I was the first woman I ever heard preach.
I was 16 years old, and I called it “sharing”. The urge to do so started like a fire in my belly, a small spark at first that was easy to ignore, only to continue to be flamed until I felt as though I would burst. The desire became so hard to ignore, that I e-mailed the church board and asked if I could share on a Sunday. Surprisingly, they let me.
It’s weird to look back on now. I’m sure my words were shaky and my exegesis left something to be desired, but it was the beginning of a journey that continues today. I stepped behind a pulpit, not even knowing if that was a place I was allowed to be in, which says something to the strong call of the Holy Spirit and the tenacity of 16 year old girls.
There have been many stories lately in my church tradition about male clergy advocating for women in ministry, and urging us forward. They tend to have big names, or the title of District Superintendent tagged to their name. I’m grateful for all of those people, and I do not downplay their great work, but it isn’t for them that I was encouraged on in my ministry call.
I didn’t attend a big church in a big city. I attended a little Nazarene Church in a little town that most people have never heard of. My pastor is probably never going to be invited on stage at a General Assembly or applauded in a best selling book, but if it weren’t for that little local congregation and his confidence in God’s call on my life (a call I pushed against, and he pushed back… every time) I wouldn’t be here. It was this pastor who put me on the preaching schedule nearly once a month on Sunday nights, as a senior in high school and a freshman in college, a bold step for anyone.
The only reason I even called what I was doing preaching, was because my pastor told me “stop calling it speaking and sharing, and call it preaching, because that’s what it is.” If it wasn’t for that moment, I don’t know if I ever could have envisioned myself as preacher. You can’t call yourself a pastor or preacher, if you are never told you can preach; you just become a teacher or motivational speaker.
I began calling myself a preacher, while still being the only woman I had ever heard preach. I had no idea what it looked like or what it would be like, but I had these people in my corner telling me it was possible. Who, beyond all odds, kept putting me behind the pulpit and listening to what I had to say.
I never heard a woman preach (outside of myself) until I was well into my time at college. Something I look back on a little bit with sadness, and loneliness. I walked so very much alone in those early years, but the rebel in me also walked a little defiantly that no one would take away what I felt God had placed within me. If it weren’t for the defiant small congregation, and small church pastor telling me “you can do this”, I don’t know if I would have pushed ahead as much as I did.
However, what I hear when I hear myself preach, and what I heard then, was that God uses ordinary people – ordinary, weird, broken people – to do great things for the Kingdom of God. I was a nobody, from a little town, from a little church, a girl, who loved books more than movies, and running barefoot through the woods, and God still used me. God still called me, where I was, in spite of everything that was seemingly stacked against me.
It’s no secret that sometimes it takes knowing people to get ahead (sadly, even in the church world). It takes a certain last name, or connections. I had none of those, all I had was this fire in my belly that would only subside if I preached, only to be fanned into even bigger flames.
If God can call and use a girl preacher who had never heard a girl preach before, a nobody from a nothing town, what can God do in the lives of those girls who never have to be told to call it preaching, because they just know that girls can preach, because they’ve seen it? I can only imagine great things.
So thanks, Pastor Tim, for pushing me into my call, at times pushing and screaming. It was one of my greatest honors three years ago, to have you pray over me at ordination knowing that if not for you, that day may never have come. I know you didn’t do it for the thanks, for accolades, or with the knowledge that I would one day be a church planter. You did it out of faithfulness, which is the greatest thing I’ve learned from you.
Thanks, church, for listening to a girl preacher who didn’t know what she was doing, and giving me all sorts of compliments I certainly didn’t deserve. My life is forever changed for your faithfulness, and only God knows the ways that that is rippling on into the Kingdom.
To all the women and girls who are still calling what they do behind a pulpit “sharing” or “speaking”, take this bit of advice; call it preaching, because that’s what it is.
To all the girls with that spark in their belly who come behind me, I pray that you hear many women preachers who speak truth, and weave truth into your life. But even if you don’t, do not give up hope.
Do not give up on your call. Hold firm in this truth that God calls girls and women to preach and to pastor, to do great things for the Kingdom of God. Don’t squelch that spark, fan it into flames. The journey won’t be easy, but it will be great.
When I hear myself preach, the words aren’t always eloquent, the exegesis not always good, the congregation isn’t always getting it. But what I hear is a woman preaching truth, a woman preaching love, a woman being faithful to the amazing call of God.
It is with that faithfulness that I step behind the pulpit each Sunday and preach “The Word of our LORD. Thanks be to God!” An echo of the faithfulness that has gone before.