How to Include Women in Your Preaching and Teaching
3 ways to preach to all the members of your church
I was raised by generations of strong women. Women who started their own businesses, earned higher degrees, lived overseas, and led ministries. Much of my worldview was shaped by the stories they told and the examples they set. Their lives and legacies informed my reading of Scripture, helping me identify my own story in its pages and see myself as a valued member of Christ’s body.
Yet growing up, I often found that sermons didn’t include women’s experiences. They were delivered by men and seemed to only address the other men in the room. Sadly, this affected everyone. We were a lopsided body, missing out on our rich diversity.
How can we make sure all of our experiences are acknowledged and all of our voices represented? Here are three ways you can intentionally include women in your preaching.
Avoid using male language for God.
Scripture tells us that men and women are both made in God’s image, suggesting that God has masculine and feminine characteristics (Genesis 1:27). One way to make sure women know that they too are made in the divine image is to reinforce feminine imagery for God. The Bible gives us numerous examples to draw from in our sermons (Hosea 11:3-4; 13:8; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15-16; 66:13; Matthew 23:37). God is likened to a mother bear and mother hen, a mother nurturing and comforting her children, and a woman in labor. These images give us a fuller understanding of who God is.
Another way to include women in the divine image is to avoid using masculine pronouns for God. Whether we intend it or not, using engendered language assigns God a sex, conjuring up images that impact how we understand and relate to our Creator. It also can send a message to women in our congregations that God’s preferred sex is masculine, making their sex secondary. Be mindful of this in your next sermon; try using language that simply lets God be God.
Diversify your illustrations.
We generally speak out of our own experiences and interests. As a lover of the arts, I am likely to introduce into conversation a book or movie I saw recently. I may want to talk about my career, while other friends talk about raising families. We do the same thing in the pulpit, drawing on our daily lives, passions, and hobbies to bring Scripture to life. Yet for male and female preachers alike, this can also be one of our pitfalls. If we don’t diversify our illustrations, we run the risk of alienating part of our congregation.
Are you about to use a sports analogy for the third Sunday in a row? While many women love sports, try switching it up with something non-sports lovers can relate to. Find out what some of the women in your church are doing and be intentional in using their interests as an example in your next teaching.
Preach with empathy.
There are difficult passages in Scripture regarding women. For many women, this is a barrier in reading the Bible. Scripture can seem to reinforce a patriarchal standard rather than portray a loving, just God. There is the story of the unnamed Levite woman’s dismemberment (Judges 19:26-30), the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:7-14), women listed as men’s property (Exodus 20:17), and Paul’s exclusion of women in church leadership (1 Timothy 2:8-15).
Be sure to approach passages regarding women with empathy. These passages have personal significance for many members in your congregations. Make a point of acknowledging the women’s stories that you come across in the Bible. Provide space in your sermon to lament the violence inflicted on them. Acknowledge the ramifications of gender injustices. Let the women in your pews know that their stories are not forgotten, that God knows them by name, defends them, and views them as valued members of the church.
Whether you are a female or male preacher, remembering all the members of our congregations is a crucial part of effectively communicating God’s words. May we continue to grow in unity as Christ’s body, benefiting from the diversity we each bring.
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