Being Sick by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingThere are two camps when illness strikes. There is the logical camp that rests, takes medications, and acknowledges that while all humans get ill, most get well again. That camp will indeed be well in a few days. Then there is the second camp. They are the arrogant people who take illness as an affront to all efforts to manage the universe and assume that not only can they deny illness any foothold but that they can function on a normal schedule while ill. I confess to being the motivational speaker for the second camp.

Bronchitis, however, taught me a lesson in humility last week. Convinced I could power through, I packed lunches and got the girls off to school, and then I crashed. It seems that willpower does not trump bacterial infection. While bemoaning my body’s insistent demand for rest and sleep, I realized why I camp out with the overachievers who believe illness is to be overcome rather than healed.

For me, being sick meant I had to say “no.” But I am a “yes” person. Not a doormat, but a tackler of challenges. Generally, my attitude is one of assured confidence that I can get it done. My friend calls me driven. And she is right. I am driven to complete tasks in a timely manner with attention to detail. If I take on the task, I will do it. And that is why I am so petulant and belligerent when illness prevents me from doing what I promised.

When I am sick, I have to say, “no” to a myriad of daily tasks. I have to cancel appointments and miss deadlines. I have to accept that what I had hoped to accomplish just won’t get done today. And I have this overwhelming sense of letting people down. I feel if people are counting on me, then I have to follow through. This fear of disappointing people by saying, “no” drives my desire to power through when I am sick.

Ironically, my fear of disappointing people is in direct opposition to my theology of grace. If my child is sick, I encourage rest. I take her to the doctor. I rock her if she wants to be held. I am gracious with her. If my friend is sick, I encourage her to put a DVD in for the kids and just take the time to get well. And yet when I am sick, I deny myself the grace that I offer others. How arrogant of me to assume I am above human illness. And how sad that I cannot accept the grace that I offer freely.

Being sick is a form of saying, “no” to other people but it is also a form of saying, “yes” to you. Yes, I need to sleep. Yes, I need to beg off driving carpool. Yes, I need the gracious gift of taking care of me.

I am grateful to be recovering from my illness and for the reminder to offer grace to myself, as freely as I offer it to others.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

Dancing with Joy by Pam Durso

I grew up as a Texas Baptist—in the days when dancing was a sin, and since I was a good Christian girl, I never learned to dance and certainly didn’t attend school dances! Given my lack of early opportunities and a complete lack of natural rhythm, I still don’t know how to dance. But I must confess that in the past few months, I have spent some time dancing (in the privacy of my office, of course—long time inhibitions are hard to get past).

So what leads a fifty-one year old woman to take up dancing? Joy! Sheer happiness and delight!

I have been overwhelmed by joy in these past months, and just in case you haven’t heard the good news that is making me dance: Suzii Paynter has been named as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s candidate for the executive coordinator position. And just in case you don’t know Suzii, let me tell you about her.

In the past five years, I have been an interested observer of Suzii’s leadership. There are so few models of leadership for women in Baptist life, and as I moved into a leadership role with Baptist Women in Ministry, I knew I needed someone to watch and learn from—a strong woman who knew how to lead and lead well. I didn’t have to look far. Suzii and I were serving on the Baptist Joint Committee board together, and during meetings, I watched as she brought energy and needed insight to the table. Over the years, we have had times to sit and talk, to share meals, to talk on the phone, and she offered me honest and valuable insight about life as a leader, about balancing ministry and family, about gathering resources to do the work. She has modeled leadership for me, but Suzii also took time to bless me with time and friendship.

Since 2001, Texas Baptists have been the beneficiaries of Suzii’s leadership. She has served in several roles but is currently the director of their Advocacy/Care Team and also director of their Christian Life Commission. Suzii has had oversight of chaplaincy relations and counseling services. She has led Texas Baptists as they address community care issues such as literacy, hunger, immigration, and human trafficking. She has spoken out on public policy issues and has been a force of change in the Texas legislative and judicial processes. Her work on the very successful Hunger Offering is a clear demonstration of Suzii’s advocacy skills on behalf of marginalized peoples.

Watching her work in Texas, I have discovered that she has visionary and prophetic gifts. She sees beyond borders and limits and perceives how the Baptists can be more closely connected with the working of God in this world. She identifies needs that must be addressed. Suzii is a dreamer, but she is also a doer. She is a gifted administrator and is able to put procedures and processes in place to meet needs, to respond to crises, and to bring change. Not only efficient, Suzii is also innovative in her approach to planning, seeing possibilities that others often overlook.

