Jen Wilkin: My name is Jen Wilkin. I have been so excited to get here! When Nancy asked if I wanted to come, I said, "How about tomorrow?" To have this many women gathered for this purpose is pretty much the most exciting thing that I can think of!
But I don't get out much! I hope you feel the way that I do. It's super easy to come to something like this, isn't it? No! It is really hard! One of the lesser-known facts about me is, that in addition to being a Bible teacher, I had four children in four years. That's a lot of kids in not many years.
However, I began to realize that I had some teaching thing going on inside of me, even when my children were very small. My husband was fantastic. He was always like, "Just go, do that thing, just do that thing you do . . . and we'll probably be fine!" [laughter]
I remember this one time I was going to speak across town—just for the day—and he was asking me, "What's the format like?" At this point the kids were five, four, three, and one. I said, "I'm only doing one session, but I'm the fourth speaker and they've asked each of us to do an hour and fifteen minutes."
That's a long time! I don't even think Billy Graham is interesting for an hour and fifteen minutes! [laughter] Maybe. So I was feeling the pressure. He got really quiet and got this funny look on his face and said, "Well, I hope you're entertaining!" [laughter] And I looked at him and I looked at all those kids, and I thought, Oh no, my friend, I hope you're entertaining! [laughter]
Turns out, he is. They usually can't wait for me to go away for the weekend. All kinds of crazy stuff goes on, involving soft drinks and other forbidden items. Yeah. They are older now, but I know that most of us in here are probably the primary caregiver for at least one other person. And even those of us who aren't a primary caregiver have many areas of responsibility.
So my hope is that we will be able to take this time to pull away and really focus in on what is at hand. And I'm all about expectations, setting them and then meeting them. So I want us to have a clear expectation for what is going to happen, at least during my portions of the speaking times.
There's really nothing worse than a missed expectation. The reason that I know this is because my cell phone number is one digit off from the Brisket House in Deer Park, Texas. [laughter] So typically on weekends when the Houston Texans are playing, I start to get a lot of phone calls.
I get a lot of voice mails saying, "Hey, this Jimmy. I work over at Shell, and we're going to have about twenty-five people. We would like some brisket and some ribs. Could you just call me back and let me know that you got this so we'll know the food is coming?" I get these messages a lot!
So I was telling my husband about it and said, "I never know what to do. Should I call him back?" My husband was like, "Yeah, call him back, ask him if he wants coleslaw or potato salad, and get his credit card information!" [laughter] But the thing is, when I call them back, it's always, "Hey, hey, Jimmy. Hey, um, yeah, this is not the Brisket House."
And, universally, the response is, "It's not?" "No, no. I wanted you to know you have the wrong number." "So there's no brisket coming?" "No." And I feel like such a disappointment to them. They expected this one great thing. And then here I am. About half the time, I'm like, "Would you like potato salad with that? Maybe I'll just call them when it opens." [laughter]
There's nothing worse than a disappointed expectation. My hope is that we can set a good expectation for the time we're going to have together here, and then that I will meet it in such a way that when you leave here, we have done well together and you will feel like you got what you came for—that you got your side of potato salad with slaw!
What I would like during our time together is to do three things for you. I asked myself, Why are these women here? And I hope you're asking that question, Why am I here? Not in a bewildered way, but in an intentional way. Why am I here? What was it that made me go to all the effort that it took to get here? Because I know it took every single one of you an effort. Why am I here?
I'll tell you why I'm here—because there's not much I care about more than this. I came here because I want to give you three things. I want to give you permission. I want to give you permission to think of yourselves in term of being a teacher.
Secondly, I want to give you encouragement. I want you to feel a deep encouragement that the task before us is not only needful and necessary, but that it is a good and joyful task for us to take on.
And then thirdly, I want to give you tools. I want to give you practical ways that you can go and do the thing that the Lord has for you to do. But we don't get to tools until tomorrow. Today we're going to get permission—and, I hope, a little bit of encouragement on the side.
