I am a Southern Baptist woman.
As a baby I toddled up and down the aisle of my parents’ little SBC church in central Texas, squealing with laughter as one church member after another held my chubby hands to steady me. I grew up there. I knew all of the best hide and seek spots in the building. I slept on the floor of the fellowship hall during G.A. sleepovers, and Jesus found me in that same room, when a traveling evangelist asked me if I could hear my shepherd’s voice. How many sweet people had poured God’s word into my hungry little soul by the time I was eight years old?
Eventually, as all kids do, I became a teenager. I spent years in Acteens reading the stories of passionate SBC missionaries. I mapped Paul’s missionary journeys on a posterboard that hung in the hallway. I went to national conventions designed specifically for Southern Baptist girls, and I loved every minute of it. The senior adults in our church encouraged me endlessly. They recognized me as a leader, and they allowed me to function as such. My junior year in high school my church hired a part-time youth minister, a young college kid, only two years older than me. We were great friends and did Christianity the best way we knew how–with gumption and passion and brokenness and gratefulness. I was never asked to be less than I was.
As a freshman in college, I found myself tasked with a strange job. My home church asked me to interview a college boy that they were considering hiring. He was two years older than me at our Baptist college, and I called him to ask if he would meet me in the cafeteria. I remember he was sitting with a group of his fraternity brothers when I walked in, and they were all wildly amused that he was being interviewed for a job by a freshman girl. My sweet church, though. They couldn’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t be the first one to vet this guy.
When I was nineteen, I stood behind the podium at that same little church, in the place where I had been so well loved and, looking out on many of the very faces who had smiled down at me when I practiced first steps up and down that long aisle, I spoke the truth of God’s word. No one was wringing their hands or glaring disapprovingly. My church wanted to see me grow and to use every ounce of ability that I had in order to glorify God within those walls and without.
I was never told that I should aspire to be a pastor. I was never told that I should be quiet. I was never asked if I fully understood complementarian roles. But, in every way in that humble church that I loved so dearly, it was made clear to me the truth of God’s word. The roles of men and women were so gracefully modeled there. Women were held in high esteem and helped run the place. Men were honorable and respected. That dear church saw value in me, and they allowed me to lead in my own ways, gently showing me the way to go according to the Scripture.
In 40 years of living I have been a part of seven Southern Baptist churches, each of them filled to the brim with kind, compassionate, godly people. What I have seen in all these years is not perfection. Far from it. Our churches are full of sins of all kinds, and so am I. We are on a steep learning curve right now in the SBC, and it is a good thing even though it hurts. We are straining to walk up this high hill of God’s good design for women, and we are woefully out of practice. In many ways we have forgotten what it looks like to hold women up, to hear their voices which are crying out in the wilderness, to value their thoughts and opinions and the wisdom they have gained through their study of God’s word. We have filled our boards and committees with men, albeit great ones, and we have entered rooms and we have closed doors to discuss sensitive women’s issues while most of the women wait outside.
The SBC is not dying. It is not facing a crisis that can’t be overcome. It is waking up from a long, fitful sleep to realize that some things are out of order, and those things can be set right by listening men and women and by the Holy Spirit of God. This is a time to be grieved by the sins we see revealed. It is a time to be cautious as we move forward, never allowing the pendulum to swing so far that we forget our strong, Biblical complementarian convictions. It is a time to be excited about the ways that God will work through humble hearts and changed attitudes. It is a time to be prayerful as hurting people are healed and as fallen leaders are reconciled to Christ. I believe all of this and more is in store for our convention. This is not a day for doom and gloom predictions or for jumping ship. It’s a day for holding on to Jesus as tightly as possible and asking Him to reveal to us our own wrong thinking and attitudes. It’s a day for humility in the SBC.
Imagine what could happen in Dallas next week if we all walked in with humble hearts, empty of all agendas other than glorifying our great God? What heights could the SBC reach on this steep climb that we’ve begun if we begged Jesus to show us where we are going astray in our own hearts and minds? There is no joy in seeing the mighty of the SBC fall. There is no joy in hearing the stories of women who have been abused or dismissed or silenced by the very men they should be able to trust for guidance and protection. But, there will be joy on the other side of this trek up the mountain. When God has changed things that we were afraid were unchangeable. When women are heard and when what they have to say is wise and changes our churches for the better. When SBC committees and boards gain more godly female representation. When women are expected to learn theology and are invited to discuss it freely. When we all grow. When we all change. I believe Southern Baptists will look back on these days as essential to our growth and flourishing. It’s gonna hurt. But, it will be worth it.
The SBC could take a few tips from the sweet church family who helped raise me. They did it with enthusiasm for who I was and excitement for who I may become. They cared for me by teaching me truth and by encouraging me to use my gifts for God’s glory. This is all any woman in the SBC really needs: open ears, open hearts, wise counsel, compassionate discipleship, and love poured out on a soul made in God’s image. Encourage women to grow, and value who they are and how they can contribute to our convention. I believe God will bless that many times over. I’m thankful for the SBC and the countless Southern Baptists who have nurtured me through the past 40 years. May God continue to humble and bless as we seek His face.