Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Nov. 2, 2011. At the time of publication, Hanch was children’s ministry associate at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. It is re-posted today to call attention to Baptist Women in Ministry Month of Preaching (February), during which congregations are encouraged to remember and honor Baptist preaching women of the past and to celebrate the giftedness of Baptist women who continue to proclaim the gospel today.
Jesus’ ministry and training extends to all persons.
He made disciples from the woman at the well, the Gerasene demoniac, fishermen and Mary Magdalene. He brings Judeans, Gentiles and Samaritans to a deeper faith to the one true God.
Jesus’ ministry, as theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza puts it, is a discipleship of equals, concerned about relationships and redemption as opposed to appearances and status quo.
However, through the ages the church has experienced difficulty and tension when attempting to broaden partnering and discipleship.
The Gentiles and Jewish Christians disagreed in Acts over how one was to enter the community (must one be circumcised?), and how they were to care for one another (to make sure both Jewish and Gentile widows were in good care).
How does this translate 2,000 years later?
Most goodwill Baptists want to apply Jesus’ ministry to today. We encourage the soul freedom of the believer to determine her or his beliefs based on sola scriptura.
We value diversity, understanding the Spirit of God to work outside of our own experience.
But when we match up beliefs to experience, we’re missing many voices. It seems as if the only voices we want to hear are voices similar to us.
We continue practices and beliefs that may seem fine superficially, but in actuality they perpetuate harmful stereotypes about those whose voices are unheard and whose potential remains untapped – voices of women and minorities.
Our creativity dulled, we cannot imagine new possibilities with not only a diverse congregation but also a diverse leadership. We fear what we might lose.
Women take notice of the lack of inclusivity in leadership, academia and the church. They watch their male peers with similar or lesser qualifications being asked to pulpit supply, lead special events and write articles.
Resumes go unanswered. Some leave for better horizons, to churches and communities who welcome them openly and celebrate and affirm their gifts.
Others use their gifts in secular work. And others, feeling called to the Baptist world as beacons of the Holy Spirit, work toward a better future by mentoring young women, modeling competent leadership in their various lay and vocational positions and continually presenting their ideas, hoping that over time they will effect transformation and deeper faith.
While a lack of diversity in leadership roles can be blamed somewhat on a down economy and church attendance trends (some persons suggest that bivocational ministry will become more normal in upcoming years), the percentages indicate that even Baptist churches claiming openness to women in ministry are not necessarily inclusive of women in all levels of leadership.
Inherent reasons for not sharing leadership with women include the common association of women pastors as “liberal” with a certain style – as if all women spoke in one voice.
Others worry about angering church members or losing associational status. Still others seem too ingrained in the status quo to even realize they could be missing something.
Such status quo practices that relegate women to secondary status include speaking of God solely in masculine terms, as if God could be limited by gender, or typecasting women in supportive roles, where their true gifts aren’t able to shine freely.
Women fear speaking out because they could be seen as “pushy” or complainers.
Others do not necessarily want to draw attention to the lack of women in ministry, but when a continual injustice is practiced, they can’t help but speak up. It is the right thing to do.
There continues to be a process of discernment on when and how to speak and act on the part of women desiring to be in vocational ministry and faith-based leadership.
I believe goodwill Baptists hold noble intentions and are currently listening to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is working in the world today.
This listening includes finding other voices who can help us deepen our faith in rich and meaningful ways.
In order to navigate a postmodern, pluralistic world that affects the way we worship and think, we must open our hearts, open our minds and open our pulpits.
In doing so, we model Jesus’ discipleship and faith and open new possibilities for our Baptist heritage.
Kate Hanch is an ordained Baptist minister who is currently a PhD candidate in theology and ethics at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.