When Words Aren’t Enough: A Pastor’s Thoughts on Gender Equality

Matt VanGent


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Original Red Wine

“Girls can’t be drummers.”  My 3-year-old daughter.

“I had no idea I could be a youth pastor.”  A female high school student.

These two statements had a profound impact on my pursuit of gender equality.  Let me start with my daughter.

She and I love to watch music videos together and one morning, we were watching a band with a girl drummer.  With the certainty of a toddler, she uttered the statement above that broke my heart a little bit.

She wasn’t sad; she wasn’t feeling excluded.  This was just the simple reality for her because she had never seen a woman drummer before.  Of course, girls can’t be drummers!

The situation was remarkably similar for that female high school student in my youth group.   Every winter, we hosted a winter retreat for middle school and high school students.  Every year, we invited a local pastor to be our speaker for the weekend.  And every year, that pastor was a man.

I realized what we had been unintentionally communicating by this choice: girls can’t be pastors.  So I decided it was time to invite a female pastor to be our speaker.

(Side note for any pastors or event planners reading this: it was significantly more challenging to find a local female pastor for that weekend.  It was tempting to give up and just default back to hiring a male pastor.  But this scarcity of female pastors in comparison to male pastors highlights just how important it is to do the extra work, to go the extra mile to make our pulpits inclusive.)

After weeks of reaching out and networking, we finally found a female pastor who agreed to be our speaker for the weekend.  She was phenomenal and offered such a different voice and experience than any of the speakers before had brought.

Just as importantly, the female high school students saw that women can, in fact, be pastors.

Shortly after these experiences, I was reading the book, Speak, by Nish Weiseth.  In that profound exploration of empathy and human experience, the author writes these words:

“When we listen to voices that have been silenced, we become more fully human.”

Prior to this retreat, I had taught the high schoolers about the equality of men and women. I had preached about the possibility that God might be calling any of them into ministry.  I had also told my daughter on numerous occasions that she could do anything that boys can do.  But it took hearing and witnessing this reality firsthand before my daughter or that student really believed it.

These two encounters shaped the way I now pursue gender equality.  I can preach about equality until my words run out, but until I put it into practice, they’ll always fall short.  I can preach about the importance of hearing from voices that have been silenced, but as long as those words are only coming from my voice (that has never been silenced), they’ll always ring hollow.

The beauty of Weiseth’s statement and the pursuit of gender equality is that men and women both benefit.  We all become more fully human when a plurality of voices is heard.  Men who have grown up never hearing a woman preach are missing something.  Inclusive pulpits are not just about showing young women that they too can pursue vocational ministry.  Inclusive pulpits are about helping women and men become more fully human and hear the truths of God in fresh ways.

A closing word to the male pastors reading this. Based on my own experience: our egalitarian theology and preaching are not enough to convey the truth of egalitarianism to the women in our congregations.  When we preach that women are equally gifted as preachers and pastors yet fail to demonstrate this by inviting women into our pulpits, we’re missing the mark.

This can be hard.  There may not be any women who come to mind when you think about inviting a female pastor to preach and you may not find many resumes from women pastors when you begin a hiring process.  Should that be the case, let it be a wake-up call to focus more heavily on investing in young women; training, equipping, and empowering them to be the pastors God has called them to be.

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  • The Evangelical Covenant Church has a new initiative called Four More Women in the Pulpit. It’s a challenge to every male pastor in the denomination to open the pulpit to women at least four times a year–and not just when he’s on vacation! The initiator of the movement also insists that the male pastor find a way to pay these female voices, even if it means taking it out of his own salary (if the church leadership won’t fund it). The only way we will put more women in leadership is if our congregations have experienced women in leadership and can imagine it for themselves. You’re right; our words are not enough.

    • Brilliant! Just might try to bring that to our denomination!

    • This is such a great idea!
      I think the part about “not just when the senior pastor is away on vacation” is so important! Inviting a woman to preach on a day that the senior pastor is present shows that much more intentionality, rather than just being a “sub” when the pastor is out of town.

  • I appreciate this more than I can ever say. As a woman who is beginning Seminary in the fall to become a military chaplain, I have fought my own fearful voice saying “girls can’t do this”! Thank you for using your platform to remind me that I CAN do this and not because I’m a woman but because God has called me to step up.

  • I like this contribution to the conversation and it is so true. Actions speak louder than words. I like the quote from Nish Weiseth that listening to voices that have been silenced makes us more fully human.

    You have hit the nail on the head Matt we need female representatives of those who have long been sidelined to support roles to prove women are not only capable but can be strong advocates for our faith as they have been from the earliest beginnings even before Jesus followers were called Christians.

  • This is great. I love the encouragement to go the extra mile in finding role models and examples for girls. I kind of wish the title was “A Male Pastor’s Thoughts…” Because it feels like it assumes pastors are male. Thanks, Matt, for finding great examples for girls!

  • Thank you Pastor Matt for “walking” your talk. What a deeply encouraging situation you shared. My heart is tremendously uplifted. Your leadership, and your church, are a rich blessing to the Body of Christ. Thank you again!

    Melissa Fryrear, D.Min. Candidate

  • Thank you, especially for your challenge not to give up on finding women’s voices and also to make a space for those voices to have the pulpit. Appreciate it so much. 🙂

  • Thank you, Matt VanGent for your heart and understanding. I learned from a Hebrew professor that the Holy Spirit is female, and Her attributes are feminine. He thinks that’s why women seem to be more susceptible to the voice of the Spirit. He believes that in silencing women, the voice of the Holy Spirit has been greatly diminished.

  • This line: “…the pursuit of gender equality is that men and women both benefit.” YES! Thank you, Matt.

  • Thank you for being a male voice women in the body of Christ!

    • It’s been my pleasure! It has been so amazing to see women realize that they are equally gifted and called as men to pastoral ministry.

  • Hi Matt,
    Thank you for your encouraging article. My church is complementarian but the Pastor’s wife delivers the message every six weeks or so. I’ve noticed they don’t do much to encourage women to pursue ministry training beyond that.
    I’m curious, did any of the male pastors balk at having a female pastor speak? A friend made a comment to me during a discussion on this subject. She said “Change can only happen at the line of resistance.” That struck a cord with me. Could a church solicit female applicants from seminaries who train women, like Fuller? That might be a place to start if you can’t find them anywhere else.
    God Bless

    • Fuller is a great resource to find women ministers, either for speaking engagements or job openings. Someone from Fuller is actually the one who put me in touch with the pastor we ended up inviting to speak at this event!

  • Thank you for taking on the challenge of finding a woman pastor to speak at your youth retreat! Science faces some of the same gender challenges – girls don’t think they can be scientists because they don’t know of any women who are scientists. One thing women in science have done to make it easier to find women speakers is to create a database using google docs that lists names, locations, and contact info for women who are willing to invited to speak. Participation on the list is voluntary. I wonder if it would be possible/valuable for there to be a similar list, maybe maintained by the Junia project, of women pastors?

    • I think that’s a great idea! I love that women scientists have started that and think the ministry field would benefit greatly from that. (My wife is a physical therapist, so I love that my 2 daughters are seeing that the medical field is open to them!)

  • Yes, yes, yes, yes. Thank you for this!
    I am a 51 year old ordained woman. I was ordained just 2 years ago. I grew up knowing God called me, but thought I could only fulfill that in marrying a minister because I did not see called women. Finally I listened and answered the call for myself. Now I have 2 teen daughters who also know they are called. I pray that they see the reality here that you wrote about so wonderfully. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad that you are living into the call that God gave you, and that your daughters are seeing your example of that!!

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