Danielle Strickland is an author, speaker, podcaster and coach. She talked with us about the role and beauty of preaching, power, and women and men working well together.
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Danielle Strickland currently serves on the teaching team of The Meeting House in Toronto. Her latest book is Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future (W Publishing, 2020). She spoke with Faith Today’s Karen Stiller.
Faith Today: Danielle, the author bio in Better Together mentions your "aggressive compassion" and that you are an "ambassador of fun." Can you tell us about those two parts of your work and identity?
Danielle Strickland: The first thing you should know is that my husband wrote that. It’s neat that he chose some of those words. Aggressive compassion is, of course, that I spent years and years in Salvation Army leadership, and Catherine Booth talks about this sort of aggressive Christianity, this "We’re gonna really live it out." And the same thing applies for me when I think about love and compassion, and being moved by love. It’s not this sentimental, anemic feeling. Love requires some action. It requires some intention. And the ambassador of fun is that my natural inclination is to enjoy life and be filled with joy.
FT: I heard you preach at Urbana 2018. You can preach. The video of you preaching at Urbana is online, so people can go check that out. What does preaching mean to you? I’d love to know how you feel when you preach and also what the role of preaching is today in the Church?
DS: Wow, those are good questions. First, I love preaching. It’s not hard for me. I think the only hard thing about it is to really hold the burden to be obedient to what God wants said, rather than just what I want to do.
So that’s the struggle, to be sure that I’m really tuning in to the Spirit of God in the moment. But I actually love it. It’s one of my favourite things to do. I think that’s a way you could discover a gift, when you do something that looks maybe more difficult to other people. And you’re like, "Oh, is it hard?" I feel like that’s just a great grace that God’s given me for that specific thing.
But I’ve always said I think preaching is one of the most overrated gifts in the Body. We love stages. We love celebrity. And I feel like preaching kind of fits all of those things in almost an unhealthy way.
So how do we dial this out of performance and into real life authenticity?
I don’t think it should be devalued. All of us can remember some time when we heard a word from a preacher and it undid something in us, or gave us a revelation, or helped us to choose differently with the rest of our lives. So for that reason it’s a wonderful gift. But for all those other reasons, like stages and celebrity, and this idea that some people are better than others, or are bigger than others, and even just in those little tiny snapshots when you get a preacher who’s really basically telling you the highlight reel of their own experience and revelation, sometimes we have this misconstrued idea that that’s actually how people live all the time. And, of course, that’s not so.
What I suggest is that we just hold it in its right place, to rightsize it. It is a gift among many gifts that the Body has. I don’t think it’s more important than serving. I don’t think it’s more important than mercy. I don’t think it’s more important than any of the other gifts God has given the Body.
FT: You’re working with women speakers now to offer training. Can you tell us about that?
DS: I was a little tired of being the exception to the rule. At conferences for both women and men, at leadership conferences, I felt like I was often one of the only female voices represented. And so I asked the conference organizers and church leaders, "Where are the other women?" There was a whole bunch of answers. "We don’t know." "We can’t find them." "Could you help us?" "We asked them and they won’t come."
I felt like God said to me, "Danielle, maybe you could just try helping." So the Women’s Speaker Collective really was a desire to help the situation – to change the equity of platforms, particularly at Christian conferences around the world.
So we do boot camps. I give everything I know about speaking and communication in two days, and everybody brings their best five-minute talk and we film it. We get headshots done. It’s very cathartic for a bunch of women to get together and realize they all feel called to speak, and that they’re not alone. There’s a great company of women in this area that can support them, so that itself has been a really beautiful thing. And then I think just a real intentional training and just checking off some of those basic boxes so that people know you’re available.
FT: So without asking you to give away all your speaking secrets, could you share a couple of things you teach the women who attend, or that typically people need to work on when they’re just starting out in a speaking ministry?
DS: We always start with authenticity. This is a fascinating thing. If you have a look at communicators that you know are just fantastic communicators, you’ll know that all of them are speaking from their own voice. They found who they are and they’re speaking from that place. They’re not pretending. They’re not trying to be somebody else.
So authenticity has its own power in Scripture. It’s the truth that will set you free, you know? It is this idea of owning your voice and finding your voice. That’s a big thing. Especially with women who’ve been told they’re not supposed to be something and they’re supposed to be something else and all kinds of things like that.
