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While many denominations support women in all levels of leadership in the church, at times this support struggles to trickle down into congregations and congregants. Aiming to shift the conversation from support at the upper levels of leadership into the whole body, The Meeting House sought to speak directly to the role of women in the church with their series, “Her Story.” With five weeks of sermons, as well as a variety of additional conversations with scholars and leaders, they dove head first into equipping all people with a full view of the Bible’s support for women in leadership. This series is an excellent example of how local churches can be active supporters of women in ministry from the pulpit and the podcast. And this preacher, Jo Saxton, is a dynamic ministry leader, a brilliant example of a person we can learn from in how to preach well.
If You Do Not Have A Woman to Preach, Find One
One of the strengths of this series is the intentionality of voices that are included. The series was framed in the first week by the lead pastor, but then the following three weeks featured women preaching who embodied the reality of women called by God to preach who preached biblically and faithfully from the Bible. The lead pastor preached the fifth week, and led a week on Q&A that spoke to lingering questions from the community. The women of this series, Karmyn Bokma, Leanne Friesen, and Jo Saxton are proof that women preachers do exist— they are not unicorns. Show your church that women preaching is not a theoretical idea, but a reality of what God is doing in our world today, to the glory of God and the sanctification of the church. Feel free to use the Sermon Collective on Sacred Alliance to find women you could invite to preach at your church. If you get stuck, send us an email so we can connect you.
The Bible is Friend, Not Foe
A question that repeatedly came up through the series was the wondering if the church was caving to culture in a #MeToo world to suggest that God has called women to lead in the church and outside of it. Jo Saxton’s sermon dives deep into the Hebrew in Genesis 2:18, to peel back the layers of sin and brokenness that effect the way this verse has been interpreted to see the full meaning of “ezer kenegdo” as one with the resources to help, a warrior, standing boldly opposite. The word of life that invites women and men to live fully into the imprint of God on their lives comes from the Bible, not outside of it. Other sermons in this series cover challenging passages as well, such as Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2, showing the Bible to be the source for changing perceptions of women in leadership, not culture. As you preach on the equality of women and men in all forms of ministry, struggle with the challenging parts of the Bible to hear God’s voice. Furthermore, Jo’s sermon uses numerous stories of women from the Bible to expound on God’s vision for women. When you wonder what it looks like for women to lead and be examples for following Jesus, a banquet of stories are before you like Hagar, Deborah, Martha, Mary, Lydia, Priscilla, Junia, and more.
Be Brave, Be Faithful
As Jo preaches, there is a sense that the urgency and gravitas of her words comes from a source outside of herself, the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers her to preach. She speaks to this at the end of her sermon where she explains that she preaches as a response to God’s call on her life, as an act of faithfulness. To proclaim God’s life changing good news, she recalls, does not always produce comfortable or kind responses, remembering people who have turned their back literally and figuratively towards women who are preaching.
If you are woman who feels called to preach, may you preach knowing that the God who calls you is faithful to sustain you in that call. If you are a church leader who feels convicted to preach on the equality of men and women to co-labor in God’s reconciling work in the world, may you be filled with boldness and trust as you invite your congregation to learn through a teaching series like Her Story.
Rev. Tara Beth Leach, a Nazarene pastor, is the senior pastor at Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene (“PazNaz”), the first female senior pastor at that congregation. Ministry has taken her from upstate New York, to Chicago, to California serving in a variety of roles. She has been a part of Sacred Alliance from the beginning, leading a variety of Circles on conversations for women in ministry, including preaching. And it is her preaching, fueled by her love for the church, that offers numerous things to teach us as we endeavor to follow in her example of faithfulness to God.
Expository Preaching with a Bullseye
Traditional expository preaching at times gets a bad reputation as boring or simply too dense for one sermon. The temptation when preaching from a large pericope like 18 verses(!) is to try to say everything. In doing so, however, a preacher will usually say nothing. Rev. Leach keeps from this temptation by focusing in on a particular verse, 2 Corinthians 3:18. When she reads the passage, she even alerts the listener that the sermon is going to focus on that particular verse. This helps to signal that the listener needs to hold that verse in their mind. In choosing a focus, however, Rev. Leach does not skirt around the other verses. She moves through the text explaining helpful context about Paul, references to the Old Testament, and connections to other parts of Jesus’s ministry and Paul’s writings. She then uses this focus verse throughout the rest of the sermon as a way of reflecting on their current situation and what God is calling them to do. This sermon is rich in its biblical grounding and clearly arises out of the saturation of Rev. Leach’s life in the Word of God.
What are your scripture reading habits? What parts of scripture are neglected in your own reading? How might your sermon this week benefit from being grounded in the whole witness of God in the Bible?
As you address your scripture passage in the sermon, what verse(s) are the focus? How does this focus guide what stays in the sermon and what is kept out?
Building Tension for the Eye and the Ear
In this series Rev. Leach is building on what it means to be a holy and Christlike people— what she terms as radiance. In the course of a series that focuses around a single topic, the preacher can explore the tension within the biblical text and the current situation in a way that allows each week to be a fresh expression of the series. Rev. Leach does this well in setting out what it means to be a radiant people of God, those who are being transformed into God’s image by contemplating God’s glory, and then asks what the road blocks are to being that people. She notes two, a sinful, broken world and disobedience, but signals that the third road block is most important for the sermon at hand, a malformed image or construct of God that does not come from Jesus. She builds the tension by using boxes with different descriptions of what these constructs might be (“the elitist God,” “the nationalist God,” “the violent God”). As each construct is described, a box is visually placed building a small wall. As this tension is built, Rev. Leach then resolves the tension later in the sermon by looking to Jesus. As she quotes a scripture and describes Jesus’s ministry, she throws its corresponding box off the wall until they are all in a heap. The tension is resolved by grace, malformed images of God are done away with in Jesus so that all may be transformed into Christlikeness.