One of the great gifts that Suzii will bring to CBF is her vast experience in working with Baptists across the theological spectrum. She has successfully rallied Texas Baptists around important causes, significant kingdom work. She has brought people from a variety of backgrounds to the table and led them in working together, in cooperating on the things that really matter. Suzii has also worked with people from all walks of life—ministers, church members, college students, denominational leaders, attorneys, political leaders, and the media. Suzii’s warm, outgoing personality is what allows her to connect with so many different people. She naturally befriends all she meets and welcomes individuals into group discussions and activities. Her friendliness makes people comfortable and valued.

And Suzii is a natural fit for CBF leadership, because she has been part of the CBF movement from its earliest days. Suzii was involved in planning and organizing the earliest General Assemblies. She has been at the CBF table now for twenty years and has been a supporter, an advocate, and a leader among Cooperative Baptists. She served on the coordinating council for many years and has been and continues to be passionate about CBF and its ministries. Suzii has the gifts and leadership ability to lead CBF into the next phase of its journey.

As I been pondering CBF’s future, I keep dancing! I believe, actually, I know that Suzii Paynter, with all her many strengths, will lead us into a new day, and it will be good!

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

How I Changed My Mind about Women in Ministry by Brian Miller

Kimberly Miller ordiation 2In June 2000, I was on my way to a convention in Florida. I only had a vague idea of where I was going or what was happening there. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Tampa and would soon apply at The Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. I was uneducated and always looked to others for my answers on spiritual matters. That convention was the annual meeting of Southern Baptists, and during that meeting in 2000, a motion was brought to the floor to officially limit the position of pastor to men, and, along with a little over half of the people there, I raised my ballot in the air to affirm that motion.

Shortly after the convention, I left for college. During breakfast on the second day of orientation, I met my future bride. While we were both attending college, my wife changed her major from elementary education to Christian education. Her change of majors would be the first of several different shifts that would take place. In college, my wife and I served under a pastor in the panhandle of Florida and saw our first example of a husband and wife ministry team. We liked this example so much, and we began to hope that this would be the calling that God placed in our lives.

Eventually, we both enrolled at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Even during my seminary days though, women pastors and the ordination of women was foreign to me. After several of my ministry friends, who happened to be women, were ordained, I became acquainted with the unfamiliar. As I began to appreciate and admire the giftedness and calling of these woman, I began second guessing my decisions and felt guilty over my vote in favor of the amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000.

Up to this point, I was trying to be the person that other people implied I ought to be rather than being who I was. I struggled with the question of who was I to tell someone else, “No, God did not call you into ordained ministry because you are not the right gender.” Yet that mindset was what my upbringing had taught me. God, however, began opening my eyes when I gave myself permission to ask the difficult questions that my Southern Baptist roots had silenced. Does God really look at gender as a qualification for calling someone into ministry?  Do we follow God or man’s interpretation of the Bible as our guide for calling? Can a woman be ordained if the church recognizes her calling into the ministry? It was the process of struggling with these questions and studying the stories of women in scripture that illuminated my heart to God’s call on men and women alike.

In the meantime, God was already working on the heart of my wife. Within weeks of enrolling in a Christian history course titled, Women in the Christian Tradition, my wife brought up the possibility of preaching. Soon after, we were wrestling with the possibility of her being ordained. I wanted to embrace it wholeheartedly, but something in my Southern Baptist background was not letting me. But I was becoming more open to the possibility.

Kimberly Miller ordinationThe next semester I took a Baptist History course with Dr. Lydia Hoyle. In that class, I read two books for a class project. The books helped me explore the two different sides of the division in the SBC. I expected to see copyright dates on the books of 2002 or later. I was in disbelief when the copyrights were in the 1990s. I soon discovered that the battle I was up against had been around longer than I have been alive. I came to terms that the struggle was more about power than about doctrine. It was more about politics than religion and was more about interpretation than it was about the Bible. While studying the life and death of Perpetua, I came to the conclusion that if a woman could give her life up FOR the faith then she could certainly give her life TO the faith.

I found myself desiring to send a pebble back to the SBC headquarters symbolizing the recantation of my vote in 2000. I have now come to the place in which I believed that any person should be able to pursue God’s call on his or her life without someone else interpreting that call, whether it is in counseling, in the home, behind a desk, a lecturn, or even a pulpit. I began this year by celebrating the ordination of my wife and will continue to rejoice with other men and women who have experienced God’s call in their lives.

