In establishing Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching (MSM), the BWIM Leadership Team’s dream was to find churches in which young and starting-out Baptist women ministers could preach. We had heard so many stories from women who never had opportunities to preach other than in their seminary classrooms—and we were hoping that churches would invite college and seminary women into their pulpits.
As the idea developed and then came into being, we also saw MSM as an opportunity to call churches that were “not yet open” to women as pastors or perhaps not even open to women preaching at all to take a step and invite a woman. And in the ensuing years we have come to realize that MSM serves as a change agent for our Baptist culture—and so many remarkable stories have unfolded.
We have had numerous churches whose male pastors were hesitant to invite a woman into their pulpit but were encouraged by our MSM to take that step, and some of those churches have participated every year since. Having a woman in their pulpit is now longer unusual or controversial.
I am optimistic enough to believe that more churches are beginning to embrace the idea that women are gifted and graced for ministry and that those churches, when their pulpit is open and they are searching their next pastor, will be open to calling a woman. But I am realistic enough to know that the progress is slow in Baptist life—and I know that real change takes time and continued encouragement. So what can churches do once the February emphasis is over? How can Baptists work to bring change to their churches? How can you be an advocate for the leadership and ministry of women in your local congregation? How can you effect change in your church with regard to women in the pulpit but also with women in leadership roles within your church?
Next steps are important, and an important next step is to ask women to preach NOT just during MSM. For churches that have “broken the ice” and had a woman preach for the first time, they can invite a woman to fill the pulpit when their pastor is on vacation or needs a pulpit supply. In 2010, Jim Dant, who was then pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia, pledged to do just that. Every Sunday he was out of the pulpit for a full year, he asked women to preach.
Another significant next step is for male pastors to make their support of women ministers public and visible. They can include stories about women ministers in their sermons and blog about women in ministry. They can make sure photos of the women church leaders are included in media pieces. Visibility matters in our culture, and moving women from invisible to visible leaders/preachers/ministers has a powerful influence on churches. Last year, Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church, San Angelo, Texas, blogged about his church’s involvement in MSM and then blogged several other times during the year about women in ministry. His blogs are helping to create a welcoming culture in his church and community.
Another great next step is to move the story of Martha Stearns Marshall outside the church walls—and use technology and social media to get the word out. Last year Don Flowers, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, produced a You Tube video for his church, introducing them to MSM Month and telling them about the woman who would be the preacher for the day. His video was posted on the church’s Facebook page and shared multiple times. That kind of verbal and visual support of women preachers is an excellent use of twenty-first century communication.
One of the most important next steps is to for pastors to be advocates for women who are called and gifted. Last year, Derik Hamby, pastor of Randolph Memorial Baptist Church in Madison Heights, Virginia, invited a young college student, a “child of their church,” to preach for MSM Month, and then he realized that she would not have many preaching opportunities so he began asking his pastor friends and colleagues to open their pulpits to her. His advocacy on her behalf has given her experiences she would never have had, and Derik is working to bring change not only in his own churches but in churches in his area.
Seeing the passionate support of women ministers, learning about the creative ways of offering encouragement, and knowing that so many are working to create welcoming church cultures is making a difference! I would love to hear your story—what is your church doing so that women are able to use all their gifts?
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.