Why not to have a woman preach. It’s a statement, not a question. Here’s why not. Here’s all the reasons why not. Here’s why women should not preach. Or teach. Or lead. Or pastor. Or prophesy. Or exhort. Let’s parse it, narrow it, nitpick it, label the functions so that we can figure out the line and walk it well. Here’s one verse and another and another. You can’t argue with the Bible, after all.


But more and more I see people adding a question mark to that statement and that question mark gives me hope.

Why not?

Well, indeed. Why not have women preach? It’s a question that many devoted disciples have asked through out the ages – long before the 70s and 80s – and it’s a question that was resolved in the early church, in the practice of Paul’s leadership, in faithful followers of Jesus through the ages. There isn’t anything new under the sun, it’s true, and the use of Scripture to silence the witness of women, to sideline the gifts of half the church, isn’t new either.

Why not have a woman preach? Why not have a woman at a pulpit, teaching the Scriptures, proclaiming the Gospel, leading others in the way everlasting?

Sometimes the Spirit’s movement begins with the question mark instead of the period.


Why not? Well, because the Bible says so.

Oh, really?

There are many ways to read and understand Scripture. For instance, some read Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” and then they silence women in the church … in a well-meaning way. It’s couched with gentle language like “different roles don’t mean difference in value” and a paternalistic ideal. But in some extreme examples, these passages have been used to justify spiritual, physical, and emotional abuse towards women. (Don’t ignore that fact just because it isn’t pleasant.)


But we’re missing a few important things in that understanding of Scripture: translation, context, interpretation, let alone communal understanding and practice. Allow me to point you to some wise and mature teaching on this subject: Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb and “But What About 1 Timothy 2:12?” – Ten Talking Points, both by Gail Wallace for The Junia Project.


There’s a hopeful and inclusive answer to that question and many of us have already answered it. We’re living into the answer already.

There is Scriptural justification, historical justification, Spirit justification, traditional and communal justification for women preaching and pastoring and leading.

You can’t really argue with the anointing. God anointed some to preach, be careful not to stand in the way of that. I’d think long and hard before silencing someone speaking words of life and fire and Spirit.



I am always so appreciative of scholars and academics and theologians. I love to learn, theology is my geek-out place (well, that and Doctor Who). I love to read and to learn, I love to study, I’m profoundly curious about Scripture and God and how we live out the hope of glory in the world.

I’m also wildly in love with Jesus, convinced that he is he answer, and I want to be faithful to follow well, I want to glorify what I think I know about the Spirit of God, I want to see prisoners set free, deserts bloom, beauty for ashes, life for death. I have a high view of Scripture and the Spirit. I am faithful to the Church and to my little “c” church.

So these things matter to me. And they matter to the church. And they matter for a world caught in the crossfire. Are we benching the answers? Are we silencing the ones who would cry out for freedom and wholeness? Are we minimizing the wild inclusive counter-cultural dream of God?

I needed to see her preaching, the people of your church and community likely need to see it, too.


Women are preaching already.

I hate to break it to you. Women have always preached, just as women have always worked, always taught, always discipled, always followed Jesus. Right from the days of Jesus until now.

We’re getting on with it. We kept walking from the statement to the question to the answer and now we are living within the freedom of Christ.


Preach! Preach! Cry out in the city gates and in pulpits and online and in classrooms: we bring you tidings of great joy! However you preach, whatever your method or place, proclaim it: the year of the Lord’s favour has dawned! Beauty for ashes! Resurrection is real! Life and life more abundant!


Women are preaching and, did you know? Chains are being cast off. Fear is running away. Deserts are blooming. The Gospel is being proclaimed. The dead are coming to life. People are being born again and set free.

Jesus is working through and in and with women, just as he is working through and in and with men. And wouldn’t you know it? Women and men are working together, beautifully, in what Carolyn Custis James has christened the “blessed alliance.” It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.

We are made in the image of God, watch us walk on water together.