Brian Miller is the pastor of Richfield Baptist Church, Richfield, North Carolina.

Why I Advocate for Women in Ministry! by Terry Maples

Terry MaplesWhat drives your beliefs and values regarding women in ministry? In Part 1 of this blog series, I shared about my spiritual journey from holding rigid views of women’s roles in the church to fully embracing God’s call to all. I recounted how my beliefs and convictions were questioned by my wife, then further challenged when I arrived at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1980. What I was taught as a child was not congruent with what I was experiencing. That incongruence compelled me to holistic study of the Bible with my eyes and heart wide open to new truth. Here are some of my discoveries:

  • God created males and females as equals. Adam and Eve enjoyed a partnership of equals until the fall. Male domination evolved and led to broken relationships between men and women. So, I believe we can surmise male domination is not God’s ideal but a direct result of sin and disobedience.
  • Broken male-female relationships often result in mandated roles for the sexes. Surely, this is a problem, not a goal. Domination of human beings violates God’s good creation and makes ineffectual Jesus’ command to love neighbor. We know love is action.
  • The Old Testament underscores Israel’s patriarchy. Women were barred from participating in much of religious life. There are examples, however, of nontraditional roles for women:  Deborah was a prophet and judge (Judges 4:4), Huldah was a prophet during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22:14), and the woman of noble character is lifted up (Proverbs 31). Despite restricted roles in the Old Testament, we find women leading, preaching and running businesses. We certainly don’t get the idea from these Old Testament examples that women are in any way inferior to men.
  • Jesus came to make us one and on the cross broke down the walls of hostility dividing people, including gender roles found in the Old Covenant. As a result, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Of course, race, class and gender remain human realities, but those categories simply don’t matter to God. The significant involvement of women in Jesus’ ministry is indisputable. The extent to which women participated in and supported Jesus’ ministry is remarkable given the social context.
  • Elsewhere in the New Testament, women are often portrayed as the more exemplary disciples of Jesus (widow’s mite, Mary’s anointing of Jesus, women who stayed with Jesus during the crucifixion, etc.). It is also notable that Jesus appeared first to the women after his resurrection and trusted them to tell others.
  • Women were very active in the missionary enterprise of the early church. Priscilla was a teacher (Acts 18:26), Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Euodia and Syntyche were church workers who worked beside Paul telling the Good News (Philippians 4:2-3), Junia was an apostle (Romans 16:7), and other women were prophets (1 Corinthians 11:5).
  • Finally, we must address commonly sited passages often used to exclude women from ministry. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Paul offers this instruction, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak…” This instruction comes within the context of a discourse about tongues and orderliness in worship. Apparently, some women were disrupting worship with their noisy discussion about tongues. Paul tells them to remain silent. To read this as a command for the church for all time ignores the context for Paul’s instruction and is inconsistent with overt examples of women in leadership roles. In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul writes, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must remain silent.” Taken literally as an authoritative command this passage would keep women from significant leadership roles in the church, but that doesn’t jibe with other New Testament passages that clearly evidence women leading and proclaiming. Again, understanding the context is imperative. This section includes Paul’s instruction about worship. Certainly, there were cultural expectations regarding women exercising self-restraint lest they be criticized for calling attention to themselves in worship (note instructions about adornments in the same passage). Some scholars believe Paul is simply prohibiting teaching by women who are not properly instructed or trained.

As a result of my study and subsequent hands-on practical experience, I now believe scriptures historically used to keep women from clergy leadership were instructions to specific congregations and were not intended to forever define who can and cannot serve the church. To understand these passages literally severely limits the gifts God’s Spirit entrusts to the church. We say “NO” to God’s gracious outpouring of gifts to women. More importantly, we limit the church’s impact in the world! However, when we look at these “restrictive passages” in proper context and put them in conversation with the whole of biblical witness, I believe we must advocate for women in ministry.

Some Baptists over the past 30 years have made significant progress in calling out and embracing the gifts of women. This is commendable, but we have a long way to go. Many Baptist congregations continue to exclude women from serving as deacons or staff ministers. Why? I find Christian Smith’s use of the word biblicism instructive. In The Bible Made Impossible – Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, Smith defines biblicism as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability”. This view of the Bible results in expressions like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Unfortunately, that perspective leads to proof-texting, searching for passages that support your beliefs or practice and building a theology around them. This leaves little room for additional exploration of scripture or theological reflection (something we’re cautioned about in the preamble of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, i.e. these statements are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life). It’s disconcerting to me that biblicism can result in narrow thinking and ultimately poor interpretation and application. If we aren’t really careful, this approach results in bad theology that discourages people from faith in Christ and closes doors of opportunity for kingdom service. Ultimately, that literal approach makes God look bad!

