My Journey as a Female Preacher

Larissa Marks

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MY JOURNEY

MY JOURNEYA few weeks ago, the pastoral leadership team of my church (which I am a part of) was planning the upcoming sermon series. When asked if I wanted to preach one of the sermons, I enthusiastically said yes.

My “yes” to preaching comes out of a deep sense of call to use my voice. I believe that preaching is one of the ways that God has empowered me to serve and minister to others.

I didn’t always feel this way about preaching. My journey as a female preacher has been a twisting path, filled with fear and insecurity.

While I was a student in college, I was part of a campus ministry that had both men and women leading and preaching. The female preachers I witnessed were confident and strong speakers who spoke with authority and power. Something began stirring in me – it was a whisper of a question,

“Could I ever do what those women are doing? Could I preach a sermon that guides people into a deeper place of knowing God?”

Meanwhile, I was dating a guy who had very strong beliefs against women preaching. He believed (and went to a church that believed) that primary leadership roles were only meant for men, and support roles were for women. Despite my own beliefs that God equally valued both men and women, I attended my boyfriend’s church for six months.

Oh, the foolishness that happens in romance. He and I had long discussions and debates about what Scripture said about the roles of men and women. We ultimately agreed to disagree, and eventually our dating relationship ended. But my confidence as a woman was shaken. In the aftermath of that relationship, I began to question myself. “Was I truly just as qualified as a man to lead and preach?”

As if God knew that I needed some encouragement in that season, I was surrounded by mentors who invited and empowered me to grow in leadership. When I graduated from college, I was invited to be a staff intern with the campus ministry at my school. Part of my role was to preach a few times a year at weekly large group meetings and various annual conferences. At that point, I wasn’t giving an enthusiastic “yes” to preaching; it was more like a reluctant, “I’ll try.” It turns out that God loves to work through people who say “I’ll try.”

In the weeks leading up to my first sermon, I was filled with anxiety and fear. I felt so unequipped. I fantasized about calling my staff supervisor, and making up an elaborate lie about why I couldn’t preach that night. The only thing that kept me from running away was a sense of call from God.

My first few sermons were okay. Not great, not terrible. But my inner world was filled with deep insecurity as a preacher. Before and after each sermon, I felt a great temptation to believe the voices telling me that I couldn’t do it, that other people were far more equipped than me. I frequently prayed, asking God for supernatural courage.

I remember tearfully sharing with one of my staff partners Jenny about all of my fear with preaching. Jenny looked me straight in the eye, and asked, “Larissa, are you preaching because you love God and love people?” I told her, “Yes.” Jenny responded, “Then you need to keep doing it.” And so I kept saying yes.

Another person who became a great advocate for me is my husband, Steve. He is a skilled leader and preacher, and I spent the early days of our relationship feeling a bit overshadowed. But Steve saw my calling and giftedness as a leader more than I did. Through all of my highs and lows as a preacher, he kept advocating for me. He encouraged me to say yes to preaching. We had opportunities to preach together, including a weekend conference for about 150 college students. Partnering with Steve, with the unique ways we are each gifted, has been a surprising place of healing and joy for me.

The more sermons I preached, the more I began to find my voice and my confidence. I got feedback from more experienced preachers. I continued to grow and learn, and I began feeling more comfortable as a female preacher. I started believing that I was not just called to preach, I was equipped by God to do it. I started believing that God had shaped me uniquely to preach with my own voice, and I didn’t have to do it like anyone else.

I am thankful for a church that invites both men and women to respond to God’s call in their lives. I am thankful for a husband who is a great ministry partner and advocate. I am thankful for men and women leaders who helped me be faithful to God’s call. I am thankful for a God who loves us and leads us into lives of joy-filled adventure.

Here I am now, preparing to preach a sermon at my church. I am hoping and praying that what I preach will join with the movement of God’s Spirit, and guide people into a deeper place of knowing God.

I am a female preacher, saying an enthusiastic “yes” to God.

Larissa Marks

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20 Comments

  • This is so encouraging – thank you for sharing your story here!

    I especially loved that your husband played an important role in affirming your calling and inviting you to join him in partnership. A beautiful picture of “co-leadership” in the kingdom of God.

  • Your articles are wonderful,men outraging, and you really understand the call of women in ministry. Thank you and please keep writing!

  • Joe Wheatley…re how does one know they are called? “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”…I think it isalso like Jeremiah…the word is like a fire that burns in the bones and one cannot be silent…that is why it is so weird that men want women to be silent…how can they be silent when God’s word is burning in their bones so they have no choice? Thankfully women like Amanda Berry Smith took the first verse mentioned here as confirmation from God that she was called and she, a former slave, led thousands to the Lord…Perhaps the best advice when you don’t understand the calling of someone else is to be silent and leave it be and if it be of God you will not be guilty of quenching the Spirit of God and if it is not then let God look after it…don’t you think?

  • Apologies from the admin team for taking so long to approve some of your comments! We are managing the blog via mobile phone this week while on the road, and the most recent comments didn’t show up on the mobile app. Discovered them when I was able to use a “real” computer this morning. Thank you for your patience and for your meaningful engagement!

  • Thanks for this. I have been working on a sermon for this Sunday for a couple of weeks, including tonight, and I’ve felt everything you described. Definitely needed to read this before I head to bed. Blessings, Larissa!

    • I’m glad my story resonated with you. God bless you as you preach your sermon!

