When my husband first approached me with the idea of teaching at an all-male Bible study, I laughed and said, “Why would I teach an all-male Bible study?” My question was rhetorical, but he answered anyway.
“The men are inviting a group of women to join them this week. The leaders think having a woman teach will make the women more comfortable.”
I snickered and asked, “What about the guys? How will they feel about listening to a woman lead their Bible study?” The all-male group—primarily comprised of collegiate football players—typically studied New Testament passages taught by respected athletes. Would those men really want to listen to a female teach out of the Old Testament?
“Lindsey, you’re qualified to do this, and you were specifically chosen to do this,” he replied. “I promise, it’ll be fine.”
The Teaching Woman
The previous year I started teaching at my university’s worship service. Not long after I took on that role, my Campus Ministries Director asked, “Has anyone given you flack for being a woman teacher?”
“No, not yet,” I responded.
“Well, if someone says something directly to you, then you can always send that person to me. I can give a defense for choosing a woman to teach.” I smiled and nodded my head, but I had already prepared my defense. I knew I was qualified to teach and I was ready to stand up to anyone who dared to call me unqualified.
Throughout my year of teaching at the worship service, no one I knew directly told me I was not qualified to teach men. John Piper, however, expressed that idea on the internet. In his article about why a seminary should not allow women to teach men, Piper wrote, “If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded?” He said that a woman’s lack of intelligence was not the issue. Neither did he believe women to be incompetent. A woman’s deficiency in pedagogical skills or leadership did not disqualify her from teaching men. Piper said that the only biblical reason for barring an otherwise qualified person from teaching men is if they are not one.
Piper was referring to women teaching at a seminary. However, at the undergraduate level both sexes questioned their views on a woman’s role in the body of Christ. Women teachers like me experienced uncertainty. If I was barred from teaching at the seminary level, could I even teach future pastors at a university worship service? I was chosen to speak at that worship service in order to prepare me for my future ministry as a teacher. While one of my professor’s unceasingly encouraged me to get a Ph.D. and teach seminarians, Piper made me wonder if I even had a future in teaching and preaching.
Teaching Men to Lament
I kept thinking about John Piper as I prepared to teach at the co-ed Bible study. I was free to pick any passage and I chose to explain the importance of lament psalms. When I told my husband that I planned to explain why we should lament, I could tell he was apprehensive. The men were used to studying the writings of Peter. They had just finished discussing Paul’s instruction to rejoice always. My husband knew the men in the Bible study were not used to discussing the other side of the emotional spectrum. They rarely expressed heartache or admitted to feeling it at all. How would they react to a woman teaching them to express their emotion through lament psalms? I assumed that even if the men refused to listen to me, at least the women in the crowd would appreciate what I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to say.
But where were the women? As I looked around the apartment before beginning the Bible study, I realized I was surrounded by men. I could only find one woman in the crowd, and she was sitting on a couch sandwiched between male college athletes. I realized then the women’s group decided not to attend the Bible study. My hands began to shake as I analyzed my audience: football players, ROTC members, and men who looked like they probably hadn’t cried since birth. “Why did I choose lament psalms?” I wondered as I opened my Bible. “Why did I say yes to this? They’re not going to listen to me.”
I began discussing a particular lament psalm. Then something broke the silence I was expecting to carry throughout the study. The sound of pens clicking. These men were writing inside notebooks. They were actually taking notes. When I asked if they had any questions, immediately they wanted to know how to lament. They sought to understand how voicing gratitude and grief can coexist in the same prayer.
I questioned whether I was the right person to help them apply what we had just studied. I was not a college-aged man. I certainly could not comprehend how those men handled their emotions. And yet, as those attentive men stared at me with eagerness in their eyes, I realized I was the right person to lead that conversation. I brought a different perspective to the table. As a woman, I could tell them, “I know society has taught you that in order to ‘be a man,’ you have to ‘stop crying like a girl.’ That’s is a toxic view of masculinity.” Hearing those words from a woman’s mouth resonated—like a weight being lifted from their shoulders, they realized that women see the unfair, societal expectation for men to be unemotional. They were genuinely interested in learning from me.
Before the Bible study came to a close, they began to discuss their emotions with one another. They revealed how they tend to mishandle their emotions, holding it all in rather than letting it all out. I explained that the scriptures illustrate how children of God can come to their Father with grief. I watched as these men grew in their understanding of how a person of faith can communicate honestly with God.
Most of the men in that room had never seriously studied the psalms. One man even said, “It’s neat to see the close relationship between God and man in this psalm. I didn’t think the Old Testament was very relational.” A man can certainly highlight the emotional, relational elements in the scriptures. But perhaps a woman can make significant contributions to that area of observation as well. A woman’s insight, over and above her competency, intelligence, and pedagogical skills, reinforces the value in her perspective on the scriptures.
Cover photo by Nicole Honeywill.