How Baptists address the issue of women in ministry will greatly impact our future, and I believe it will likely, for some, determine our relevance. I call on my sisters and brothers to engage your congregations in conversation. Without sound theological education, I fear our churches will remain stuck with important practices unexamined. More importantly, decision-making will be driven by cultural expectations of women’s roles instead of thoughtful, informed theology.

Terry Maples is the field coordinator of Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Why I Advocate for Women in Ministry! by Terry Maples

Terry MaplesI grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist home in rural Alabama. At church I was emphatically taught God cannot and would not call a woman to vocational ministry. The reason offered for this belief was “It’s a violation of scripture. Women can’t teach men or be in authority over them in the church.” I must confess I arrived at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1980 espousing this cultural myth!

Soon I met and attended theology classes with women. Women taught at the seminary and preached in chapel worship. My limited understanding slammed into the reality of God-called/God-gifted women. My theological studies demanded I bring my limited perspective and narrow experience into conversation with the whole of scripture and the history of the church.

Allow me to illustrate. Early in our Southern Seminary years, my wife Joan and I attended a Presbyterian worship service as part of a class assignment. We walked into the sanctuary and much to my surprise the pastor was female! I would love to report I was totally comfortable with that arrangement, but I was not. Not only did the woman preach, she served communion! Sadly, back then I was even conflicted about whether or not to receive the elements . . . from a female pastor! I share this story so you understand my theological roots, the inner conflict I felt, and can comprehend how far I have traveled on my women in ministry theological journey. The simplistic and incomplete rationale I was given in childhood did not help me understand my current reality. Something had to give!

Seminary was an incredible (and sometimes difficult) journey of discovery. Aiding my formal theological education was my new wife and fellow SBTS student. Joan’s father was a Northern Baptist educated pastor, so her theological training and experiences were broader and much more open-minded than mine. We teasingly say the only heated discussions we had during our first five years of marriage were about theology. Yes, Joan has been my best teacher in so many areas of life. Slowly but surely, my long-held beliefs and practices were appropriately and lovingly challenged–by my wife and by my professors–as preconceived ideas about women in ministry came into conversation with my experiences and new understandings of biblical revelation (for my informing theology of women in ministry, read Part 2 of this blog).

At some level I always knew women were gifted for ministry even when my church insisted their roles were limited. Growing up I witnessed the significant ministry of women who taught me, encouraged my faith, and guided the mission efforts of the church. Honestly, what local church could survive without the love, compassion, faithful leadership, and ministry of women?

Fortunately I have had opportunity to serve with women ministers, lay and clergy, in many contexts in 27 years of vocational congregational ministry. Most recently, I served Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. While there, I was privileged to serve on staff with three gifted women: Susan Price (student minister), Melissa Fallen (missions and senior adults, proclaimer), and Amanda Lott (children and families). If time and space permitted, I could relay story after story about how God worked through these women to change many lives. I happily acknowledge my life today is richer because I know and served alongside these women. Without reservation I believe God’s kingdom is strengthened when men and women serve as equal partners in ministry in the local church and everywhere.

I know first-hand the myriad gifts women bring to vocational ministry. They speak truth, use God-given abilities, and serve from a deep well of relational insight in ways I as a male sometimes struggle to do. Thank God for courageous women who throughout the years paved the way and paid the price to awaken the church to God’s ideal for men and women.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a fellowship of churches and individuals, values and affirms God’s call to all people. Let is be said of us that we partner with God as God calls women and men to vocational ministry. May we continue to educate our congregations, advocate for equality, call out the gifts of all, provide opportunities to minister, lift up as models women who are called to serve, and call capable women to fill vocational ministry vacancies…including senior pastor!

If you desire to help support women in your congregation, please familiarize yourself with the work of Baptist Women in Ministry at www.bwim.info. Pam Durso and her colleagues at BWIM are great resources to you. In addition, the staff at Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and I are available to help you educate, advocate, and encourage women called to vocational ministry.

I challenge your church to invite a woman to preach in the month of February. Please don’t issue the invitation to a woman simply because it’s the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Invite a woman to preach because of your theological conviction God can call a woman to serve in any capacity God sees fit!

 Terry Maples is field coordinator for Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.