Merritt Johnston surrendered her life to ministry as a high school senior, although her options may have seemed limited, growing up in a small-town Baptist church in Texas.
“On that day, I had people asking me, ‘Does this mean you are going to marry a pastor?’” she recalled. “At that point, it wasn’t clear, if you were a young woman called to ministry, whether you would marry a pastor or become a missionary.”
But encouraged by her independent Baptist church community, Johnston sensed a calling to minister with and to women. That nudge led her toward a ministry field that culminated in her appointment as executive director of Baptist World Alliance Women, a part-time position she began Nov. 1.
Johnston succeeded Moreen Sharp, who served as interim executive director since 2017.
“There are times in leadership when you sense God providing in ways that far exceed your hopes and dreams. The appointment of Merritt Johnston … is one of those times,” BWA Women President Karen Wilson said. “This role brings a global responsibility, and Merritt is extremely passionate about standing with women in every culture to see them thrive.”
Johnston is no stranger to BWA or its international ministry to women. She serves as the alliance’s director of communications and media — a position she will continue to hold — and helped lead the Global Online Conference of Baptist Women, hosted by BWA Women in July 2021.
Johnston’s resumé boasts a wide range of pastoral, communications and women’s ministry experience, including hospital chaplaincy, directing seminary public affairs and leading women’s outreach for a multi-site church.
It’s a lineup tailor made for the challenges she will face running the day-to-day ministry of BWA Women, BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown said.
“With more than 20 years of experience in leading, teaching, coaching and collaborating with women and ministry leaders in countries around the world, Merritt lives a deep walk with Jesus Christ with a passionate calling and a spirit of high-capacity servant leadership,” Brown said. “She will build upon the historic BWA Women’s legacy in Holy Spirit listening, deepening community and strategically building partnerships that share the gospel and strengthen women around the world.”
“To me, this is really the sweet spot of the calling I have and the love and passion I have to serve with women.”
Johnston credited her childhood congregation, Fellowship Baptist Church in Nederland, Texas, with nurturing and affirming her interests and sharing her faith during childhood.
“They taught me that serving the Lord wasn’t something you had to wait for adulthood to pursue,” she said. “They affirmed my calling and gave me opportunities to serve from a very early age.”
In college, Johnston helped launch a Scripture-based nonprofit that provided encouragement and accountability to girls. “Each of us had a calling to tell girls some of the things we wish we had been told at that age,” she said. “From there, God opened doors for me to travel and teach and speak and to participate in ministry for women.”
Her leadership of BWA Women will draw on all those experiences, she said. “To me, this is really the sweet spot of the calling I have and the love and passion I have to serve with women.”
The organization assists women in ministry around the world, including in cultures where women have fewer rights than men, she said. But it also lends its voice to all women who face oppression in various forms.
“We are committed to stand against injustice and advocate for women around the world who continue to face a disproportionate amount of issues simply because of their gender,” she said.