Written by guest blogger, Amanda Clark
In July 2014, at a conference of Vineyard Churches, my regional leader,Ray Befus, stuck a book in my hand with a twinkle in his eye. In it was a little note about his desire for some female Vineyard leaders and church planters to read it and think about bringing its author to our region. The book was She Can Teach, by Jackie Roese, and it was met with a bit of flattery in being on some list with the words “woman” and “leader” in its title and a bit more suspicion. “Is Ray trying to change my position? Who is this woman, I’ve never heard of her.” I was slightly afraid of it and a little unmotivated. So it sat untouched until Ray, who I’ve since learned is a killer combo of irresistible kindness and bulldoggish tenacity, pressed me again.
I dutifully read the book with pen in hand and scribbled confrontational questions in the margins I would never have asked out loud. To a statement about women being allowed to lead churches and preach up until Constantine’s rule: “Where is she getting this? Do I even agree with this?” The irony is that years prior I had recognized my communications gift and more recently had secretly acknowledged to myself that I wanted to preach, and I had even taken two homiletics courses in my church. But, born a submissive to more traditional theology on women in leadership, I still wasn’t sure I was allowed to preach, especially not in front of men. My previous courses hadn’t specifically addressed it, and I sure as heckfire wasn’t going to let anybody turn me into a feminazi. My heart soon betrayed my pen as I came increasingly into agreement with the words I read. A holy curiosity was aroused in me. When Ray said, “I’m bringing Jackie to do the Basics (in preaching) Course,” I took a breath and said, “yes.”
I drove two and a half hours on a Friday afternoon in February to Grand Rapids. There I was greeted with a glass of red wine, wicked good Mediterranean food, and about 12 women of various ages. I arrived with the normal insecurities of anticipating a weekend with strangers and a woman with a doctorate who possibly wants to turn me into a flaming liberal.
Instead, perhaps halfway through the first session, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are safe. She is safe. My Word is safe with her.” Jackie pulsed with energy and vivacity but spoke calmly and kindly, and she loved scripture. As I was disarmed, I became aware that I wanted this so badly.
Jackie explained to us that because women are often not well trained or encouraged to be trained, we have a passion for God’s Word burning in us but feel we can only “speak from the heart." We feel unqualified or ill-equipped to teach from our minds. She presented a biblical case for us to be trained and equipped for the teaching of the Word without demanding, suggesting, or even implying I should cross party lines or change my beliefs. The Word needs to be shared effectively, whether to a congregation or a 6-woman Bible study. Over the course of the weekend she clearly and effectively gave us the tools to choose a passage, then observe, research, and interpret a passage, and finally prepare a manuscript.
As a child, I was homeschooled and tutored by my great-aunt Doris. In my first year, she took me through a reading primer with a plaid paperback cover which we nicknamed “The Plaid Book.” On the day I completed the last page, she handed me a book and asked me to read it to her. I protested that I didn’t know how to read, and she said, “Yes, you do. You just finished the Plaid Book.” I opened the book she handed me, and to my astonishment and joy, I read every word! I didn’t know she had taught me to read. This is so similar to my experience of the second phase of the Basics Course. In sitting through the first weekend, we didn’t know that Jackie had taught us how to write a sermon or had taught us to preach.
I sat down at my dining room table the first night, stared at my Bible and notebook, and said, “I can’t do this.” I then picked up my Basics Course manual, started where Jackie taught us to start, and lo and behold, I wrote a sermon.
When I got my manuscript rough-drafted and convinced myself I was proof-texting or possibly speaking heresy, Jackie was there via email to say, “No, you’re on the right track. Tweak this and this, and keep going.” A month later, we met again to deliver our 20-minute sermons, with joy in our reunion and camaraderie in the knowledge that we had all labored over our first little sermon babies since we had last been together. As each woman offered up her message, the consensus of spirit was amazement at how very hard she had worked, and how well she had delivered. When my turn came, in nerves I blazed through my sermon, but my heart shouted, “Yes! I love this! I was made for this!” Of course, the group feedback was, “slow it down, sister,” and “breathe,” but they also said it was good and that I should keep practicing.
In a year and half since the Basics Course, my pastor has graciously given me the opportunity to preach at least quarterly, and I’ve guest-shared at two other local Vineyard churches. I am so grateful for this privilege that many women don’t have, and grateful that over time, the Word has freed me to preach without condemnation. The real peak of my thankfulness surfaces every time I begin to panic at what lies before me: the sheet of paper, blank and mocking; the Word, quivering with life; and me, with every knowledge of my inadequacy; I can remind myself, “Wait. I know how to do this. Jackie taught me. I can write a sermon. Yes, indeed, I can teach.”