Women and Seminary: Should You Go?

When I graduated high school I had one primary goal and that was to play softball. The education part would follow, but my dream was to play college ball. At the end of my senior year I signed to play college at a small Division III school, but by the end of my first semester I knew that God was calling me into “ministry.” As a  young woman who grew up in an SBC church I thought that meant I either went to Africa for missions or I would teach children. Since I wasn’t too fond of children I figured Africa was my next step.

I enrolled at Criswell College not knowing anything other than I wanted to study the Bible.  Greek, Systematic Theology, and how do you even say the word hermeneutic much less what it is… I was stepping into a whole new, predominately male, world with more questions than answers, but I knew this was a step I needed and desired. Now 10 years later I’m in the middle of my first semester at Southeastern Seminary and there is a whole new level of excitement and expectancy as I’m back to quizzes, reading page upon page, and cramming for midterms in the middle of 4th grade math homework and cooking dinner.

A couple weeks ago I sat across a young woman I have the privilege of discipling. She shared her thoughts on her place in the church, what ministry looks like, and wanting to go to school, but also not knowing where you start, or if it was even worth the investment of money and time in the long run. It was a flashback to my 20 year old self sitting across from my pastor, and I looked at her with the biggest smile and said, “YES. GO!”

Maybe you are like my friend…… wading through what it looks like to be a woman in the SBC and not knowing your path or next steps and you feel this tug to enroll. I would think there is some interest since you are reading this post, so if I can let me encourage you a couple things:

Women Need Theology Too
My husband jokes that he and I have the same undergrad degree its just that I have a little honors sticker on mine. When I enrolled at Criswell I went in with the mindset of wanting the same training any pastor would get to teach the Word, so that I could do the same thing to a group of teenage girls or women.

So much of women’s ministry and teaching in the past has been marked by weak topical teaching. We have created a culture that gives quick fixes and popcorn Bible study as the standard for our women in their Spiritual growth and then wonder why they and us feel shallow and lacking. Good theology brings about solid moms, bosses, wives, and caretakers.

One of the biggest things I see in the women I lead and interact with today is the inability of our women to be able to take on the hard things in life because they haven’t been equipped to study, apply, and live out the Word of God when life gets messy. With the access of tons of blogs and podcasts, they are more willing to commit an hour to listening, instead of 30 minutes to studying. We need women’s voices who have done the hard work of training study to then equip others with solid meat and not infant milk. Their roots are dry and shallow and when the cares of this world come along we have a huge group of women falling away.

We Need One Another

First Sisters……There is so much beauty in watching other women who have the same heartbeat for the church and the Gospel and watching God grow them right before your eyes. In my Old Testament class, I have a classmate who is serving overseas in an unreached people group sharing the Gospel of Jesus. There is another sister who is the children’s minister at her church, and several other women who are single moms and studying to know the Bible more. Each of their stories, their life stages, you see God’s work goes far beyond you. As I have gotten to know other women in my studies it has helped me fight that lie “you don’t belong here” and instead become more passionate about my small role on this huge planet. It reaffirms that God still calls, uses, and sends women for His Gospel both here and abroad. There is a common bond that provides both encouragement and perseverance to keep going.

And Our Brothers……As a woman surrounded by men I definitely had my times of feeling out of place, but as I look back on my early years of ministry I can fully say I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my brothers beside me. I learned a lot from them about ministry and the burdens they carry as Pastors. We shared mutual stories of calling, balancing family, and ministry demands and they taught me a thing or two about Calvinism and Arminianism in their coffee shop debates before I had any idea what these “isms” were. One brother helped me get my first staff position on a church because he saw and affirmed God’s call on my life. We sat in Chapel together soaking up the Word, we walked the streets of Downtown Dallas giving food and water and sharing the Gospel with the homeless men and women of our city, and we prayed for one another in losses and victories. From the very beginning, God set the mandate that we are better together, in our uniqueness and in our similarities. Why would this be any different than in our seminaries as well?

Wide Open Opportunities

I believe in the last ten years, and even in the last year with all the conversations happening around women in Ministry, more and more opportunities are opening for us to take part in.

Because of the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptist all across the country, we are able to attend school at our 6 seminaries for a fraction of the price. My school, Southeastern Seminary, has a special initiative to help bring women and other minorities into their school through the Kingdom Diversity Scholarships that are available for us. Our seminaries are working hard at their Online and Degree Programs in order to help make education more available to the working woman, stay at home mom, and retired widow. With emphasis in theology, missions, women’s studies, counseling, and education you can study and receive a solid Biblical education on top of your desired field. The opportunities are endless! From certificates to full degrees to free courses you can take just to get your feet wet, there is so much available to you as a Southern Baptist Woman.