Men and women are receiving steady and sober, wild and holy teaching from women, too. People are being healed, the Spirit is baptizing many. Women are leading in the curve of the globe in business, medicine, technology, academics, sports, and yes, religion in ways unique to their temperament and anointings.


You’re missing it. Don’t miss it. Open your eyes and see what the Spirit is birthing in these days, watch women rising up to reclaim their communities for peace and wholeness, watch women laying on hands and proclaiming the Gospel with their lives and their voices and their writing and their songs and even, yes, in their quiet. Watch women raising their children, gathering the lonely, loving the unloveable, building up the church, watch the world change.


Why not have a woman preach?

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  • Absolutely Sarah – why “not” a woman preach? Love it.

  • JennaDeWitt

    “You can’t really argue with the anointing.” – This is important because these aren’t just one blogger’s words. This is what John Wesley concluded centuries ago. If you don’t believe us, look up the end of Wesley’s life/ministry when he saw the holy fruit of the female-led early Methodist groups. By allowing women to lead in an official capacity in that time? With the laws of that era? It was crazy radical and risky for the credibility of his movement. But you couldn’t argue with the clarity of the anointing.

    • Same sentiment echoed by Galamiel in the book of Acts: if it’s of God, don’t stand in the way. if it’s not, it will come to nothing.

      • JennaDeWitt

        p.s. all fired up about this today because I just got these beautiful prints with mic-drop level quotes from Carolyn Custis James in the mail today for publishing an excerpt of Malestrom. haha #JesusFeministsUnited

    • Pol

      Raised in the Methodist church – listening to women preach, I was shocked when I discovered at the age of about ten that there were Churches where women weren’t allowed to. To be honest – it shocks me still.

      • JennaDeWitt

        Meee tooo! I was seriously in high school when I found out about all this. That’s one thing for which I will always be grateful to the UMC. It’s so weird to be in a place now where women in the pulpit are nearly unheard of. It’s like culture shock for me. haha

      • Rebecca

        My great Grandmother was an ordained Pastor in the Methodist church in Oklahoma. So thankful for the legacy she left her family and congregation!

  • Jada

    Thank you for this, my friend!

  • Beth Reavis

    Gave me chills…

  • Byrdie Funk

    Thanks Sarah. Every time I get to a place of “really, why can’t we just go to any ol’ church and be content” you write something that fills me up again. Thank you.

  • L

    It annoys me that something like this even has to be written. Sigh …sorry to be the pessimist today.

  • ‘Sometimes the Spirit’s movement begins with a question mark.’ Yes!! This post is a gift to me after hearing horror stories from my sister’s about Mother’s Day in their congregation. Thank you.

  • Amen, amen, amen.

    This spring, our church (where I’ve long served as a leader) was studying Genesis. And my pastor, a good and godly man, decided that he’d really like to hear a woman preach from Genesis 3. But women don’t preach at our church–or at least they didn’t. After all, this is the American South! I do a good bit of speaking in my work with Renovare, though, and my dear pastor said, “If you’re speaking other places, you should be speaking here.” God bless him. And God bless you, because I re-read Jesus Feminist as part of my preparation for that sermon.

  • shawnsmucker

    This is wonderful, Sarah. I have a post coming up over at The High Calling that argues we must have more women preaching so that our little girls see that example and begin to identify that calling within themselves, the calling to preach and lead and bless and exhort. We must have more women preaching so that a father like me remembers my daughters may be called to do the same.

    • Amanda N.

      This is an important point. I come from a tradition that has licensed female preachers since 1761 and began ordaining them for full pastoral ministry sixty years ago. Still, when I first felt a call to professional ministry, I resisted it because I had only one female pastor growing up and she was not well-received by the congregation. As a woman, I had little imagination for what it might look or feel like to stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings, despite its legality. Girls and young women absolutely need role models for female leadership in the Church that extends beyond the pastor’s wife, the women’s circle, and the Sunday school teacher.