When I was in high school, I met the first teacher who ever knocked my socks off. Her name was Carol Wagner and she taught Senior Honors English at Wichita Falls High School in Wichita Falls, Texas—a sunny little garden spot on the border of Oklahoma (she said ironically).
I don't know what she was doing in our community; in fact, it made us all as her students ask the question, "Why is she here?" The question that I am now posing to you. We got into class the first week of school, and she had us do a writing assignment.
I had never gotten anything but an A on an assignment, and I got a C, which made me ask the question, "Why is she here?" [laughter] A week later she began having us memorize the preamble to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales . . . in Middle English . . . before there was YouTube (so you could go there and find out how to pronounce it all)! And again, our entire class began to wonder, "Why is she here? Bring back these other people who look tired and have kind of given up on us." [laughter]
So a couple weeks later we get to Shakespeare, and we all walk into class one day and sit down, and Mrs. Wagner walks in and she is wearing—I am not kidding you—a black robe from head to toe.
Her arms are folded like this, and she stands at the front of the classroom and begins to read Lady Macbeth's speech. And about three minutes into her speech, she pulls out an eight-inch-long butcher knife and begins stabbing it into the surface of her desk! [laughter] I don't think you could get away with that now, so that will tell you it was the '80s.
At which point the entire class begins to wonder, "Maybe she's here because no one else will hire her!" [laughter] A month later, she had us over to her house on December 16 for Jane Austen's tea party. And I thought, Well, now the truth's going to come out. We're going to find out she's here because she's desperate for money, and this is the only way she can make it.
We pull up to the front of her house, and she lived in a sprawling 1920s mansion. There were Turkish rugs on the floor, she seated us at a beautiful table and served us off of fine china. And to her, Jane Austen was a real person. [laughter] But I looked around, and you know what I thought? She doesn't need the money. Why is she here? Why is she here?
Well, I think that she was there because she believed that what she had to teach mattered! I think she was there because she believed she could convince us that English literature contained some transcendent truths, despite the improbability of doing so in Wichita Falls, Texas. And I think she suspected that the need for her presence there was great.
I don't frankly think there was a whole lot in it for her, but she came and she taught. I invited this woman to my wedding! She shaped me. She wasn't teaching the Bible, but she was pointing me toward something that was going to become a greater reality for me.
The Lord was positioning me under her teaching because He wanted me to develop that kind of a feeling about a book that contains deeper truths than the preamble to Chaucer's tales, that contains a greater story of the shedding of blood than Macbeth, and that contains a deeper romance than anything Jane Austen ever penned!
Over the years I began to understand that what I needed to teach out of this Book mattered! I began to even believe that I could convince others that it mattered, and that it contains transcendent truths. And as the years passed, I knew more and more that the need was very great. Very great!
So I go through college, I get out of college, I marry a great guy, and I go to a great church—and I start having all those babies. And then I thought, Man! I have no reason to put on clothing or makeup and speak in complete sentences! [laughter] Where might I go where that could happen? [laughter]
And a friend invited me to women's Bible study. I think she could smell the desperation rolling off of me! And I went, and I sat, and I thought, This is it! This is my place, and these are my people! I was put in a small group with a bunch of other women who were probably just about as desperate as I was just to have a little coffee cake and time alone.
We began to discuss these things in the Bible, and something began to stir in me—something that was forming. Do you know what I'm talking about? I hope that's why you're here! And I felt it begin to burn, almost like heartburn inside of you.
And every time we would sit and listen to a video of another woman teaching, in my head I'm thinking of all the things I would have said—not in a critical way just, Oh! I would have said this! I would have given this illustration! And I became a little bit annoying in my small group time, [laughter] both because I would not shut up when I answered a question and because every now and then I didn't agree with what had been taught by the teacher—and in women's Bible study that's like, "Who invited her?" [laughter]
One day after small group time, Jackie Jackson—who is here today—pulled me aside, and I thought, They're going to send me home! [laughter] She said, "I noticed something in you. Have you ever considered that maybe you have a teaching gift?" And that was it! That was the start!
