A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a Detroit newspaper. The reporter asked, “In watching your TED talk and reading through your articles, I notice you often refer to feeling unheard as a woman, but you never mention the difference in how people respond to your preaching now that you are a woman.”
I had not been asked the question before, and it got me thinking. There is actually a discernible difference in how people respond to my preaching as a female.
People always responded well to the preaching of Paul. (My apologies for speaking about myself in the third person, but sometimes it’s just easier.) After preaching at a megachurch in Chicago, one woman said, “Hey, what you said in your sermon, well, that’s the conclusion I was going to reach next month. Thanks for getting me there a little earlier.”
You always want to be one step in front of your audience. If you are a step behind, they are bored. If you are two steps in front, they are confused. But if you are a single step in front, they are ready to hear the insights you provide. And that is what people are looking for in a sermon – insight.
I always want to be one step in front of my audience, and I always want to provide both information and insight. I want them to say, “Oh I never thought of it that way before.” I have always wanted to touch both mind and heart, for that’s where the soul resides.
As a male in American evangelicalism, my presence carried weight. I had authority, granted by my education and accomplishments, but mostly by my status as a white male. Because I spoke to the right brain as much as the left, I was well received by women. In fact, women seemed to be a good bit more responsive to my messages than men. I used to speak at men’s retreats every now and again, but I was never a favorite.
When I preached as Paul, I felt alive. With the exception of how I felt as a father, I felt more alive preaching than at any other time I was living as a male. After I came out as transgender, it was 18 months before I preached again. The first time I preached as Paula, I used a sermon I had preached before. I paired it with different illustrations, but the guts of the sermon were the same. I wanted to be as comfortable as possible, and I needed the continuity. The sermon went wonderfully, but because it was a sermon I had preached before, the main sense I felt was comfort and familiarity.
The first time I wrote a new sermon as Paula, it was different. Very different. The writing process felt like I was opening drawers that had remained closed, well, forever. There were no depths that could not be plumbed and no thoughts that had to be censored. I brought all of myself to my study. When I preached that sermon, something else happened. People listened as I had never seen them listen before.
There is no question that as a woman I am often ignored by society. But when I preach, I feel as though I have every bit as much authority as when I was a male. In fact, I believe I have more. I think it is because I have the courage to exist in the world, to answer God’s call to be true to who I am. It is as though the audience says, “She was rejected by the church, but she still loves it, and the Spirit who gave birth to it. So if she is still in the church, then I wanna hear what she’s got to say.”
People do listen, carefully. They lean in and take to heart the words I speak from my own heart. I really enjoyed writing my sermon and preaching this past weekend. I’ve attached a link below. I feel a pleasure preaching that gives me great joy.
I was made to preach. Yes. Paula was made to preach. And it is wonderful to preach every other week with another human who was also made to preach, Jen Jepsen. We are the preaching pastors of Left Hand Church, and we love it! And thanks to the hard work of our co-pastor Aaron Bailey, we will preach the Word, in season and out, for as long as we are able.