You Can’t Do That at My Church
How I found my voice and answered God’s call to preach
We have embarked into the 21st century. We have witnessed amazing discoveries in science, medicine, and technology. Despite all the advancements, some churches still permeate with prohibition of women in spoken ministry.
Maturing in biblical knowledge, it baffles me how the church ever got blindsided by the “let your women keep silent” philosophy. God has always achieved miracles, deliverances, and healings through women. Who sent the memo that women were to be “muzzled”? From Sarah in the Old Testament to Phoebe in the New Testament, God used these women and many others to change the course of history. Having read the Bible from cover to cover countless times, I have never seen women forbidden to be used by God. Contrary to popular belief, it was and is the tradition of men that have eloquently crafted the muzzle made for women.
Despite what you may feel about a woman’s proper place in the church, I would like to share my story with you.
Where It All Began
Although my parents were both Christians, their worship styles ranged from conservative to charismatic. My parents divorced when I was five, and I lived with my mother. I was privileged to experience God through good old church hymn singing and energetic, exhausting worship. Our church was charismatic, possessed dictatorial leadership theories, and was very legalistic. Needless to say, wearing pants, make-up, and jewelry was unacceptable. Despite the legalism, I served the Lord and the church faithfully.
Then It Happened
At 19, I sensed a call to ministry. Well, that would seem great, right? Wrong. God was calling me to preach. In my church, that was an emphatic no-no. Women were permitted only to pray, sing, testify, and teach Sunday school. If she were undeniably gifted, a woman could have “a little ministry.” Allowing a woman to preach in my church would have been like issuing a passport to doom. We were warned God does not use women to preach. These words bombarded my brain, and the call of God pounded inside like the battle of Armageddon. If I obeyed God, I would be labeled a devil. Anyone who walked contrary to leadership was considered a devil.
How was I going to explain this? I mentioned it to my mother; she was indifferent. My father, a seminary graduate, was skeptical. I was in trouble. God was calling me to preach, and the tomatoes were already splattering on my face. I resisted for fear of rejection, but the Lord provided confirmation. In the face of obstacles, like the prophet Jeremiah, the calling burned like fire. A muzzle had already covered my mouth. I had some tough choices: Would I obey God or chicken out to please men?
Who wants to be labeled a devil? Not me. I tucked my feathers and clucked like a chicken. I continued to sing in the choir, participate in youth activities, and testify. Why? Whenever a woman “appeared” to be preaching, a carefully crafted 1 Corinthians 14:34 message was bashed into our brains. This bash-and-smash method kept us submissive. Imagine this: eager and excited about the call of God, only to have your dreams smashed to powder, using the Bible.
I knew about Deborah, Esther, Phoebe, I even knew about Priscilla. I studied them on my own. How did these women get omitted from the Bible? Well, they were not technically omitted from the Bible, just from the one that was used at my church. In my Christian upbringing, some of the most powerful women were never discussed, although they were undeniably catalysts used to usher the plan of God into motion. In traditionally legalistic environments, women are almost always viewed as inferior and could never be selected by God for gospel ministry. How can that be possible if the woman at the well ignited the revival in Samaria and Priscilla, alongside her husband, taught Apollos a more excellent way?
It’s so important that we understand the real context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Why? This Scripture has been used to keep women in bondage for many years. These Scriptures taught in improper context or without biblical interpretation have thwarted many destinies, thus hindering the real work of God in many lives. The amazing part of this diluted context is that many never read verse 36. The Apostle Paul was addressing a concern at the church in Corinth, which was known for idolatrous worship and continuous confusion. One of the major problems with the Corinthian church was they often tried to bring the customs of the day into the body of Christ.
Historically in Corinth, the women were considered second-class citizens and their places of responsibility were the kitchen and the bedroom. Therefore, according to those in leadership, they should have been regarded the same way in the church. So the Apostle Paul addressed their concern by regurgitating what they said and then rebuked them with a rhetorical question in verses 36-38. How could women be commanded to keep quiet in the service when they were permitted to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11? The only reason these Scriptures have been successfully used as they have been over the years is because many of us have failed to obey 2 Timothy 2:15 and have the guts to stand firmly on the Word of God in the face of extreme opposition and rejection.
The best defense of this erroneous teaching is to study and have the spiritual discernment to rightly divide the Word of God.
But I always heard that a woman is to keep silent. Well, if she is to keep silent, then why can she teach Sunday school and testify? Silence means no talking, right? I asked these questions silently in my head; I was too chicken to ask them aloud.
Once while in college, I bravely declared the gospel at a youth service. Well, I shared this awesome experience with my pastor; I was grossly rebuked and muzzled. I sat there for the next 12 years, forbidden to preach, fearful of rejection, doing the “permitted,” suffering in silence and disobedient to God. I tried repressing the call, but the conviction grew. God constantly asked this soul-gripping question: “When are you going to obey me?”
Painfully, I replied, "Lord, I can’t do that.”
Most Christians well never admit that we have often pledged more allegiance to the authority of man than God. I did. Regrettably, I traded the liberty of God for the chains of man.
A Way of Escape
I married a minister. We discussed the call of God on my life, but we vowed to submit to leadership. The mercy of God was ever present in my life. Despite my disobedience and fear, God prepared a way of escape through my husband.
My husband was appointed youth minister, and I assisted him. Unknown to us, God was preparing us to lead a congregation. After seven years as youth minister, God called my husband to the senior pastorate.
Three years into the pastorate, God began to convict both of us concerning his will for our lives and ministry. After a Jacob’s-wrestling experience, God made it clear that it was time for me to walk in obedience. Sitting on the side of the bed, I replied, “God, I can’t do that!” We were still connected to our home church.
When I came out of the bedroom, my husband, unaware of my conversation with God, spoke these words: “You know you must preach the gospel!”
The words of my husband delivered me. Eventually, we severed the ties to our home church. We were able to experience a freedom in Christ that is amazing. Finally, we could both walk in total obedience to his will.
As a result of fully obeying God, many women have come to find their purpose in God through By His Side Ministries, an outreach God has given me to ministry wives. God has also afforded me an opportunity to raise the foundations of future generations through teaching and mentoring young girls and women. What an awesome honor for God to deliver you from bondage and use it as a catalyst to set others free. I had a real woman-at-the-well experience.
Many women who identify with my struggle—and some who have an even greater struggle—are forbidden from speaking by their own husbands. But God always has a plan and purpose in the midst of a painful process. God sometimes allows us to be held captive so we will know he is a strong deliverer. The struggle through fear, rejection, disobedience, and suffering in silence made my calling sure. I learned God does the calling and equipping. Struggle is necessary. Struggle gave me the power and sensitivity to birth ministries for women and girls.
There were five strategies that kept me alive in the struggle. I prayed continuously, fasted regularly, studied the Bible without ceasing, trusted God when I could not trace him, and waited on his timing. I am thankful for the experience. I would not be who I am without this process. And at my church, women can preach the gospel.
Domeniek L. Harris is a freelance writer, speaker, professional educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, interdenominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She is a co-laborer in pastoral ministry, and pastor's wife, at Bibleway World Outreach Ministries in Cordova, Tennessee.