Month: June 2016

SBC repudiates display of Confederate flag

ST. LOUIS  Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention renounced display of the Confederate battle flag in a historic, overwhelming vote June 14.

The convention adopted late in its afternoon session a resolution that urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The resolution was one of seven adopted by messengers, but time for the report concluded before five other measures from the Resolutions Committee were able to be considered. The convention acted on the remaining resolutions during Wednesday morning’s session.

The Confederate battle flag resolution was another step in the convention’s effort to address its past actions regarding slavery and racism. The SBC, which began in 1845 in part in support of slaveholding missionaries, approved a resolution in 1995 repenting of racism and asking for forgiveness from African-American Christians.

It also has acted in a variety of ways in an attempt to bring about racial reconciliation and involve African-Americans and other minorities in leadership roles in the convention.

The Resolutions Committee brought a proposal to the messengers calling for “sensitivity and unity” regarding display of the Confederate battle flag. The resolution called for Christians who display the flag “to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display” because of the “undeniably painful impact of the flag’s symbolism on others.”

After two messengers spoke against the resolution, former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that went beyond the committee’s proposed language. His two-fold amendment deleted a paragraph that said the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.” It also removed language about prayerful consideration and called for a halt to displaying the flag.

Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said he offered the amendment not just as a pastor but as the great,-great-grandson of two men who fought in the Confederate Army.

“[N]o one can deny” the Confederate battle flag is “a stumbling block” for many African-Americans to the witness of Southern Baptists, Merritt told messengers.

In a comment that produced a partial standing ovation, he said, “[A]ll the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

Calling it “a seminal moment in our convention,” Merritt said, “This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion. We have a golden opportunity to say to every person of every race, ethnicity and nationality that Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.

“Today, we can say loudly and clearly to a world filled with racial strife and division that Southern Baptists are not in the business of building barriers and burning bridges,” he said. “We’re about building bridges and tearing down barriers.”

Messengers approved both the amendment and the amended resolution by wide margins.

SBC leaders gratefully and warmly welcomed the convention’s latest action in support of racial reconciliation.

Kevin Smith, the new executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and an African-American, told Baptist Press he was “very thankful and very moved by the clarity [Merritt] brought to the issue today.”

He was “pleasantly surprised” by the convention’s adoption of Merritt’s stronger language and believes it will help the SBC in the future, said Smith, who has been assistant professor of church history and Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Smith expressed gratitude to the Resolutions Committee and Dwight McKissic, who submitted the original version of the resolution. McKissic, an African-American, is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Calling it “an extraordinary moment,” ethics leader Russell Moore told BP, “We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ.

“I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And my hope and prayer is that we will work together in our churches toward modeling for the rest of the world what it means to be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God.”  

Read about additional resolutions at the SBC annual meeting here.

Lovelady church experiences big God in small town

LOVELADY Approximately 100 miles north of Houston, the small town of Lovelady, Texas, covers only 1.1 square miles of land and boasts a population of 600. Despite its size, God is doing some big things in the life of Antioch Baptist Church.  

Tony Wolfe, serving in his first pastorate after a number of years as a music minister in Louisiana and Texas, came to Antioch four years ago and saw immediate growth. In his first year as pastor, the church outgrew its sanctuary and has been meeting in the gym ever since. 

Wolfe said at times it feels like a church plant because each Sunday morning a team of people sets up and tears down for the service. Plans are in the works to build a new sanctuary and remodel older facilities to meet the needs of their growing faith community. 

In the midst of this numerical growth over the past three years, Sunday morning attendance has grown from 80 to 220, with the church baptizing 140 people—55 of those in 2015. 

“There is nothing that will do more for the forward momentum of your church than baptizing people nine Sundays in a row,” Wolfe said.

