Preaching With Impressive Women

As regular readers know I took a stand in my local church to not participate in any activity where women were excluded. This mainly involves preaching. I wanted to update you on how all this was going and share some happy stories in this regard.

First, women can teach at my church. It's one of the great blessings in my life that Jana and I co-teach our adult bible class at church. Some weeks I teach. Some weeks Jana teaches. And we both love talking to each other and bouncing ideas off each other about what we might say. Jana and I teach differently, but she's my equal intellectually. And I think the class enjoys the mix of styles. And whenever Jana teaches the class she gets tons of positive feedback from the men in the class. In fact, I'd say she gets most of her positive feedback from the men. Even though she wears huge flowers in her hair. (Wearing flowers is sort of Jana's trademark. In fact, it has become a verb around here. To "Jana-Beck-It" is to add a flower to your hair or wardrobe.) The point being, Jana's pretty "girly," but she's razor sharp and hilarious. And she blesses both men and women with her teaching, flowers and all.

Regular readers also know that I preach from time to time on Wednesday nights at Freedom Fellowship, a church plant of Highland that reaches out to the poor and homeless. Women can preach at Freedom. So the last time they asked me to preach I asked if Jana could join me. For a few weeks I preached and then Jana preached and then, on the last week, we preached together. I didn't really think about it at the time, but that was the first time we ever preached together.

And it was amazing. Well, Jana was amazing. If you asked me, Jana Beck might be the best preacher in the Churches of Christ. She's an undiscovered talent. The plan was for Jana to go first and then for me to follow. By the time I got up the whole place was crying. She's that good.

It's nice to be at a church where that can happen.

But women still can't preach on Sunday mornings which means I'm still not preaching on Sunday mornings. And yet, I was on stage for a conversation a few Sundays ago.

Jonathan, our preaching minister, who is also a dear friend (and a great blogger), asked me to participate in a sermon series he was doing entitled Sequels: Love After First Sight about love, romance, singleness, marriage, sex and relationships.

(BTW, if you'd like to see the Becks--and one of Jana's flowers--we participated in a video for this series. The topic was "first kiss." You can see Jana, a flower and I--along with two other lovely older couples from our church--here.)

Now Jonathan and I have talked a lot about my decision to not preach, and he's been gracious, kind, and respectful about my decision. But Jonathan suggested that there might be a way for me to still participate. Specifically, Jonathan was having my good friend Sally Gary participating in the sermon the week before I was to go. Sally, author of the new book Loves God, Like Girls, is the founder and director of CenterPeace, an organization that facilitates conversation in the Churches of Christ about same-sex attraction.

So the week before I participated Sally and Jonathan had their conversation. They sat in chairs onstage and talked to the church, back and forth. The following week I did the exact same thing. Sally talked about same-sex attraction and the idolatry of sexuality and I talked about gender roles.

All in all, Jonathan was very gracious in working with me, making sure a woman went before me so that I could keep to my commitment and promise.

And incidentally, I think Sally's presentation with Jonathan was a real watershed moment at our church and for our denomination. Heading home after hearing Sally that Sunday morning, Brenden, my 16-year-old son, turned to Jana in the parking lot and said, "That sermon was impressive. Sally Gary is awesome."

Yes, son, yes she is.

And so is your mother.

And so are thousands and thousands of women in our churches.

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25 thoughts on “Preaching With Impressive Women”

  1. Kay Authur had a huge impact on me in my 20's and 30's. I also appreciate Beth Moore is also someone that I glean a lot from and Lucy Swindoll is one of the better speakers that I've heard. I got some great advise one time from an older gentleman to listen to my wife in spiritual matters. I've done that. It usually works our pretty well.

  2. Hi Mike, can you not edit? I think if you register with Disqus you get that ability. I've found that really helpful here and in my comments on other blogs.

  3. Unfortunately, if the mainstream Church of Christ remains a political and social ally of the Right Wing the women will always have just one foot in the door when it comes to teaching or leading. Even among many in the CoC who consider themselves progressive, there is still the caution to hold back lest they "slide full speed into liberalism and hell on a bobsled".

    Most of the CoC progressives today are not like the progressive of the fifties and sixties. What we have today are members who feel totally liberated simply because they no longer have to believe that others are lost; and for them "others" is pretty much limited to the conservative Christian Church and the Southern and Independent Baptist Church. I see this more as a lateral move where women are given a few consolation roles than an actual progression.

    It reminds me of the few times, and I do mean few, that I have watched Fox news where the female anchor or host had to sit there and pretend to agree with the cave man she was interviewing. Her nod said "yes", but her eyes said, "Oh Lord, why do I have to endure this?"

  4. I've been thinking along these lines. At some point in the future (there is a timeline I have in my mind here) I'd like to explore starting a gender inclusive church. But I'm still holding out hope for Highland. We're so close.

  5. I loved the video that you and Jana were a part of for Highland. Like you, I am part of the brotherhood of underwhelming first kisses. And, man, it was something special when my wife first kissed me like she meant it.

    It sounds like Highland, as exemplified by Jonathan's actions, has been able to proceed through this difficult issue with an agility and flexibility that takes into account all involved. Is that a fair observation? I'm curious in what ways Highland is providing space for conversation between the Church leaders and members about the evolving role of women in worship and leadership, especially in the corporate sense. Are they hosting discussions, having bible classes?

