“Girls can’t be drummers.” My 3-year-old daughter.
“I had no idea I could be a youth pastor.” A female high school student.
These two statements have had a profound impact on my pursuit of gender equality. Let me start with my daughter.
She and I love to watch music videos together and one morning, we were watching a band with a girl drummer. With the certainty of a toddler, she uttered the statement above that broke my heart a little bit.
She wasn’t sad; she wasn’t feeling excluded. This was just the simple reality for her because she had never seen a woman drummer before. Of course, girls can’t be drummers!
The situation was remarkably similar for that female high school student. Every winter, we hosted a winter retreat for middle school and high school students. Every year, we invited a local pastor or youth pastor to be our speaker for the weekend. And every year, that pastor was a man.
I realized what we had been unintentionally communicating to our students by this choice: girls can’t be pastors. So I decided it was time to invite a female pastor to be our speaker.
(Side note for any pastors or event planners reading this: it was significantly more challenging to find a local female pastor for that weekend. It was tempting to give up and just default back to hiring a male pastor. But this scarcity of female pastors in comparison to male pastors highlights just how important it is to do the extra work, to go the extra mile to make our pulpits inclusive.)
After weeks of reaching out and networking, we finally found a female pastor who agreed to be our speaker for the weekend. She was phenomenal and offered such a different voice and experience than any of the speakers before had brought.
Just as importantly, the female high school students saw that women can, in fact, be pastors.
Shortly after these experiences, I was reading the book, Speak, by Nish Weiseth. In that profound exploration of empathy and human experience, she wrote these words:
“When we listen to voices that have been silenced, we become more fully human.”
Prior to this retreat, I had taught the high schoolers about the equality of men and women. I had preached about the possibility that God might be calling any of them into ministry. I had also told my daughter on numerous occasions that she could do anything that boys can do. But it took hearing and witnessing this reality first hand before either my daughter or that student really believed it.
These two encounters shaped the way I now pursue gender equality. I can preach about equality until my words run out, but until I put it into practice, they’ll always fall short. I can preach about the importance of hearing from voices that have been silenced, but as long as those words are only coming from my voice (that has never been silenced), they’ll always ring hollow.
The beauty of Weiseth’s statement and the pursuit of gender equality is that men and women both benefit. We all become more fully human when a plurality of voices is heard. Men who have grown up never hearing a woman preach are missing something. Inclusive pulpits are not just about showing young women that they too can pursue vocational ministry. Inclusive pulpits are about helping women and men become more fully human and hear the truths of God in fresh ways.
A closing word to any male pastors reading this. Based on my own experience: our egalitarian theology and preaching are not enough to convey the truth of egalitarianism to the women in our congregations. When we preach that women are equally gifted as preachers and pastors, yet fail to demonstrate this by inviting women into our pulpits, we’re missing the mark.
But this can be hard. There may not be any women who come to mind when you think about inviting a female pastor to preach and you may not find many resumes from women pastors when you begin a hiring process. Perhaps this should be a wake-up call to us to focus more heavily on investing in young women; training, equipping, and empowering them to be the pastors God has called them to be.