Lovelady is located in one of the more economically challenged counties of Texas, with about 21 percent living below the poverty line. Despite this reality and a major economic downturn in January and February of 2015, giving at the church increased during those months by 52 percent. Wolfe attributes this to a mighty work of God in people’s lives. Members are eager to give because they are seeing lives changed for the glory of God. 

“Whole families are coming to Christ and many others we [Christians] would normally write off,” Wolfe said.  

Creating a new mission statement is a seemingly small change, but the words “knowing Jesus and making him known through Christ-centered relationships” have become a rallying cry for Antioch members. Rather than develop new and innovative programming, staff encourage church members to build relationships with Christians and non-Christians as the most important way to disciple and evangelize. This simple, biblical approach is paying off in dividends in this small town. 

“When it comes to church growth, there is just no substitute for consistent, faithful gospel witness,” Wolfe said.

Quick to say they are not solely focused on numbers, Wolfe understands that every number or percentage represents a man, woman or child. 

“Other than the numbers, it’s amazing to see lives transformed, marriages saved and people with nowhere else to turn coming to our church,” he said. 

Wolfe prays that during their successes and blessings that everyone, himself included, remembers that it is all for the glory of God. Antioch Baptist Church is proof that sometimes big things do come in small packages.  

SBC resolutions address culture, ministry concerns

ST. LOUIS Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention, in addition to repudiating the display of the Confederate battle flag, approved 11 other resolutions on a variety of culture and ministry concerns.

Messengers voted on the proposals over both days of the annual meeting, adopting resolutions that expressed compassion for those devastated by the Orlando mass shooting, urged consistent evangelism of unbelievers and encouraged care for refugees. They also passed measures that included calling for the federal government not to discriminate against people who support only the biblical, traditional view of marriage and opposing an effort to require women to register for the military draft.

For Resolutions Committee chairman Stephen Rummage, the call for Southern Baptists to evangelize was central to the 10-member panel’s deliberations in presenting the 12 measures to the messengers.

The resolution on evangelism “might just seem like a standard resolution for an evangelical body such as Southern Baptists to pass,” Rummage said at a news conference June 15, “but really that is at the heart of everything that we talked about, including what we had to say about the Confederate flag. Everything that we do should have as its end and as its goal reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Echoing a comment made in support of the measure on the Confederate flag, Rummage said resolutions “build bridges and they tear down walls, but we’ve got to cross those bridges with the gospel and take Jesus to people because that’s what it’s all about and that’s the only hope for our world, for our nation and indeed for Southern Baptists.”

In addition to the Confederate flag measure, the other 11 resolutions:

  1. affirmed Southern Baptists’ commitment to biblical sexuality and urged the protection of religious free exercise. Kelvin Cochran, who was fired as Atlanta’s fire chief after writing in a book that homosexual behavior is immoral, presented the resolution to the convention as a member of the committee.
  2. called for prayer for and pledged support to those affected by the June 12 killings in Orlando.
  3. encouraged faithful proclamation of the gospel by churches and intentional evangelism by individual Southern Baptists locally, nationally and globally.
  4. declared “unrelenting opposition” to efforts by military leaders and the Obama administration “to increase the likelihood that women will be placed in harm’s way” along with voicing support for service members and their families.
  5. called on the government to enact strict security in screening refugees and for Southern Baptists to compassionately minister to and share the gospel with them.
  6. urged participation in voting and prayer for God to provide “spiritual, moral, ethical and cultural renewal.”
  7. encouraged churches to consider increasing ministries to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and their family caregivers.
  8. called for pastors and SBC entities to support freedom of the press and journalists to practice that freedom responsibly.
  9. affirmed “In God We Trust” as the national motto and encouraged its public display.
  10. supported Israel’s right to exist as a free state and encouraged renewed prayer for peace in and salvation of Israel. 
  11. expressed gratitude to God as well as Southern Baptists in the St. Louis area and all others who helped with this year’s meeting.

Messengers passed the first seven resolutions during the Tuesday afternoon session but were unable to vote on the remainder because time for their consideration expired. They approved the final five resolutions as a package Wednesday morning.

