Perhaps you’ve read the articles that have been circulating lately about whether or not women should preach in church. This is certainly not a new debate, but the timing of this fresh batch of articles just days before Mother’s Day has reinvigorated the debate with a particular vigor. Since the editorial team here at ChurchLeaders doesn’t take an official position on this debate, I’m not going to rehash the theological aspects of it for you. What I do want us to mull over is this idea: Whether women stand behind a pulpit or not, women preach all the time.
Ultimately, the point of preaching in church is to teach people about the nature and character of God, to instruct them in developing their relationship with God, and to point them toward a lifestyle that is more Christ-like. In this respect, I think your average woman’s life, whether or not she lives part of it behind a pulpit with a title, does a great amount of preaching.
Women Preach Through Caring for Other People
One of my favorite aspects of Jesus’ character is how he cared for other people. I love the stories about him stopping to heal someone and doing things like making sure that the crowds who came to listen to him had food. I think Jesus showed an incredible amount of care for people, even when they exhausted his earthly body with their needs and he would have to go and recharge with God the Father. Sometimes he would delay rest to meet their needs. These stories of him remind me of women caring for the needs of others.
I know plenty of men who care in this capacity, but I know even more women who do. There is something God-given in a woman’s nature that makes her particularly in tune to the needs of others. When they take care of other people, women preach that God cares and that he sees. Like the mother who can discern the difference between an “I’m in pain” cry and an “I’m restless” cry in her child, God knows our unique needs and responds to them. And God, in his goodness, often uses women to meet those needs.
Women Preach Through Spiritual Formation
Barna recently released an article titled “The Powerful Influence of Moms in Christians’ Households.” In it, Barna gleaned information from a survey in which they asked church-going Christian teens who they do certain activities with the most. For questions like “who do you pray with?” and “who do you talk to about God and faith?” the majority of teens surveyed said they participated in these activities with their mothers. The article points to the fact that more often than not, children receive critical spiritual formation training at home from their mothers.
Of course this is not to discount the role of fathers, who also rank highly in several faith-related categories, but the data shows there is something particularly significant about a mother’s role in the house. “Over and over, this study speaks to the enduring impact of mothers—in conversation, companionship, discipline and, importantly, spiritual development,” Alyce Youngblood, Barna’s managing editor for the report, says.
Consider this: When asked who encouraged the teens to go to church, talks with them about God’s forgiveness, and teaches them about the Bible, the majority responded it was their mothers.
Single or childless women shouldn’t be excluded from this discussion as there are plenty of examples of such women caring for the needs of others. Amy Carmichael comes to mind. This woman was never married and didn’t carry a child in her womb, yet when she died the children she tenaciously cared for wrote “Amma” on her grave, which means mother in Tamil.
Single women have a profound impact on the mission field. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, one survey indicates that as many as 85 percent of single people serving on the mission field are female. This statistic certainly holds up to my own experience overseas.
There are scores of childless women who foster and adopt children. There are even more who show up, week after week, to a youth group, a Sunday school, a Bible study, an assisted living facility, to teach and to care.
The simple act of showing up for those late night discussions about faith with a teenager or putting together a Sunday school lesson or helping to build a house of worship preaches volumes about the care God shows to teach his children about him. And more often than not, these vital roles are filled by women.
Women Were Among the First to Preach the Gospel, Without a Pulpit
I love the fact that the first time in the New Testament we see someone declare who Jesus is, it’s Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and relative of Mary, who bore Jesus. She did not say these words in a temple (or behind a pulpit), rather in her home, and they were recorded for our benefit (Luke 1:41-42).
Then again, the first ones to witness and report Jesus’ resurrection are the women in the story. After sticking by Jesus while he was crucified and then traveling to the tomb to attend to his body, these women are given the honor of being the first to tell others he had risen from the dead. The women (Mark indicates the women included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome; Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary”; Luke lists Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the others with them”; John simply refers to Mary Magdalene) take the exciting news back to the 11 disciples and the rest, as they say, is history.
God certainly doesn’t shy away from encouraging his daughters to proclaim the truth, even if they don’t do it from a stage.
Women Take Every Opportunity to Preach, Encourage and Care
If I had to distill the history of women in the world down to one sentence, it would be this: Women lead without title.
Whether you give a woman a title, a salary or a position won’t affect whether or not she preaches. She will see a need and she will meet it. She will guide and instruct others with her lifestyle, her words and her presence.
And to that I say…preach, woman!