After a decade as minister for young adults at the historic First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the Rev. Sarah Stewart has been promoted to senior pastor.
Stewart, 36, officially begins duties Nov. 19 as 19th pastor of the 128-year-old church. She is the first woman to occupy the pulpit once filled by the legendary Southern Baptist leader Herschel Hobbs.
Hobbs, pastor of FBC Oklahoma city from 1949 until 1973, was one of the most influential pastor/theologians in the Southern Baptist Convention of his day. He served as convention president in 1962 and 1963 and chaired the committee that drafted the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message, described in its introduction as “a consensus of opinion” and guide to interpreting the Bible “having no authority over the conscience.”
First Baptist Church left the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001, after revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message labeling it an instrument of “doctrinal accountability” and adding a declaration that the office of pastor “is limited to men.”
Afterward First Baptist became a leading congregation in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an organization of about 1,800 like-minded churches disenfranchised by the “conservative resurgence” movement in the SBC during the last two decades of the 20th century.
Mack Roark, who has served four times as interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said the church has a long history of ordaining women to the ministry. The congregation ordained Stewart as a minister on April 6, 2008, two years after her license to preach by First Baptist Church in Rosebud, Texas, where she served as co-youth minister 2004-2006.
Roark said Stewart’s selection was not because of her gender but because the pastor search committee and congregation believe her “to be the right person for the task ahead.”
Stewart, who first came to First Baptist Church as a summer intern in 2007, was one of 54 candidates considered for the position. She was elected senior pastor after preaching in view of a call Oct. 21.
Stewart said in a July letter to the pastor search committee that she has known she was called to be pastor since age 22.
“I do not have the need to climb the ministerial ladder,” she wrote. “I believe that I have been pastoring all these years in my current role. Having said that, God is clearly doing something in my life right now that is making it clear that my time to pastor is approaching, whether that is at FBCOKC or somewhere else.”
“Here is what I offer,” the letter read in part. “I have a pastor’s heart and a teachable spirit. I will not always get it right, but I will always seek God’s will and wisdom. I will listen to wise counsel and offer my very best to the church. I will faithfully study and prepare and feed this congregation through sermon and Bible study. I will walk with you through joy and sorrow, through new life and through death. I will be willing to have hard conversations and to lead us to make hard decisions. I will show up and love you. I will look to long-term members who are wise for guidance and counsel along the way. I will be outreach minded and solution oriented. I will do my best to inspire, equip, and empower lay leaders in the congregation. I will work hard to remain healthy and to tend to my own spiritual and emotional growth. And when I get it wrong, I will learn from my mistakes.”
A 2008 graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary and former youth leader at First Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma, Stewart succeeds former pastor Kent Berghuis, who served two years in Oklahoma City before moving to the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio, in 2017.
A mother of three, Stewart is married to Brad Stewart, minister for discipleship and youth at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City since 2008.