NAMB trustees end investigation of dealings with Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network

ST. LOUIS—Following an unanticipated two-hour, closed-door session labeled as a “workshop,” trustees of the North American Mission Board meeting in St. Louis June 13 unanimously approved a recommendation by officers indicating their satisfaction with a “thorough examination and review” of the Southern Baptist entity’s relationship with the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network (MABN).

“Representatives of this board have conducted a thorough examination and review of the dealings between NAMB leadership and the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network and have fully reported those findings to the full Board of Trustees, who discussed the findings at length and considered them when making this recommendation,” the board was told as a part of background information before the vote.

“In addition, the trustees were kept informed about challenges regarding the relationship between NAMB and MABN as the challenges developed, and NAMB’s executive leadership sought input from the chairman and other officers of this board regarding such challenges.”

The motion approved by trustees without discussion during their June 13 meeting a day before the annual Southern Baptist Convention convenes indicated by the action that officers “are satisfied that this matter has been reviewed thoroughly and consider this matter concluded.” Board members applauded the action, which was taken at the close of a series of routine reports.

NAMB is one of a handful of SBC entities that do not allow media access to committee meetings, opening the doors to plenary sessions where most voting takes place without discussion. Following the two-hour plenary session, spokesperson Mike Ebert emailed two earlier statements from NAMB indicating affirmation of a strong relationship with Maryland-Delaware Baptists (see below).

The Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, previously known as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, called Southern Seminary professor Kevin Smith as its executive director a week ago, replacing Will McRaney, who stepped down a year ago and subsequently fired off an open letter criticizing the manner in which NAMB handled cooperative agreements with state Baptist conventions.

In the Feb. 5 response to McRaney’s charges, which he shared with trustees and eventually the public, NAMB board chairman Chuck Herring indicated a desire to keep the matter internal, however McRaney released the response on his personal website months ago.

Herring wrote in his response, “Rather than engage in a line-by-line rebuttal of Dr. McRaney’s portrayals of how Kevin and other NAMB leadership navigated through this challenging situation, it is sufficient to say that his letter is both factually inaccurate and misleading.”

In addition, Herring said the relationship and partnership with state Baptist convention partners is highly valued.

In a March 24 letter, NAMB clearly related how a new strategy is working with an increase of church planting funds, resulting in 20 new churches in 2012 and double that in 2015.

Following his departure, McRaney posted more than 100 pages of documents related to MABN’s relationship with the North American Mission Board during his tenure, alleging his resignation was forced by Ezell.

In addition to serving as an assistant professor of church history and Christian preaching, the new executive director was teaching pastor at the church where NAMB president Kevin Ezell previously served before joining NAMB in September of 2010.

Michael L. Trammell, president of the network’s General Mission Board, told Baptist Press that Smith was “thoroughly vetted by our Executive Director Search Committee, the Administrative Committee of the General Mission Board and by the full membership of the General Mission Board,” calling him “a scholar” and “a tremendously gifted leader.”

A more complete report will follow in the TEXAN.

NAMB response to Will McRaney’s Letter of Concern (February 5, 2016)

NAMB affirmation of strong relationship with Maryland-Delaware Baptists (March 24, 2016)

Healthy church planting strategy reaches growing sectors of Austin

AUSTIN High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin has implemented a church planting strategy that has yielded new congregations in a growing area of Austin in need of a strong gospel witness.

A decade ago, when Juan Sanchez became pastor, High Pointe was not healthy financially, but the church decided that if God allowed them to grow, “we would no longer build auditorium space, but instead we would plant churches.”

High Pointe committed to give at least 10 percent of its receipts to causes outside its walls to ensure they were not keeping all the money for themselves but by faith—despite financial difficulty—were modeling for the congregation sacrificial giving, Sanchez told the TEXAN.

