It was raised in discussion with me recently, that one of the reasons someone else felt it was improper for me (as a woman) to preach is that I was thus claiming authority over the men in the congregation.
Authority is a slippery concept; it carries different nuances in different contexts. The verse under discussion here is 1 Timothy 2:12, (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man”), and the underlying Greek translated “authority” is not the usual exousia but the unusual term authenteo, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. However, from other use contemporary with the writing of the Scriptures we know that this verb had the sense of “give orders to, dictate to.” In effect, what Paul was saying was “I don’t let a woman tell a man what to do.” (I should rather hope not; I’d also rather hope he didn’t let a man tell a woman what to do, but that’s perhaps a side issue here…) The point here is, Paul is not forbidding the normal, healthy, rightful exercise of authority, but something which transgressed that. So I rather feel that this verse does not address the question of the normal activity of preaching, although it may indicate something of what that preaching should not be.
But beyond that, I think it’s worth asking whose authority is expressed in the act of preaching? Of course one would hope that the preacher has prepared a sermon thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with appropriate use of Scripture; and that the congregation listens thoughtfully, prayerfully and with a spirit open to being led by God. In that sense, preaching is, both in the giving and receiving of it, an exercise of the authority of God.
Beyond that, though, one can look at the dynamics of authority within the community of the church. A preacher does not step into the pulpit simply on his or her own initiative. Processes vary between denominations, but preachers seek the approval and authorisation of others in the church community. Within my own tradition, preachers hold a licence from the archbishop, granted only after the archbishop has been assured by those responsible for these matters that the candidate’s life and beliefs make them a fit person for the office. And the archbishop holds that responsibility as an expression of the authority of the church which elected him (or her, in some fortunate places in the world where this has become possible).
So the authority of a preacher in the pulpit is not personal authority. It is an expression of the authority of the whole church, which has discerned the necessary gifts and calling in this individual to carry out this role for the good of the whole body. In that sense, it is not the authority of a woman over a group of people, but the authority of the church; and that authority applies equally to all, men and women, to those who listen and those who take up the tasks of teaching, preaching and leading. As a preacher, I submit myself to that authority, and so I claim no personal authority over the men (or indeed anyone) in the congregation. The authority over them rests with the church (the people of the Spirit), and with the Lord, and I am only its instrument, to the best of my capacity.