I gathered two women, I gathered four women, I gathered whoever was crazy enough to sit down with me, and I just started trying it, I just started doing the work! But I wasn't left to my own devices—there were women who surrounded me. There were women who resourced me and pointed me to good places to go for study materials and who offered, "Hey, let's see if we can set up childcare for this," or "Let's find you a room to do this." It was this beautiful network of women that all came around and helped it happen.
What if she hadn't seen me? What if she had thought I was annoying instead of gifted? I praise God for that! One of the things that you and I need to do is be thinking, Who is around me? Who is around me, waiting for me to say, "I give you permission"?
That's what she did for me; she gave me permission. And then several years later she gave me something even better—she gave me her women's Sunday School class! She said, "I'm not going to be able to teach it. Can you take it over for a little while until we find a permanent teacher?" And seven years later, I quit teaching that class.
They were the dearest years to me. Do you know why? Because I came into teaching with a love of teaching but without a love of women. Not only that, but I couldn't even really relate to a lot of other women, like I didn't get all the girly stuff. When God gave me two daughters, I was panicked beyond belief. I'm not good at that; I don't know how to do that. So I didn't have a great deal of empathy for the women that I was teaching. I just wanted to be right, and I wanted to show them how much I knew!
And so the Lord—and Jackie—put me into a class with a bunch of women who were older than me (which freaks you out!), who had all kinds of life experience that I hadn't had (deep tragedies, deep losses), and He asked me to go in each week and open up the Word and teach it to these women, and I was like, "Lord, how?! How can I do that?". . . which is exactly where He wanted me!
And knowing them and knowing the things that hurt and the things that they loved and the people that they cared about—that is what brought teaching to life for me. Because all of a sudden, I realized it wasn't about being clever, it wasn't about saying things the right way. It was about letting the living and active Word do what the living and active Word does! And most of my job was just to show up prepared.
So that's what I'm hoping we can do. I'm hoping you will have permission, I'm hoping that you will find encouragement, and I'm hoping that you will find tools.
Let's turn to James 3. That is one of my favorite sounds [sound of pages turning], and I hope that everybody doesn't all go to tablets, because I would hate not to hear that sound of the pages. That would be a loss, to me.
James 3, starting in verse 1 . . . now stay with me, because I said I wanted to encourage you, and we're going to start out a little rough here! Ready? "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." You may go home now! [laughter] "You know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." And he goes on; he doesn't stop there.
"For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (v. 2). This is a showstopper of a verse! I think so often we hear James' teaching on the tongue pulled away from the context it is in, which is within the context, "Hey, maybe not many of you should stand up and teach."
So I want us to see if we can figure out what it is that's going on here in James 3 and how it should impact a room full of women who are sitting here wondering, Should I be doing this? Or I have been doing this. Should I stop? Or Should I turn to the person next to me and say, "I've been telling you for ten years you should do this. Now go and do it!" What ought I to do?
What does James have for us here? He has a cautionary word and also a useful word. He says, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
Now, James here is addressing a particular kind of teaching. He is talking about teaching that comes in a formal capacity. But because you all know Titus 2, right? Because women know that one—that all women are to teach younger women what is good. So nobody gets to escape the teaching role. Not all of us will be in formal teaching roles, but all of us will teach in some informal capacity, at least.
I think that what James has to say here is a good watchword, whether you're in a formal teaching setting or an informal teaching setting. He says, "Not all should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Now why would we be judged with greater strictness? Well, of course, because there is much at stake! There is much at stake, isn't there?
There are those chilling verses that are spoken by Jesus in Matthew 12:36–37. He says, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
That is a room-clearer at the teaching conference, isn't it? I am out! Because I know about careless words. Anybody else in here know about careless words? Right! And so Jesus says you need to watch everything that you say. One of the verses that I think about often is, "Even a fool is considered wise when he holds his tongue" (Prov. 17:28).
