Women Preaching in the Bible

One thing that we often pray for as we begin to read Scripture is that the Word of God will challenge us and change us. These are easy words to say, but it’s difficult to be truly vulnerable to scripture, which “is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). So as I read again the familiar story of the women discovering the empty tomb on that very first Easter Sunday, I found myself challenged, though not surprised. Listen to the April 8 sermon, “Believe Her.”

Upon reading, “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women” (Luke 24:11), I couldn’t help but wonder:

How could such a hopeful moment give way to such brokenness?

At the crossroads of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and a group of other, anonymous women. They share with the rest of the disciples the good news, “He is risen!” And rather than trusting these fellow disciples who have accompanied Jesus, who have even helped finance the apostles’ ministry, their story is met with disbelief.

As I have so often asked of other challenging texts present in Scripture, why include this verse in the text? The answer comes in the form of another question: “What can we learn today from the apostles’ folly?” We have learned a great deal, but we still have a great deal more to learn. If we examine the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, the church has had no greater model for female empowerment, and yet the long tradition of the church is full of privileged male voices and marginalized female voices.

In effect, the female disciples were the first to preach the resurrection, and yet, women have had to struggle to live into their call to the ministry of preaching. I am grateful that, for the most part, the question of female ordination has been settled, but it’s important to recognize two difficult truths:

  1. It’s been long and difficult road. Throughout the history of the church, women have struggled with the tension between a very real call to preach the Word of God and a few scriptural passages that were used as prooftexts to prohibit their ministry. Whether by saturating their sermons with Scripture, “preaching” without preaching, taking leadership roles in mission work or preaching by leading private Bible studies, women have overcome obstacles their male counterparts did not face with creativity and grace. Many women and men have worked tirelessly to fulfill the words of the prophet Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” The Methodist Church first granted full clergy rights to women in 1956, but I must wonder, what took the church so long to recognize where the Holy Spirit was already at work?
  2. We still have a long ways to go. The most challenging aspect of addressing these words from Scripture has been the acknowledgment that there is still work to be done. In August 2017, The United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women identified two major problems that undercut the notion that we have somehow arrived at equality. First, women are greatly underrepresented in church leadership. While they represent 58% of UMC membership, women make up only 28.4% of clergy roles. Second, and more worrying, female clergy are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. These two realities stand in stark contrast to the life and ministry of Jesus, who demonstrated the importance of female empowerment.

The good news is that God is still calling and equipping all kinds of people to serve as the hands and feet of Christ. The Holy Spirit is still moving in and through the church as we sing out, “He is Risen!” The resurrection of Jesus Christ announced the arrival of the new humanity, that “if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation” (2 Corinthians 15:17). This new humanity is already revealed in Christ, but it’s not yet fully present. So the church is called to work together to empower all people—that’s right, all—to share the good news of Jesus Christ and practice resurrection until every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Pastor Matt Potter