A networking community called The Pastor’s Common, whose council is made up entirely of men, drafted three resolutions for the Baptist General Convention of Texas on advocating for leadership among young ministers, unity across divides and the affirmation of women.
The most detailed resolution on generational change aims for 25% of all BGCT staff and Executive Board and committee positions to be occupied by Millennials and Generation Z by the year 2025.
A spokesperson for the resolution explains this is not a “takeover” but an effort to allow young ministers to “serve in second-chair” positions as they learn from mentors how to be effective leaders.
As a Millennial serving in ministry myself, I am excited by this new resolution and the promise it brings for the continuation of the future church. Placing the next generation in positions where they can grow, learn and lead simply makes sense for any institution that wants to outlive its current leadership. Creating opportunities for the next generation sets up an organization for future success and fosters an environment where continual growth is welcomed.
Younger ministers also can bring exciting innovation to the table. Although they may lack the kind of wisdom and experience held by older leaders, Millennials and Generation Z carry with them the audacity of hope and the boldness to try something new. Allowing young ministers to serve in leadership positions injects new life into an institution.
I have no qualms with this resolution and commend its boldness in the specificity of its goal and respectfulness with which it approaches current leadership.
On the ‘affirmation’ of women
I am, however, disappointed in the “affirmation of women” resolution.
The group’s spokesperson says the language of the affirmation of women resolution is “intentionally broad.” He notes the timing of the resolution coincides with the conversations around sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention and the continual controversies faced by churches about women’s ability to lead.
However, instead of directly addressing either issue, the resolution uses vague statements that seem more akin to claiming the simple truth that “women are people” rather than actually taking a stance for change.
“The resolution uses vague statements that seem more akin to claiming the simple truth that ‘women are people’ rather than actually taking a stance for change.
The danger of leaving the language intentionally broad is that in response to abuse or exclusion, women receive vague placating platitudes of support without the action to change social, systemic injustices.
The spokesperson said The Pastor’s Common wants Texas Baptists to resolutely communicate to women, “We see you. We value you. We know what you contribute to the kingdom of God.”
This comment displays a valiant effort toward compassion and recognition of the pain experienced by many women, particularly in situations of sexual abuse. Women who experience abuse too often are not seen, valued or believed. The first step — the most important step — is to pause and recognize the hideous reality of abuse. Such a recognition is far too rare and is the fundamental foundation on which change can be built
But let’s not stop there.
How to truly value women
In order to really value women, we must take a second look at how our theology influences the ways we create societal hierarchies that undervalue members at the bottom of the pyramid. Theologians and interdisciplinary scholars for decades have made the connection between complementarian views and the insidious silencing of and covering up various forms of gender-based abuse.
Our theology influences the way we respect the dignity and value of another person. And until hierarchical theology is addressed head-on, our congregational environments will fall short of the safe and affirming spaces women need. Spaces that embrace the claims of men’s headship over women too often will choose to protect the honor of the male abuser and the preservation of a ministry before defending the female victim of abuse.
“Our theology influences the way we respect the dignity and value of another person.”
One in three women experience sexual violence at some point in their lives. This sobering statistic points to the reality that one of three women in every congregation has experienced or will experience sexual violence, and some abuse will be perpetrated by people who are meant to be trusted spiritual leaders.
Women need more than affirmation. Women need safe spaces that challenge and dismantle the theology that promotes the subjugation and submission of women and the unquestioned authority and superiority of men.
This is true not only for women experiencing abuse but for all women who are restricted by the church because of their gender.
New research project
Baptist Women in Ministry is currently researching the upcoming State of Women in Baptist Life Report 2021. This report tracks important statistics of the growing and declining trends of women serving and preparing to serve in ministry positions.
A part of the report will include the results of a survey, which is still open to new participants. The survey asks questions about women’s experiences in ministry and questions about the openness of their churches to women in leadership. BWIM looks forward to sharing the full results of this survey when the report is published next summer and is hopeful about the new ways the survey will inform BWIM’s work to continually advocate for the empowerment of women.
One participant of the survey wrote, “I think on the whole, my congregation supports women in ministry but sees gender discrimination in the church as something that is a problem of the past. They have difficulty seeing the … ways it continues to exist.”
A stalled gender revolution
This kind of struggle is indicative of larger environments in which many of our churches operate. We are living in a stalled gender revolution where we must draft and fight for resolutions that do little more than simply claim the value of women — as if it is a revolutionary idea to affirm the personhood of a woman.
“We are living in a stalled gender revolution where we must draft and fight for resolutions that do little more than simply claim the value of women.”
What would be truly revolutionary is if the two resolutions of generational change and affirmation of women were combined to make the goal of hiring women to serve in 25% of all leadership positions in churches and Baptist conventions by the year 2025.
Twenty-five percent seems extraordinarily low when compared to the number of women worshiping on any given Sunday. Fifty-five percent of evangelical and Mainline Protestants are women, while only 45% are men.
However, having 25% of women in leadership is indeed revolutionary when compared to the current statistics of women in leadership. Only 15% of all U.S. Christian congregations are led by a woman. These numbers decrease further in the Baptist world. In 2015, only 6.5% of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations and 0.47% of BGCT churches employed a woman as their pastor or co-pastor.
There’s work to be done
There is much work to be done before the goal of women serving in 25% of leadership positions in Baptist churches and conventions will become a reality. This work might begin with the simple affirmation of women, but it must go beyond that.
I admit that I agree with every word in the “affirmation of women” resolution. Yes, let’s affirm women’s value and recognize their contributions to the kingdom of God. Women, like all people, deserve to be affirmed, seen and valued. But let’s not confuse this with what women really need.
Women need spaces where they are affirmed with more than lip-service and given the opportunity to thrive and flourish.
Women need spaces where they are not diminished because of their gender.
Women need spaces that earnestly embody the truth that women are made in the image of God just like men are.
Women need spaces where they can be more than props to a smokescreen version of equality and equity.
Women need spaces where they can fully live into the person their Creator made them to be.
Women need spaces where they are safe to work and minister without fear of being assaulted or abused.
Women need spaces where they can live out their God-given calling to lead, to love, to minister, to preach and to serve.
These kinds of spaces are far too rare.
Laura Ellis is the project manager for Baptist Women in Ministry. She is a former Clemons Fellow with BNG and previously served in ministry with Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse. She lives in Texas and earned a master of divinity degree from Boston University School of Theology.
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