A preacher can do only three thing with an idea: explain it, prove it, and apply it… [in other words:] What does the text mean? Is it true? And so what? (Alice P. Mathews)1
Many Christian women today view the sermon-the proclamation of the gospel-as the centerpiece of the worship experience. They yearn for the serious pastor to stand with integrity in the pulpit, open his Bible to a particular text, and preach deep, accurate, biblical theology. They want him to explain the text and tell them what it means; prove the text and show them its truth; and tell them how to apply the text to their everyday lives. They desperately need God’s truth in His Word to get through the difficult and demanding week ahead. They depend on it!
Women Want Preaching to Be Bible Based
In a national survey of Christian women, most survey responses asked that more Scripture be taught in sermons. Many women told me they had recently left churches due to the lack of scriptural teaching in sermons.
A new Barna study shows that “a faith revolution is redefining ‘church.’” He writes: “There is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church. They have decided to get serious about their faith by piecing together a more robust faith experience.
“Instead of going to church, they have chosen to be the church, in a way that harkens back to the church detailed in the book of Acts…”2
More than anything else, women want their pastors to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2).
“The one thing that has encouraged me, and equipped me most to serve my family and others, is the Word-verse-by-verse study of the Holy Scriptures,” writes an Alabama woman.
“Please, Pastor,” writes another, “preach the Word clearly and deeply.”
“Focus on Scripture!” writes a Minnesota mom.
“Teach the Bible,” writes another, “and allow the Holy Spirit to convict your congregation.”
“I need a clear interpretation of Scripture,” explains an Ohio woman. “I wish pastors knew that women fight against the subtle pressures of culture as much as men. They need to have clear definitions from Scripture so they can biblically influence culture-and not the other way around.”
“We need to be fed the Word of God,” writes a Virginia woman, “We need spiritual food to face the pressures and temptations of life.”
Another writes: “Women today face the problem of not being familiar enough with God’s Word.”
“I want to know God more intimately and to know His Word more deeply. I want to hear more depth during Sunday services,” says a Florida woman.
Another begs: “Please, Pastor, preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is written.”
An Illinois woman writes: “I am grateful that my pastor understands that women and men alike have the exact same problem: their own sin-and they need the exact same solution: the gospel. The best thing my pastor can do for me, as a young woman in his congregation, is ‘preach the Word, in season and out of season.’ If he does this faithfully, then all women will be empowered through the Word and by the Spirit. … When any pastor rightly divides the Word of truth, Christian women will know that God is able to make all grace abound to them.”
Our Nation-A Smorgasbord of Religious Beliefs!
According to the Barna study, we are a nation where “nine out of 10 adults own at least one Bible,” and “eight out of 10 consider themselves to be Christian,” but you’d never know it from the “smorgasbord of religious beliefs professed by most people!” Many people today have adopted beliefs that “conflict with the teachings of the Bible and their church.”
Did you know that 44 percent of adults believe that “the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are all different expressions of the same spiritual truths”? And that only 38 percent of Americans reject that idea?
What do a majority of Americans (54 percent) believe about truth? They think “truth can be discovered only through logic, human reasoning, and personal experience.”
“Over the past 20 years we have seen the nation’s theological views slowly become less aligned with the Bible. Americans still revere the Bible and like to think of themselves as Bible?believing people, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Christians have increasingly been adopting spiritual views that come from Islam, Wicca, secular humanism, the Eastern religions, and other sources. Because we remain a largely Bible?illiterate society, few are alarmed or even aware of the slide toward syncretism-a belief system that blindly combines beliefs from many different faith perspectives.”3
It is imperative that pastors today focus worship services on Scripture. Thom Rainer writes: “The clear teachings of biblical truth are demanding and convicting. The Holy Spirit speaks through God’s Word in such a way that the cost of discipleship is understood. No higher expectations could be placed upon believers than these truths of Scripture.”4
Philip Yancey writes: “I find it remarkable that this … diverse collection of manuscripts written over a period of a millennium by several dozen authors, possesses as much unity as it does. To appreciate this feat, imagine a book begun five hundred years before Columbus and just now completed. The Bible’s striking unity is one strong sign that God directed its composition. By using a variety of authors and cultural situations, God developed a complete record of what he wants us to know; amazingly, the parts fit together in such a way that a single story does emerge.”5
Christian women want their pastors to teach them this Word. They also have a number of other suggestions concerning the pastor’s leadership of the worship service.
Carefully and Prayerfully Prepare the Sermon
Women ask that pastors pray and study and allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit as they prepare their worship service sermons.