  • Joannah Saxton

    Love these words Sarah! For many years I didn’t realize how blessed/ fortunate I was to have grown up as a leader in environments where I was encouraged to preach, trained to preach and given lots of opportunities to grow as a preacher and leader. Seeing some of the current landscape has been fuel to my fire; I’m determined to find ways to invest and equip women to realize their God given potential…

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  • Deb SaintDeborah Coles

    I’m preaching this Sunday; it’s my turn. Thank you for your words and heart for women in leadership and speakership! In the Salvation Army, women have been preaching since 1860. My mom preached. My husband’s mom preached. We grew up expecting to hear women preaching. Blessings on you!! (love your book!)

  • Rebekah O’Keeffe

    Sarah, once again your words set my nerves atingle and make my heart sing. Thank you.

  • Lisa Guinther

    Thank you Sarah! Keep on writing, talking and preaching. 🙂

  • Handsfull

    I grew up in a fundamentalist cult, where women literally didn’t speak in church. I well remember the shock and delight I felt when I started attending a new church, which happened to have women preaching for the first three Sundays I was there! Lol! I now attend an Anglican church which is co-led by 2 women priests, and the thought has whispered in my ears that maybe that’s something I could do…

  • Michael Raburn

    The very first person to preach the Gospel was a woman, so why would we ever stop? http://mikeraburn.com/2013/10/10/red-letter-year-1010/

  • gwally

    So good, Sarah! Yes, women ARE preaching, women ARE teaching, women ARE leading – and the Spirit is blessing abundantly. So thankful for the growing number of churches and church leaders who are supporting the full inclusion of women! And also thankful for prophetic voices like yours, which illustrate so beautifully what happens when a women’s voice is included! Praying that God continues to use you to proclaim truth!

  • Yes. Thank you. So relevant. I agree with L. I hate that this has to be written in the first place, but I’m grateful for it. As a woman who is feeling a call to ministry, I have to censor myself at times depending on who I’m around. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for me to be told that preaching is something I shouldn’t do.

  • Jeniffer Sheriff Smith

    Thank you for this. (Also, right with you on Doctor Who. Can’t wait till August!)

  • Libby Holden

    A number of years ago my daughter, then a seminary student, came to her dad and me and asked what we would think if she were called to preach. The first words out of my mouth were, “Who am I to say who God can or cannot call to preach?” We were thrilled for her and for all those she would bless through her ministry. She is now an associate pastor in our BAPTIST church! God will not be limited by those who use scripture or tradition to make up their own rules.

  • Keri Wyatt Kent

    Listen to Jen Hatmaker preach the word this past weekend at http://www.willowcreek.tv. She brought it. Powerful. I am sad that we even have to have this conversation. I’m like, let’s just get on with the work of the kingdom which is not restricted by gender or anything else.

  • Loved this post, Sarah! As a woman who finally got to preach to a mixed audience last summer (because we know women can preach to female-only groups, right? ), I loved this article. Because why not a woman in the pulpit? We are smart and educated and gifted and called and have the desire to share with others…just like men do. There is no legitimate reason that anyone should be silenced and kept from speaking the gospel of Jesus.

  • Jen Novotny

    Sarah, I loved this and it’s very timely as I just ended up in a heated disagreement with my best friend of 30 years over why our church does not allow women to be elders. Of course, all of her reasons were based in the biblical reasons we’ve all heard before, but I just don’t buy it. My argument to her, was that how could Jesus INCLUDE women as elders of the church when that wasn’t even a possibility in his time. Women couldn’t even own land, so it would seem impossible for him to allow or condone something that didn’t even exist yet. Do you have any other thoughts, writings or essays I could point her to on this topic?

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Love this! I didn’t grow up in a denomination where women preached (or did anything vocal at all). My sons and daughters are growing up differently. A year and a half ago I spoke at a missions convention. My oldest daughter sat in the front row and watched me; she still talks about that time when “Mommy preached.” It’s clear she was delighted with it. I’m so glad she’s growing up in a different world than I did with regard to gender rules.

