It is hard to believe it has been more than 35 years since I was ready to leave seminary in Louisville, KY for what I thought would be my first full-time church pastorate. Although I had grown up in Baltimore and Philadelphia, my state of heritage was North Carolina and my wife was from South Carolina. A reasonably high priority was to return to North Carolina where we had met in college.
Initially I was profoundly discouraged. The church-minister relations director among Baptists in North Carolina told me unless I was from a church in North Carolina that any hope of coming to North Carolina in a pastoral role was slim and none. The seminary located in Wake Forest, NC fairly well had a corner on the market for its graduates except for those from other seminaries with a local church network in the state.
While his prognostication was true, based upon his many years of experience, it was still hard to hear. In many ways I am glad it was true. Almost a year later a role in ministry that made my heart leap presented itself to me. With great excitement my wife and I were embraced by it. It took me on a lifelong ministry adventure from which I have never looked back.
One of my fellow bloggers on the ABP News Blog is a third-year student at Gardner Webb University’s divinity school. She recently posed an interesting question in her post: “Do Baptist women have to consider a denominational change?”
She said this after being told by an official in her moderate Baptist denomination that they would offer her little hope that she could leave seminary and move into a senior or solo pastor position. They even suggested she might consider other denominations.
I would offer a different choice. I would suggest she consider becoming a church planter and that she begin the kind of church she feels God is inspiring her to serve as senior or solo pastor. This may just be the perfect church in which she could serve.
We need more new congregations in North America with a refreshing Christian spirit. We need more congregations who are started with the joyous spirit of the first century Christians, and are possessed by an innovative style with which they express the Good News.
These new congregations often need women ministers who are twentysomething, thirtysomething, or fortysomething who can offer a refreshing insight into a new quality of congregational life. Men as pastors have messed up their share of congregations. Some women may do the same. But it is just as likely that they will do well; that they will offer a refreshing unique perspective on how you build a community of faith that is seeking to soar in the direction in which God is leading it.
Protestants of all stripes in North America need a new Reformation with an innovative style of congregation focusing on the warmth of spiritual formation and the prophetic challenge of missional engagement. I believe many Baptist women in ministry who are passionate about the lifetime of congregational ministry that awaits them may just be the key to this new Reformation.
Yet there are challenges. In all likelihood too few women graduating from various divinity schools and seminaries have thought about being church planters. Perhaps they believe church planting is not within the constellation of the call to ministry God might have for them.
Too few Baptists who are open to women serving in the role of senior or solo pastor also have a deep commitment to planting new churches, and putting the prayer, sweat equity, and financial resources behind such an effort. It is typically more conservative denominations who are less open to women serving in the role of senior or solo pastor who are willing develop the resources to start new congregations. This is a shame.
Perhaps those Baptists who are open to women serving the role of senior or solo pastor need a new revelation before they can have a new Reformation. Perhaps the divinity schools and seminaries producing these highly capable, creative, and committed women need an additional practical focus on the processes and practices of bringing new Christ-centered faith communities into existence.
Perhaps it will take several dozen Baptist women in ministry risking and stepping out on their own to create a new church planting movement among moderate to progressive Baptists. Likely it will be their success, the significant ministry they demonstrate, and the surrender to the call of God they embody that will unfreeze a shackled moderate to progressive Baptists leadership to fully recognize the richness of the ministry unleashed by this movement.
It may take a generation of women in ministry planting new congregations before this will all come to pass. Who will step forward and be the first group of 12 to take the risk? Where are the clusters of women in ministry who may already be doing this?