Why aren’t women preaching?

A dinner conversation many months ago still sticks out clearly in my mind.  The dinner party consisted of some peers and some parents of peers.  One of these elders asked one of my friends about his current occupation.  When he replied that he was studying at seminary, the elder exclaimed, “That’s wonderful!  Are you going to be a pastor?”  His many questions and well-wishes made it clear that he was enthusiastic about my friend’s endeavors to become a pastor.  Sadly, I remember having a similar exchange of information with this same elder with the stark contrast of a lack of enthusiasm from him.  I knew, from my knowledge of his worldview, that he was excited about my friend’s seminary studies because the friend was a male.  To the elder, a male studying at seminary meant that he was answering a high and noble calling of being a pastor.  My endeavors at seminary meant that I was going to… — he had no idea.  It just didn’t fit into his worldview at all.  For me, this incident paints a clear picture of why there are so few women preachers.

Women aren’t preaching because there are very few opportunities for them to do so.  Some women may get educated at seminary, but when they graduate with their M.Divs, there are very few positions available for them.  Without a platform, it is hard to preach.

However, many women don’t even get to that point.  Some seminaries don’t allow women to study there at all — or if they are permitted to be students, they are barred from the more ‘serious’ academic and ministerial programs such as the M.Div.

In addition to this, many women don’t have the support of their family, friends or pastors.   Without the encouragement of those closest to them, it is hard to take these courageous steps forward.  In some cases, they are even dissuaded by the most influential people in their lives.  They are disheartened by the pessimism and disabled by the peer pressure that they ought to maintain the status quo.  It’s simply too hard to to rock the boat, and they wonder if it’s worth the bother.

But many women don’t even get to the point of even confiding in their peers that they might have a calling to preach.  Many women don’t even consider it because they don’t think they even have that option.  Most churches teach that only men can have authority over other men; God doesn’t want women to teach men; and women should just stick to teaching the kiddies. It feels so black and white, how can they question it?  There aren’t even resources readily available for them to think that they could question it.

And the ultimate clincher?  Many women don’t have living examples of other women showing them that God calls women to preach as well.  What does that look like exactly?  It’s unfathomable to some, when the word pastor is immediately associated with the pronoun “he.”

The reality is that many people don’t even know that there are two sides to this issue.  They are misled to believe that there is only one “truth”:  they think that only men can preach and pastor.  They are misled.  There are two sides, because that is just one interpretation.  For those who have not heard that the Bible teaches that God gifts women to be preachers and teachers as well as to men, I want to proclaim, “It does.”   Christians for Biblical Equality provides good resources for studying this issue.  There are some free articles that you can read here.  This is where I started my journey and where I have concluded since then that it really is worth the bother to exercise my gifts as I follow Jesus.


15 responses to this post.

  1. In the Preface to my Christian Egalitarian Handbook I offer an alternative scenario where men are the excluded ones, just to help illustrate the rationale used against women in ministry. But the deeper issue is whether anyone should “be a pastor” in the traditional sense. Such a person as this CEO of what is structured as a business or club does not exist in the NT. Instead, the Biblical model is of a body with many parts, each one helping the others.

    I do what I do without walls or pulpits or titles, because that’s the NT way. Nobody can stop me if it’s the gifting of the Spirit.


    • Paula, I appreciated your allegory of a world where men are excluded instead of women (in your book). It certainly does illustrate the absurdity of some of the rationale (or at least, highlights the injustice) for the exclusion of women!

      For a time, I also explored starting a church with the NT model — no “pastor”, no hierarchy – believing that each individual has a piece of the Spirit’s revelation and so ought to share it with the rest of the body. I haven’t necessarily given up on the idea, but a couple of things that I have been contemplating: Right now, the structure is in place for churches with a ‘pastor’, and since God is not calling me to start a church right now and it is a long process to change the current structure, how can I work within that system to bring God’s truth and revelation? How do I disseminate (this kind of) information most effectually at these present times? What are your thoughts on this — do you think it’s impossible to work within the present system?

      I do agree that we can preach and teach what God reveals through writing — but with such revelations, do you not feel a need to broaden your audience through preaching from the pulpit, since very few Christians read these days but most attend church? Perhaps an idea would be have your own podcasts…


  2. Tanx! 🙂

    I understand the problem you’re describing. But it seems to me that books and influential “big names” drive the churchgoing public, including pastors. They jump on whatever bandwagon is popular and incorporate it into all their programs and studies. Christian fiction is especially influential, per books like The Shack and the Left Behind series, as well as Lewis’ Narnia tales. They know it’s fiction but adopt the things these books teach nonetheless, sometimes even using them as sermon material.

    I also wonder about what message I would be giving if I were to go into churches to speak out against going to church. 😉 Yes, it’s a captive audience, but how can we model the 24/7 nature of real “Body” life while in an institution that is modeled after a business or club? Maybe one strategy would be to first get the attention of the pastors, but this often proves to be the biggest challenge of all.