    And funny you should write this post this week. This past Sunday I was sitting in church pondering a particular complementarian teacher who tells men they cannot listen to a woman teach, but they may read what a woman writes. (I have a feeling this is a loophole to sanction Beth Moore — I say this even though I love Beth Moore.) But then he goes on to advise men that if at any point while reading a woman, they feel she is beginning to have authority over them (what?? how is this possible while reading?), he can and should put the text down. This makes no sense at all to me. Is there nothing a woman might say that a man might learn from? If so we are in a terrible place in Christianity and have just set men far, far above women, with no recourse.

    In actuality we are all at different places in every subject. I see women and men speaking and teaching and reading and writing as co-equals — we are all here to help each other grow. Why can we not approach women teaching and preaching in this way? (And of course we have all the Biblical examples of women praying and prophesying in addition to that.) And just because a woman has something of worth to say to a man does not mean she is trying to exert authority over him anyway — in fact discussions of authority often bore me because it seems the only people who drone on and on about authority are the people who are afraid of losing theirs.

    And I still don’t get the differentiation between writing and speaking!

  • Steve Harper

    Thank you for all you do to keep the full Gospel before us. Perhaps you would like to know about my recent article, “Why Women Are Clergy,” free from The Lewis Center for Church Leadership (churchleadership.com/leadingideas. An accomoanying free piece, written by clergywomen is entitled, “Suggestions for Churches with a Clergywoman.”

  • DJ Brown

    Frustrated that this still needs to be preached – thought we dealt with it in the 1970’s – but since it still does, THANKYOU for picking up the torch, dear Sarah.

  • Lisa


  • Christine

    Amazing! Nothing new, reality-wise because, again, women have been preaching forever. But I hope your freshly stated, real words reach the right eyes and ears. I love your passion for this topic.

  • Kathy Anderson

    Amen! I really did believe in the ’70s when I was coming up that this message would finally be heard and that it would not have to be preached and taught and re-preached and re-taught by now. But that is not the case. Thank you, Sarah, for continuing to say this. It needs saying and saying and saying. We need to continue to tell our daughters their place is anywhere God calls them.
    In the ’70s women’s voices were angry, and men feared it so the backlash was vicious. I see that the generation in their 30s sound less angry, and remain clear, even clearer than in those years. I am grateful. The anger never got me anything, but as I continue to walk in the freedom and love of God — and into His calling — my voice can be heard when I speak and when I write. I don’t try to convince men anymore that I’m OK. I speak to an audience of One — Jesus. And I never have to convince him!
    I am part of a small church in Minnesota, Life Recovery Church, where our lead pastor is a woman who preaches from a powerful anointing of God. It is an amazing experience to walk in this freedom.
    Keep preaching it sisters! God gave us a voice for a reason.

  • Wendy

    I preached my very first sermon this past Sunday at a brave (Southern Baptist!) church who desires to empower their men AND women to do God’s work. But I did it with fear and trembling, and the enemy has beaten me up over the last two days. So I needed to read this. Thank you.

  • pastordt

    Well, that is a great big YES. And some of us have just been doing it, all over the place, in all kinds of ways and places. As that increases, it will ‘normalize’ once again, as is already happening in all kinds of nooks and crannies of the church. Preach it, friend.

  • Laura McCain

    Makes me wonder if we take those scripture verses out of context IF GOD IS USING WOMEN to do things our doctrines go against. Very thought provoking.

  • Hazel Moon

    Women preaching and prophesying with God’s anointing and blessing is not a new thing. Old testament had women leaders, and it was prophesied “Your daughters shall prophesy. Good words here Sarah.

  • Laura Wilson

    I read the recently posted article that I assume this is in response to….thank you for writing these words. You are humble to not make a fuss about who the author of the original post was…but I hope he reads this 🙂

  • wakingdreaming

    What does “living into” mean?