I want to end with saying that Seminary isn’t for everyone, nor is it the only marker for a solid study. Thanks to the internet we have so many sources at our fingertips that can help grow us both intellectually and spiritually. My favorite Bible Teacher, Jen Wilkin, is a self-taught gal, but her self-study is evident in her content and push for Biblical literacy.

Whether you step into formal education or not,  more than anything I hope you hear today that women are still called for Gospel ministry, your gifts are needed in the local church, and as a follower of Jesus you have the privilege of getting to contribute to the body of Christ both with your mind, hearts, and soul. Keep doing the hard work. Keep praying and asking God where can I serve you best and be willing to sacrifice where He leads.

It’s a great time to be a woman in the SBC, I hope to have you in class with me someday. I’m saving a seat for you!

Ladies, We Need Your Voice

I was moderating our association meeting when a resolution was brought to the floor.  We almost never have resolutions submitted except for the obligatory thank you resolution to the host church.  This resolution was heavy, and I knew the discussion would be emotional.

The resolution was about abolishing abortion..  I moderated the discussion fairly.  There were two amendments proposed; one passed and one failed, and after 10 minutes of discussion, the resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority.

I brought my seven year old daughter to the meeting (I always try to bring one of the kids with me so we can have a little extra daddy time).  In the middle of the discussion she stared up at me from the front pew, eyes big as saucers, and I wished she could have heard some of the strong women in the room add their voices to our discussion.  However, the women remained silent.

Ladies, we need your voice.  We need your voice at the local level.  We can talk about nominating a woman for SBC President, and we can make grand statements about how our boards and committees should have more female representation, but until we change the culture at the most intimate level–our associations–our push for more female representation at the national level will be white noise.  We’ll write blog posts, make motions, submit resolutions, and pat ourselves on the back for not being one of THOSE chauvinist men.

Men, we need to encourage our ladies to add their voices.  We needed female input on our resolution.  Men don’t know what it’s like to carry and nurture another human in our bodies for nine months.       There were so many wonderful women in the room that night.  There were women who have served as missionaries.  There were women who have served as pastors’ wives for decades, and there were several young women as well.  What are we communicating to the next generation of women when only men speak?  What are we communicating to them about their value and their worth?  What message did the female silence subtly implant in my daughter’s life?  The silence spoke into my daughter’s life and into the lives of the young ladies who were present.  Ironically, the silence devalued women during a debate on a resolution about the value of human life.

That’s the emotional content of my post.  I’m going to climb out of my emotions now and offer some practical suggestions.  How can we stop this hypocritical message from influencing the next generation of strong women?

  1. We should intentionally seek out more female representation at the association level.  It’s a man’s world at the association level, and many women only come because they want to spend time with their husbands.  There should be women on our teams, and women in our committee meetings.  There should even be pastors and deacons who encourage their wives to serve in association leadership.  I would not have a problem with a female Director of Missions.
  2. Men should encourage their wives to add their voices to discussions.  I saw several women lean over and whisper to their husbands as I moderated the resolution discussion.  I wish they would have stood up and spoken, and I wish their husbands would have encouraged them.  I don’t speak for my wife.  I speak with my wife.  We speak together.  Her mind, and the minds of countless other women are brilliant, and our associations, conventions, churches, and ministries are handicapped when we condone a culture of silence.
  3. As pastors, we should not only encourage our wives to speak, but we should encourage all women in our churches.  Did you know that the only day most churches honor women is Mother’s Day?  I grew up thinking that was normal.  We honor women on Mother’s Day because that’s what they’re supposed to do, be mothers.

I’m getting emotional again, so I’ll end this post with a plea to ladies and a plea to men.  Ladies, please be brave and speak your mind, even at the smallest levels of church life.  We need you on the national stage, but we need you more in the local church and association.  You’ll have a greater impact on the next generation of women.

Men, please encourage your wives, daughters, and female members of your congregations to participate.  Please value their input and take them seriously.  Ladies, you may have to be patient with us guys as we work towards being more inclusive.  Many of us have never been taught another way.

I have four daughters.  They are incredible.  The seven year old has my sense of humor and eyes as big as her face.  I never ever want to devalue their worth again by fostering a culture of  female silence while discussing a resolution on the value of human life.

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, SJW? (by Casey McCall)

This article was originally posted at Prince on Preaching, the website of Dr. David Prince, and was written by Casey McCall, pastor of Ashland Oldham County in Buckner, KY.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is rightly known today for his preaching. The pioneer mega-church pastor attracted weekly crowds numbering in the thousands to his Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. His sermons were distributed all over the world with an estimated 100 million copies being sold by the time of his death. By all accounts, Spurgeon’s ministry stands as one of the most numerically fruitful in documented history. He reached thousands, and he did so without compromising his faithfulness to preaching the whole counsel of God as the 63 published volumes of his sermons bear witness.