“I need for my pastor to study and prepare sermons that will help my growth as a Christian,” explains a Tennessee woman. “I need more scriptural ‘meat.’”
“Preach the Bible-study hard-don’t pull sermons off the Internet,” advises another.
“Know that I love you and support you, and I appreciate the time you spend in study and prayer before God,” writes an Alabama woman. “It shows in your messages and I really desire the spiritual food you provide each week.”
Get Rid of ‘Entertainment’ in the Worship Services
Most women go to church to worship God and to hear his Holy Word preached. They are tired of Sunday morning “entertainment” in the service. They want worship, not performance. The world offers them entertainment without ceasing. They expect and want something different from church.
According to pastor/church growth consultant Richard Krejcir: “Some preachers strive to make the gospel more appealing by watering down its message. … A healthy church will never sacrifice the integrity of the Bible or neuter its message.”
Krejcir advises Christians who are looking for a church community to “first look for a place where truth is preached from the Bible-where God’s Word is seen as living, relevant, changeless, and inerrant, rather than just a ‘good book’ filled with advice on how to be a more loving, moral person.”6
A Michigan woman writes: “I would like more teaching from Scripture and less entertainment in church worship. I’m weary of all the skits and sing?a?longs and interpretive dance. Many of us don’t have a strong enough foundation in God’s Word to face life’s struggles. Preachers need to help build strong Christians so that we can weather the storms in life. Many times I feel we lose sight of the real reason we attend church.”
Another complains: “The worship service seems to be all fluff these days.”
I love author Annie Dillard’s comments as she describes the potential power of the Holy Spirit in our worship services, and how unaware Christians are of his power: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?”
Dillard compares today’s church to “children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares…. For the sleeping God may someday wake and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return..”7
Crash helmets? Life preservers? Flares? What would happen if Christians today did invoke the power of the Holy Spirit? How lightly we can take the worship of God even when Jesus took it so seriously! Women tell me that some churches today differ very little from the community’s country clubs.
Show Women How to Apply God’s Word to Their Lives
Women need for pastors to show them how to apply God’s Word to their everyday lives, especially those who face challenges and difficulties.
A woman from Mississippi writes: “I think it is important for pastors to help us apply the Bible more to our daily life, and show us how to claim the joy that Christ gives.”
Another responds: “I want the worship service to engage both my heart and my head so that I may love God with all my heart, strength, soul, and mind C during everyday life.”
A woman from Ohio says: “I want my pastor to know that I appreciate very much the teaching of God’s truths, and I’d like more practical applications given. He often tells me what I should do; now please tell me how to do it!”
In her book Preaching That Speaks to Women, Alice Mathews writes: “A fundamental aim of preaching is to empower listeners to incorporate what they have heard from Scripture into solutions to the challenges of everyday life.”8
I also discovered that many women want their pastor to enable them, through God’s Word, to reach out to other women around them. One Midwestern woman writes: “I would like to see pastors taking the lead in guiding the women of their congregations to not be satisfied with spiritual status quo, but to be keenly interested in how a relationship with Christ calls women to look beyond themselves into a world of need.”
Offer Compassion and Special Instruction to the Hurting Women
A Texas woman writes: “We all have emotional needs C our hearts are broken over something or someone. Please, Pastor, consider that in preparing your sermon. Be sure the Greek translation doesn’t upstage the broken hearts. Allow the Holy Spirit to confirm and bestow the compassion that’s needed.”
“Women on every pew in the church are hurting for one reason or another on any given Sunday,” writes another. “When preachers handle God’s Word effectively, the Holy Spirit will speak to each open heart with healing and conviction.”
“Preach sermons that speak to hurting women C divorced, widowed, infertile women, etc.” suggests a New England woman.
A woman experiencing serious marital problems writes: “First of all, I know and believe in the power of the Word of God … however, I personally wish my pastor knew how to address issues that are at the heart of women like me … women who are divorced or separated, women who are seeking guidance and direction for their lives, women who desire to know and learn how to touch the heart of God and to enter into his presence, women who strive for righteousness but still fall short of God’s glory. I wish my pastor incorporated into his sermons those things that speak to my needs.”
“The biggest problem church women face today is an improper view of God,” says a California woman. “We have been wounded in our pasts (many of us), and we view God the way we see men, our fathers, husbands, etc. We don’t realize and understand God’s infinite love for us.”
A New Mexico woman praises her pastor: “I am blessed with a pastor who does a very commendable job of communicating both biblical truth and true compassion to the women of our congregation.”
Stop Stereotyping Single Women in the Congregation
More than one single woman wants her pastor to preach sermons that don’t always stereotype the single adults in the congregation.