Their first church planting venture grew out of the handful of Hispanics that Sanchez was preaching to each Sunday before the morning service. They hired someone to lead the group, and it became an independent Spanish church.

As High Pointe continued to grow, the church realized a large number of members were driving from Elgin and from Cedar Park and Leander, all of which were a half-hour’s drive from the church. 

“If we had people coming from those distances all the way to High Pointe, then clearly there was a need for gospel churches there,” Sanchez said. “So in order to care for our members well and plant gospel churches where our members felt there wasn’t one they could attend, we just started long-term deciding we need to plant churches where our people are coming from so they don’t have to drive so far.”

The leadership developed a church planting strategy that includes bringing someone on staff in a pastoral assistant role to learn who they are, what they’re about, how they’re structured, how they govern and what their philosophy of ministry is—“just getting to know our DNA,” Sanchez said.

In the second year, the church planting resident develops a core team of members who will agree to help start a new congregation. The team studies what it means to be a church, studies a statement of faith and church covenant, studies how to live together as a church, and studies how to develop a culture of evangelism and discipleship.

“It’s really just equipping them to understand what this might look like and the commitments that are going to be expected of them,” Sanchez said. 

In year three, they launch. In 2011, High Pointe launched Covenant Life Fellowship in Elgin, sending 30-35 people on a core team, and that church was self-sustaining by its second year. 

Then, for the church members who were driving from northwest Austin—mainly Cedar Park and Leander—High Pointe turned to Ben Wright, who had served on staff for several years as an associate pastor. 

“Ben already knew our DNA, so we jumped right to year two, which was developing the core team,” Sanchez said. “The next step was planting the church. They were planted in February (2016), had their first public meetings in early March, and the Lord has really blessed them already.”

Wright, now pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, said the population in that area is growing significantly as people move from around the world to Austin’s technology sector. “Church planting hasn’t even begun to keep up with that need,” he said. 

The nations are coming to northwest Austin, Wright told the TEXAN, and “there’s an opportunity to reach people with the gospel who will have ways to spread that gospel back to countries that are very difficult to reach.”

“I’m grateful for High Pointe’s leaders taking the risk of sending out a bunch of solid, faithful people for the sake of the gospel,” Wright said. “High Pointe isn’t a rich church by any means, and I have tremendous respect for Juan leading his church to act in faith for a cause infinitely bigger than his own church’s interests.”

Wright said he has read in church planting literature that many, if not most, of the initial launch team members tend to leave the plant within three to five years. 

“By God’s grace, that didn’t happen in the plant High Pointe launched five and a half years ago, and we pray it won’t happen with us,” Wright said. “People who’ve already been part of the same church know what to expect from the pastor, and they know what to expect the church will be like. There aren’t nearly as many surprises, and that creates stability.”

Sanchez compared church planting to getting married and having children. People want to wait until they’re ready, but they’ll never be ready, he said. 

“If you’re waiting until you’re ready to plant a church, you’ll never plant a church,” Sanchez said. “It does require faith. It requires wisdom. You don’t want to do this foolishly. You have to count the cost.” 

Part of counting the cost is financial, he said, and another part is letting go of valuable church members to start new growth. 

“If we were to wait until we thought we were ready financially and leadership-wise, we would never do it,” Sanchez said. “So we have to pray about it, the church has to come to an agreement, and by faith we have to step out and do the Lord’s work.”

Sanchez emphasized that no congregation has to plant a church alone. 

“I would encourage people not to reinvent the wheel but to get help that’s already available. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has a lot of good people who have wisdom and experience. So you don’t have to be an expert in church planting to plant a church,” Sanchez said.  

DR feeding units used by Red Cross to serve thousands affected by Texas floods

PFLUGERVILLE—Mike Northen never imagined disaster relief would begin in his church’s parking lot, but that is what happened as First Baptist Pflugerville set up an SBTC DR feeding unit to support Red Cross efforts in central Texas following region-wide flooding in May.