    And since many house churches simply “do church” on a smaller scale, we also need to really emphasize the fact that rituals and hierarchy are things that may make us feel religious or comfortable, but they tend to become our focus and we think of them as the actual practice of our faith. But again, I don’t know how we can get this message to great amounts of people. My personal conviction is to stay outside and live the example, while others’ convictions may be to use their contacts with churchgoers to keep bringing this issue to their attention.

    And we can always pray…


    • Paula, You’re so right! Certain books WILL catch the fancy of the mainstream, get really popular and greatly impact the life of church culture — Purpose Driven Life, Prayer of Jabez, etc. I agree that written media is important — or else I wouldn’t be a writer! 🙂 But I also think that if you’re called to preach, it’s nice to preach to an audience as well. I love teaching through my writing, but it’s not the same as teaching to live persons with whom I can interact. I think my calling is fully realized and gifting fully utilized when I teach with live persons. Writing is a separate calling/gifting for me.

      I appreciate your personal conviction and your sharing it with me and my readers here. 🙂 I think it’s true that ideally, there wouldn’t be any hierarchy among the church body.

      And kudos on the podcasts! 🙂


      • Very true that we need to go with the calling, whatever it is. I’m a writer and not much of a talker. And thanks re. the podcasts! They make a better speaker out of me because I can pause and clear my throat or erase some of my stumbling later. 😉

  3. Oh, and I do have some podcasts:

    They’re in order with the purpose of laying out a foundation as for a new believer, but there’s plenty of meat for the more mature believers too.


  4. Just wanted to let you know that I read and really identified with this post.

    There is some comfort in knowing that other people are experiencing the same difficulties and frustrations as I am.

    I could identify clearly with most of what you’ve described. 😦


  5. I would say that I haven’t overcome these challenges.

    At the moment my “ministry” is confined to religious education for children through schools and camps and holiday programs, plus I have my website. I occasionally speak and sing at special women’s meetings.

    Funnily enough I do not think that I am particularly gifted in ministry to children, or to women. 😦

    I live in hope that I will have more opportunities for ministry.

    I have had lots of ministry experience as being part of the core leadership team in a couple of churches, which I loved! However, my last church, despite giving me a tremendous amount of freedom in a wide variety of ministries NEVER let me preach.

    There is a lot more to this story, but for the last 2 years I have not attended regular church meetings.

    The elders of this church gave me references when I started my theological studies, but they had


    • Hi Marg, Thanks for sharing your story. That is a shame to hear that the church never let you preach though they recognized the Spirit in you enough to have you be part of the core leadership team. How much the church missed out! 😦 It is a great loss to the body when those who are called are unable to exercise their giftings. 😦

      So are you in the midst of your theological studies now? I should read up on your website… 🙂


  6. woops . . . i didn’t finish my sentence :$ I was on my way out and in a hurry.

    What I meant to say is that the elders of my church thoroughly supported my plans to study but they didn’t allow me opportunities to intern or apprentice as a pastor. I would have done it gratis as they well knew.

    I actually felt very respected by the elders in our church, and one in particular remains my friend, however they just couldn’t see beyond 1 Timothy 2:12. We had a few friendly discussions on it. The irony is that when I left the church my elder friend started coming to the Bible Study which I led and taught!

    Another bit of irony is that the elders once let me have a Sunday morning preaching spot to sing for half an hour. So I was allowed to sing “messages” but not allowed to speak “messages”. Furthermore when I had finished, one of the elders got up and said they the church had really heard the “Word of Lord” that morning through my songs. I am a singer/songwriter, (although as I am getting older I am moving further away from this particular ministry.)

    I have almost finished my theology degree. I have 3 more 9 credit point subjects to go.


  7. Posted by Taeler Morgan on July 16, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    I totally sympathize with the sentiments of this post. I am in one of the most women friendly denominations (PCUSA) and still it is: “oh, I really enjoyed your speeech” or “that was a great talk”! I can’t help but want to say “It’s sunday morning, I was in a pulpit, proclaimed the Word of God and it lasted 25 minutes – it wasn’t a seminar . . . I was preaching!” And from women who consider themselves egalitarians no less! So frustrating . . .


    • Thanks for sharing, Taeler. That IS so frustrating! In your denomination, do they call pastors by their titles? Like would Bob be just Bob or Pastor Bob. And what about for you? Are you Pastor Taeler? Just wondering if that would help ingrain it in people’s minds.


  8. Hi! Thank you SO much for all of your posts about women in ministry and mutuality in marriage! I’ve just spent all morning going through them. I am so encouraged and I appreciate all the work you put into sharing your thoughts, convictions and beliefs! I wish you were local so we could grab a coffee. 🙂


    • Thanks so much for writing! I apologize for not responding earlier! I was having trouble with passwords and such, so I have not been able to get into this account for awhile! I’m so glad you have been blessed by my writing. Though we cannot grab coffee together, we can always chat via email! Message me via the “contact me” tab so I’ll have your email address! Blessings, MaryAnn


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