Editor’s note: This is a CBE 2022 Writing Contest Honorable Mention!
Uncharacteristically, my Sunday sermon was ready early enough in the week that I could ask my wife, Gloria, if I could go over it with her and receive her input. Through my trial run, Gloria graciously interjected a number of excellent improvements, including more easily understood wording and insights that had not occurred to me, illustrations that would touch more of my audience, applications I had not considered, and more. Thanking her, I added her ideas to my notes.
After the service that weekend, I had many more individuals than usual thank me for the message and identify the parts most meaningful to them. Again and again—perhaps as you’ve already guessed—the specific parts of my sermon which had captured their attention, provided new insights, and helped them apply the Scriptures to issues they were currently dealing with were . . . my wife’s additions!
My inclusion of female voices back then was limited and almost accidental. In addition to my wife, I also greatly benefited from the later addition of a volunteer worship planning team, in which both women and men helped design services and gave input on my sermons. And to my shame, my too-close-to-the-line sermon preparation habits didn’t often allow time for more of their helpful contributions. It was not until years later that I understood the dynamic that those experiences exposed. Different male and female experiences lead to different understanding, application, and communication of the Scriptures. Allowing input from these different perspectives makes the service more effective for everyone.
Sermons born only out of a man’s perspective are usually effective for men. When women’s illustrations, insights, practical applications, and ways of viewing life and the world are missing from the sermon preparation and delivery, we rob all hearers of the fullness, balance, and beauty of God’s creation. It’s as if “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) has no application to the study and teaching of the Scriptures or the planning of worship gatherings.
By the way, if you’re guessing that most or all of the parishioners helped by my wife-assisted sermon were women, you would be greatly mistaken. It was mostly men! It is not only women who are robbed by the exclusion of female involvement and leadership in spiritual formation; it is men as well. Why would we think that men’s ministries would thrive without the “suitable helper” God wisely designed? As others have pointed out, “helper” or “aid” in Genesis 2:18, 20 is not an inferior assistant but a powerful corresponding ezer. Most Old Testament usages of the Hebrew word relate to God’s gracious help to humans (Exodus 18:3, Deut. 33:7, Psalm 121:1–2, etc.).
I am ashamed and deeply regret that it was only decades later that an intensive five-year study of the relevant Scriptures brought me to understand that under the New Covenant, God places no gender-based limitations on leadership in any realm. I am very grateful for how removing my patriarchal-tinted glasses allowed me, like a kitten whose eyes are opened, to see and understand the Scriptures in ways that my previous subconscious bias prevented. I then chronicled my transformative journey and the exegetical discoveries which drove it into a book titled, Should Women Be Pastors and Leaders in Church? My Journey to Discover What the Bible Says About Gender Roles.
I long for the day when Peter’s Pentecost sermon is fully embraced by all Christians and churches: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17, 18). Perhaps that would stimulate the renewal we desperately desire and need.
Today it is much more common for me to run a sermon by Gloria for her vetting and insights. This may be in reference to the big-picture theme of the message, the overview provided by my slide presentation, in seeking ideas for practical applications, or in wanting counsel regarding a section I fear might be weak or controversial. I have also greatly benefited from numerous friendships and regular interactions with a number of women pastors, as well as sitting under their preaching ministry. I regret not comprehending, years earlier, how God’s pronouncement in the garden could be applied to sermons: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Photo by Monkey Business Images on Shutterstock
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