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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ask the Matriach - "That'll Preach" Edition

Preaching the good news is at the core of most licensed and ordained calls to ministry. And it is as unique as each person who is called to it. But where do women find women who can serve as mentors or models in the task of preaching? That is our question this week:


OK, I would really love input on this question. Where does one find another FEMALE pastor to help a new FEMALE preacher get her sea legs? I ask this because while I got great reviews from my professors in homiletics, I have been getting slammed by my male coworker who tells me to do things that are not possible for a female voice to do - such as - more of a vocal range in pitch (hello - I'm female. I can't do low and gravelly and if I go too high, I sound shrill.) I know things are different in the "real world" of ministry... but I guess I need ideas on where to find a variety of preaching women. Do any RevGals have MP3s up that I can download? Or does their church need a little "donation" to send me CDs? I'm willing to do that.

My former vocal coach (I took speech in college) told me that my diction is excellent and her only critique was my rate of speech gets too fast. So I have worked on varying my rate of speech. I think this is a question of a model - being able to hear how other women preach. (not televangelists... ugh. Besides, I look dreadful in false eyelashes. hee hee)

Truthfully, I will listen to MP3s of anyone. Suggestions? I'll buy/download/beg/borrow/steal. I've read books written by female preachers, but not heard them deliver. And that's what I think I need -- I need some models to listen to... real life preeching women!!

I am...
A Preecher Woman

Ruth, who blogs at ‘Sunday’s coming!’ was the first to "ring in"...
Would love to give practical help – but we’re low-tech cassette-tape people in my neck of the woods. BTW I hate hearing my voice recorded - ‘do I really sound like that??’ - but I get good feedback from people that they find my voice reasonably varied and easily audible. I think one of the secrets of vocal range is about being more relaxed – I know my voice gets much ‘flatter’ & restricted the more nervous I am.

It’s interesting that browsing around on the internet I could find hardly any MP3s of women preachers – are we all shy?? Or just buried under tall he ‘women shouldn’t preach’ rhetoric.
But this site has some

Is it possible to team up with a real live woman preacher to do some vocal work together? - I think we all need positive encouragement – especially about something as personal as your voice.

Our newest matriarch, Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart, adds this...

Dear PW: I think you’ve offered some good suggestions—perhaps there are some RevGals out there who would be happy to include you in their media ministry by sending you cds,dvds or mp3s! A good source of homilies videoed can be found on 30 Good Minutes. Click on the sermon archives. You can check out all sorts of women and their styles on that good show. In the meantime, I’d invite you to embrace the great feedback you’ve received from vocal coaches and homiletics professors and continue to do what you’re doing. Perhaps a slightly slower delivery will be all that’s needed. I think it’s terrifically important to preach your own words in your own voice. Blessings to you!

And finally from the Vicar of Hogsmeade...

Your instincts are right on! I'm not sure you have to limit yourself to listening to female preachers. You can probably hear and see some effective women speakers in other areas, like tv news anchors & politicians. As you watch and listen, you can observe ways in which women create emphasis in different ways. I had a terrific speech professor in college who taught me that women can create emphasis by being softer instead of louder or intentionally speaking slower instead of faster. When you speak more softly, you can build back to "normal" and it is heard as if you were getting louder. The same professor talked about body movements and how we "hear" postures differently from men and women. There are all kinds of women who speak in public who can help us figure out ways to use our voices and our mannerisms as an advantage to bring home the message of the gospel and convey who God is in an authentic way with our own voices.

Do you have some suggestions for "Preecher Woman"? Please share them with all our readers by using the Comment function of of this feature. And remember, your questions about ministry are always welcome! Send them to


  1. Check out for a variety of voices.

  2. Okay, so you've taken voice lessons in college, and you've taken preaching lessons with rave reviews, too. You're not interested in pushing your range to the gravely or the shrill (which this former voice major agrees would have bad long-term effects anyway). Perhaps by pitch range, your colleague means volume--soft and warm and loud and powerful.

    Or perhaps he's just thinking you don't sound like a boy.

    So, unless your colleague is also a voice coach, and a homiletics professor, I think it's entirely possible that you are JUST FINE, and the person with the need to hear more women preachers is, in fact, your colleague, not you.

  3. I once hired a drama teacher to work with me. It did cost a little money but it was well worth it. And if this is part of an "official" critique from your current work, maybe you can use continuing education or other money to pay for it. I think listening to other women could be helpful but, for me, the one on one --and not from a preacher, ironically -- was the best thing. Maybe your male co-worker could join you and get some feedback on his own technique!

  4. Another place to look for audio-mentors: poetry websites that offer clickable "poetry out loud" features. I love to listen to women poets read their work aloud-- many poems are sermons in miniature, and you can learn how other spoken-word performers invest their words with as much meaning as possible in the time they've been given. If you live in an area that offers poetry readings or "poetry slams," try and go once or twice, even if you're not a "poetry person." You'll see several approaches to vocal presentation, and you can evaluate audience response to each.

  5. I agree with sko3. The problem may not be your voice. The problem may be your colleague. One of the hard things for me to do is to sort out when criticism is about me and when it's really about the critique-er

    Blessings on your ministry.

  6. BTW, Rev Honey-- LOVE that graphic!!!

  7. I love the suggestions offered here, but I also wholeheartedly agree with sko3.

  8. sko3 x 4! I don't think the problem is yours, but your colleague's. If you have access to some of your male classmates who heard you preach in a homiletics class, check it out with them. Ask neutral questions, like, "how would you rate my voice as a preacher?"

    In the meantime, there are other good suggestions here!

  9. Yup, the first thing that occurred to me was that your colleague may be the one with the issue, either from lack of exposure to females preaching or from some underlying hostility or feeling threatened. You have to find your voice, not his! I'd think about who in your congregation uses his/her voice effectively, either occupationally or in other settings (someone who reads in church that you think is especially effective?), and ask that person for feedback.

    However, all of us have room for improvement, so I like the idea of taking this as an opportunity to keep growing as a preacher. Two names come to mind for me: Barbara Brown Taylor and Katharine Jefferts Schori (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church). They are different in style, but both excellent preachers. Youtube may have some videos of them, or a web search might turn up others. BBT has some audiobooks; maybe you could find one at low cost on half[dot]com (and be sure to note it as a professional expense!).

  10. This video of Barbara Brown Taylor is quite good. In it, she both preaches and then discusses the preaching moment. I'm not sure if I still have it, or if I loaned it to someone - I'll have to check when I get home. If I do have it, I'd be happy to send it to PW. I can't believe what this is selling for, used no less, on Amazon - no way I paid that much when I purchased it.

    I would suggest something like Festival of Homiletics, where in addition to BBT and Anna Carter Florence, there are a variety of women preaching and leading in worship. I've been twice, and have picked up techniques and methods that I've tried.

    And add me to those agreeing with sko3. Your voice is your voice, and I'd give more credence to critique from homiletics professors than to your colleague.

  11. When I first started preaching I got similar feedback about the limit of my vocal variation (but without any sexism in the comments). I found that listening to podcasts in general helped. I found a 'cast I enjoyed (EscapePod-short scifi)and I've learned a lot and gotten much better. So if you don't find a good collection of mp3's of sermons....

  12. When I first read this earlier today, I had the same thoughts as sko3, Joan Calvin, mompriest, altar_ego, Betsy, and others, but apparently I was up too early and looking at this post before anyone else, so I bit my tongue. But now I join in the chorus of those suggesting that perhaps it's not you, it's HIM!

    That said, I also agree that exposure to other women preachers and enrichment classes/techniques/tools can never hurt anyone. Just make sure you don't feel like you're changing WHO YOU ARE in the process!

  13. what everybody else said, yes!
    I also adore Barbara Lundblad, who was my preaching professor, and has some audios on Day 1. Also, there are a variety of churches that do have streaming audio---my church does, and Old South Church in Boston (Nancy Taylor is the sr. pastor). Google those.

    I especially agree with sko3.

  14. This sounds like one of those situations where all the listening skills you have need to be put to work. Ask gentle questions of your senior pastor to see if what we all this is the case - that it's him and not you. Maybe there really is a specific that he just hasn't articulated.
    That said, I think everyone is right. ;-) Your best gauge of how well you preach is the people in front of you. Are they paying attention? Do they laugh, nod their heads, say amen? If you get good feedback from the congregation then you need to find away, again gentle, of telling the senior pastor that you have to be you.
    I'd recommend my parish's website for sample sermons but I confess it is embarrassing for me to listen to them!

  15. Look at it this way: you are a trained speaker. You are an individual. Unless you sound like you are preaching with a mouth full of marbles, (which let me tell you, the speech/homiletics prof that Joan Calvin and I had would have pointed out to you with her elegantly manicured index finger perched upon her top lip) I'm pretty sure the problem is not yours.

    The first time I heard BBT I thought "I've gotta get me some of that style" and my preaching class cohort called me on it immediately, which was a huge favor. So, listen to others if you want, but be you!

  16. I second (and third) what's already been said - find your own voice and be yourself!

    But if you'd like to hear some female preachers for comparison, Andover-Newton (the seminary I attend) has set up a site with videos from their Great Preaching series, which included three female preachers - check it out here:

  17. I would just add to all the good advice and feedback - is it possible that there may also be an issue with your church sound equipment?

    When I first got to my second church, I was frustrated and confused that many could not hear my resonably strong, clear voice. Brought a sound tech in- invited the folks who could not hear me to give feed back as we tested the equipment. Turns out the problem was lapel mics set for a deep bass voice with no treble output.

    We switched to a little headset mic ( much better for female voices IMO) and re-balanced the sound system - all good. Just a thought...


  18. This is great feedback, both in the post and the comments.
    There are some people who will never hear a woman's preaching voice as "whatever" enough: authoritative, dynamic, deep, loud, any or all of the above. Some of the finer points of how we express ourselves take time to develop, and it's my belief it's best done simply by preaching and being honest with our own selves about how that one went.
    In my case, having honest children who paid attention helped a lot, too.
    There is no one style for preaching that's right and no one type of preacher that's right, either. I'm sorry to hear that the pastor(s?) mentoring you enjoyed offering criticism more than encouragement.

  19. Welcome to ministry!

    Use your natural voice range. You cannot jump through hoops you're not born with.

    Cultivate your own natural rhythm in your natural voice range.

    I recall the doctor telling me when I had laryngitis he said not to sing at all. It could easily damage my vocal chords. It was very hard to was Christmas time.

    A preacher's voice is pretty necessary, so check in with somone who will help cultivate what you already have...that God gave you.

    If you need to slow your delivery down, I used to pencil in the word 'pause' , or a large 'P', when I should take a breath. In writing sometimes I'll put dashes right in the sermon.

    That will soon become more natural and you'll have your rhythm in swing.

    All the best in being you!

  20. I love that there is a group like this I get to eavesdrop on. [I am not game to have a blog becasue of the time I might spend on it.] As a minister in her first placement I love the advice and the encouragement you offer to all women in ministry.


  21. Try searching on You Tube for "female preachers" or "Women preachers" or some such thing. There are likely to be many sermons uploaded that are by women which you can see and hear!

  22. Also check into subscribing to In the Company of Preachers, put out by Luther Seminary (go to -- each segment includes preaching thoughts and advice, and then four sermons, which feature a variety of men and women. You'll hear some fine preaching, in a variety of styles.

  23. Here are some further suggestions from a reader that arrived via email:

    Jackie Roese (pronounced Reese) is in the regular preaching rotation at Irving Bible Church (Dallas area). Jackie is finishing up her D.Min. in preaching at Gordon-Conwell.

    Julie Pennington Russell at First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia.

    Thanks to our reader!

  24. great question. great conversation.

    This is not exactly what you've asked for, but have you read Anna Carter Florence's book Preaching as Testimony? She gives some great advice about sermon prep, which is why I originally got it, but the part of the book that ended up most inspiring me was the beginning, where she offers a history of women in preaching. It really helped me feel that I hadnt just inherited homiletics as a tool of the patriarchy, but that my particular voice as a women had a tradition I could draw on.

    And based on that run-on sentence, et you can guess the critique _I_ get most often when I'm preaching, huh?

  25. I think you've got some supportive sisters too! I do think Free Flying Spirit hit it on the nose..
    Your own voice... natural rhythm + God's word = your style.
    Interestingly the comment was not about content...
    Blessings to you.
    You'll find your voice.
    And I'll bet anything that there are folks, women and men, who can hear you better than the commenter since your range is probably easier to hear.
    God abides

  26. Oh dear, I had a similar comment from a seminary professor - he thought my voice was too high. (Note: I took 3 different preaching courses, and only got this comment in one.) Fresh off a congregation who said they loved my warm voice, I questioned his view & patriarchy immediately. (In retrospect, not exactly a smooth exchange.)

    Of course he denied any such thing! My colleagues in class contradicted him out of earshot.

    To this day I'm convinced he would not sit in my congregation for long - not because of my voice but other stylistic differences that went unmentioned (i.e. low church vs. high church.) One day I realized that how people hear you is a factor of your relationship in addition to auditory stimuli!

    May God ease your concerns as you find your voice.

  27. I have nothing original to add - I agree with finding your own voice & using your own register! One side-thought is that your "normal" speaking voice might not have enough resonance in the pulpit and you need some work with breath support and appropriate pauses.

    I agree that there are far too few female preaching models but we shouldn't copy another preacher's rhythm, cadence, or style. But it'll take some experimenting on your part to find your authentic voice.

    I don't preach every Sunday & have the opportunity to supply preach at a variety of churches through the year but you can click HERE for one of my recent sermons. I'm certainly no Barbara Brown Taylor but I'm comfortable with my style (took me several years to get there - with NO mentors/examples).

    God bless you as you continue to find your voice and YAY for this safe place we can all come to hash these things out! :)

  28. This is SOOoo incredibly helpful! Thanks a million!

    I sent the sermons I've done to three preaching friends (2 women, 1 man) and they all were encouraging and challenged the feedback I had been given. One did suggest that the "variation" I need to work on is actually speed -- putting in those pauses, or changing up my natural cadence.

    Since I'm a singer/instrumentalist I'm pretty comfortable with breath support, but I will be more intentional about my breathing the next time I practice.

    This is a wonderful supportive environment and you can BET I will visit all these links!!!

    Blessings all -
    Preecher Woman


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