Recognizing the gift of women preachers

March 11th, 2022

A few years ago, a friend and I were on our way down to the coast for a weeklong vacation. Facing a three-hour drive, my friend used the opportunity to ask a potentially contentious question.

“I want to ask you something, and I hope you know I don’t mean any disrespect or offense, I’m just trying to understand,” he said.

After I assured him that it was ok, he asked, “I know y’all ordain women to be pastors and preachers, right? How is that y’all are ok with that, given what it says in scripture?”

I was not especially offended or surprised by the question. My friend was raised as a Southern Baptist and a preacher’s kid. He asked this question because just a couple of weeks earlier, he had stood with my wife and me as our first child was baptized, as another close friend—a woman and our pastor—had preached the sermon and baptized our daughter in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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That question launched a conversation that continued long after we arrived at our destination and well into the night, spanning across the nature of tradition, scriptural interpretation, cultural norms, and Christian identity. And while I have no illusions that I changed my friend’s beliefs or converted him to my “liberal” vision of Christian practice, I know that our friendship has always become stronger because of honest and complicated conversations like these.

I began my answer to him, however, by simply pointing out that the good news—the Father’s resurrection of Jesus the Son from the dead—was first proclaimed by the women. The plain gospel truth is that there would be no gospel at all if the women had not first proclaimed it to the men.

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I am continually surprised that even today, this simple fact never computes in so-called “scriptural arguments” for or against women’s ordination. It seems a profoundly simple place to begin, and too essential to ignore. 

When the men fled the scene and left Jesus to die alone, it was the women who stayed.

When the men were huddled behind locked doors, it was the women who went to anoint the body at the tomb.

When the men were too caught up in their fears, it was the women who went and found the tomb and ran home to proclaim the only news that’s ever been truly “good.”

So the question is not whether women should be allowed to preach or not, whether women are qualified to preach or not, or whatever other ways we have to question their standing, calling, and authority.

The better question is: Why should anyone else be preachers at all?

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For the month of March, we here at MinistryMatters are highlighting the women preachers who continue to lead us, teach us, and proclaim the good news to us. We are committed to recognizing their gifts for helping expand our all-too-often anemic imaginations for who God is and what God is up to in our world. 

You will find short pieces from Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, whose recent book How Women Transform Preaching offers wonderful insights on how the presence of women preachers and scholars of preaching has transformed the practice of homiletics this country. 

You will learn from Lisa Thompson about the creative power that Black women bring to preaching and how their wisdom can help anyone called to preaching to better understand our voices and the voices of others.

And much like that first Easter when the women led us to see the empty tomb, Joni Sancken will help us to have a vision for Easter’s good news of healing and hope in a time of extended trauma.

We are committed to not only receiving these gifts and so many others, but also to recognizing the ways that our churches continue to neglect, deny, and tangibly harm the women God sends to lead us. Many of our churches and denominations continue to have gender-based pay disparities. In The United Methodist Church for instance, women are still paid nearly 10% less than men in clergy roles, while making up 32% of clergy overall. These women continually receive aggressive behavior, sexually suggestive comments about their appearance, and other demeaning treatment from the people they are charged with pastoring. As Karoline Lewis points out in her excellent book on the nature of power and the power of women’s leadership, She:

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"The fact is that the church has a history of power in those destructive forms. The truth is that the church has demonstrated power that has been damaging, demoralizing, debilitating, demeaning, desecrating, and discriminating. And the wielding of the church’s power has led to the insistence that some inherently have more of it than others when it comes to doing and being church. Arguments for and against women in ministry are, in part, arguments about power—who can and cannot have it. In the end, for the church to allow women in ministry is a relinquishing of power, and even the church, whose power is nominally based on the Christlike empowerment of others, has had a hard time letting go of control."[1]

We cannot celebrate the gifts of women who preach among us without also recognizing the need for repentance and repair of harm done to them by us. Our mission at MinistryMatters is to help the church embody God’s future in the present, which means we call our readers to speak up for equitable compensation, better care, and intentional action taken when harm is done and before it can happen again. Speak to your episcopal leaders, diocesan leaders, and local church boards about taking tangible steps toward that just future realized here and now.

Especially for those who, like me, identify as men and who lead congregations: it is our task to help our congregations prepare now for the woman who will come and lead them next. Not by justifying to them why women can preach and teach among them, but by reminding one another that we only gather to hear the good news because it’s been the women who carried it to us through the ages.

Ever since that car ride conversation with my friend years ago, I continue to reflect on the witness and gifts of the women preachers in my own life. And as I prepare my own sermons each week—every one shared with that same woman who baptized my children and who is by far the better preacher between us, whose feedback continually makes me a better preacher—I cannot deny another simple truth for my own vocation.

The bare and beautiful truth is that my being a preacher is only possible because of the women who have gone before me and who even now proclaim to me the good news of a faithful and loving God.



[1] Karoline M. Lewis, She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon, 2017), xxiii.

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