What does it mean to be called by God? How do you know when you’ve heard God’s voice? How do you discern where God is leading?Whom does God call? Might God be calling me?
Calling is surrounded by questions. Am I hearing this right? Am I crazy? God wants me to do what? When Moses was called, his first response was, “Who am I?” Isaiah quickly replied, “Here am I; send me!”But when God shared with Isaiah what that call meant, he questioned, “How long, O Lord?” Sarah laughed. Mary asked, “How can this be?”
Calling is confusing and curious. It often takes us by surprise, inviting us to join God’s work in a way we had never considered or dreamed.
For many women, the call to ministry is particularly challenging. Those of us raised in the Baptist tradition were often taught that God simply doesn’t call women—but only men—to the ministry. And yet, the Spirit continues blowing where she will, dancing around both women and men, inviting all to join in service. What is a woman to do when she hears that call? How is she to remain faithful to what she was taught, while remaining faithful to the voice of God?
This book is an attempt to chronicle the journey of calling. In its pages, you will find the stories of twenty-three Baptist women who heard God’s call. These women are from a variety of backgrounds, spanning Baptist life. You will find Southern Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, American Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Alliance of Baptists, and others. There are women who are committed to being life-long Baptists. There are women who find their identity in the Baptist church, but have found places of service among the Disciples of Christ, United Methodists, and Mennonites. There are women who are not sure if they will be able to remain Baptist.
Why Baptist women? Baptists are still at a deciding point concerning women in ministry. Most other denominations have either fully embraced women or have blanket rules prohibiting women from the pastorate. I believe Baptist women are in a unique situation, serving in a denomination that will ordain them, but may or may not hire them.
While this book was being compiled, Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) released a news report stating that there are now 150 women pastoring or co-pastoring in Alliance, Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches—the largest number in the history of these groups. The number of women pastoring or co-pastoring in American Baptist Churches is 485. According to the American Baptist Churches’ website, the denomination partners with 5,500 congregations. By these numbers, just over eight percent of American Baptist Churches have women pastors.
While there are women who are still being ordained and called by Southern Baptist Churches, the Southern Baptist Convention officially states that the role of pastor is reserved for men. Because of this, there are no real statistics for women serving in Southern Baptist life.
I am honored to be able to share these stories with you. Among the pages are women who have helped shape me: friends, BWIM colleagues, and my ministry mentor. Others are new friends I met through this project. Joy Yee, who graciously wrote the foreword for this book, is the first woman I heard preach. I was a college student at the time. Many others provided help and encouragement along the way. My dear friend, Rev. Kate Hanch, served as a sounding board for this book. Countless friends and family members helped spread the word in my search for stories.
I hope these stories help offer insight into the experience of calling. The words offered here will not make the experience any less mysterious, nor should they. God speaks to us all in individual and personal ways. But reading and hearing examples of how God speaks and calls is beneficial to all—men and women, ministers and laity. As ministers, I believe it is important to hear one another’s stories. It is a reminder that we are not alone, that there are others who share in the wider story.
For a denomination torn over women in ministry, I believe it is important to hear the voices of those who are seeking a place of service. Hearing call stories offers a face—or at least a name—to what is often labeled an issue. When we do not know particular women who are called to ministry, it is easy to make assumptions about what type of woman wants to be a pastor. When we do not hear the stories of how churches and individuals can hurt women, we are content in telling pastoral candidates that they are the best person for the position, but our churches are just not ready for a female pastor.
I have attempted to present these stories in the words of those who wrote them. Wherever possible, I edited only for grammar and clarity. I know you will be blessed as you read their words. The stories you will find in this book are sometimes painful, but they are also teeming with hope and strength. I pray that as you read, you will not only grieve, but rejoice in the many ways God is still working in and through Baptist women.
Read more from Jennifer Harris Dault at her blog.