Women as Prophets in the Real World

Up to this point, we have looked at some theoretical ideas surrounding prophets.  The big question that I always want to ask is: “How does this impact the way I live my life?”  For women being a prophet involves what I am going to call a challenge/opportunity.  It is an extra hurdle that women work through, but if done well it opens up your community to new perspectives and possibilities.  Prophets are at their core truth-tellers.  They are truth-tellers about the world, and they are truth tellers about themselves.  They do not hide their light under a basket but put it “on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5:15b, NRSV).”

Truth-tellers in the World

In the world prophets, help to usher in a new reality.  In his evaluation of Moses and Exodus, Walter Brueggemann writes, “Something new happened in history with the Exodus and the Moses movement.  On the one hand, Moses intended the dismantling of the oppressive empire of Pharaoh; and on the other hand, he intended the formation of a new community focused on the religion of God’s freedom and the politics of justice and compassion.  The dismantling begins in the groans and complaints of his people; the energizing beings in the doxologies of the new community.”[1]  Moses sought a new social order that found freedom in God.  As prophets, women have the challenge/opportunity of embodying a new community; namely, one where all people have the freedom to live out God’s call on their life fully.

As women live into the people God asks them to be, they show their congregations a new social order, one where both men and women can fully live out God’s call on their life, regardless of whether those gifts and skills are typically thought only to be held by a man or woman.  Women leaders have the task of dismantling old beliefs and systems and energizing a congregation with new ways of being.

Here is the challenge for women; a substantial part of the work of a prophet is helping people express their grief and lament over the loss of the old ways of being. “It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death.”[2]  Oppressive forces can feel safe and comfortable.  Often men and women are willing to stay in oppressive roles because they fear what reality will be like without these restrictions.  The new order that the prophet seeks to bring into existence comes from lament that turns into praise.  As leaders, women will need to help their congregations mourn the loss of the oppressive forces in the world and move into a new vision for the world.

What this often looks like is anger and frustration over having a woman as a leader.  Most female clergy that I meet has some story of a church person telling them that they shouldn’t be in ministry, or that they wish they had a male for a pastor.  What women need to remember is that these statements are about lamenting the loss of an old order, and often have little to do with the woman’s actual leadership.  Female leaders walk people through a grief that often feels directed at them.  The opportunity is that women who can help their congregation lament, also get to help them rejoice and use their talents in ways they might not have thought possible in the old world order.

Truth-Tellers about Themselves

Women are also truth-tellers about themselves.  As this applies to leadership, “the traits, skills, and characteristics that we choose to embrace, develop, and claim as our own need to originate from this sacred space and place of truth-telling.”[3]  Women need to lead from their own God-given leadership gifts rather than from a place of defense over their role as a female leader, or from a place of compliance with male leadership styles.

“The church has projected, and will continue to project, leadership traits that it has decided are acceptable for church leaders, but that is largely determined by male constructions of church leadership.”[4]

What this means is that women need to know who they are as a leader, and lead from that core instead of trying to live out a more masculine form of leadership, because that is what is expected by the larger culture.

When I began preaching most of my examples of “good preaching” were male.  This created some problems for me.  Most male tones sound different from my higher pitched female tone.  When they sound powerful and authoritative, I sound harsh.  When they soften their voice to make a point, my voice goes to a higher pitch and is difficult to hear.  Not only did I sound different, but my content was different.  I shared stories that men did not seem to share, and I told those stories differently.  It took me years of work to find my preaching voice and style, but now I have a voice and style that is unique to me.  This type of challenge is repeated often in women’s leadership.  There is more work on the front end, but also greater reward on the flip side.

So my friends, do not hide your light under a bushel, you have been called to do something amazing.  Live out your call, but do so with your eyes wide open to the challenges that it will cause in the world.  Are the challenges worth it, absolutely.

[1] Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination 115.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Karoline M. Lewis, She: five keys to unlock the power of women in ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016) 156.

[4] Ibid, 161.

Gage HuntComment