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 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 helpful to hear what other women have to say about preaching. I’m also reading some of the more traditional books written by men, but right now I’m relating more to the experiences of women preachers. Here are some resources that I recommend. While their particular stream of theology may not be the same as yours, there is much to be learned about preaching. The good news is that there are many books to choose from! These are just a few that have helped me.
A Lay Preacher’s Guide: How to Craft a Faithful Sermon Karoline M. Lewis (added December 2020)
Lewis is the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, where she has taught since 2007. She is a contributing writer for Working Preacher and regularly authors the Dear Working Preacher column. This is newly published and I’m waiting for a review copy, but I’ve been a fan of Lewis for several years and relied heavily on her columns on Working Preacher. This is promoted as a homiletics primer for the beginning preacher
Preacher Breath Kyndall Rae Rothaus
Rothaus is a preacher, poet, liturgist, and has served as senior pastor at several churches. 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. The book teaches us what it means to bring our whole selves to the preaching of the Word.
“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.”
Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process Jana Childers, Editor
Twelve 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).
A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday Mary S. Hulst
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 challenged, 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).
Co-hosted by Karoline Lewis, mentioned above, this is an engaging weekly conversation on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the coming Sunday.
On this podcast hosted by John Chandler, preachers discuss the rhythms, workflows, and tools they use for sermon preparation. There are about 100 episodes from a diverse group of pastors. Several women preachers can be found in the archives, including Mia Chang, Noemi Chavez, Meaghan Good, Stephanie Williams O’Brien.
This was a podcast hosted by Pastor Tim Gaines where preachers discussed researching, writing, and preaching the sermon. While there are no current episodes, the archives include solid interviews with excellent women preachers like Shawna Songer Gaines, Tara Thomas Smith, Tara Beth Leach, Kyndall Rothaus and some of our favorite male preachers, including Dr. T. Scott Daniels
Working Preacher website – This is a service of Luther Seminary and has an extensive collection of videos, articles on sermon preparation and sermon development, and more. It is especially helpful for those who follow the lectionary in their preaching.
The Homiletic Oath by Stephanie Williams O’Brien
Preaching and Teaching Workshop with Christine Caine – I attended this a couple of years ago and it was well worth the $100. While the workshop is promoted to women’s ministry leaders, the principles apply across the board. It is usually offered twice a year in various locations across the U.S.
Book Recommendations from Readers:
Preaching that Speaks to Women by Alice Mathews
Saved from Silence: Finding Women’s Voice in Preaching by Mary Donovan Turner/Mary Lin Hudson
She Can Teach: Empowering Women to Teach the Scriptures Effectively by Jackie Roese
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
Updated December 2020.
More Posts on Preaching
My Journey as a Female Preacher
Gail, I’m just delighted to read this post.
I facilitate a group called The Girl Can Preach in the lower Blue Mountains near Sydney. We meet to give women a chance to explore and develop their gift of preaching the gospel of Jesus; we give each preacher-woman a place to practice and receive constructive feedback before she ‘braves’ the pulpit. We’ll certainly be sharing and discussing your article at our next gathering!
Thanks again for this article, and for all of the info and resources on The Junia Project, we’ll be referring to your work for a long time to come.
Although I haven’t had any “push back” from being a woman pastor *yet*, this truly is an answered prayer. I’ve been kind of discouraged with struggling to put together my sermons each week since taking over the lead pastor position at my congregation and I really needed to read this and receive the blessing of these resources. Thank you very much for sharing and encouraging other women to “stick to their guns” when it comes to delivering God’s Word! Much love, sister!
Gail — thanks for including Sermonsmith. The interviews with Tara Beth and Alice are some of my favorites too!
My pleasure! I so appreciate the work you are doing to help preachers improve their process and effectiveness!
Such a good post, thank you! I would also recommend the book Preaching as Testimony, by Anna Carter Florence. In addition to being an excellent resource for crafting and writing testimonies and sermons, she shares 3 inspiring case studies of women preachers from history – Anne Hutchinson, Jarena Lee, and Sarah Osborn.
Love learning about that resource and getting a historical perspective! Will add that to the list. Blessings.
As a woman with an M.Div, I’ve found that women who preach have to be stellar at it to feel empowered and affirmed to do it. In contrast, I think most of us know that most churches have mediocre male preachers. Men can feel free to follow God’s call and yet be so-so at preaching. Women hesitate to fill the pulpit unless it is clear to them and every one that they are superlatively gifted at preaching. Otherwise, women will be questioned on their calling.
Yes, this is a reality that women face, although I would hope that it is not true that most churches have mediocre preachers!
So grateful to see this post! I am not a mother physically, but when I preach I do see myself as “mothering from the pulpit.” Grateful for how the Spirit shines through his daughters.
Hi, Suzanne! The women who write in Birthing the Sermon are not all mothers physically but all could relate to the nurturing elements of pastoring and preaching. You are a great inspiration to us here at The Junia Project!
I would like to see something on how women should preach to men. There is a “feminine genius” that abides in every man, just as there is a “masculine genius” that abides in every woman. How can women preachers help men find the “feminine genius” within, and allow it to shine? This would be very good for the spiritual development of men, just as the reverse has been good for the spiritual development of women. It would be especially good in those cultures where it is not considered “manly” to go to Church.
Luis, this is a great idea! I’m hoping one or two of our readers will take on that challenge. How can we call out the best in both genders with our preaching? Having both perspectives results in more holistic teaching, to be sure. Thanks for commenting!