Preaching and the feminization of discourse; a timely parable...

For a number of years, I've thought we need a book for preachers called The Feminization of Discourse. The book would show how the feminine priorities that have taken over the Western world have turned the preaching of God's Word from authority to mutual exploration and discovery. One friend lamented the preaching he'd sat under for a number of years saying, "Along with the indicative, can't we please have the imperative?" Read anything about the differences between male and female conversation and it's no mystery why the worship and preaching of our--yes, PCA--churches feel like a tea party. Having a reformed form of godliness, we deny the power thereof.

Our preaching is so graceful--more graceful than the preaching of Jesus or the Apostles. Anyone read the book of Acts, recently? Notice how often those listening to the sermon are confronted with the statement, "You killed Jesus!" No wonder repentance was the entry point to faith and baptism back then. But today? We're compassionate Christians, kinder and gentler elders, and sensitive graceful preachers who want to be liked. Above all. Yes, insofar as we can be liked and still be obedient, that's fine. But a choice between the two is no contest; being liked wins.

Now of course, right here the feminization of discourse kicks in and many are ready to condemn me for being dogmatic, making generalizations, or demonstrating a harsh and judgmental spirit, right?

Well, meet my friend Cesar Millan and see if we preachers have anything to learn from him about our exercise of the authority God has delegated to us, particularly in  the pulpit...

A couple months ago, the New Yorker ran an article by Malcolm Gladwell profiling Cesar Millan, the man behind the National Geographic show, Dog Whisperer. Titled What the Dog Saw, the piece gave readers a spellbinding glimpse into the life of a man expert at training incorrigible dogs.

The central thrust of the article was an explanation of Millan’s “phrasing,” his ability to bring his body movements, hand gestures, tone of voice, and eye contact into perfect harmony so that dogs understand Millan says what he means and means what he says. In a follow-up interview, Gladwell described Millan’s good phrasing:

What we’re talking about, when it comes to phrasing, is simply the ability to communicate with clarity. We all think that those around us have the ability to read our minds—and we get frustrated when our intentions are misunderstood. But the truth is that accurate communication is really hard, and only a very small number of people can do it well.

So now, I'm starting to think about preaching, but the parallels only get better.

Gladwell’s profile contained a number of examples of dog owners who hired Millan to tame their dogs. Here are the stories of two dogs, the first named Beauty and the second Bandit:

“I have forty-seven dogs right now,” Cesar…idly scratched a big German shepherd. “My girlfriend here, Beauty. If you were to see the relationship between her and her owner.” He shook his head. “A very sick relationship. A ‘Fatal Attraction’ kind of thing. Beauty sees her (owner) and she starts scratching her and biting her, and the owner is, like, ‘I love you, too.’”

Near the end of his article, Gladwell told the story of a Chihuahua named Bandit:

Bandit had a large, rapper-style diamond-encrusted necklace around his neck spelling “Stud.” His owner was Lori, a voluptuous woman with an oval face and large, pleading eyes. Bandit was out of control, terrorizing guests and menacing other dogs. Three trainers had failed to get him under control. Lori was on the couch in her living room as she spoke to Cesar. Bandit was sitting in her lap. Her teen-age son, Tyler, was sitting next to her.…

Tyler reached over to touch the dog, and Bandit leaped out of Lori’s arms and attacked him… Tyler, startled, jumped back. Lori, alarmed, reached out and …put her hands around Bandit in a worried, caressing motion, and lifted him back into her lap. It happened in an instant.

…Cesar was about as angry as he ever gets. “…If Tyler kicked the dog, you would correct him. The dog is biting your son, and you are not correcting hard enough.” …Bandit was nervous. He started to back up on the couch. He started to bark. Cesar gave him a look out of the corner of his eye. Bandit shrank. Cesar kept talking. Bandit came at Cesar. Cesar stood up. “I have to touch,” he said, and he gave Bandit a sharp nudge with his elbow.

Lori looked horrifed.… “You don’t like that, do you?” Cesar said, in his frustration speaking to the whole room now. “It’s not going to work. This is a case that is not going to work, because the owner doesn't want to allow what you normally do with your kids… The hardest part for me is that the father or mother chooses the dog instead of the son."