“We set up the kitchen at our church because it was a central location,” said Northen, First Pflugerville’s associate pastor of education and church administration. “The Red Cross was delivering to multiple towns: 30 minutes to an hour and a half away.”

The feeding unit, manned initially by volunteers from First Pflugerville, began preparing meals June 1 for Red Cross workers to transport to area communities including Brenham, Bryan-College Station, Somerville, Cedar Creek, Bastrop and Giddings, Northen said.

The meals prepared by SBTC volunteers were kept hot in Cambro containers supplied by the Red Cross, whose workers drove ERVs (emergency response vehicles) to distribute the food to distant victims, Northen said.

Northen served as white hat, or incident leader, May 31–June 4, the week in which First Pflugerville volunteers manned the feeding unit. Ralph Britt of Flint Baptist Church rotated in with a fresh crew over the next weekend as SBTC teams continued producing 500-plus meals per day.

More than 6,000 meals were prepared the first week of the deployment, Northen added.

“Our feeding volunteers continue to serve and be a blessing to the victims of the recent flooding. Mud-out operations will start after the water recedes,” said Scottie Stice, SBTC director of disaster relief.

SBTC DR volunteers also deployed to Rosenberg, north of Houston, where they provided laundry and shower units to assist more than 200 first responders engaged in flood relief in southeast Texas.

“We are honored to serve first responders in Rosenberg as they serve the people of the state of Texas,” Stice said. The Rosenberg deployment wrapped up June 6 as white hat Mike Jansen oversaw the removal of SBTC equipment to Angleton at the request of Texas Emergency Management.

Spring floods ravaging Texas only affirmed the need for disaster relief volunteers.

For pastors considering establishing a disaster relief ministry, Northen advised, “Don’t try to figure out whether you need [DR training]. Get trained to help. Get ready.”

Volunteering on a DR deployment may involve a few hours, a day, a week or longer.

“Some deployed from our church are in job or life situations where they thought they’d never get to serve. I pushed them to get the training,” Northen said, adding that he told church members, “Let God worry about when and where you deploy.”

Fifteen DR volunteers from First Pflugerville manned the feeding unit in the church parking lot, some working for just a day.

Participating in disaster relief, especially in one’s own backyard, may inconvenience a church, but the inconvenience is worth it, Northen said. In the case of First Baptist Pflugerville, Sunday services were impacted as the feeding unit took up 100 parking spaces. The next week’s feeding crew stayed in church facilities.

“We need more people, more pastors, to wake up and see this ministry is a very evangelistic outreach. I have people who are involved in DR who don’t feel like they can do anything else in the church. They don’t feel like they can teach. This gives them a way to serve.  If you are not getting your church involved, are you keeping somebody, especially in their retirement years, from a way of serving?”

DR is an inclusive form of ministry meeting the needs of people in times of crisis, providing basic services and sharing the love of Jesus.

“It’s a chance to become salt and light,” Northen said.

Sex? Islam? Gay marriage? No question is off-limits at growing college “Q&A ministry”

STEPHENVILLE It is rare in a modern-day church for a single worship service to cover nearly every single hot-button issue—from premarital sex to gay marriage to the exclusivity of the gospel—but for Timber Ridge Church’s college ministry, it’s a weekly event. 

And instead of seeing college students get up and walk out of the service, Timber Ridge has seen its college attendance double. 

It all started when Timber Ridge pastor Nic Burleson and the college team began brainstorming how they could attract college students who don’t attend church to their on-campus ministry at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. 

“We didn’t want it to be your traditional sing-some-songs, preach-a-sermon service,” Burleson told the TEXAN. 

Burleson’s idea to the team: allow college students to ask any question about Christianity and life, and then have him answer those questions in front of a live audience. Everyone liked the idea, so on one Wednesday night in February Timber Ridge’s on-campus ministry, known as TROC, hosted its first “You Asked For It” service, in which a worship band leads in music for 20 minutes and then Burleson fields questions from the audience for approximately half an hour.