  • Proteios

    The irony seems to me to be the fact that I hear women, and some men, say that the sex isn’t a pre-requisite. God gives us equal dignity. Then I hear the same one-sided, compartmentalized argument that is biased towards one sex or the other. Seems like all we are doing is choosing sides and not deciding how we will share. This is why I think women and men share equal dignity, but social movements are really different. Social movements are about jockeying for power. At the end of each day – its all about who has the power. If that changes, then we need to ask, “why cant men preach?” I hear women say, yippee, its about time. Which comes back to the same thing. Its not about equality. But grabbing power. When I hear a legitimate sentiment about sharing equality rather than grabbing power…I doubt I would recognize it.

    • In these types of conversations, what we hear is often a reflection of how we view thing ourselves.

      If you view preaching and pastoral positions as primarily about power, then I can see why it would look that way to you. Many men feel the same way, because they do primarily view their positions for power and authority, and feel that sharing that with others is a threat to their power structure, just like most dominant groups do when minorities or the marginalized begin to be more represented in an area.

      I don’t see it as a power thing, because I think ministry, and especially pastoral ministry, is more about service and responding to God’s call to best use the gifts He has given a person than it is about power or being in charge. Yes, there are some women who may see ti that way, but the women I’ve talked to or read who are in ministry seem to be seeking opportunities for service, nurturing, helping, and growing alongside their communities and congregations much more than grabbing power.

      You don’t recognize anything about equality or other motivations because you are too focused on your own perception of losing power, or of male power as a whole being threatened, to consider that not everyone shares your motivations.

  • Sue Bidstrup

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Great Big Yes! So good!

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  • Monica Smith

    It’s so nice (to put it ever so mildly) to read that someone believes what I believe about God’s daughters being called to preach Him. Thank you for these words of encouragement and truth.

  • Susan LaClear

    My “letter of recommendation” from God (2 Corinthians 3:2) is the health, wholeness and maturity that God has written onto the hearts of my congregation over the last 10 years that I’ve served as their pastor. Loved the way you put it, Sarah. Thank you for your thoughts!

  • Thanks, I needed to read this.

    It’s something I have struggled with for years, having spent much of my life in churches that did not allow women to preach and often limited their roles in other ways. But women who did preach and who were clearly gifted by God to do so kept entering my life in other ways and God used them to show me that He could call them and anoint their preaching and ministry.

    And that scares me, because it means that maybe all that time I spent denying the nagging feeling that I could be called, ignoring the other people who told me I should consider going into ministry (even when their church or denomination forbid it), and trying to turn it into something else, like a call for missions or teaching or Sunday School, I could have just been dodging an actual calling.

    So, here I am now, after my atheist-as-far-as-I-knew husband suddenly started attending church faithfully and remarked that I “should do that” and he wouldn’t mind being married to a pastor (seriously, dude, where did that come from), and 2 different Catholic priests told me I should probably consider being a Lutheran or Episcopalian. And now I’m finishing work to transfer to another college, going to double major in religion & computer science, so I have a fallback if I am not really called, and tentatively thinking about plans for seminary if the path still seems to lead that way.

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  • This is so crazy to me as my husband’s grandma was a preacher and she started dozens of churches in Virginia. This should not even be a topic in this day and age. Well said.

  • Great article. I am a second year master of Divinity student in seminary and I recently wrote a 22 page paper on Paul and what he has to say about women. I was so disgusted with writing this paper. I was sick of it!! I realized why: If I have to have a conversation with you about whether or not a woman can preach, then you are not someone I desire to have dialog with. I recognize that this is an issue that women struggle with but truly, I do not want to engage with people who have that level of thinking about women.

    We cannot continue to read our Bibles in a surface manner and think that Truth will emerge.

  • Bernice Nkansah-Adjei

    Thanks but I am a deaconess and started preaching and teaching Sunday school and bible study long before I was a deaconess. Strange what men expect women to do.

  • Nancie Chmielewski

    well said. Thank you!

  • Thanks so much for this, Sarah, and all your work on this! I don’t say this just because I’m a woman preacher, but because the world would miss out on the beauty of God’s love if it couldn’t hear from so many amazing women preachers out there. Just last night, at our entirely youth-led Ascension Day service, all three preachers were female. These amazing female teen preachers each brought powerful messages that led to tears among many as we received truly good news! What a sad sad thing if we were to miss out on the beauty and power of God’s all-encompassing love because we didn’t affirm these incredible young women in their abilities and gifts to bring good news to their peers, elders, and communities.

