I suppose the debate will go on, maybe indefinitely, about who gets to speak in front of the church, whether it’s behind a pulpit, on a stool, or with an iPad.
A lot of people think that one of the primary qualifications of a preacher is gender. There are a lot of people, male and female, who are uncomfortable with the idea of women preaching at church. Opinions range from the mild preference for listening to men, to the “biblical” mandate of men in the pulpit.
I don’t know if that’s a reality that we will see changed in our lifetimes. (And plenty of people would argue that it should not change.)
But here is what I do know.
No one needs permission from anyone else to preach. Not men. Not women. No one.
What Qualifies Anyone to Preach?
Regardless of which side of the debate I fall on, one thing that bugs me about how the conversation usually goes is that preaching is made out to be basically the last job on earth where gender is the primary qualification. So much so that not many other qualifications are ever considered.
How often do we talk about bloated egos in the pulpit?
How often are preachers held accountable for the absurd prosperity gospel they preach?
How often is a man taken out of a pulpit for blatantly committing a sin (that happens to be socially acceptable)?
What about guys who just cannot speak coherently?
What about men who substitute flair and charisma for substance?
We don’t qualify or disqualify guys in these ways. We get a free pass because we are guys. See, when women are kept out of preaching primarily because they are women, it leads to worse preaching from the men too. The standards are lower because we’ve already met the “most important” criteria: being a man.
What Are We Missing?
The thing is, of all the preachers who stand behind pulpits or speak into cameras or appear on the radio or write books, there is one that is the most important to me, the most encouraging, the most truthful in my sin, the most insightful to my needs, more than any of the rest.
It’s my wife.
And yes, ironic to this conversation, gender was one primary qualification when I decided I wanted her to be my wife.
But not just any woman would do. She had a lot of other qualifications, and I am sure glad I paid attention to those criteria.
So I listen to my wife tell me the truth or give me encouragement, and I wonder what we might be missing from the wise and godly ladies in our communities. I wonder what words are not being spoken, what insight is not being shared, what needs are not being met because we have to ensure that whenever a woman speaks, the audience is not too large…or too male. All of the things I have ever spoken to any group sound positively trivial compared to all of the truth she has spoken to me.
The Most Important Sermons In the World
And that is really the most important to remember when it comes to preaching.
No one of us, not men or women, need permission to “preach.” The people who occupy powerful pulpits can keep doing what they do. That will probably never change. And some of us do not want it to.
But we all know, deep down, that it’s a moot argument. Because the most important sermons are not spoken from a pulpit. They are spoken at a bedside or a kitchen table. They are not shouted to a stadium, but whispered into a single ear. They are not scattered like handfuls of seed thrown haphazardly, but more like one seed, placed carefully where it can grow.
There are thousands of sermons preached every Sunday and forgotten by Monday. There are sermons that are well rehearsed and peppered with stories and accompanied by flashy videos and the audience takes notes in a prefabricated little notebook. And people take them home and they might look at their notes one more time. Those are the kinds of sermons you have to have permission to give. You have to be invited by people who think you are qualified and important.
But the most important pulpits do not require an invitation. And the most important sermons are not rehearsed or accompanied by a dramatic video, but spoken directly from the heart with no flash or drama. And they are not forgotten the next day, but remembered for years.
Each of us has an audience that is inviting us to preach to them. We have the invitation. Our words will be remembered.
And no one needs permission to speak them. It is your pulpit.
What say you? Where is your pulpit?