However, we would be mistaken to assume that this “soul-winner” focused exclusively on winning souls. He did not, as so many do, draw a sharp line of separation between the important work of evangelism and attention to the social injustices of his day. While he most certainly believed that the primary purpose of his preaching was to declare the gracious salvation that can be found only in Christ Jesus, he also understood that the gospel of Christ— the very gospel that eternally saves souls—comes with temporal social implications. Spurgeon believed that followers of Christ were obligated to “be on the side of peace and of justice…on the side of everything that is according to the mind of God, and according to the law of love.” 1

Spurgeon explained,

I feel that the best way to lift up the lost and degraded from the horrible pit and the miry clay, in a spiritual sense, is to preach to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified; but this need not prevent me from using all measures possible to promote social reform; and I firmly believe that lectures upon useful and scientific subjects, in which a lecturer is able to throw out hints about dress, cookery, children, cleanliness, economy, temperance, and the duties of the household, or to exclaim against the tally system, the pot-house, begging, and puffery, may be very useful.”2

Spurgeon’s championing of social justice causes can certainly be seen in his sermons, but we see it most clearly in his personal life. Here is a man who powerfully practiced what he preached. Here is a hero who, despite pastoring a mega-church, preaching several times per week, and publishing hundreds of books, found the time and energy to support dozens of ministries whose purpose was to alleviate suffering in a cultural context where thousands of people were suffering. Spurgeon personally established and funded orphanages, a college to train the poor for Christian ministry, a book distribution society for London’s working class, and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty. He also found time to campaign against what he perceived to be one of the grossest injustices in history: human slavery.

Slavery had been abolished in England since 1833, but it was still going strong in America in Spurgeon’s day, thanks largely to slave-holding Christians defending the wicked institution through deplorable methods of biblical interpretation. Spurgeon saw this as a travesty and made it known early on in a sermon called “Separating the Precious from the Vile” (1860):

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.3

This theme of boldly speaking out against the wicked institution of racism-fueled slavery continued throughout Spurgeon’s ministry and predictably won him many enemies, particularly among fellow Baptists “across the pond” in America. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon’s courageous opposition to this injustice led to slanderous attacks on his character, book burnings of Spurgeon’s works, and even death threats.4 Lewis A. Drummond concludes, “Almost unparalleled in church history, the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon epitomized the perfect blending of evangelistic fervency and deep social concern. . . .There seemed to be no end to the variety of social ministries the Metropolitan Tabernacle undertook.”5

We live in an age when many theologically-minded brothers and sisters justify ignoring social injustices in the name of focusing on evangelism. Spurgeon heroically models for us that it’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and. The gospel calls us out of darkness and into the light of Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. As we continue to tell sinners that they can find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, may we follow Spurgeon’s lead in opposing injustice, unrighteousness, and sin wherever we find it. God calls his people to “seek the welfare of the city” where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). Spurgeon, commenting on this passage, says, “You are part and parcel of this nation, for you share in its protection and privileges, and it is yours as Christian men to feel that you are bound in return to do all you can to promote truth and righteousness.”6

Was Spurgeon a social justice warrior (SJW)? It depends on who is defining the term as it has become little more than a political slur. He was most certainly a gospel warrior who believed the gospel had social implications. He asserted, “Because we fear God, and desire his glory, we must be political—it is a part of our piety to be so”7 and “It is part of my religion to desire justice and freedom for all.”8

 


 

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 25 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1972), 391.
  2. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1856-1878, Vol. 3 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1899), 53.
  3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 155.
  4. This reaction is documented well by Christian T. George, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016), xvii-xxiv.
  5. Lewis A. Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 398,438.
  6. Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis,” 391.
  7. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1878–1892, Vol. 4, 132.
  8. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1873 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 255.

 

Casey McCall is Lead Pastor of Ashland Oldham County, located in Buckner, KY.

Be On Guard: Thoughts on Electing a Woman as SBC President

A few years ago I went to a panel discussion at a large SBC missions conference. It was supposed to be about setting women free to be whatever they can be in the church. I know that the hosts of this discussion had noble intentions from the outset.  They could see that women are sadly underrepresented on most of the committees and trustee boards in our convention, and they seemed keen on starting a discussion about how to change that.