I know that's true, because sometimes when I go into meetings, I write myself a sticky note that says, "Do not talk!" and I put it on my binder where I can see it. And I read it over and over again. And every time someone says something and I want to go back to my small group days and be like, "Ooh! Ooh! Me, me, I know!". . . I read my sticky note. "Do not talk! Do not talk!"
And I can't count how many times someone has come up to me afterward and said, "I just admire your wisdom so much! You are so wise!" I'm like, "This works! This totally works!" Our words matter, they matter so much! Our words have the power to create and they have the power to destroy.
As image-bearers, as those created in the image of God, this is something we share with Him in a removed sort of way. The words of God are miraculous in the way that they create life; they are miraculous in the work that they do. You and I don't have miraculous words, but we have words of great, great power.
So it is so important for us to understand are we speaking in such a way, particularly when we open up the Scriptures, that we are life-giving or that we are destroying something? Many of us grew up in homes where we knew the destructive power of words, right?
Others of us were blessed to grow up in homes where we learned the creative power of words, where you were given permission and you were told, "You can do this. You can do this. You can do this." Those are the kinds of words of life that you and I want to be speaking, because much is at stake every time we open our mouths.
Words have the power to create and the power to destroy, and God in His wisdom determined that His gospel was going to be communicated through words. Through words! Did you ever think about how odd that is?
It's always kind of interesting to me how the Christian community eagerly awaits the release of every new Christian film that comes out. I think in particular of movies like The Passion of the Christ, where when that movie was coming out (and I'm not making a judgment call either way on the movie—I'm just looking at the reaction that people had as the movie was coming out), people were like, "Finally! Finally, people are going to go to this movie, and they're going to see what happened, and they're finally going to understand!" Right?
Except that when you say that, what you're indicating is that for millennia—for a long, long time—God was sitting on His hands, eagerly awaiting for the video camera to be invented, so that finally His words would be in a comprehensible form and people would understand them.
Have you ever heard that expression, "The book is always better than the movie"? [laughter] It's never been more true. So I think some of us have a little bit of a self-confidence issue around believing that these words will do what God has said that they will do. So I'm here to encourage you that they absolutely will!
Do you know who was the most surprised to learn that Lore Wilbert was saved while I taught for fifty minutes on one verse? Me! How faithless is that? But the Lord was showing me there is power in here. My words have power, yes. But His Word . . . oh! It has a power that is undeniable and unfathomable, and we have only to be responsible enough to show up and open it in a sober-minded way.
So the teacher will be judged with greater strictness because much is at stake. Much is at stake. There's a quote by St. Augustine that I absolutely love, that I think captures the tension that the teacher lives in. He says this:
You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of You? Can any man say enough when he speaks of You? Yet woe betide those who are silent about You! For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe You.
I can relate to that awe. I mean, there's too much of You. I can't possibly do justice to who You are, but how can I possibly be silent? I know that I must speak, but I know I can never do justice to who You are!
And I think that that is the tension in which the teacher lives. We know that we will be judged with greater strictness, but we also know that there is no way we can remain silent! And so we move forward soberly—and listen, I actually really like the way James sets this up.
Because look at verse 2. It says, "We all stumble in many ways." How many of us stumble in many ways? All of us! Okay, I like that. He says, "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." Did you hear what James just said?
James just said that the supreme act of self-control is to control your tongue! You think you're awesome because you made it through Whole30? That's nothing! Write the post-it note and stick it on your binder and see how you do. Not one person in this room is free from this besetting sin. That's what James has just said.
Now, it takes different forms in each of us, doesn't it? Because I'll tell you another reason why I was absolutely shocked to learn that Lore Wilbert would be saved while I spent fifty minutes tearing apart one verse. It's because my tongue does not have a history of giving life.