  • ” I attended my boyfriend’s church for six months….Oh, the foolishness that happens in romance.”

    Very thankful that you didn’t marry this one,eh? Consider what a long miserable life you would have had…and the poor woman who married this entitled superior man…it is a terrible thing for a woman married to such a man to realize that he is wrong and now what?….because once in power, few will ever learn to share…and that is a spiritual tragedy.

    • I’m not sure what would have happened if I had married that former boyfriend. But I am certainly thankful for my husband who is an amazing partner!

  • Larissa, you write, “My “yes” to preaching comes out of a deep sense of call to use my voice.” As I read these posts I notice that many women write about a “call” to preach and I have been trying to understand that. Could you explain a “call to preach” as opposed to a personal desire to preach? How can you know if God is speaking to you or if your feeling comes from encouragement you have received from parents or teachers as you were growing up?

    • Thanks for asking your question, Joe. It sounds like you’re wondering how one discerns calling as opposed to any other internal or external motivations. Am I hearing you correctly?

      Here’s the thing – I think you’re painting a false dichotomy. Those things are not mutually exclusive from each other. I believe God uses those inner and outer things, moments, and people to invite us to live out his purposes. God did that with Moses, for instance. God planted in Moses is deeper desire to lead people and be an advocate for justice. Later, God refined those things through the counsel of wise people. God showed up to Moses in the burning bush, and gave him clear instructions about leading the Israelites out of slavery. God spoke to Moses through all of these things.

      I believe every single follower of Jesus is called to be disciples and make disciples. And each of us has a unique part to play in that. Some will be apostles, others preachers, others shepherds. God calls us to lead and influence in unique ways that are a convergence of our giftings (what I am passionate about), resources (what I have influence over), and the world’s needs.

      If you want to know more about my personal “call to preach,” I could probably write an entire article on that. My simple and short version is that I’ve had several moments of sensing that God wanted me to use my voice to extend the Kingdom of God. I didn’t initially want to…the idea terrified me (as I mentioned in the post).

      Should we be wary of thinking our call is solely based on a desire? Certainly. But does that mean one’s desire or the encouragement of others is to be ignored? No, I don’t believe so.

      Maybe my question to back to you is, do you have a sense of calling from God? Or have you experienced that? I’m truly asking, because I’d love to learn more about where your question is coming from.

      • Thank you for your answer, Larissa. I am a member of a denomination that has traditionally (and I think wrongly) taught that the Holy Spirit operates only through the word and has always discouraged any idea of a divine calling. Our preachers become preachers because they think they could be effective in the job, because they want to follow in the footsteps of a family member or preacher they admire or who has influenced them or because of support from friends or family. I have never heard one of them say he felt he was called. I have never felt any sense of a calling myself. I follow God’s word because I believe what I read in scripture and because God sent his son to die for my sins but there is no feeling of a “calling.”

        My choice of hobbies are influenced by my personal interests, my choice of profession was influenced by my father (it might have been better if I had listened to my own desires) and my choice of foods was influenced by what my parents fed me when I was growing up. God had no direct part in any of these choices. That is why I have trouble understanding a call to preach versus a desire to preach based on one’s experience in youth.

        When people speak of a calling I don’t know if they think they hear God speaking to them (“Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” Acts 10:13) or if they have a feeling similar to “the first time I saw that girl I knew I wanted to marry her.” Feelings can be misleading as when Paul was persecuting Christians because he thought that was what God wanted and Paul told Timothy some people have their “conscience seared with a hot iron.”

        We live in a time when we are told we can be all that we want to be. I am afraid some women want to preach the word simply because they want to. I think this has to be balanced with a teaching that the Pauline restrictions on women were influenced by first century Greco-Roman culture and that with changes in culture, women are now permitted to preach but, as with men, they are expected to have the education and ability to speak that will allow them to be effective in spreading the gospel. Preaching then becomes a personal desire and a chosen profession but not a calling.

  • Larissa,
    Thank you for sharing part of your journey as a female pastor. I too am a pastor and was a pioneer in my denomination. I was called to be a senior pastor where I served for 7 years. It was a wonderful blessing to my life and the congregation I served. Others have followed and thanked me for opening the way. However, people with strong opinions will hunt you down like a dog. Rev. Lamb

    • Hi Melissa! I love that you pioneered a way for others, and applaud the courage that took. I hope and pray for more to follow in your life.

  • I would’nt this is my overall impression on women’s ministry preaching. But, Personally, I share Larissa’s experience and I totally aprove her “I’ll try”. I am a coadjutor minister at a the parish of St. Luke – Rio de Janeiro – and I’ve been nnnow and then surprised by my priest absence just on time to begin our worship. It has helped me to trust in the Spirit’s guidance and that’s what We need most.

    • Thanks for your encouraging words, Arlinda. I pray that God will use you in mighty ways.

  • Thank you for your honesty Larissa. As a pastor living in Australia, preparing to preach next weekend, I was encouraged to read your personal journey Let us continue to be faithful to our calling to guide people ‘into a deeper place of knowing God’.

    • My pleasure, Colette. Thanks for reading, and I am so glad it was encouraging to you!

  • Praise God that you kept going because God hadn’t agreed with all the nay-sayers… Thank God for people and churches that agree with God not with doctrine that comes out of fear and intimidation. The Church is changed because of people like all y’all.

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