About 40 students attended the service that first week, but by the end of April weekly attendance had more than doubled to nearly 100 each Wednesday night. Students from seemingly every walk of life—including Muslims, atheists and people from the LGBT community—have come. 

Even more exciting, “You Asked For It” has led to three baptisms.

“I think there’s a spiritual hunger among millennials,” Burleson said. “There’s a spiritual hunger among the college students on Tarleton State’s campus and in our town. And allowing their spiritual hunger to dictate the conversation has been beneficial for us.”

Thanks to a smartphone app called Text Free, all the questions remain anonymous, and the person’s phone number is not revealed.

The college team sifts through between 20 and 50 questions each Wednesday night, and Burleson, due to time constraints, answers five to eight. They weed out questions that have been answered repeatedly in recent weeks, although if one question is addressed by several people, Burleson tries to field it live. 

But no question goes unanswered, provided the student is persistent.

“If students don’t get their question answered live, we tell them to come back and send it again, or they can text us, ‘just answer me please,’ and that night and the next day our college team, myself, some of our staff, spend time answering questions via the texting app,” Burleson said. “We’re pointing them back to the Bible, pointing them back to God’s Word.”

He doesn’t avoid the tough questions, though, which means he does sometimes get stumped. 

“If they send a really hard question, you can usually see their face light up: ‘Oh, I’ve stumped the pastor.’ We have had a couple of times where we’ve said, ‘That’s a great question. We’re going to dig into God’s Word, and next Wednesday we’re going to kick things off with this question, and we’re going to find out the answer.’”

Burleson’s background isn’t in apologetics, at least not in an academic setting. Prior to planting Timber Ridge in 2011, he spent 12 years as a youth pastor and three as a family pastor. He said he has a strong interest in explaining to church members and college students about “how we live out our faith” in a culture “that is multi-ethnic and multi-faith.”

Burleson and the college team devote themselves to prayer each Wednesday prior to the service, asking that God would guide him as he responds to questions. 

“It’s amazing the Bible passages that me and some of the other leaders have memorized in the past, they just seem to come to mind at the right time,” he said.

The service is held in a room in the basement of the student building. Burleson is able to speak at the service because it is hosted by the TROC college ministry, an official on-campus, student group formed this year. The benefits of the service, he said, are significant.  

“Progressively, the church has been seen in America as very close-minded,” he said. “We haven’t allowed people room for questions. We haven’t allowed people room for discussion. When you open it up to allow people to ask questions that they’re struggling with, or questions they’re very concerned about, you are meeting them. And that’s where we’ve seen the power in this.”

The Q&A ministry, he believes, can be duplicated by other churches on other college campuses. 

“We’re not doing anything special or spectacular,” he said. “It’s simply humility to say we’re going to allow the people that we serve and the people that we’re trying to reach to have a part in determining the conversation.  

“We’re just excited about what God is doing.”

Bio Sketches: Complementarian Women Serving in Ministry

Nancy TurnerNANCY TURNER has served as a pastor’s wife almost as long as she’s been married. Married for 32 years, Turner and her husband, Terry, have served for the past 25 years at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church (MFBC), a congregation that welcomes a robust female presence in service, while reserving the role of pastor to men. 

“God created man and woman as equals but with different roles.” Turner said, referring to God’s design for the home and family. “Male leadership carries over into the church. Women are not allowed to teach men.”

Turner said her heart is to help women and children to draw nearer to God, a passion manifested in her role as the teacher of an adult women’s Sunday school class and a middle school Wednesday night Bible study. 

“Our church has women who serve as deaconesses,” Turner said. “It is not a position of leadership but one of service. Several of the ladies are married to deacons; however, that is not one of the qualifications for being asked to serve as a deaconess.”

