Follow God’s call, not ‘belittling voices,’ Paynter tells women ministers

God’s calling is a seed planted in peoples’ lives, says the CBF's top executive.

By Ken Camp

Women ministers need to recognize their calling as a seed God has planted in their lives, the first female executive of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship told an organization of women in ministry March 24.

Suzii Paynter urged participants at the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry conference to consider lessons from the life of 19th-century abolitionist Sarah Moore Grimke. In a novel by Sue Monk Kidd based on Grimke’s life, The Invention of Wings, the central character prays, “Please God, let this seed you planted in me bear fruit.”

suzii paynter podium600“The premise, of course, is that there are seeds of leadership deep in our lives,” Paynter explained. “These seeds bear remembering if they are to bear fruit.”

Jesus understood the importance of remembering the past as a way to nurture the seeds of promise. At the beginning of his public ministry, when Jesus read a text from Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth and announced the Scripture had been fulfilled, he was “projecting the future by remembering and reconnecting the past,” she said.

Remembering the past

When he read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus not only remembered the voice of the prophet, but also remembered the family stories — his Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah; his mother, Mary; and his cousin, John.

“Jesus is remembering the seed of his leadership is found in the leadership of God’s Spirit,” Paynter said.

Looking ahead, when Jesus read about the blind recovering their sight, he was acknowledging the seed of his calling would take root in the soil of uniqueness.

“Be truthful here: Unique is just not comfortable,” Paynter told the women — some who work in places where no other Baptist woman minister serves.

“Jesus is remembering the seed of leadership is found in being set apart, often in an awkward but powerful place for the sake of another.”

The seeds of Christlike servant leadership may be planted in the context of adversity or anomaly, she said.

“You have been called into this time, and God is asking something of you,” Paynter told the group. “We are on the road of an unfolding pilgrimage of spiritual leadership for women and girls. We are promised to share the journey — not always the destination.”

Listen to the voice of God

God’s servants must listen to the voice of God who called them, not the belittling voices who tell them what they cannot do, she insisted.

“Accept the unfinished business of your life in ministry. You do not know which imperfect, unfinished parts of your story will be part of God’s golden theme,” Paynter said. “You will never be given a tailor-made calling. But you will grow toward the fullness of your calling if accompanied by Christ.”

In a breakout session during the conference, Paynter responded to questions and elaborated on the theme of women in Christian leadership.

“The real gifts of leadership come from the crucibles of life, not the pinnacles of life,” she said.

Say 'yes' to challenging situations

Women in ministry need to take responsibility for saying “yes” to challenging situations and being willing to fulfill their calling in contexts that may be less than ideal, Paynter said.

“Not everybody can serve in the hippest church in the coolest city,” she said.

Baptist women ministers should recognize they are called to serve this generation at this time in history, and that means accepting the role of trailblazers, she added, saying, “You are pioneers.”