As you prepare your sermon for Sunday, what tension rises up from the scripture that might get in the way for the listener? How is this tension resolved by grace? What are some ways this tension can be demonstrated visually in the sermon?
Gabrielle Engle is a pastor at Overflow Church in Benton Harbor, Michigan. She serves in Connections, alongside leading Celebrate Recovery and WyldLife, their middle school ministry with YoungLife. Overflow is a multi-ethnic church nestled between two cities that differ in socio-economics and is devoted to connecting with those who are un-churched and de-churched. Gabrielle’s preaching is accessible and heartfelt and invites all people to consider new avenues in which God’s gift of joy is present amidst complex lives. We can learn from her about God and faithful preaching in any number of ways, but here are a couple.
Embody the Message
At the start, the sermon title tells the listener that this sermon is going to be about choosing joy, following the example of Mary. Gabrielle, however, does more than tell the listeners about joy, but exudes joy. This joy comes through her smile, her steady eye contact with the congregation, and through her use of stories and examples. Throughout the sermon she helpfully expounds the concept of joy to be more than happiness, disabusing anyone from misinterpreting her smile as trite, and includes pain within joy. This clear definition of joy in Jesus moves the listener past their experiences, to locate their pain and their joy alongside the experience of Mary in God’s incarnation. Gabrielle voiced hard issues like addiction in her sermon directly and invited listeners to turn to Jesus (and the grace God offers through recovery). While this could have been hard to hear, her passionate exposition of the scripture and genuine presentation made this invitation feel like grace instead of shame.
As you prepare to preach this week, what is the tone or experience of your sermon? What might the listener be feeling as you move through the sermon? How could you use your voice, body, and content to invite the listener into a new experience of the gospel?
Ask Them to Make it Personal
Far too often sermons are able to remain in the abstract learning zone of knowledge, without entering the heart or affecting decision making. We know, however, that God is continually seeking us like Adam and Eve in the garden and that encountering God’s good news in the sermon can allow the listener to respond to God’s “Where are you?” Throughout the sermon Gabrielle helpfully poses questions to ask the congregation where they are in relation to God. The initial problem she raises with joy is that we are often too busy or too numb to life to notice it. Gabrielle lists real life examples (scrolling endlessly, drinking, eating, working) and follows them with open questions (“Where do you keep looking for joy, but finding that it doesn’t sustain you?”) that give the person in the pew an opportunity to join their story with the story of God in the sermon.
What is your practice of using questions in the sermon? Are they typically only in one section like the introduction? What is the one question that is challenging you in this sermon and how could that be shared with your congregation? Or, if you regularly use questions, take a look at the questions you usually pose and assess their quality. Are they questions that aid the listener in turning towards God or are they going to simply recall their memory towards another topic (“Have you ever had a time when…”)? Let your questions count this week in helping the listener make the sermon a time for them to personally interact with God.
Jenn Petersen is the co-lead pastor of the new church plant Resurrection Life in New York City with her spouse, Branden. This sermon was given at Trinity Baptist Church, a church that is partnering with them in ministry as they lead and serve the city. Jenn is an accomplished musician and worship leader, but it is her gifts of preaching that we notice and learn from now.
Enroll them in the story
Sometimes when we talk about the Bible as God’s story, there might be the sense that it is a powerful story because it shapes the narrative and ethic of the community. Jenn’s sermon takes God’s story a bit differently and calls the listener to be in the story as she challenges them to “raise their expectations”of who God is and what God can do. As she retells the story of the rich young man and the disciples bewilderment at Jesus’s statements, we are reminded that we often share that bewilderment as we look at life as impossible. As she retells the story of David and Goliath, the listener can see the magnitude of their Goliath, and feel the smooth stone of their resources in their hand. But moreover, the listener is carried and emboldened by David’s faith, to trust, to believe, even to hope— that God is truly with them and at work on their behalf. Jenn’s recounting of the story in detail draws the listener in, and as they witness Goliath fall again, the flame of faith is fanned for the way they see their world.
As you preach this week, consider your relationship to scripture as God’s story. Does the Bible only shape identity and ethics of a group of people? Or does the Holy Spirit enliven the continual reading, interpretation, preaching, and hearing of it so that something might happen in that very moment? How might you tell the story of God in scripture and the story of God in the world today that helps your congregation see God as present, active, convicting, loving, and empowering?
Give bookends with a twist
Jenn began the sermon with a litany of ‘what-if’ questions that might confront the congregation. Stemming from her personal story of moving to New York City to plant a church, she invites the community to wonder about the questions they also ask such as, “What if I don’t get that job that I paid thousands of dollars in education? What if I’m not enough? What if I made the wrong decision?” These questions are then revisited at the end of the sermon, but have been changed and transformed by the encounter with God’s grace that has challenged them to consider raising their expectations and growing in faith. The questions at the end of the sermon have a “grace lens” and are phrased as such, “What if we really believed that with God all things were possible? Jesus taught us to pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ What if we prayed like that? What if we raised our expectations and then we took an action step and then God di the miracle?” By ending with the similar what if questions, the sermon has a sense of resolving the initial tension that was created by them. More importantly, that resolution came from the proclamation of God’s gracious presence and activity in us and in the world, inviting the listeners to leave changed by that truth.
What role does tension and resolution have in your sermons? A sermon should introduce some tension, or rather reveal the tension that already exists in scripture and life. A sermon should also resolve that tension by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace as it speaks to the tension created. This week, try to find a way to introduce and resolve the tension with similarity so that the sermon has “bookends,” but don’t miss the twist of God’s grace that gives the final word!