    I'm part of a church that is making the move toward full gender inclusion and I'm feeling like it might be good to have more structured space for people, especially those who are quite trepidatious about the progression, to express their fears and concerns in a venue where they feel heard and respected. I've found that up to this point the discussion we've had about it has been intellectual and cerebral, mostly the theology behind the move (presented by a PhD candidate during Bible Class). This has been really good, well presented and done in a generous spirit, and yet it still feels like something is off.

    I think what I'm feeling is that those in our church who do not have a sharp or well developed intellectual or theological acumen are feeling sheepish about their reservations. I think they feel intimidated to talk honestly in the Bible class setting because they don't 'know' as much as the ones moving us to full gender inclusion. I sense that we need a different kind of space to allow for the honest voicing of fears and hurts, a space where all can be heard, regardless of their theological acuity. So, I'm curious if Highland has been able to cultivate such a space.

    I believe fully in the full inclusion of women in every aspect of Church life, but I also want to make sure that the move is made out of a freedom in Christ that propels us to deeper love and consideration for each other, not just for the sake of further freedom for freedom's sake.

    Thanks, Richard, as always for your thoughtfulness and honesty in helping us Church of Christers wade through strange new waters.

  6. I hope so, too. I also think that it can be hard to be first. I know of several congregations that I think are also close, and perhaps it would be easier for them to take that next step if they didn't have to step out by themselves. The first one will have to take the brunt of the criticism all alone. That's a downside of congregational autonomy, I suppose.

  7. Amy and I loved the video. Good to see you've finally broken your seven year ban on Jana appearing on the blog in visual form. @-;¦

  8. When we worked through our "process" we did lots of different things. We did the public presentation stuff with academic-types, but we also had discussion-oriented classes in our adult classes. Those were locations where people felt safer as they knew each other and felt more comfortable raising their hand and giving an opinion. We also did a lot of focus-groups where facilitators asked opened-ended questions and a scribe collected all the responses. (We also sent out a survey.) I think those two things helped a lot, places where you just weren't listening to a presentation but were being asked questions in smaller more intimate and discussion-oriented places. Also, one thing our classes did was to try to present various perspectives on the issues in as an unbiased way as possible. That is, the class didn't have an agenda, just two viewpoints presented side by side.

  9. It still fascinates me that the CoC draws a line between "teaching people in a classroom" and "teaching people while standing on a stage." One isn't more powerful or important. They're both about sharing our experience of faith, mercy, and suffering. What does it profit us to pretend women can't be a part of that?

  10. Thanks for the kind words Richard! And thanks for being a part of that series! One of the things about the Beck family that I hope everyone knows is that (unlike a lot of high-profile people) the closer you get to y'all, the better you all are. You're whole family is deeply involved in serving in the church in lots of ways. I thank God for how you love people and the Church.

  11. Great post. In the Otter Creek Church community, we've had some similar watershed moments in which (a Rhonda Lowry or Jackie Halstead or Sandra Collins) simply uses her God-given gift for communication and naming the world. In that moment-- we recognize the smallness of the gender wars and the immense possibility of a future in which our boys and girls, men and women experience all that God is and has to say through the masculine and feminine body/voice. Heaven's coming in glimpses. Just takes a long, long time.

  12. You see it clearly, daniel.. I am no longer a member of the CoC, but in my observations through blogs and publications I am still mystified by the division and the labeling of work into the accepted and the non-accepted. Besides, while churches like Highland give a breath of hope, the reality of the CoC is still found in rural and small town America, mostly in the south, where the battle against liberals still pumps the blood and life through each Sunday and Wednesday.

  13. I think it's diagnostic that the issue isn't biblical, but cultural/symbolic in nature. Despite protestations to the contrary.

  14. I thought I might share my review of Sara Barton's book A Woman Called, which offers an important contribution to this conversation. The book that is.

  15. I really enjoyed the video for the series and your discussion a couple of weeks ago...which really begs the question: What's it like going to church with Jonathan Storment? ;)

  16. I love Jonathan! We're getting to be great friends and I've been greatly blessed by his preaching.

  17. I think, once you've heard a woman preach, you quickly realize that the sky doesn't fall. That nothing really changes. It's sort of oh-hum, business as usual. That the sermon is the sermon, no matter who is delivering it.

    As is generally the case, we follow in the wake of our experiences. Once you experience something change is a lot easier.

  18. Very, very thankful for you as well. Readers should also know that Leslie Storment was on stage a few weeks after Sally and I. Another impressive woman!

  19. I am blessed by this post. Thank you for sharing. Just under a year ago I walked away from ministry in CofC after 13 years. Gender issues being one of the leading factors. I am blessed by an intelligent, gifted wife and three beautiful children - two of which are female. No matter what I taught at home, i could no longer be a leading figure for a group that required male anatomy to be a full participant in the body of Christ. It was a hypocrisy I would not risk in the raising of my children. It was a difficult, heart wrenching decision that has not come without consequences. However, we feel blessed by where God has led us today. I am thankful there are more and more CofC's moving towards this freedom. Thank you for your stand, thank you for sharing.

  20. In my Church it is the Holy Spirit who teaches. We call it Catechesis. I am a Catechist and I rely on this as I have little ability of my own. I am really pleased to have discovered your blog.

  21. Richard, do you know the name Jo Bass? She's an important part of the story of how Highland became who it is.

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