Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, editor, and a regular contributor to Asian American Women on Leadership. Her writing has been published in over a dozen publications, including the recent anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her on Twitter @dorcas_ct. In some ways, it felt like the makings of a bad dream. Standing, all alone, under blindingly bright lights, my voice weirdly amplified, as hundreds of people—most of them strangers—looked on without saying a word. At least I was fully clothed.
In reality, I wasn’t in the middle of a nightmare. I was in the middle of a huge risk. I was preaching a sermon in front of my church, my first time doing this—ever.
I am not a pastor. I have never been to seminary. I didn’t study religion in college. I don’t even enjoy public speaking.
But I am a long-time follower of Jesus. I am a lay leader in our church. I am also a writer, so I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of words. Most importantly of all, I believe that Jesus meets us whenever we take risks for the sake of his kingdom.
I wasn’t preaching because no one else could do it. Our church has several talented pastors who are excellent teachers, and yet church leaders have publicly stated their pursuit of two values: to give congregation members the opportunity to discover new gifts, and to have more women teaching from the pulpit.
Coming from a culture and a childhood church that were not fully supportive of women in leadership, I’m thankful to attend a church now where women are equal partners with men in every area of ministry. Women are board members and pastors, small group leaders and prayer intercessors, worship leaders and AV whizzes. Just as significant, the men in our church gladly volunteer in the nursery and the children’s classrooms. They serve coffee and bagels as often as they serve communion.
As a result, I’ve been able to witness the great fruit of the blessed alliance between men and women that is painted so beautifully in Reclaiming Eve. When we don’t place any limits on the gifts of our church family, there are more opportunities for all of us to find ministries through which we can bless others—and which nourish our own souls. We each have more opportunities to stretch ourselves and discover new, unexpected roles in the kingdom of God.
Which was how I ended up standing on stage, tiny mic hooked up to my left ear, speaking words that I had spent over forty hours crafting—and trying very hard not to let anxiety overtake me. I was teaching from Isaiah 58, both on God’s call for justice and his exhortation for us to honor the Sabbath. A significant portion of my sermon involved sharing honestly about the severe burnout and depression I had experienced when I spent years avidly pursuing God’s call for justice but had ignored the Sabbath. It was not an easy story to tell, full of pain and weakness and vulnerability—hardly the image of the strong, capable, able-to-do-anything-God-asks woman that I would rather project.
But that’s not who God was asking me to be—and he had provided a community of people to support me through what at times felt like an overwhelming endeavor. Our lead pastor was the one who encouraged me to try preaching, something I never would have considered on my own. He then spent several hours reading manuscript drafts, providing feedback, and encouraging me to speak from my heart. A couple other church staff walked me through a dress rehearsal and provided thoughtful feedback on how I could improve my presentation. Our worship leader (also a woman, I should note) selected a beautiful set of songs to complement my message. Dozens of people in the church, many of whom know about my struggles with perfectionism and people-pleasing, told me they were praying for me—and their assurances helped quell the worst of my anxiety and fear.
So many people had come around me to encourage me in my risk-taking, and that alone almost made it worth it. They were willing to invest time, energy, and care to support the next step in my journey as an ezer—the Hebrew word that means strong power, the one God used for Eve in Genesis 2:18.
My first sermon (which I actually had to give twice because we have two services) went as well as I could have expected. But, in the intervening weeks, the preaching part of the experience has become a bit fuzzy in my memory. Instead, what stand out to me are the stories I have heard since then of people in the congregation—some old friends, some first-time visitors—who were impacted by my sharing. They are finding hope and inspiration from the story of my failures and weaknesses. They are rearranging their lives so they can experience God afresh through their own Sabbaths—and he is responding with abundance.
God had taken my risk, wrapped up in my anxiety and insecurities, and blessed me with a new experience of support from my church family. He had taken my willingness to be vulnerable in front of hundreds of people, and transformed it into strength and encouragement for others.
As Jamie Wright says in one of the final chapters of Reclaiming Eve, “Service in the kingdom brings peace and joy, but it may not be easy” (155). I still don’t know if God has particularly gifted me to teach from the pulpit. My pastor has already asked me to consider preaching again, and, admittedly, I hesitate to say yes because the task still feels far beyond my comfort level. But whether my next risk is to preach again, or to find some other stretching role in the kingdom, I have every confidence that God will meet me there. Whatever I, as an ezer, am willing to offer, he will find a way to transform it into beautiful fruit.
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church