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Women and the effect of their absence from the pulpit

woman, silhouette
Unsplash/Alex Jones

“You should tell your story one day, when you’re finished thinking things through,” my husband said one Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t tell if he was truly serious or trying to nicely say, “Put it on paper, woman, and leave me out of it!” His comment came after yet another frustrating church service that sent me racing back to bed, wound tight in the fetal position, grasping and groping for something I couldn’t find and wondering if Jesus was too.

My husband’s suggestion jeered back into memory as I read through a June interview with Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. In the article, Mr. Graham declares that the authority to pastor/teach/preach belongs solely to men. He then blames social media for exaggerating the issue of women in ministry and expresses a desire to get back to the more important matter of fulfilling the Great Commission—as if the two issues were somehow of separate business.

In other words, “Pipe down, ladies of Instagram—the men are trying to get some real work done over here!”

This reminds me of Sunday morning.

These comments also made me think about my childhood, when, as a six-year-old little girl, I would sneak my father’s sports coat and tie from his closet so as to be properly attired for preaching. From the pulpit in my makeshift bedroom church, I prophesied the Gospel aloud while the air shimmered around me, tears flowing and my heart so, so happy. This feeling when I spoke about God would never leave me; in fact, it would drive me.

I wonder what Mr. Graham would say to that little girl, the one who wore suits she was never meant to grow into, just to preach the fire that burned under her skin. Would he think it cute — until she reached a certain age of womanly accountability, when silence would be demanded over oil? Would he identify with that childhood fervor, remembering his own while quietly pitying her unfortunate gender state—hers born with shackles while his was born of wings?

In order for the Gospel to bear weight and witness in this world, it has to be true—all of it, for everyone. And the truth is that women are and have been, since the Church’s inception, a driving force behind the proliferation of Christianity across the globe. This was always the plan. It is impossible to strive for the fulfillment of the Great Commission disassociated from women.

I began to wonder if Mr. Graham had forgotten important names in his denomination’s history? Women such as Dorothy Hazard, Ann Judson, Lottie Moon, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Mary Well, Lulu Fleming, and Marie Mathis (to name just a few). Were they not Baptist heroes who walked as preachers, prophets, teachers, and pastors? These ones who loved entire people groups, built schools, evangelized the lost, and discipled nations? Many of them laid down their lives on the mission field in a much more heroic, sacrificial plight than those who currently stand guard over their pulpits, freshly groomed and pressed, far from the dirt that Jesus stirred to heal a blind man’s eyes and distract a woman’s accusers.

A woman’s passion for her God is not easily deterred, but it is easily dismissed in many churches today.

One reason that women have been so eagerly committed to and involved in the spread of the Gospel, notes early Christianity expert Michael Kruger, is that historically the church was a place where they were able to serve with honor and dignity, contrary to the culture in which they lived. And serve they did.

According to a 2000 study cited by Leslie and Gary Johnson in their book, Does God Really Prefer Men?, two-thirds of Christians who claim to believe the Bible are women; moreover, the ratio between women and men on the mission field at various points during the early twentieth century was as high as 2:1. The authors astutely conclude that Christians have “paralyzed the largest portion of the Church, holding back the progress of the Gospel in a way that the devil alone could never have accomplished.”

A more recent, 2014 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 60% of women, compared to 47% of men, considered religion to be an important part of their lives. The data also shows that women who make prayer a part of their lives outnumber men by 17 percentage points, with 40% of women going to church weekly vs. 32% of men.

If these statistics are taken seriously, the real obstacle to fulfilling the Great Commission is not women in pastoring, leadership, or preaching roles, but women removed from them. Social media did not create the issue; it allowed space for the existing problem to be exposed.

I’m certainly not finished thinking things through, but I do know this: there are little girls all over the world who know the fire of intimacy with God and have been called according to His purpose for the sake of this Gospel. If we continue to be okay with their absence, the body of Christ will be powerless in a world looking for Jesus to stand up, wearing each one of us.

God knows whom He has called, no sports coats required.

Stacey March lives in Culpeper, Virginia, with her husband and three children. She holds a Master of Human Services Counseling & Executive Leadership from Liberty University and a Master of Music from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Connect with Stacey on Facebook and Instagram @stacey_march3

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