I grew up in a home where our "love language" was sarcasm! Like when I learned at about age twenty that sarcasm was a product of anger, I was like, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Because isn't that something a sarcastic person would say? [laughter] And it took me a long time to realize that that was actually true!
In my home it was such a long-formed pattern, that I thought, I didn't grow up in an angry home. I was getting angry thinking about this, trying to figure it out. I look back and I think somewhere back along the way there was anger, but by the time I got around it was just the way we had all learned to talk to each other. It just felt natural.
So then I married Jeff Wilkin, who is the kindest man on the face of the earth! And I find out from him that in his home, he and his sister were not allowed to tease each other growing up. Huh? I knew about him and his sister. In fact she is my best friend now. I didn't have a lot of other options—she was his best friend. No, I actually love her to death.
But when I meet him and I see the two of them together, and we're going through family albums and there's a picture of them in high school—in high school!—at Disney World, walking along holding hands, I was like, "That ain't right! That didn't look like anything that happened in my family!" [laughter]
Then I find out that when she couldn't get a date to one of her dances in high school, he went with her to a dance! I know—it's so precious! Doesn't it make you angry? [laughter] So number one, how did he get stuck with me, right? The Lord, the Lord strong and mighty!
So he signs on for this, and the whole first year of our marriage I hurt his feelings over and over again. And you know what I would say? "Toughen up!" He'd say, "It hurt my feelings when you said that." "Well you know what? You're too sensitive. C'mon!" I was wrong! I was wrong! I was wrong! And I thank God that Jeff had seen a better way modeled in his home, because what if I had passed that on to my children? Oh, God, help us!
And so, in our home, guess what? They're not allowed to tease each other. I'm such a cynic I don't think I even thought that it would really work, but it has. They are each other's best friends. I have seen how words can give life instead of destroying. I needed to learn that before I stood up to teach anyone out of God's Word, because—I'm telling you—I had a long track-record, before I ever met Jeff Wilkin, of shredding relationships with my words.
People would come to me two years later and say, "You hurt my feelings two years ago," and I would say, "That's your problem." A teacher cannot have a heart like that! A teacher has to measure every word that she says to the best of her ability.
At least you can know that you're not alone in this, right, because James is telling you here, "This is everyone's problem." And we probably shouldn't be surprised that we all have a problem with words when it is through words that God has chosen to reveal Himself.
Wouldn't it make sense that the enemy would come against that particular thing if he wants to disable the power of what God wants to do in this world? Why would he not go after our speech and our words?
So "Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."
Whatever your bad habit is that you can't seem to get rid of, start by fixing your tongue—and apparently that will fall into line, no problem, if you can just get your tongue in line.
And then James goes on for quite a while in verses 3–12 talking to us, making a comparison about placing a bit in the mouth of a horse to make it go where you want or the rudder on a ship to make it go where you want it to go. What is he doing?
He is showing us that when you have a small thing that is very powerful, it can control a big thing. Why? Because we need to understand this about our speech. He says starting in verse 7:
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (vv. 7–12).
Okay, I got it! What is he saying here? He's telling the story of my life, and I would imagine he's telling the story of yours, too. So we come to this passage and we think, If this is me (and I know it is!), I know that on one day I am blessing and on another day I am cursing. I know that on one day I am teaching someone and on another day I am gossiping about something. I know that on one day I am speaking words of life, and on another, I am shredding someone behind their back! So clearly I ought not to teach, right? No one ought to teach!
Is that what James is saying? No, he's saying, "Use caution! Use caution! Know that your words have power!"
I think that's a really important place for us to start. I would love to tell you that every time I stand up to teach, I think, I got this! This is going to go awesome! But most of the time I am sitting there thinking, O Lord! You've gotta show up for this!
The thing that's a little exhausting, and also a little encouraging, is to know He's always going to keep me there. We never get to be entirely comfortable with the role of being a teacher. It's interesting, though, that James opened up—in chapter 3—with saying, "Not many of you should become teachers."