I was amazed by how many hundreds of women (and a few brave men) packed themselves into the room, eager to get any biblical wisdom about what women should and shouldn’t be doing in our local churches. Yet, when the panel began, it was really just a forum for voicing complaints and talking about how we feel about our roles in the church. No real solutions were offered. No practical advice. The language was about how it’s our turn to shine, about how we ought to be on the platform and in the spotlight, about how husbands feel threatened by strong women, and so on. At one point the moderator opened the floor for questions, but added the caveat that she didn’t want to get into “picking apart scripture” because, she admitted, she was scared to do that.

As I sat there, I had a bit of a revelation. It dawned on me that here we were, a room filled with hundreds of women, honestly trying to figure out how to better elevate and glorify ourselves in the church. Not only that, but in the process of trying to figure out how to get what we must feel we deserve out of the Christian faith–prestige, honor, respect–we were driving the men in the room to feel shame for fulfilling their God-given roles in the body. We were even denigrating the extremely crucial and real calling that many of us have to work with children and babies in our churches. I don’t believe this is what the panelists intended to happen in the course of the discussion, but it happened nonetheless. And, when the conversation was stopped short at “let’s not get into scripture,” the whole framework of the session lost all meaning.

My concern at this juncture in Southern Baptist life is that we will lose sight of what we are really trying to accomplish, just like the panelists in that forum did. Women will always have to fight against the desire to be glorified and recognized, to have our place in the spotlight. I know we will because that is a problem of humanity. Pride is the sin at the root of so many wrong attitudes, bad thinking, and terrible decisions.

Let’s face it. Girls of my generation (Gen X) saw the rise of women taking on the workplace with their shoulder padded power suits and big hair. We were told that we needed educations so that we wouldn’t have to rely on a man. We were taught that women are just as good–actually, better–than men, and that we should have no mercy in our attempts to steamroll right over them, whether in the workplace or in the home. We were given the charge to stand in the spotlight as much as possible, to grab for ourselves as much as we wanted, and not to let anything stand in the way of our happiness.

Worldly wisdom. Yet, I sat in a room filled with Southern Baptist women and heard all of those attitudes and ideas coming through—all of the things we have been taught a million times over in a million different ways.

 

We are going to have to be very careful going forward in our convention. We must remember that our goal is building stronger and more effective churches by inviting more women to share their ideas and propose solutions to problems that we’re facing. Our aim is to allow women to use their gifts in varied ways, both in leadership positions and in supporting roles. We want to listen to women, to support them, to treat them as equals. But, there is a difference between the desire to see women valued and a preoccupation with dreams of a woman president. Am I opposed to idea of a female president? I suppose it depends on who the woman is. But, I don’t want to see us scrambling to put a woman on the ticket just for the sake of having a woman on the ticket. Electing a woman just so that we can prove a point is wrong. We are electing a whole person, and choosing a woman because we want women “in the spotlight” would be disastrous. We can’t decide that electing a female president is the only way that the SBC can properly acknowledge women, yet that’s where I see our thought processes heading if we aren’t careful.

In the meantime, let’s begin the work together of bringing more godly and wise women into our boardrooms and committee meetings. Our convention will be better for it—God designed us to work together. But Southern Baptist women must guard against seeing this as an opportunity to elevate ourselves. Surely we can learn from the men we have watched topple from great heights because of their pride. The desire for glory is a humankind issue, and it will be difficult for many of us to separate our noble hopes that women will be truly valued from our age-old problem of wanting to grab for what we think we deserve. Humility is a strength, and pride is a weakness, but because of our lifetime of conditioning to believe the opposite, many well-meaning Southern Baptist women and men will see a female president as a trophy. This cannot be.

In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding feast. A guest arrives and sits himself right down in the seat of honor at the table. Imagine the embarrassment for the whole assembly when his host comes and asks him to move so that the guest of honor can have his rightful place. We don’t want to be the wedding guest who is trying to be a big shot. Let’s sit on the floor. Let’s do the hard work. Let’s serve the least of these. Let’s show ourselves faithful in what God has given us to do. And, if God calls us to stand on platforms, let us do it with the reality in mind that He is the only one worthy of honor, and we are shaming ourselves and His name when we try to steal His glory.

Jesus finishes the parable by describing another type of guest. This one enters the feast and sits in the lowliest spot in the room. But, before long, the host comes by and ushers him to an honored position at the table. “Those who exalt themselves,” Jesus says, “will be humbled. But, those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

These are interesting times in the SBC. I’m glad to see our men recognizing and verbalizing the value of women in our denomination. I pray that we will all remember that we don’t need titles and spotlights in order to live our lives on mission for Christ. In truth, we all have the same role, whether we’re washing dishes or speaking to tens of thousands: glorifying God with every breath. I’m praying as we move toward the future we will do so with humble hearts, seeking His face instead of seeking position. We will need to prayerfully consider so many things in the coming days. Be on guard, brothers and sisters.