"That’s hard for me. I love dogs. I’m the dog whisperer. You follow what I’m saying? But I would never choose a dog over my son.” He stopped. He had had enough of talking. There was too much talking, anyhow. People saying, “I love you,” with a touch that didn’t mean “I love you.” People saying, “There, there,” with gestures that did not soothe. People saying, “I’m your mother,” while reaching out to a Chihuahua instead of their own flesh and blood…

Repeatedly, Millan demonstrates the dog isn’t the problem, but rather the dog’s owner. The dog is man’s best friend partly because dogs are highly skilled at reading man’s intentions and moods—his phrasing. So when a man’s words say one thing and his phrasing something else, the dog will follow his owner’s phrasing, disregarding his words.

What can we learn from Millan concerning the work of pastors and elders, those called by God to shepherd souls? Consider this article a parable, and start by thinking about its application to preaching.

If a pastor preaches using a lot of what political analysts label “weasel words,” for instance, can anyone really be surprised if that pastor’s ministry is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s power? There’s a plate tectonic difference between “Thus says the Lord God Almighty…” and “Sometimes I wonder whether anyone else sees it the way it appears to me…"

Congoonback In poker, dog training, and preaching there are tells that signal our intentions. Smile at a dog while saying “Bad doggie” in a reassuring tone and who can fault the dog for flipping over on his back and waiting to have his stomach scratched?

Preach 1Timothy 2, ending with a statement to the effect, “I can’t understand why God made this rule because I think women would make excellent pastors and elders, and their gifts for leadership have long ago been proven in the civil and corporate environment; but after all, we must assume God knew what He was doing when He inspired that chauvinist Apostle Paul writing in the ancient patriarchal culture to pen these prohibitions,” and how do we expect our daughters and the more aggressive women of our churches to respond?

Following such mincing leadership, who would fault them for eating up the teaching of Carolyn Custis James, Karen Jobes, and Diane Langberg; then pressing for their church to commission—not ordain, you understand—women deacons; then advocating women teaching our mixed sex adult Sunday school classes and small groups; then women serving our congregations the elements of the Lord’s Supper?

We could continue on this theme at length, but the parables general thrust should be clear. So ruminate on it and see where it takes you. And concerning pastors and elders, may the Lord lead us to teach and preach without trading on the authority God Himself has delegated to us and without apologizing as we exercise that authority.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


Cesar Millan, really? I hope preachers don't take a lesson from that guy. His method of dog training is nothing more than choking, punching and jabbing in the throat. In the opinion of almost everyone I know with a dog his style is only an inch away from animal abuse.

The church already strangles and intimidates enough without taking after that guy.

Like just about everything else in my life, this reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons. Bart's dog has been so unruly that Homer & Marge threaten to get rid of it. So Bart takes it to an obedience school, where this aristocratic old woman teaches discipline with a choke chain. Bart, of course, doesn't want to "correct" the dog, and it's the worst one in the class.

Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, the dog finally becomes obedient not through discipline but because Bart's emotional appeals finally get through to it. Just a little wish-fulfillment, I guess.

Jasmine, could you explain how "the church already strangles and intimidates enough," please? What do you mean, exactly?

I don't know about what the dog whisperer does, being cable-deprived. However, I do know from experience that what he says is absolutely correct. And yes, sometimes you need to get the dog's attention physically.

As to the point of the post - weasel words indeed! The difference between ordain and commission is pure semantics. The meaning of the act, the setting aside for service, is the same no matter what you call it. But I disagree as to whether commissioning/ordaining women as deacons is necessarily disobedient to Scripture. I'm going to let the substance and work of the office be an argument for a different day, though, because I'm feeling like a weasel today.


(Oops, I guess I just lost my title as Defender, etc.!)

Actually, Kamilla, I believe in women deacons--or more accurately, deaconesses. But it's not the same office as deacons because deaconesses don't exercise authority over men. It's a gifting and calling that common in the early church to which such passages as the "older women" of Titus 2 and the order of widows of 1Timothy 2 point.

But when PCA NYC Redeemer acolytes list men and women together in their worship bulletins as their board of deacons, this most decidedly is not what they mean. They are flaunting the proscription of women holding the office of deacon in the PCA Book of Church Order and ought to be held accountable for their rebellion.

So I'm sorry to inform you that, again, we agree. It's a sad day for our critics, eh?

