I’m learning to preach.
I have a lot of experience with teaching and presenting. For many years I was a staff educator in the hospital setting and later a college professor. But this is my first experience with solo preaching in a local church.
I’m grateful for the opportunity and for my pastor, who is mentoring me and gives insightful feedback. And I’m fortunate to have a congregation that extends much grace to a new preacher. But still, like most women, I’m facing a steep learning curve.
In many churches women get fewer invitations to speak from the platform than men. Even when the opportunities come, many women decline. This can be due to a lack of confidence and experience, or not wanting to be judged as speaking “for all women pastors and leaders and teachers, whether they like it or not” (as Leanne Friesen describes so well in this post). As a result, there are not as many women in the “pulpit pipeline” as men.
As more and more churches open their pulpits to women (and make no mistake – this IS happening!) women need to prepare to step into the gap. More than ever we need female preachers.
And so, I’m learning to preach.
In this process it has been important to me to hear what other women have to say about preaching. I’m sure that at some point I will read Haddon Robinson and other traditional books on the subject, but right now I’m hungry to hear the experiences of women preachers.
Here are some resources that have been helpful on this journey.
1. Preacher Breath Kyndall Rae Rothaus
Rothaus is a preacher, poet, liturgist, and senior pastor in Waco, Texas. Her book on preaching is absolutely breathtaking! She writes that “preaching is more than exegesis, more than writing, more than speech-delivering. Preaching is an inhale and exhale of Spirit…Without the Spirit breath, we are left with empty words and gospel-dry mouths”. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of preaching: purpose, fire, risk, vulnerability, trust, memory, intuition, emotion, and authority. Each chapter is followed by two sermons. You can find her weekly sermons here.
“Preaching, at its best, is a full-body experience. It engages the whole of who you are – mind, body, spirit- in the same way that faith, hope, and love are supposed to captivate you from the core of your soul to the tips of your toes. Proclaiming is the Word enacted, and such an act exercises your whole being. If you do it right, nothing gets left out or shut out.”
Every pastor needs this on their bookshelf, and will likely want to pull it out several times a year to be reminded of what it means to bring one’s whole self to the preaching of the Word. (UPDATE: A reader shared a link to an excerpt from Preacher Breath.
2.Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process Jana Childers, Editor
Here 12 women contributors share their process for crafting messages. There is a diversity of styles, theological traditions, and racial-ethnic diversity, though most come from mainline denominations. (This makes sense when you consider that these are the denominations with the longest tradition of ordaining women).
While the traditions may be more liberal than some readers are comfortable with, the content is on target. The reader is exposed to 12 different ways of creating sermons, “from conception, through development, to the actual delivery of the sermon and beyond”. Each chapter also includes a sermon from each contributor. The reader is given a vision for how each woman integrates sermon development into her everyday life – what she reads, where she writes, how she writes –helpful for any preacher, regardless of gender.
“Preaching is a mother who conceives and gives birth to faith. It’s a surprising metaphor…Even now when half the students going to mainline seminaries are women, there are those who wonder about the pairing. ‘What do mothers know about preaching?’ ‘Do women have anything new to say about preaching?’ ‘Is God really calling women to preach?’ This book is an attempt to answer some of those questions” (page ix).
I picked up this book for help with the nuts and bolts of crafting a sermon, and it did not disappoint. But Hulst goes beyond practicality addressing topics like: Biblical Preaching, God-Centered Preaching, Compelling Preaching, Contextual Preaching, Relevant Preaching, Embodied Preaching, and Getting Feedback. While I read the other two books through to the end, a better approach here would be to read a chapter and incorporate that concept into one’s preaching before tackling the next one.
“For Christians, and for Christian preachers in particular, loving the Word means allowing ourselves to be pulled into the revelation, to have our flaws revealed and our assumptions challenges, to have our ideas about God shattered when confronted by the truth that is God. We let ourselves be vulnerable before the Word, allowing the Spirit to weave it deep into us, convicting us of sin and calling us to holy living” (page 18).
On this podcast hosted by John Chandler, preachers discuss the rhythms, workflows, and tools they use for sermon preparation. Several women preachers are featured and can be found in the archives. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Tara Beth Leach and Alice Shirey.
Tim Gaines hosts this podcast where preachers discuss researching, writing and preaching the sermon. The episodes with Shawna Songer Gaines, Tara Thomas Smith, and Kyndall Rothaus are good places to start.
6. Listening to Others
Listening to excellent preaching is essential for the new preacher. I’ve been fortunate to attend churches where women preached on a regular basis, but if you don’t have that opportunity, here are some options for listening online.
More Recommendations from Readers:
Preaching as Testimony by Anna Carter Florence (recently added)
Preaching that Speaks to Women by Alice Mathews
Saved from Silence: Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching by Mary Donovan Turner/Mary Lin Hudson
The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Vulnerable Pastor by Mandy Smith
Women Preaching: Theology and Practice Through the Ages by Eunjoo Mary Kim