If I Speak in Tongues of Men... What About Women?

10/20—After LOFT

Ouch. Kim used a translation of Scripture tonight—not sure which one—that was remarkable primarily for its gender exclusivity. This isn’t a God-talk issue (that’s a whole different conversation). But can we at least not go on and on in worship about the evil man and the good man and the blessed man and the foolish man and how God came to save men. . . .

What, women don’t need saving?


It’s my fault for not bringing it up before. This is a fairly new crew; we haven’t talked about justice and gender and language yet. So now what? Do I talk to her about it? Let the squad captains handle it? Are they even on the same page? How can I persuade the whole team that this is important?

10/28—After LOFT

Definitely time to do something on the inclusive language front. Two “ouch” moments two weeks in a row. This week Scripture again, and then two songs: one that speaks of God’s preexistence “before the invention of man,” the other about bringing “many sons” to glory. I don’t want to trash the songs because of these defects—they’re wonderful songs, rich and theologically developed. Can I tweak the lyrics in the direction of justice?

To do: Inclusivize “man” and “sons.”


I tried but failed. Can’t tweak the gender exclusivity out of those songs. The fix would go far beyond “tweak” and we’d run into copyright trouble.

Brought the issue up with the planning team, and it’s plain that not everyone agrees that this is something worth worrying about. Surprisingly, the women on the team may need the most convincing. Time for a leadership summit.

To do: Prepare basic rationale for use of gender inclusive language (see sidebar).

11/23—Post-summit Notes

Had a Saturday breakfast meeting with squad captains to talk about this issue. First we walked through the rationale. It did some brush clearing, I think; but some remained only half-persuaded.

We came up with a list of things to keep in mind: if readers can’t transpose on the fly, use a gender-inclusive translation; remind guest preachers of our concerns; tweak song lyrics (if possible); take time to make sure prayers use inclusive language naturally.

But most important to me is team buy-in. I want the whole team to embrace a picture of God’s kingdom that includes women and men, fully and equally, in word and action.

We agreed to use an upcoming pre-rehearsal devotion to work through this with the whole team. Then brainstormed what the devotion would look like. I wanted to present some of the rationale—after all, our brains need motivating. Rachel liked reading aloud part of that letter to remind folks that real people are involved. Dean’s heart-changing idea: begin devotions reading Scripture (a passage from John 15?) and praying using gender exclusive language—reversed. “Greater love has no woman than this, that a woman lay down her life . . .” That may give men a sense of the exclusion some women feel. It also might engage the women in a way they haven’t been engaged before. And that passage might remind us that even if it feels awkward or takes some getting used to, using language that doesn’t minimize or exclude is a way of laying down our lives for others.


I think it’s working. As we went over service details, Tim remembered that the Nicene Creed he memorized said “who for us men and for our salvation.” He asked if the version we’ll use on the PowerPoint slide might include women. ’Cause Jesus came to save them too.



  • “Man” and “men” are not heard as inclusive anymore—hardly anywhere besides church. While there is some specialized language we use (properly) only in church, is this it?
  • Language shapes our thought. It’s why we don’t use “audience” to refer to the congregation or “stage” to refer to the platform. Those words tell us worship is a performance by those up front, which it’s not. In the same way, words we use about people shape the way we think about them. When we use only male pronouns for people, we communicate to others and to ourselves—perhaps without meaning to—that the masculine experience of being human subsumes the feminine, that men more accurately represent the image of God in humanity. Do we believe this?
  • Many are hurt when our language excludes them. Does this matter to us enough to do something about it? (Show them letter I got from student wounded by constant use of “man” and “men” in worship at LOFT).
  • It’s personal. What words do I want my daughter Miriam to hear in church as she grows up?

Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra has been a regular contributor to Reformed Worship over the years. He is the director of worship life and professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America , author of Church at Church, and coauthor with his wife, Debra, of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. Together they have three grown children, a multiplicity of living-room instruments, and a tame backyard they are slowly rewilding.

Reformed Worship 68 © June 2003, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.