Turner said the role of deaconess at MFBC is simple. “We prepare the communion table, assist the female baptismal candidates, and make sure an adequate supply of baptismal and communion supplies are always on hand.”

“On a personal note, I do not believe the role of a deaconess is the same as a deacon,” Turner said, referring to the biblical character of Phoebe in Romans 16:1. “Although the word servant is used in 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12, 13 to explain the qualifications of a deacon, I do not believe that Paul is recommending Phoebe in the exact manner. Whether you are a deacon or a deaconess, your primary attitude should be that of a servant.”

ANITA WOOD has served as director of education and evangelism at Memorial Baptist Church in Spring since 2011 and has worked with SBTC’s women’s ministries since 2004. 

“My church is a very conservative SBC congregation, and I am honored to serve them as staff,” Wood said, noting Memorial has two additional female staff members serving children. “There is a distinction among our staff titles, indicating their understanding of gender roles. Our church addresses male staff members as pastors and female staff members as directors. 

“Certainly all people are created by God equally; however, God established a chain of command and authority whereby families and churches remain healthy. Men are to lead their homes and serve as pastors of congregations,” Wood said, adding that if a man held her position, he would probably undertake additional roles excluded from her job description such as administering the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as teaching men.

“In my particular ministry as director of education and evangelism, I am consciously aware of my role and responsibilities,” Wood said. “I serve at the pleasure of my church and my pastor, seeking to honor him as the ultimate God-ordained authority for this local body of Christ. I feel free to discuss matters with him, and he listens to my ideas and opinions. Should we ever disagree, I willingly submit to his authority and position.”

“For example, in staff meetings I have opportunity to share from a female perspective. This offers insight into families and church members that broadens our collective understandings. When I am with our congregation, I intentionally address our pastors by their titles—Pastor Cliff or Pastor Scott—so as not to dishonor them before our people. I want my speech to be honoring of their role and the godly men they are.”

Ann HettingerANN HETTINGER was called to ministry in a time when few women committed to full-time Christian service. In college and as a young married woman, she served a variety of churches in administrative roles. When her husband’s profession relocated them to the northern U.S., Hettinger served as a church secretary to a medium-sized church, where she was the only full-time staff member.

“The daily run of activities initiated at my desk, and God was my very present help in every moment of that journey,” Hettinger recounted. When her husband’s job relocated them to the Northwest, she served a small church as education assistant for seven years teaching children. And when they later moved to Texas, God provided service opportunities in a large church. 

Believing Scripture is definitive concerning the male-only pastoral role, Hettinger said there are so many tasks women may fill that she cannot imagine “a woman not being able to match up her gift with some need.”

“For over 30 years, God trained, moved, provided over and over again in my life to take all of these experiences and use them for the last 22 years serving families in public policy influence,” said Hettinger, who currently serves as the state director for Concerned Women for America. 

Hettinger believes the scriptural instructions related to pastoral roles in church do not apply to women serving in government roles. 

“Indeed, the Scripture is replete with examples of women who bear strong governmental responsibilities,” she said, pointing to Deborah in the Old Testament. “In my view, women bring to the public policy arena experience as unique and necessary as men bring. There is no governmental task that does not involve both genders’ consideration in the same way that we need multi-generational and multi-ethnic considerations.” 

Deborah PearleDEBORAH PEARLE had the privilege of leading her future husband, Bob, to Christ in high school. “Needless to say, it changed not only his life but mine as well,” Pearle said, recounting her journey as a pastor’s wife.

Looking back over their 44 years of marriage, Pearle says her call to serve alongside her husband was a defining mark in her life. “There’s no joy like serving the people of a local church.”

While Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth reserves the teaching of mixed audience roles to men, Pearle said her position as pastor’s wife has afforded her with countless service opportunities, including serving as women’s ministry director, playing the piano, leading children’s and youth choirs, teaching Sunday school and Bible studies, leading VBS, taking mission trips, mentoring young women, and singing in the choir. Pearle considered each of these service roles as acts of love for Christ and her church family as well as a complementing function to her husband’s leadership role as pastor. 

