Jenny Salt is the Dean of Students at Sydney Missionary & Bible College for pastoral care and preaching.
What are the keys to preaching for women?
I spoke last time about the importance of knowing your audience. That will show when you preach. If you know your audience, then you won’t make certain assumptions. There are certain assumptions that people make about women: that women love to cook – I’m not really good at cooking! Women love craft – I’m hopeless at craft! All women are mothers – I’m not one of those either.
When you know your audience, you will be less likely to make assumptions about women. And the assumptions that you make can sound a bit condescending or patronising. Like when you throw in an illustration about craft just to tip your hat in the direction of a woman. Knowing your audience, listening to them outside the pulpit, means that when you preach, you will actually preach in a way that will engage with their minds and motivate their wills and warm their hearts, which is what we want as preachers anyway.
What are some ways of communicating that connect well with men, but not so well with women?
You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that a lot of men really enjoy the ‘shouty man.’ The passionate preacher who might get a bit angry sometimes. Men may not mind that. Now, I’m speaking as a woman, I’m not representing all women. But I don’t actually like that. I want passion, but I don’t want to feel like I’m getting in trouble and that they’re angry with me. So tone is very important for women.
You can show your passion in all sorts of ways, but it can be quiet as well as energetic. Smiling actually changes the sound of our words. When you smile, it not only engages people with your face, but it actually engages them with the tone of your voice. The more we can do that, whether we’re men or women, it actually means that women will lean in, emotionally if not physically, and engage with the preacher and listen.
There are things that men and women are similar in, in terms of what they want. I as a woman want what I suspect all men want as well, which is faithful and clear preaching, and expository preaching. That’s what women want too. Women don’t want don’t want fluffy and topical (not that topical is always fluffy). We want meaty, substantial expository preaching. When you know your audience that will particularly show in the application and in the illustrations.
What about humour?
Humour does work for women. But as a woman who preaches to women, I’m very careful in terms of using gut-wrenching stories, because in some contexts, if you can get a woman to cry, then you know you’ve nailed it as a preacher. Whereas I think that for men it’s probably more about the jokes. Sometimes preachers may make a joke about their wife, or about their mum or about some other woman in their life. And I notice that the men roar with laughter. You might see the wife, and she’ll be laughing too, because she knows the person who’s preaching and she knows he loves her. But the rest of the women will be smiling awkwardly, or not smiling at all, because women don’t necessarily warm to that. So it’s good to know how men and women are different, and what appeals to them. It doesn’t mean you’ve got to change everything that you do. But just being aware means that you’ll adjust some of the things you do so that you can engage with the women.
What about stories that will move people? It’s not the natural tendency for guys (particularly Australian guys) to lean into those emotions. In reformed evangelical circles we’re nervous about being manipulative as well in that. So where have you seen that done well?
How we relate to people generally will come through in how we preach. I’m thinking about the principle of SMBC, Stuart Colton. He’s very good at relating with people, all sorts of people. His sermons are dripping with grace, as they should be. I heard David Jones preaching a few weeks ago and he talked about ‘finger-wagging preachers.’ I don’t know if anyone likes finger-wagging preachers. We want our messages to be dripping with grace as it drips through God’s word.
Showing that grace, being people who recognise that we as preachers sit under the word of God as much as those who we’re preaching to, and demonstrating how the word of God is gripping our hearts, that will come through without necessarily using a gut-wrenching story. But sometimes a story where people lean in emotionally is where we’re sharing how the word of God has impacted us. And Stuart does that every time he preaches. Sharing how he’s so challenged and heart-broken with people that he knows and loves who are not in Christ, or knowing that there are so many people who don’t know the Lord Jesus. I don’t think anyone wants just information. We want to know how it’s engaging with our hearts, and I think men and women can do that. But watching someone who’s good at it, like Stuart Colton I think, will be helpful.
You mentioned the time we spend off the pulpit, actually engaging with your people. How can a male pastor do that with the women in our congregations?
I don’t think there’s any one way. For an older woman whose husband isn’t a Christian, for the minister to come up and say ‘hey can we catch up?’… for my mum, she’d be freaked out. But it might be just taking the opportunity at morning tea after church just to come up and say hello, remember her name, and maybe that’s enough. And then the next week, ‘how are you?’ Engaging that way. You’ve got to be able to read people and body language as well. I often talk about the importance of small talk. People often say, ‘I don’t waste my time with small talk, I want to go deep.’ How can you go deep when you haven’t actually been able to connect with people on any level? I learned as a flight attendant that I needed to get on with the other crew, because I was with them for 12 days or more overseas. So I learned how to do small talk. I honed that skill in the context of a jumbo jet. And I’ve seen how important it is to be able to connect with people on a relatively superficial level, because it helps to build rapport so then you can go deeper.
What’s the one thing that people should be taking away when it comes to what women want preachers to know?
Faithful, clear preaching and loving your people. That’s three things.