is to follow Jesus. Jesus made no mistake in calling Peter to participate in the ministry of caring for His sheep. In the book of Acts, we see that Peter did exactly what he was commissioned to do – shepherd the sheep with his eye constantly on his King. 

Our calling as Pastors is to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Ultimately, this calling rests under the authority of King Jesus, and at the end of the day, He is the one we follow. As I daily walk with Jesus, and as I participate in this incredible task of feeding His sheep, there are constant opportunities for me to look over my shoulder and ask, “What about him?” Truth be told, there are more than a few times I have wanted to throw temper tantrum, shake my fist in the air and ask, “What about him, Jesus?! How can this man, or this pastor have such a fruitful ministry and limit so many women from feeding your sheep?! It’s not fair!” And it’s in that moment the Spirit whispers, “What about him? What’s that got to do with you?” 

The Crossroad

Every time I come face to face with an “opponent”, I reach a crossroad: I can allow bitterness and anger to wrap around my heart like a toxic acid that will eventually become my banner, or I can just preach-on. I could argue and get combative. I could shake my first, cry, and tell them all why I think they have a terrible hermeneutic. I could shout the names Junia, Mary, Deborah, Phoebe, and Priscilla.[2] I could yell and tell them that they will someday have to be held accountable before God for hindering gifted, Spirit-filled, and called women from using their gifts to edify the body of Christ. However, the moment I decide to let anger and bitterness seep into the very depths of my being is the moment I lose sight of what I was called to do in the first place. Resentment and animosity become my starting points instead of leaning into the empowering presence of the Spirit and allowing grace and love to be the banner in which I serve and preach.  

Preach-on, that’s what I do.

You see, something profound, something mysterious, and something almost unexplainable happens when we allow the Spirit of the Living God to work in and through us as we use our gifts, gifts much like preaching. When we lay down our anger, pride, and bitterness, and just preach-on, even in the midst of opposition, God’s grace works anyway. We have nothing to prove, dear sister. It is in preaching that the preacher finds herself not as the ultimate authority, but simply as a conduit of God’s grace, truth, and love under the reign of King Jesus. When we are faithful to the task in which we have been called, the task of intense preparation, study, prayer, writing, and proclamation, hearts are transformed and the body of Christ is edified. It’s profound and it’s radiant, really.

Dear sisters in Christ, opposition will show up in many shapes, forms, and sizes. Sometimes you might not even notice and sometimes it will cut deeply to the heart.  But you have been created and called for such an incredible time as this. So, instead of allowing bitterness and anger to be the banner in which you lead, preach-on with grace, love, and in the power of the Spirit. Keep on preaching on, dear sister. 

[1] For every time just one person opposes what I do as a pastor, I have 1,000 more voices of affirmation. I am thankful to serve at Christ Church of Oak Brook that has two women in the pulpit on a regular basis and the congregation is always affirming. 

[2] For those who like to learn more on this subject, I suggest a great blog post written by Michael Wiltshire on the Junia Project Blog.  I would also like to recommend the following books:  Scot McKnight, Junia Is Not Alone (Englewood, CO: Patheos Press, 2011); John G. Stackhouse and Jr, Finally Feminist: a Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005); William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001); Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

A special thanks to JR Rozko for collaborating with me on this post and pointing out the interaction between Peter and Jesus in John 21.

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25 responses to “Women, Keep On Preaching On

  1. Tara, this is AMAZING! I am so proud to call you my new friend! I cannot wait till we get to meet in person someday! #KindredSpirits 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this. I am in the place of this struggle, letting go of the anger over it. I do preach on, and I can handle the criticism, ignoring what is not kind and engaging what is truly dialog. But I get angry over exactly what you mention–not allowing half the church to be freed to serve God’s kingdom, which hurts both the women and the kingdom. I am learning this all-encompassing love. If you ever have time to meet a fellow preacher in DuPage, drop me a message!