The first half of the boot camp is about authenticity, finding your voice and communicating from that place. I call that true humility, which is agreeing with God about who you are. When you get there and you speak or use your gift from that spot, there’s a lot that can happen. You can actually just start serving. So that’s a big part.
And then I would say communication. Basically there are two major parts of really effective communicators. One is content and the other is delivery. So we spend half the time talking about content and how to get rich in content. And mostly just the secret to that, I think, is living a curious life and then also doing the work. There’s just no shortcut to really good content. You just have to be curious, and then pull on the thread, and keep looking for deeper and deeper ways of getting to the truth. The other thing is just delivery tips.
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FT: Can you talk about the role of true stories. Why do they work so well to connect us?
DS: I think because they’re true and authentic. They have beautiful content because they’re real. And I think the teller of a good story has those elements where you invite somebody into a place. So it’s a lot less speaking at you and a lot more speaking with you. Stories do that. You’re inviting the audience into something that’s happening and you’re experiencing it together, versus some truth that you discovered that you’re telling them about. Invitational stories are universal. We all share the very heart of a human experience. We share grief. We share joy. We share happiness. We share humour. We share surprise. So stories that have all those elements tap into our universal human connection, which I think is also very beautiful.
Authenticity … I call that true humility, which is agreeing with God about who you are. When you get there and you speak or use your gift from that spot, there’s a lot that can happen.
FT: Your book Better Together is really a call for women and men to work better together for the sake of the Church and the world. Why haven’t we figured this out yet? It’s been a while.
DS: Here’s the deal. I think we’re in a moment. I would call it a tipping point where social media made a way for women’s voices to be heard in such a way that they couldn’t be clawed back into a sort of bureaucracy or patriarchy. So I feel like the cat’s out of the bag and we’re kind of in this moment – everybody’s a little paralyzed because we’re not really sure what to do next.
We can’t let fear dictate our next move or be paralyzed with indecision. What I really had in mind is, "What do we do now?" We need all hands on deck in this time of history, so let’s get there. And the book offers real pragmatic and practical ways of changing the culture of a male-dominated space to a more equitable one. I think this is so hard to do.
And to tell you the truth, this has been the hardest book I’ve ever written. It was a tough moment standing on the Willow Creek stage just weeks after Hybels was in the midst of scandal. So that’s really where the genesis of this book began. It was the title of my talk at the leadership conference. And, you know, never waste a crisis. I really believe that the repairing of the relationship between women and men is at the heart of the fall – the first thing to break after our relationship with God was relationship between each other. And that’s where blame, shame, hierarchy and patriarchy entered in. All of those things entered that space. So I think that’s why I’m so hopeful about repairing this bridge.
Repairing of the relationship between women and men is at the heart of the fall – the first thing to break after our relationship with God was relationship between each other.
FT: You talk about power in a way that’s very helpful and about using power.
DS: That’s one of my biggest takeaways for myself in my research of this book. It was a real look at how I use power, and the power that I have and what I’m doing with it. We hold so much privilege and power, and we feel guilty and ashamed about it because I think we believe that power is corrupting. And I came across this idea that, you know, Jesus was all-powerful. There’s no more powerful person on the planet. He had literally all the power, but He was not corrupted by it.
So what is it that Jesus was doing? And what is it about power that He understood that kept Him from being corrupted by power? And not only kept Him from being corrupted, but made His power something that He actually used to empower people?
You’re corrupted by power if you think it’s yours. But you’re a steward of something. All power is a gift from God. You’re corrupted by power if you think it’s limited. The scarcity idea of power is that there’s not enough for both of us to have power. But Jesus understood that wasn’t true. So how would it change the way you think about power if you knew it wasn’t yours, and second, that it was unlimited? You couldn’t run out. I think the third corrupting view of power is that it’s about control.
Jesus helps us, through His example, to understand that it’s about the empowering of other people or literally undoing the works of the Enemy. It’s about freeing people. So if you switched your view from limited and controlling, you might be able to actually use your power in a beautiful way.
FT: Thank you, Danielle.
Listen to our full interview with Danielle Strickland at www.FaithToday.ca/Podcasts.