Tuesday markMeredith Stoneed a first for the National Basketball Association. The San Antonio Spurs hired former Women’s National Basketball Association all-star player, Becky Hammon, to be an assistant coach. She will be the first full-time female coach on an NBA bench. Hammon and the Spurs have cracked the proverbial glass backboard.

As you might imagine, the blog-o-sphere has erupted with opinions about the hire of Hammon. And if the team was anyone other than the Spurs (the current NBA champs who are known to be low-key innovators focused on teamwork), people might be tempted to call the hire a publicity stunt.

But the most interesting aspect of the conversation around Hammon and the NBA is why the NBA is ahead of other men’s sports in gender equity. Last week the NBA Players Association elected Michelle Roberts, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, to be its new executive director. The NBA also has women who are referees, women who serve as part-time assistant coaches, and even head coaches of NBA farm teams. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reports that over 40% of all professional positions in the NBA are held by women and the NBA receives the highest marks for gender diversity among all men’s professional sports.

In a recent article, Amanda Hess, a staff writer at Slate, suggests that perhaps the NBA is so far ahead of other sports in gender equity because women actually play basketball (unlike in sports such as football, baseball, hockey–there are exceptions of course). Women have experience playing the same game, with the same rules, and thus, they are able to break into a largely male-oriented business more easily. Plus people are more receptive to women in basketball leadership because they have seen that women can play and do understand the game.

Some say that the glass backboard for women in ministry has already been cracked. And, indeed, it has been in some churches! But there are many more churches in which the stained-glass ceilings are still very much intact. And in those places, I think we can learn from the NBA.

As we see more and more women gracefully lead and minister sharing Christ’s hope to a world in need, as we see more women “playing the same game,” maybe it will be easier for women to enter into the largely male-oriented business of ministry. Maybe people and congregations will even become more receptive because they have seen capable women who are able to effectively practice and reflect on ministry.

Visuals are important to imagination. Our imaginations are constructed of things we have seen. For example, we can only imagine what heaven looks like by creating a new configuration of things we have already experienced. The NBA has seen women play, lead, and strategize, and as a result, it has been able to build a new imagination.

In the same way, we construct our imaginations of what ministry and the church look like based on what we have seen. As Baptists, may we find ways to provide the visual pieces necessary to construct a new ministry imagination that includes women more fully. And then, like the NBA, maybe our Baptist denominational groups (denomi-networks?) might even be able to report numbers like 40%.

Meredith Stone is the women in ministry specialist for Texas Baptists. She lives in Abilene, Texas, with her husband, James, and their two really fun daughters!