You and Cesar are friends? I had no idea. How did you two meet? How long have you been friends? Is Cesar a Reformed Christian?

Sorry, Mike, he's not personally my friend. It was a figure of speech.

One of the lies that these kinds of preachers have believed is a lie about the nature of compassion. To preach in a straight-forward, thus-sayeth-the-Lord fashion, one has to believe that confronting sin is compassionate and self-sacrificing obedience. The other kind of preaching is self-serving, easy, soft and cruel.

This is why I believe in the death penalty (not to get off the subject and open a can of worms but...) I think the most compassionate thing that the govenment can do for a citizen that is so ensnared and enslaved by Satan that they have committed heinous crimes, is to give them the opportunity to see that their sin is deserving of death. This is compassion. Not all will repent. But it leads them up to the precipice of repentence. It takes them right to the edge of the cliff where repentence is only a step away. To treat sin as less is to rob one of that opportunity.

For pastors to preach in a way that does not manfully confront the monsters of the human heart, is to deny the flock the most compassionate offer on earth: freedom from sin.

Compassion is commanded in scripture to both men and women, but the virtue looks different for the two. For a man to be compassionate means that he is fearless, bold, unwaivering in confronting sin, especially within the church. The turning of the tables was a compassionate act on Jesus' part.

Leslie, I MISS YOU! Thank you for words that help me to think about the death penalty in godly terms.

The most compassionate preaching I've ever read or heard comes from men who passionately glorify their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who utterly believe in the truth of the Word, and who powerfully love the flock they are preaching to. Acts chapters 2 & 3 are perfect examples of compassionate preaching.

Jasmine, Jasmine! I raised German Shepherds when I was in the Army and I have one now. Hosanna and I have an outstanding relationship based on exercise, discipline, and affection. Milan is an excellent dog trainer. You sound like the woman who would let her son get bitten while her unruly dog runs the show! But I think you missed the point of what was being said.

I too have listened to PCA pastors in my own Presbytery whine or apologize about certain texts in the Bible for fear of offending women. It's God's authoritative, inerrant, and infallible Word. Say what it says and don't be ashamed about it. God isn't.

In my writings recently the whole notion of the feminization of American culture has been in the forefront as well as precisely what this blog is talking about: pastors who are semi-effeminate. Things have gotten so bad that even women--Leslie and Barbara--are almost apologetic because they believe that capital punishment is biblical. Quite frankly, I'm thrilled that there are still women like them around!

We have catered and pandered far too long. It's time for men--and PCA men/pastors/Elders--to "man up!"

Did any of you hear the story that Rush told about the two grandfathers on a Northwest Airlines flight who subdued two unruly passengers while the young metro-sexuals buried their heads and wouldn't even make eye contact with the grandfathers? GREAT story! The one man was a former police officer and the other was a retired Captain in the Marines. It's time to recover biblical manhood and womanhood!

It should be noted that the objections to Millan's work have to do with two practices he does, not his routine as a whole. I'm not competent (sadly, as I'm a dog owner) to speak to them, but we shouldn't be bad-mouthing everything Millan does because of a little part of what he does.

As a junior high teacher, I was convicted by this . Being liked has often won over being obeyed. Apologizing for the rules is easier than making an apologetic for them. There's refreshing freedom in saying "This is the way it is" - better when it is as clear as "Thus saith the Lord." I want to communicate clearly and so must learn to think clearly. Thanks.

It's funny because I remember reading a blog where someone was referring to Milan and his training as a "model" for childtraining (gentleness yet firmness and never spanking a child because that is hitting and abuse) and here I find out that his method involves "spanking" a dog. Another issue where something else is choosen in preference to the child. Sorry, just musing to myself.

I think the reasons the Metro-sexuals cowered was because they were untrained civilians, and not professionals. Military training and police training seek to override this instinctive reaction, and train individuals to react under duress. This is taught for both males and females in either profession.

The instinctive reaction you speak of is a human reality we all live in. We call it sinful cowardice which is fueled by self-centered perseverance. Thank God that Christ, when he was confronted with the greatest battle at Calvary, didn't shrink away. He gave his life willingly. The metro-sexuals have training. They have been trained to think of their own welfare as more important than others. Not being of a military and police background is no excuse for being a selfish sissy.

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