That Speaks To 

Alice P. Mathews

Preaching That Speaks To Women by Alice P. Mathews book cover.
“I grew up in an era in which making wisecracks about women was fairly standard preaching fare, good for a few laughs. This made me uncomfortable because I was female, growing toward womanhood,” wrote Alice P. Mathews in her book Preaching That Speaks To Women.

Many of us remember similar remarks from the pulpit and can identify with her feelings. Gender bias in the church has driven many talented women out of its congregations and, sometimes, away from faith in God through Jesus. Perhaps worst of all is the passivity that is encouraged in many women who believe they do not have anything to offer simply because they were born female.

The author, who is herself a professor and a preacher, explains the diversity among women that is greater than the difference between men and women. She gives examples of how a preacher can meet the spiritual needs of a congregation made up of people who process information in different ways. Although, men have similar differences among themselves, she focuses more on the differences among the women. Her observations can be helpful in preaching to both men and women.

The most informative chapter for me was  Chapter Four, “How Do We Know What We Know?” We all come to realize sooner or later that people do not think alike. We also come to realize that the people in the same Christian congregation do not think alike. One person can “know” something that is the opposite of something another person “knows.” They can argue, presenting their individual rationale, and never convince the other person.

Why is that? Doesn’t the Holy ‘Spirit lead each person into truth? Why is my “truth” different from your “truth?“ Why aren’t the reasons that convince me enough to convince someone else? Why am I unconvinced by another’s reasons? This chapter begins to answer some of those questions.

The author describes two theories derived from separate psychological studies regarding intellectual development. (These can be hard to follow for those of us without college degrees.) The studies showed some overlap between men and women in how they know what they know, but there were some major differences as well. For example, one group of women, referred to  as “Silence,” see themselves as “mindless” and “voiceless” while no such group existed in the male study. (The author does point out the studies had important differences in research methods.) To develop spiritually, these women need interaction with other women who have a healthy self-image.

I recognized myself in this chapter. I also immediately thought of other women I know, or have known, who fit into one of the five categories of intellectual development. Most of us know people who know what they know because an authority figure told them. But once they discover the authority figure can not be trusted, these people struggle emotionally to cope with the loss of their main way of “knowing.”

Alice Matthews explains that we do not have to stay in the same stagnant intellectual state. We can grow, and many people do, especially if we are encouraged by example and teaching within the church.

Many women often feel invisible in their congregations. Many do not fit the married-with-children stereotype. How do you preach a Mother’s Day sermon without inflicting pain on childless married women or those who have suffered the death of a child? Is a woman’s “highest” calling motherhood when some will never experience motherhood? How does a preacher meet the spiritual needs of the singles who often feel looked down on by the rest of the congregation?

I appreciated her approach of belief in God, the authority of Scripture, and the necessity for the Holy Spirit to impart spiritual knowledge. To encourage faith in others, preachers and teachers need to have an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach will not lead whole congregations into spiritual maturity. Her book is a source of perspective and information that will help those who preach to others “become all things to all men” and women. (I Corinthians 9:19-23)

The author refers to an exit interview (interviews with women who became disillusioned with the Christian church) published by William Hendricks in 1993. One interview referred to a woman named Deana: “Much of Deana’s frustration at this period, both at seminary and at most of the churches she tried, was that she wasn’t feeling respected as a woman and as a person. She didn’t feel that her emotions mattered, that her doubts mattered, or that any alternative points of view might be considered as having anything to offer. Things were just a little bit too neatly buttoned down to be realistic.” 

She concludes her last chapter: “My hope is that this book will help you preach so that all the “Deanas” in your congregation can hear clearly the Good News of God’s grace and love and can learn to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves." 


"Preaching That Speaks to Women" book review is reprinted by permission from the November, 2005, issue of Faith Networks.
Book Review
By Scarlett Stough
Title: Preaching That Speaks To Women
Author: Alice P. Mathews copyright 2003
Publisher: Baker Academic, A Division of Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, MI 49516
ISBN: 8-85111-990-5