I don't know . . . in my experience, many do seem to want to become teachers. Have you noticed that? So I think it's worth us asking, "What are wrong motives for wanting to teach?" and "What are right motives for wanting to teach?" I think wrong motives, that's pretty easy.
A lot of people think that if they stand and teach—in any capacity—that they will have personal gain or glory, that it feels really fun to do that. Like I have met with women before for coffee, and they'll say, "I just really want to do what you do!" And I'll say, "Can you talk more about that?"
"Well, I just really like to be in front of people and I'm really comfortable talking to people. . ." And I'm thinking, Okay . . . There is something to be said for being comfortable talking to people, but that's not the same thing as having something eating away inside of you that says, "I've got to speak the truth! I've got to speak the truth!" Those are not necessarily the same thing.
I've got to say, I can't think of anything harder than getting up to do this. So when people say to me, "Oh, it just looks so fun!" I think, Really, I must have made it look wrong! [laughter] Not that it isn't a joyful thing, but . . .
Recently I was prayed over at our church by our pastor at one of our elder-led prayers. We were starting up our fall semester of our women's Bible study, so everyone had gathered to pray. He said (and he is someone who would know this from plenty of experience of his own!), "What Jen has to do each week is like having a final exam once a week that is graded by 700 people."
Yeah, yeah, he gets that. It's a difficult thing. You scrutinize yourself a great deal—other people scrutinize you—and you have to filter through all that and say, "What's from the Lord? What is that condemnation that lives inside of me, or what's something from outside that someone's trying to lay on me that is or isn't true?"
If you come to this thinking that there is personal gain or glory involved, I'm here to tell you I think you're probably coming for the wrong reasons. Not probably! It's a hard thing. It's like signing up to have homework for the rest of your life.
I think another wrong motive is that one that I came in with—because it feels so good to be right! I think this is something that's pretty deeply ingrained into our culture, wouldn't you say? I don't know what your Facebook feed looks like, but mine looks like a lot of people really like being right!
So we don't want to be that, either. That's not the right motive to come up here with. There has to be a motive of humility. We have to come up understanding that when we teach, we're not just teaching truth, we're teaching truth to human beings who are coming into that setting with particular hurts and particular struggles and particular needs. And we have to see faces, not just objects of information that we want to give to them.
What are the right motives for wanting to teach? We want to teach out of love for God and His glory, regardless of how many people are sitting there. If I know one thing about you, it's that if the Lord is stirring in you a desire to teach, you will not care whether it is 500 women or five women just bug-eyed, wondering how much time is left before they get to have a restroom break. [laughter]
You won't care, because you will just need to get it out. You're like, "Who's going to sit? Who needs to hear this? Who is this for?" So we teach out of love for God and for His glory, regardless of how many we reach. And we do so with a sense of the weight of the calling. It's a balance of fear and fearlessness.
That's the only way I can think to describe it—a fear and a fearlessness, a right reverence, and also an understanding that nothing can stop the truth in here. I love the passage that says, "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8).
So those who come with a right motive to teach beg God, "Lord, let my words that are needless here be like the grass and the flowers. And let Your Word stand forever!" Again and again, to pray that prayer—a balance of fear and of fearlessness and an awareness of the responsibility that is coupled with an awareness of the deep, rich privilege of being given a voice to speak the very truths of God!
So we teach out of a love for God and His glory. And we also teach out of a love for our neighbor. I've touched on this some. When you're wondering, Who should I teach? Who needs me to teach them? and you're looking around, Where's the target? Where am I going to find her?. . . we have no charge to teach those for whom we have no affection and empathy. You can cross those people off your list.
Who are the women that you hurt for? Who are the women that you long to see living lives in the light of the truth of Scripture? Who are the women that God has placed in proximity to you? Do you feel a love for them? Can you relate to them because of your own sin problems?
Do you know who I love to sit down and talk to? Someone who has shredded relationships with her words. Because I'm telling you, the fact that God has redeemed one single word that I have to say, the fact that I can stand here and proclaim words of life to you . . . I'm telling you, I don't have the credentials for it!
