Preaching to Women: Things for a Pastor to Consider
Over the past 37 years as a believer I’ve warmed many a church chair with my soul aching for the truth of God’s Word to make it’s way to me, a female, a person made in the image of God. Like many of my fellow lady friends, I’ve weathered various seasons of life. I’ve been a young girl standing alone for Christ at school; a teenager struggling to understand my identity in Christ in a hostile world; a college student and young professional wrestling to make sense of my identity outside my Christian upbringing; a young married woman feeling lonely and confused; an exhausted new mom fighting to stay awake. Now, I’m a needy mom of young people—and I’m still desperate for the Scriptures to be opened and explained. Like Mary in Luke 10:39, I come every Sunday to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. But will I hear? Can I hear?
Like all Christians, I need the ammunition of the gospel for another week of battle in this hostile world. So, to you pastors, expositors of the Word of God, remember us! Remember the women made in God’s image as you labor by the hour to apply the words of Scripture to your congregation. After all, male or female, we all need the gospel. The cross is central to everything. We all need the Word preached, and we need theology for our everyday lives. At the core, our issues are all the same: we are sinners in need a Savior, in need of the cross. If you’re a pastor reading this, you know this to be true. You know there’s a famine of God’s Word in pulpits around the world today.
So, when you step into your pulpit this Sunday, chances are you’ll be preaching predominantly to women. But are you reaching them? Are their lives changing to look more like Christ? As women, would they tell you they feel fed by your preaching? The first rule of public speaking is, “Know your audience.” Well, do you? As preachers, you need to take the time to ask, to listen, and to respond to the women to whom you preach.
First, begin by asking. Get to know the women of your congregation and your community. Your wife, should you have one, is always a great place to start (and do start there as she is a unique gift given to you by God). She can give you valuable insights into the women she is discipling, ministering to, and coming into contact with more regularly.
However, she’s only one woman with one set of values, experiences, and friends. So don’t stop with her, but draw from a broad range of women. They can be women on your staff, ladies your family ministers to out of your home, or young women who come for counseling. They should be young and old, in the workplace and at home, married and single. Get to know them in safe and appropriate ways and make a point to consistently ask them questions.
Ask them what they are struggling with, how they feel valued, what issues they are facing in the workplace/school, what attributes of God they find challenging in the season of life in which they find themselves. Ask clear, straightforward, and specific questions so that you can better understand what it is these women are telling you. What is life like for them as a female image bearer today? Seek to better understand their world. This is exactly what Jesus did in the incarnation. He entered into our world. Enter into theirs. May church be a place for them to find refuge from the heat and lies of the world we live in today.
It does no good if you only ask and never listen. Sympathy comes through listening and learning, and after a while, you’ll hear themes and see patterns. Our culture shapes our ideas, knowledge, values, and feelings. As the historian Anne Firor Scott has said, our culture grinds the lens through which we view reality. What do the lenses look like for the women to whom you preach? What is their reality?
Be mindful of the current wave of cultural struggles faced by women today. The cultural push for full functional equality is blurring the lines of gender, and placing a Titus 2 model for women in opposition to all that is currently held sacred. We are told everyday through ads and media that we’re a sell-out if we choose to stay home. Or, we’re a sell out if we choose not to rise up the corporate ladder for the good of the home. But a word of caution will be worthwhile here: As you listen, be careful of gender stereotyping. We are all women, but we are not all the same. Practicing the art of good listening will help you see variation, and it will help you better respond to the diverse kinds of women in your pastoral care, especially in your preaching.
The truth of God’s Word speaks into everything in our lives. As a minster of the Word, you have a unique privilege and responsibility to help your people see that when you preach the word of God every week. As you think through illustrations and applications, stop and ask yourself, “Is this a male-dominated idea?” “Will many of the women I know understand what it is I’m trying to say to them? “ There’s nothing wrong with using a football or cooking illustration, but if that’s the breadth of scope you have, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and pray for God to give you fresh vision in illustrating and applying the truths of his Word to both your male and female hearers. Again, be careful of stereotyping. Some men hate football, and some women hate to cook.
As you prepare the text to preach this next week, take time to pray through your church directory. If you don’t have one of those, find some other systematic way to pray through a varied group of your church’s members. As you glance over the names of different women in various stages of life, stop and ask yourself, “Why does _______ need to hear this passage?” If you’ve been listening well, you’ll be able to better answer that question and thus able to better apply the context of the passage to the hearts of your women hearers. Ask yourself: How I can admonish the idle “Clara,” encourage the fainthearted “Roxanne,” help the overbearing “Lucy,” and be patient with women entrusted to my care? (1 Thess 5:14)
WE WANT TO BE REMEMBERED
As women, we do not want to be catered to in your preaching. We just want to be remembered. We need someone to hold out heaven to us every week and remind us what lies ahead. We need someone to help us peel our eyes off ourselves and onto our Savior. We need someone to encourage us in our neediness, reminding us that when we are failed by someone leading us here on this earth, there is one who will never fail us, leave us, or forsake us. As women, we were created to be helpers and followers, but we need someone worth following. So whether we arrive as a Mary or a Martha in the pew this Sunday, we need faithful preachers of the Word to ask us, listen to us, and then respond to us in their preaching through thoughtful, specific, and Christ-exalting application.