“My pastor just assumes that every single woman in his church is desperate to get married!” writes a young single woman. “It always comes through in his sermons!”
From Alabama: “As a single woman, I wish pastors would learn how to preach more messages that speak to the hearts and needs of singles. I am burned out on topics like, `Being Single and Satisfied,’ `Lonely But Not Alone,’ and `How to Choose the Right Mate.’ I wish pastors would spend time talking with us who are single to find out what our needs are. We are such a diverse group C some of us have never been married, some have been divorced, some have children, some are in their 20s or 30s or 40s or 50s. We are all unique. We each have different goals in life.”
Use More Stories and Examples from the Lives of Biblical Women
Women constantly hear pastors preach on the triumphant men in the Bible. They want to hear more about the Bible’s triumphant women.
A Wisconsin woman writes: “I would like my pastor to know my desire to hear sermons/teachings from the pulpit that include godly women from the Bible, like Deborah for example. Men have something to learn from the Bible’s godly women, just as we have much to learn from Paul and other men. I don’t understand why preaching about women (other than Mary, Jesus’ mother, at Christmas) is reserved only for women’s Bible studies or Sunday school classes.”
A woman from South Carolina writes: “I wish our pastor wouldn’t use so many male?oriented and sports illustrations to make his preaching points. Some women can’t relate to them much at all.” But another wants her pastor to know that “just because we might not understand sports examples doesn’t mean we cannot understand spiritual/doctrinal issues.”
Says another: “I would like for any pastor to understand that no matter what he says in his sermons … what he is comes through louder and clearer.”
The Three Big “Preaching Mistakes”
While some pastors may think these following three issues are trivial, be assured that they are not trivial to the women in your church. Women, in unison and in all seriousness, tell me pastors must-at all costs-avoid making these three major mistakes when they preach to women:
• Do not make jokes about women that are insulting, demeaning, or rudely stereotypical.
A popular, highly admired evangelical preacher stood in the pulpit and asked: “Do you know the difference between an angry woman and a Doberman pinscher?” (The answer): “Lipstick.” Sixty percent of the congregation did not laugh. Nor did they hear anything else he said after that crude joke. A Kentucky woman writes: “Women want respect from the pulpit-no jokes about women or degrading comments toward women.”
• Don’t ever mention or refer to a woman’s age.
Like it or not, many women are self?conscious about their age-especially after they have celebrated their 25th birthday! They cringe on Mother’s Day when the roses-laden pastor inevitably asks from the pulpit: “Will our oldest mother stand up?” And pastors wonder why no one stands! On Mother’s Day at one Southern Baptist church, a pastor thought he was honoring elderly Mrs. Jones, when he asked: “Mrs. Jones, you are the oldest mother in the congregation. Will you please lead us in our closing prayer?” Mrs. Jones slowly stood up, white-knuckled the pew in front of her, and said loudly: “No, I won’t!”
• Not viewing women as unique and individual.
Today’s Christian women have much in common, but they are also individuals. That’s why, when Lazarus died, Jesus comforted Martha and her sister Mary in different ways. Martha needed a theological dissertation about the resurrection, so Jesus preached to her on an academic level. Mary, on the other hand, needed someone simply to cry with her. So Jesus wept. (See John 11.)
Just as all men don’t like fly fishing or baseball or aren’t all mechanically inclined, women aren’t the same either. For example, while some women love to cook, other women hate to cook. Some women like to shop; other women hate to shop. Some single women want to get married; other single women want to stay single. Some women want to become mothers; other women don’t want children. You get the idea.
Denise George is an author and speaker who resides in Birmingham, Alabama. Her newest book is What Women Wish Pastors Knew (Zondervan).
1. Alice P. Mathews, Preaching That Speaks to Women (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003), 73.
2. ”A Faith Revolution Is Redefining ‘Church’ According to New Study,” The Barna Update, October 10, 2005, www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?PageCMD=Print (accessed October 10, 2005).
3. ”Americans Draw Theological Beliefs from Diverse Points of View,” The Barna Group, October 8, 2002, www.barna.org/FlexPage.arpx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdate7D=722 (accessed June 28, 2005).
4. Thom S. Rainer, High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 41.
5. Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 21.
6. Quoted in Julie?Allvson Ieron, “Spiritual Life,” Today’s Christian Woman, ChristianityToday.com., www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/2005/004/11.54.html (accessed March 10, 2006).
7. Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (NewYork: HarperCollins, 1988), 40?41.
8. Mathews, Preaching That Speaks to Women, 63.