  • Emily

    Goodness, what century are some people living in? I’ve been hearing women preach for decades in the Methodist Church.

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  • Jean Bergen

    Amen, Sarah! I am preaching May 31 in your home town of Abbotsford 🙂

  • David

    This is why:

    if those people who support women ministers and leaders of the church
    were honest, they would look first at God’s instruction to Moses on who
    could lead the temple in the OT times. Not only did those instructions
    exclude all women but they excluded most of the men in the Israelite

    God is not treating women as second class or inferior but
    has a specific order for his church. THEN they need to look at Jesus and
    his instructions. AT NO TIME did he give permission for women or non
    Levite men to lead the temple nor over-turned God’s instruction for that

    HE ALSO GAVE NO instruction or permission to lead his
    church. HE called 12 MEN to be his disciples and leaders of the church.
    He did not call one woman.

    On top of that, you will find NO NT
    writer giving permission for women to be pastors or leaders in the
    church nor changing Paul’s instructions to both Timothy and Titus.

    Some of them wrote AFTER PAUL so you do not see them disagreeing with him.

    every first century example used by supporters of women ministers,etc.,
    do not disobey any of God’s instructions. They are all exercising their
    gifts and talents in obedience to them.

    Any idea that they were
    ministers or church leaders is read into the scriptural examples not
    taken out of those passages of scripture.

    Those examples show
    women of today HOW to use their gifts without disobeying God and are not
    examples of over-turning God’s instructions for church leadership or

    then if these examples are not enough there is ONE THING TO REMEMBER: It is God’s church and he sets the rules not humans.

  • Lauren Talley

    I thank you for writing this in a time when I needed this. I’m seventeen years old, and about a year ago my youth leader, Nancy, passed away to breast cancer. She was a beautiful and compassionate woman who did and accomplished so much for the thanks of so few.

    After her passing I was left in a weird and funky place, a place where sadness intermingled with anger, a place where I was living my same old life, but I saw things in a much different perspective. I began to realize the situational irony I had found myself in — my life was full of questions, yet the person who I went to (Nancy) was now gone. This past Decemeber, I took a step back from all of this and realized who she was to me. I realized she was far more than what I had ever given her credit for, and she was FAR more than what the church had ever given her credit for. I realized her love and leadership far surpassed the title of “youth leader.” Yet I hesitated to wonder, why couldn’t she be more?

    In all honesty, Nancy was more of a pastor to me than my actual pastor, and with this I began thinking, what is the difference between these two that could possibly make one suitable for the ministry yet not the other? Social standards? A handful of biblical passages? A church firmly grounded in old fashioned ideals?

    I bring this to you because this has been brewing within me for a while. This angst coupled with hesitation is what keeps it bottled up. The American south is no easy place to bring up competing ideals, especially when these thoughts come from a seventeen year old’s mouth. I thank you not only for this post, but for creating this space, a space where a girl like me who feels smothered and shushed by traditional ideals can feel free to express her thoughts for the very first time.

    I thank you. (Also sorry for leaving such a long comment haha!)

  • Rebecca Gholson

    Jesus, Do You Smile?

    God’s Holy Son! I reverence You!
    Come talk with me awhile.
    I’ve preached with just one hope in view;
    To feel Your tender smile!

    I preached to them Your Gospel, Lord!
    I gave it to them strong!
    I gave them pure, inerrant Word.
    I preached it loud and long.

    Standing on the wall, a watchman,
    Sounding the alarm,
    Working to do nothing less
    Than save them without harm.

    And, dear Lord, I’ve worked and labored
    To do Your commands,
    And stand before You fully favored-
    Their blood off my hands.

    And if they hurt me, hate me, kill me,
    It will be worthwhile,
    If my last reward may be
    Your dear, approving smile!

    ~Inspired by Brother Keith Daniel
    May 8, 2014

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