Twenty years ago I preached for the first time to 350 Indian school children in the foothills of the Himalayas. From what I can remember, the message was dripping with American self-help slogans and “you can do anything you set your mind to” mantras. It was warmly received. Mostly because I included a very captivating illustration that the kids loved. That was the first time I had an inkling that preaching and teaching was something I might enjoy (mostly due to the aforementioned warm reception).
I have spent hundreds of hours preaching and teaching the Bible. I’m known or remembered by a very small amount of people. I have no platform or brand. My Twitter following is abysmal. I think this uniquely qualifies me to give some reflections on twenty years of persevering in this calling. These are my reflections on my personal journey and where I hope women preachers and teachers will go.
“Big changes happen in small rooms” -Jenn Wilkin
I’ve heard a lot of very well known women, preaching some version of, “I started teaching in Sunday School, a nobody! But if you are faithful in the small then God will entrust you with much” (the much being large crowds). Or perhaps you’ve heard this sentiment, “Be faithful in the small, your promotion is just around the corner”
All this makes me want to barf. Implicit in a lot of American Christianity is this: the goal is large crowds, big stages, and thousands of Facebook likes. Such self-promotion should embarrass us and make us break out into hot sweats.
Being well known or having influence to more people is not inherently bad! Some woman become known by many. This is God’s calling for them (and burden for them to bear). But it should never be our goal. It is not Christ like. It is not what Paul modeled.
Jenn Wilkin says, “Big changes happen in small rooms.” I long for more woman preachers and teachers who love to see big changes in small rooms.
Someone once said to me, “Don’t worry, you may be teaching small groups of people but you never know who is in the room. You may change be teaching the next president of a country!” Again, shaping a future president is wonderful. But, implicit in their words was a belief that small crowds are a failure… unless a future famous person might be in the room!
This is not the way of the Kingdom.
While large rooms full of a lot of people are not inherently wrong in any way, to set our hearts on this as the goal should be something we zealously guard against, not put on our dream board or idealize as success. May God save us from ever seeing small rooms as mere stepping stones to big stages.
Jesus taught the crowds and the one woman who would sit at his feet in rapt attention. I can only imagine someone coming along to reassure Jesus, “Don’t worry, you are preaching to nobodies today but your promotion is just around the corner!”
I recently flew across the country to spend a week teaching to a group of… wait for it… 8 people! Someone actually asked me, “You flew across the country to teach eight people?” Yep! Big changes happen in small rooms. And time spent with God’s precious people is always amazing. Teaching to anybody is always an honor. We must prepare for the 2 like we would for the 2,000.
Success is not large crowds, big stages or developing my own brand. This is not the way of Jesus and His kingdom.
If you live by praise you will die by criticism.
I’ve learned this the painful way. Praise and compliments are great. But the more I love the praise, the more I get flattened when the criticism comes.
Human opinion is a two-sided coin. Both praise and criticism can be extremely helpful as a public speaker. But there is this place in our hearts that can crave the praise… and it makes us so vulnerable to devastation when the inevitable criticism comes.
I’ve had my fair share of devastating moments. Public speaking is unique. When you fail or do a sub-par job, it is in front of a whole room of people. There is no hiding. People often felt freedom to come and tell me exactly how I could have done it better. Ouch.
Sometimes my speaking disasters took me months and months to recover from. I still have a few moments that can make me cringe… years later!
I know for sure, if I live by the praise, I will die by the criticism.
Be faithful to the end.
What is it like to be a “woman” preacher? A real joy and a challenge at times. I’ve never written about this. But, why not now?
This is the reality.
I’ve spoken to large crowds of thousands and small rooms with just three people who faithfully showed up (thank you to those three!)
I’ve heard compliments that made me blush. I’ve also had men stand up and walk out on me in protest of a woman preaching (multiple times).
I once had a man sit in silent protest during an entire week of my teaching, refusing to take one note, lest he learn from a woman. I’ve had several men decide they would listen to my teaching but make it a miserable experience by challenging me at every turn. I once had to remove a student from a class because he was harassing me so badly. I literally stopped the class and told him in front of everyone, “I will not continue teaching until you leave this room.” He did not go quietly.
I’ve also had many, many men thank me for my exposition of scriptures and how I’ve impacted them. So many have stayed late after class to ask questions and wrestle through the scriptures with me.
I’ve had many male and female leaders open multiple doors for my gifting to be present in new places. I’ve also listened to many, many men tell me they would invite a woman to preach if they just knew of any women preachers! “They just don’t exist! Woman need to really start stepping up!” I just smile kindly and listen.
I’ve sat in the front row cheering on my husband as he spoke in a church that didn’t allow woman preachers. I am a member of a church that ordains and celebrates women.
There have been challenges and also so much to celebrate.
Where have all these stories left me?
Be faithful to God’s calling. That is the win.
“Well done my good and faithful servant” is only music to my ears if a life lived in faithfulness to Jesus is my win.
If a win is convincing everyone of my perspective or gaining greater influence, hearing these words of Jesus might be a disappointment.
I love to see women preaching and teaching… in small rooms or wherever God might lead them. I pray and hope for an army of woman who simply seek to be faithful to the calling of Jesus, speak truth boldly and leave the rest up to Him.
Jesus is the goal. Faithfulness is the win.