Entering the room, I looked up to view this semester's preaching class. I mentioned something about the lack of estrogen, to which the professor replied: "You'll need to assert yourself in class." It was then that the truth became evident. I was the only woman in a preaching class of 20 men.
I felt myself becoming unglued. God, you led me to this seminary. It's hard enough to be a woman getting a theology degree, and now I have to put up with a whole semester of men, many of whom don't believe in my call to preach?
I wanted the floor to swallow me up, to take me back to one of the familiar places where I could use some of my gifts without making waves, without standing out like a pink flamingo in a sea of blue herons.
For the first few weeks, the professor used inclusive pronouns that made me feel welcomed. Soon, these dropped by the wayside, probably out of sheer habit. Almost all of the illustrations used were about males preaching, males writing about preaching, males speculating about preaching styles and practices. I found myself wondering if a group of all males can know everything needed to connect with a congregation that was at least 50 percent female.
Bigger questions emerged as the semester continued. Can a woman offer powerful redemptive truth through preaching without acting like a man? After all, the Greek word used for preaching in the New Testament means "to proclaim." Can I learn how to preach in a style that suits me but draws in both genders? What can I learn from these men about sharing God's Word? What can they learn from me?
Preaching from my strengths
Raised as a Baptist pastor's daughter, I grew up listening to men preach exclusively. I unconsciously believed I did not have the authority or presence in my voice or demeanor to command respect. Instead, I was learning that ethos, whether a person believed in your character and that you cared, is the most important element for commanding respect. Further, our preaching evaluation grid stressed facial expression, vocal variety, enthusiasm, and more.
I began to realize that my feminine way of relating was a plus that could help my sermons touch hearts in a distinct and powerful way. In fact, the ability to connect with an audience came naturally to me–the hard and important work would be learning to structure sermons for clarity and memorability, which, for the men in my class, meant providing concrete, specific applications.
I resisted any opportunities to use my sermons as a bully pulpit for a woman's role in ministry. I spoke up often in class, but just as often bit my tongue. I smiled as one guy used feminine pronouns when reading Scripture. I offered distinctly feminine perspectives when preaching. I was just me. Nothing more. Nothing less.