“We miss the biblical meaning that Christ has for our homes when we take the position of equal authority,” she said. “Christ himself, who is the equal part of the God-head, took a position of submission to the Father. His example sums it up for me. My flesh wants the recognition, but by taking the view Scripture explains, I have found tremendous joy, peace and satisfaction I never experienced when I believed the lie that I didn’t have to submit.”

Melanie LenowMELANIE LENOW has fulfilled many roles in her lifetime—biblical counselor, student, pastor’s wife, and chiefly, mother to four children.

“I have been incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside many women in my church and community for the cause of Christ,” said Lenow, who has a master’s in biblical counseling. “Each of my experiences has one common thread, though. Another very talented woman could step into my place at any given time and do an equally effective job.” 

In Their Own Words

Finding Places to Serve in the Church

“If our churches would help women look at how they’re gifted—their personalities, their experiences—[and say], ‘Okay, based on this let’s see where you can best minister and fit into the kingdom,’ so that whether you’re paid or not, you get a sense that I am actually a valuable part of this whole church, and I fit my little puzzle piece. Churches [need to] affirm women for who God’s created them to be. We may have a fantastic Bible teacher. Let’s put her in the right place to be able to take women to the deep things of God.”

Terri Stovall, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

However, Lenow believes differently of the role of motherhood. “Each child has [his or her] own personality, gifts, talents and struggles. God places specific children with specific parents purposefully. This means there is no other woman on earth who can mother my children the way God has created me to mother them. I am not saying I am perfect at the job, but in God’s wisdom he has placed me in that role,” she said. “He wants the mother and father to be the primary influence on a child’s life until adulthood. Therefore, if I am absent from my children, even doing other good things, I am missing out on the one job that God has given to me and no one else.”

For this reason, Lenow believes motherhood to be the highest calling, whether a woman is mothering a biological or adopted child. 

Motherhood also requires making hard decisions about setting aside certain ministries for seasons. “I thoroughly enjoyed acting as women’s ministry leader at my church, but with the ages of my children, I have had to lay it down for the season,” she said, appreciating the fact that God has used her circumstances to introduce her to new ministry opportunities such as working with the teachers and other parents at her children’s school, serving as costume organizer/backstage manager for her church’s musical productions, and helping lead Locals for Life, a pro-life organization based in Fort Worth. 

Susie EdworthySUSIE EDWORTHY, current IMB missionary, felt called to ministry in the 7th grade—a role she thought would be fulfilled as a pastor’s wife. But while working on her master’s in religious education alongside her husband, Mark, God confirmed their call to the mission field. 

“God used many experiences from my upbringing as well as current challenges to show me his calling to serve overseas,” she said. “I was excited that I could be a woman and have a great role in reaching the world. I heard a missionary woman share her experiences as wife and mom and how that impacted the kingdom. Throughout this time, though, I never felt that my calling was secondary nor limited.”

While noting that Scripture teaches different roles for the genders in both the church and home, Edworthy said, “That’s never really been a struggle for me as I’ve seen how God wanted me to use my gifts that he gave, and he’s provided ways for me to do that.”

Even as an international missionary, Edworthy said her role as a full-time mother has opened doors unique to her. “During the years, I’ve been able to be active in the schools where my kids attended as well as some other schools. 

“I’ve also seen great potential to have impact on the lives of women. I haven’t seen my role limited because I wasn’t a male but always felt it was different. Having a chance to disciple women through the years has been great,” she said, referring to one of the roles she enjoys most—influencing younger missionaries.

“I’ve never seen different as lesser but have tried to enjoy where God has planted me and to take advantage of the opportunities he gives. I’ve seen that there have been times that I’ve had ministry because I was a woman.”