But do you know what I have? I've got a lot of empathy for anyone who is fighting this battle of, "I don't know. I'm a mean, mean girl when I want to be." The Lord can redeem even that!
So we teach out of love for our neighbor, and we earn the right to communicate with them by finding commonalities. So if you're wondering, I feel this thing inside of me, but I don't know who I need to teach. Who does it need to go to? Ask yourself, With whom do I share commonalities? With whom have I earned a voice?
Teaching is costly—it's a costly thing, but I hope that you will pay the cost, because the need is great. And the need specifically for women to teach women is great. I don't know that we celebrate that as much as we should, and I hope that we will. Because there's something that a woman teacher can do with another woman that a man teacher just can't.
It is a good and beautiful thing for women to gather and sit under the teaching of gifted men who can preach and teach the well Word. We need that. That is never in question. But the Lord has gifted women to teach, and He's done so for a purpose. He does not give gifts that are not needful.
So in the idea of, "Do you have permission to do this?" hear me say, "If you have been given a gift to teach, the Lord has not given it to no end. He expects you to use it!" It is not sort of a surplus thing, in case your pastor gets sick. He has given you that gift because you can communicate truths to women in a way that he may not be able to.
Women need the example of other women teachers. You can be a "Mrs. Wagner" for someone in your church (minus the butcher knife—don't bring the butcher knife!). [laughter] Who is it that needs to see you opening the Scriptures and rightly dividing them in such a way that she can think to herself, Maybe I could do that. Maybe I could do that!
Do you need a little more permission? I'm not seminary trained, and that was not on the lunch menu for me. It was, "Get married, have a bunch of babies—and do that for a long, long time." I've got a book in the bookstore, and I still kind of giggle every time I see it, because, do you know what I wrote for the first twenty years after I got married? Thank-you notes—when I had to! In between trying to get a shower in and getting dinner on the table.
Each of us has a lot of life circumstances that are coming our way. It may be that you never received a formal education. I'm not advocating that you teach with no education; I'm telling you that you can be resourceful, and you can find good tools (as I'm hoping to give you during this weekend) and you can become someone who handles the Word well and who draws other women to do the same.
Not only can you do that, but I'm here to say, you must! You must! The church will not flourish as it should unless women are teaching women. Women need the example of other women teachers. They need to see you do this; they need to see you do this well.
Women need the perspective of women teachers. Women need to hear you teach about Rahab. Women need to hear you teach about Jael with her tent peg, that it's not a story about a woman who set aside the customs of hospitality in the ancient Near East so much as it's about a woman who understood that she had it in her power to put to death a man who had done great harm to the women of her nation—and in her weakness, picked up the tent peg and made it so!
We need the perspective of women teachers, because women need to hear things like this: Every twenty-eight days, your body tells a parable about the shedding of blood for the renewing of life. Has your pastor said that lately? [laughter] You think about that!
"Oh, we don't talk about that in church!" What if the Lord God wrote a parable in your flesh? We need women's perspectives when the Scriptures are opened up. This is not a book by men, for men; this is a book for you.
Women need the empathetic authority of women teachers. Do you know what that means? That means that I understand the besetting sins of womanhood in a way that a man may not. I'm not saying that all men can't understand this, but let's be honest. Isn't it easier for you to hear from me, "Hey! Stop tearing down your husband verbally!" than it is for you to hear it from another man?
Isn't it easier for you to hear a hard truth from me about how to raise your children or how to deal with an aging parent or a situation at work? Isn't it easier for you to hear it from me and know, "Oh, I think she's been there"? We're in each other's skin. Who better to sit down and teach the Word to each other than woman to woman?
Teaching is the business of words—it's absolutely the business of words—and we need to keep that in mind, because James has told us to. But James doesn't stop by telling us it's just the teaching of words. Look what he says in verse 13. This isn't often taught as connected to the passage, but I want you to see that it is.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom (3:13).