    1. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your story, Jill. I get it. It’s not an easy process to get over the hurt. I, too, am learning the all-encompassing love. Thank goodness for the empowering and transforming presence of the Spirit! I’d love to connect for coffee!! Feel free to find me on Facebook and we can set up a time.

  3. Thank you for this article! I, too, was called to preach and gave my first sermon at age 16. I became a licensed minister, much to the dismay of my Calvary Chapel father. I have had many opportunities to “speak” to women mainly, but not many to preach. Every Sunday I watch and pray for more opportunities, for an openness so that I may use my gifts. I’m so thankful to hear you are in a place where you are allowed to use your gifts!

    1. My dear Jaime, remember that Jesus was just as theologically deep with the woman at the well in John 4 as he was with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, in chapter 3. Too many times we “shortchange” Bible teaching when the audience consists primarily of women. Never hold back the depth of your engagement with the Word of God or “lower the cookies” just because it is a women’s study. Preach on, especially to women, my friend!

  4. Thank you for sharing, Tara. I resonate with every word. I am a preacher and am called to lead. It is challenging to say the least. Recently I was on the edge of the cliff that leads to cynicism and bitterness. Thankfully the Spirit spoke affirming words to my very soul. If you are interested in reading about that life giving moment you can go to http://simplyfollow1.blogspot.com/2015/06/show-me-your-id.html

    Preach on, dear sister. Preach on.

  5. I love this. And I love the “Preach On!” mentality. I’m very grateful that my church has a woman on our teaching teach. We are greatly blessed by her teachings and I think we would be missing out on something wonderful if we didn’t allow her to preach simply based on her gender.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Jill. My wife Leah has endured very similar opposition, especially while in seminary, but she really is one of the best preachers I’ve seen. The world is such a better place when women live out their callings.

  7. Beautifully written, Tara Beth. It is surprising how blinkered we can be while women have taken up leadership in every field outside of our churches. Wherever there is fear, women will be criticised in pastoral leadership. We can only counter fear with love and ‘preach on’. (Not that I’m a preacher or a woman) I am so thankful for women’s church leadership. Sadly my church, the Lutheran Church of Australia, is still discussing the matter after 35 years.

    1. “Wherever there is fear, women will be criticized in pastoral leadership…” So, so true @lnewton:disqus. It is crazy to me that churches can still be discussing the issue after 35 years, but it is the sad reality for so many churches in 2015. Like you said, we can only counter the fear with love; and I say, love, love, love and more love!

    1. And you’ve been one of my greatest encouragers! I was so blessed to serve under your leadership while in Upstate New York. I experienced nothing but affirmation, encouragement, and opportunities! Love you guys!!

  8. Very well said. My wife and I are both ordained Nazarene pastors, and I can tell you that, even when the opposition isn’t explicitly expressed, it is still there. I have witnessed people stand up and leave the service when my wife stands up to preach. But I appreciate your perspective. Tell Jeff I said hello!

    1. Thank you, Joel! So great hearing from you. We get updates on you guys from Stu and Lynn now and then. Thanks for sharing some of your experience. And so true… silent opposition is sometimes the most painful. I’ll tell Jeff you said hey!!

  9. Simply outstanding. This kind of writing makes me want to stand up, run across the backs of every pew, and shout, “YES!” Thank you for your voice, Tara. Thank you for your obedience, your bravery, and your anointing. May the tide turn as we plunge into the future.

  10. Yesterday at my church, I was lovingly corrected by my pastor after the service. I was one of the Bible readers and introduced the Bible passage by putting it into context. I was lovingly corrected as that was seen as a woman teaching men from the pulpit. (And I’m not being sarcastic about the loving correction – it really was – he’s a good man ). Women can’t lead services or preach or lead mixed Bible studies or lead prayer. And now I can’t speak for 30 seconds to put a passage in context. At other churches I have preached and led. People have commented how God has spoken to them through my sermons. But tonight I’m feeling crushed and broken. I wish I could preach on – but I can’t. Right now, I feel too scared to open my mouth again.

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