Monday, July 12, 2010

Preaching and Me

Although I have chosen a path in academia, which tends to be thought of as a very abstract, unpractical field, I love the art of preaching--an assuredly practical matter. I have loved preaching for some time. Even when I was "just a girl" at a conservative Southern Baptist Bible college, I willingly endured the patronizing pats on the head in my preaching classes because I loved it. (And, maybe because it was something "off limits" to me, I treasured the time I got to study it even more.)

For me, communicating Scripture to the gathered people of God is one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks to be performed within the Church. I know that for others, acts of service or mercy or leading congregational prayer provides the same fulfillment. But, for me, nothing compares to preaching.

It was a joy for me, then, when I attended Truett Theological Seminary and discovered that they took seriously the task of training all their M.Div. students to preach the Word--male and female. I was privileged to study preaching for three semesters under Dr. Joel Gregory. Through his tutelage, I realized that preaching, when done well, is a dynamic combination of several fields I love: biblical studies, theology, pastoral care, and communication.

At the end of my time at Truett, I was shocked and dismayed to be chosen for an award in preaching. And, when I say I was shocked, I'm not being falsely humble or disingenuous. I was truly shocked. Although I enjoyed preaching, I had always looked upon it as a sort of "guilty pleasure"--something I might enjoy, but certainly couldn't admit to enjoying and certainly couldn't do in public, in front of real people. Even though by this time I had left my conservative views on women in ministry, in my heart and mind, preaching was still off-limits to me because I was "just a girl."

Imagine my anxiety, therefore, when I discovered that the award came with the honor and responsibility of preaching to a special chapel service at the seminary! Dr. Gregory graciously did his best to assuage my anxiety and I prepared and delivered a message that I felt suitable for our students. (If you're interested, you can actually read a copy of the manuscript for that sermon here).

During the four years I spent at Truett, I was blessed to have a number of articles published, both in journals and book-length works. This was a tremendous privilege for someone at my stage of education and overall academic experience. Also, you just can't underestimate how important such early publishing experience is to future academic life. (And, to be completely frank, it was a great thrill to see my name in print!) Even so, now that I have almost three years of hindsight, I can honestly say that preaching the chapel service at Truett was, without a doubt, the highlight of my time in seminary. It was the "mountaintop experience" of my graduate studies and something I'll treasure always.

Still, as I reflect on that experience, I can't help but feel a bit melancholy. Preaching for Truett Seminary was the first time I preached in a public forum to a gathering of God's people and it was the last time I did so, as well. And, as far as things go for now, it seems as though it is going to remain this way for some time to come.

Recently, I've wondered to my husband whether or not I ended up choosing a life in academia, at least in part, because I couldn't find a place for myself as a woman within the Church. Actually, we've had the conversation several times. I don't know for sure if this is so, but its definitely possible. From an early age--about 15 years-old, if I remember correctly--I wanted to be a pastor/preacher. But, slowly, I let go of this aspiration and turned my attention to something else I was good at: research, writing, and teaching. And, that is my chosen path for now.

I don't believe that God has a "perfect plan" for my life. I believe I'm given a certain amount of freedom, within my calling to love Him and embody His Kingdom, to do what I want with the gifts and skills I've been given. So, I take full responsibility for the choices I've made and the direction I've chosen for my life's work.

Still, there's a constant (albeit, small) niggling sadness within me, especially on Sundays, that I'm not participating in the proclamation of God's Word on a consistent basis. Call it ingratitude. Call it wishful thinking. Call it immaturity. Call it female "rebellion." Call it whatever you want. All I know is, its there. I want to preach. I love to preach. But, for now, I wait on the Lord.

8 comments:

Lory said...

Em, I have found a home for women in ministry and for women in the pulpit within the Disciples of Christ denomination. Amazing people...and my pastor, she preaches every week. Not sure that you guys would ever consider such a move over, but it has been a God-send for me!

Love you lots.

L

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks, Lory. I'm really glad to hear that. We have had many conversations about our denominational "home," and not just because of my (our) views on women in ministry. We haven't come to any conclusions yet, but I think you could say that the discerning process is ongoing. Thanks again for your testimonial. We will definitely keep that in mind.

Grace and peace,
Emily

P.S. I miss seeing you. :)

steve lewis said...

Emily,

You don't me and I don't know you. I appreciate your reflections here, and I have a friend that would also appreciate them. His name is Jim Henderson, and he's recently released some data from a Barna poll he commissioned while working on a book dealing with issues around women and the church. This post falls right in with what he's looking for.

Check out the survey here: http://offthemap.com/2010/07/03/recent-national-survey-of-christian-women-reveals-%E2%80%93-things-going-great/

Peace

Anonymous said...

Em, I heard you preach that day at Truett and I'd come to hear you preach any time, anywhere!

Linda

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Linda, you're too sweet. Thank you. I couldn't have made it those years at Truett without you and others loving me through it. I'm so grateful for you!

Love,
Emily

Josh Lawson said...

Hey Emily! Nice to meet you. I found my way to your blog via a brother David Flowers.

I like this post. I also resonate with your desire to proclaim God's Word. I think it is a longing that is instinctive to the spiritual nature of every believer. However, I think it points to something more than just the pulpit.

Please don't take this as my trying to be corrective or condescending, but personally I have not been able to escape the bare reality that in the first century all believers in the church were priests, both to the Lord and to one another. Only this priesthood was not theoretical but practical. When God's people gathered together there was a mutuality of ministry that left the field wide open for any among them who were gifted to teach and had the desire to preach Christ to do just that.

In the past few years I've had the privelege of gathering with a handful of believers who practice this kind of a church life, and I must say that it answers perfectly to the kind of longing you have described yourself as having here.

In short, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe it is the birthright of every Christian to be surrounded by other brothers and sisters who speak the word of God to each other on a daily basis. And not just in their daily relationship with each other, but in the gathering as well. Have you ever looked into anything like this?

Christiane said...

Hi JOSH,

I have wondered, concerning Emily's gifts, if the Lord intends for her to be His servant in the wider Christian community, to bring healing and understanding where it is possible.

Charlie Mac said...

I have followed your blog for awhile. I have used your thoughts a number of times when the "issue" of women preaching or teaching men has come up. You are more of an inspiration to others than you know.

For what it is worth, I as a layman, would say continue to be patient and wait for the door to open. When that happens you will be ready and so prepared.
Charlie Mac