Did you notice what he did there? "Who is wise and understanding among you?" What would be the answer to that? "Oh, people who teach!" Right?
But no, what does he say? He says, "By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." So teaching is the business of words, but it also the business of example. We need to live what we teach. Now, I am not telling you that you have to achieve perfection in your sin area before you can stand up and talk to other people.
I'm not done with sarcasm yet—I'm still working on it. And God help me if I had waited until that was totally beat to actually stand up and confess, "Hey, this is my problem." We've got to get moving! There's lots of stuff we've got to talk about in here!
So we don't teach when we're perfectly ready. We teach while we are in process, but we recognize that we need to live out the words that we are teaching—we need to own them.
So you hear this passage in James. And I don't know about you, but my response to that is something along the lines of the words of Paul, where I want to say, "Who is equal to such a task?" (2 Cor. 2:16). And James would say, "Not many of you." And we know that the truth is that none of us is sufficient for it!
But here's the good news: The sufficiency of God is ours through Christ! And there is no room for self-sufficiency in the heart of a teacher. We must always carry around the tension of, "I don't want to presume to be a teacher. I want to do so with care, with great care and great soberness of mind. But also with a joy—the joy of knowing that I'm doing what I've been designed to do."
But I think you wouldn't be sitting in this room if you thought you had what it takes, right? Those girls don't come to this conference. So praise God, because you know what? When I look around a room of 2,200 women, you know what I think? By God's grace, this is not many.
Over half the church is comprised of women. Twenty-two-hundred women—do you know what this is? A really great start! So come with me and let's do this good work! But what do we do? How do we move from "Who is equal to such a task?" to "This is the thing I can't not do!" There's a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (that's a word you hear every day, right?). He wrote The Little Prince. I don't know if you're familiar with that book.
Here's what he said: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." That's why we're here!
Yes, I'm going to tell you tools, I'm going to tell you ways to build the boat, but the role of every teacher of the Bible is to say, "Lift up your eyes to the endless immensity of the sea." It is a vision of God high and lifted up that drives the teacher to teach.
Like Isaiah—undone by the vision of God's holiness—we whisper, "Here am I!" and we pray that there might be a coal from the altar to touch our unclean lips. And He does it! He makes pure speech where there was nothing but vile speech and He lets His truth come through broken humans.
We pray that the coal from the altar would purify our lips and that the blinding light of His glory would strengthen our weak knees and make our hands strong for the task. This is the sober and joyful, compulsion-filled calling of the teacher—to teach that which transcends!
No matter how many students you teach, know you have chosen a duty that is hard, that is honorable, that is humbling, that is heart-filled, and that is heart-filling. And my prayer for each of you is that you would find this weekend the answer to the question, "Why are you here?" in that high and transcendent image of the God that I know you have seen in here.
I know that you've seen in here! And may we be women who are so captivated by what we have seen that we want everyone we know to be a boat builder.
I'm going to close us in prayer. Lauren and the band are going to come back up, and as I pray, I want you to take some time to think and to pray and to ask the Lord, "Lord, why am I here?" Think specifically in terms of, "Who are the women the Lord has placed in my path, who He wants me to teach?"
Maybe it's one woman; maybe it's five women. "Who has He placed in my path?" And not just, "Who has He placed in my path that I could teach?" but "Who has He placed above me that I can turn to and ask for help?" Ask the Father that He would do this work. Ask the Father that He would bring to pass the passing on of His Word, the communication of a vision of Him in His glory through you, in your humility, as you step forward in fear and fearlessness. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the opportunity to be here. Father, I know that most of the women who are here are not here because they feel able, but because they feel compelled. Lord, You have given that compulsion to them, and I ask that You would bring it to flower.
Lord, we pray that You would place in our paths women who need to hear the Word through us, and that You would equip and enable us to dispense of that supreme duty with soberness and with joy. We love You, Father, and we want You to be known! Help us to be part of that.
And we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen!