The Rise of Feminist Storytelling

March 5th, 2017

The Church hasn’t always been too kind to women. Which is hard for me to write, much less come to terms with. I was raised in a very conservative, southern church. Every Sunday, I remember seeing men I knew well serve communion, take up the offering, and provide pastoral assistance at the altar call. I remember seeing the deacons meeting adjourn and never seeing one woman among them. I quickly learned that these church leadership positions were not for women and that hurt. At the same time, I remember distinctly that I felt a calling to these same positions.

Many years later, I’m now on staff as a full-time youth director, something I never saw myself doing. Perhaps, because this simply wasn’t an option in the denomination I was raised in. In fact, I never saw a woman preach a sermon or be the head of church staff until I was in college. Today, only “10% of American congregations have a female as their senior or sole ordained leader”  according to The Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Furthermore, the Faith Communities Today 2010 national survey of a fully representative, multi-faith sample of 11,000 American congregations found that 12% of all congregations in the United States had a female as their senior or sole ordained leader. For Oldline Protestant congregations this jumps to 24%, and for Evangelical congregations, it drops to 9%. It seems we still have a long way to go in terms of finding a place for all people inside the church.

Feminist Storytelling

However, outside of the church, something is awakening, feminist storytelling. Outside the traditional walls of our mainline denominations, women are finding a place to speak their truth, teach spiritual lessons and talk authentically about how Jesus is working in their lives. They lift up each other, they support global and local organizations for the poor, the vulnerable and the disenfranchised. Many say this is nothing new, women have been preaching and teaching outside the church forever. That’s true, to an extent, but not like this.

Four years ago, I started seeing many of my friends liking the posts of a woman named Jen Hatmaker. I became curious, wondering who is this person and what is she all about? I began just reading her posts that were liked by my friends. I kept waiting to be angered and turned off by what she had to say. It hasn’t happened yet. I was intrigued by what she had to say, but also with the number of women who follow her and comment on her posts. I was also curious about the books she published in addition to her speaking tours. I researched, and found isn’t on staff at a church, nor affiliated with any seminary or divinity school, she is just out there consistently pointing to Jesus and his teachings. 601,553 people follow her on Facebook (as of the day I wrote this). That is a huge community of people!

Two years ago, I kept hearing about this popular book, Jesus Feminist. The author is Sarah Bessey. She actually titles herself an “unqualified theologian.” Around 30,000 people follow her on her Facebook. She goes on speaking tours and writes about Jesus. She teaches and preaches that there is a place for everyone. She often lifts up the broken and marginalized, pointing to the ultimate question of “what would Jesus do?” I’ve never heard her speak about any particular doctrine or encourage people to join any specific church denomination. It’s a message that resonates with women, in large part, because the role of women in the church is being minimized.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of Searching for Sunday, A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Faith Unraveled. Evan’s work reads like a manifesto for women who are searching for their place in and outside of the church. She’s open and honest about her struggles with fundamentalism and is working to find a place in the traditional church. The community that supports her most is women who actively follow her words of wisdom regarding misogyny, politics, social justice and gender equality. Her social media community is close to 100,000.

Lastly, Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon has really evolved (since starting her Momastary blog) and gathers an ever-increasing community of followers who lift up her message about gender equality and love. Glennon is quickly becoming an advocate for women and women’s issues, urging them to simply be who they are, stop hiding who they are, know that they are loved, and that God has unconditional love for them. Other rallying messages, “We belong to each other,” and “We can do hard things.” Sounds a lot like Jesus’s message.

I can continue to give you other examples of feminists who are rising up and preaching and teaching and moreover creating Christian community outside the church. They are Shauna Niequist, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Valerie Kaur, Jamie Ivey (The Happy Hour podcast), Cheryl Strayed and Rob Bell (he’s a feminist). Outside the traditional church, these feminists are pointing to Jesus’s teachings and creating an incredible faith-based community. They are creating faith-based communities that are built on acceptance, tolerance, love, grace and forgiveness. These women listed, fall all over the range between the right and the left, theologically. They tell their stories faithfully and encourage other women to do the same.

[bctt tweet=”As the collective church, we need to do better in lifting up the voice of women.” username=”ys_scoop”]

When we don’t make space for all perspectives and voices, we lose out, we miss out, we don’t follow the teachings of Christ.  “For God shows no partiality.” Roman 2:11.

What youth ministries can do now

Listen carefully.

What are the voices of your young women saying? What messages are they conveying to you about their concerns for the church and the world?

Make a location note.

Where are your young women? Are they leaders in worship? Are you encouraging them to lead prayer or music? Are women given the invitation to lead and serve in key decision making roles? If you don’t see young women in these roles, work to be more intentionally inclusive.

Affirm them.

Speak words of encouragement to your young women. Tell them they matter; tell them they belong – that they have a place and that God needs them to live fully in the larger church.

Give them role models.

Young women need to see other women leading in the church. They need to see and hear women preach and teach. Lift up the women mentioned in this article as examples.

Intentionally include.

After you listen, make your observations, affirm your young women and give them role models; set intentions to bring young women into the full life and vigor of the church.

“Here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galations 3:28

Laura Boisvert Boyd is a Licensed Professional Counselor, who has worked in student development in high education, private counseling practice and in youth ministry for eighteen years. She is currently on staff at WHITE MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, IN RALEIGH, NC as their Director of High School and College Ministry. She is active on Instragram @WMPC_HS_YOUTH and FACEBOOK




Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.