The role of women in ministry has been a debated topic for centuries and still remains to be so in the Baptist tradition today.
Cocooned by the American ideals of individuality and equal rights, the ministerial roles women are accepted in are colliding with Scripture and culture in many churches today.
Professor of church history Dr. Carol Holcomb said, “It’s been a debate throughout church history about the role of women and whether or not they were called.”
Women doing ministry is not a new idea in Christianity, just as the struggle with it is also not new.
Rev. Lillian Hinds, pastor of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple said, “Women have been doing ministry alongside men since Jesus. If you just read carefully, they were there from the beginning,”
Being one of the few female pastors of Baptist churches in Texas, Hinds is familiar with the discussion of women’s roles in the church. According to a 2007 publication of Baptist Women in Ministry, only 11 women were serving as pastor or co-pastor of Baptist churches in Texas.
When Hinds felt called to ministry several years ago, the Baptist church held to a strict conservative theology of women’s roles and even now few have ventured far from it.
Hinds said, “The difficulty when you are a woman is that in our Baptist churches we have sort of an unspoken track, say if you decide you are called to ministry, then your church will allow you to do all these different things except preach.”
Holcomb believes this tension springs from challenging passages of Scripture. A church’s view of women in ministry is based on “how they interpret passages where it talks about women remaining silent in the church and passages relating to women being submissive in the household codes,” she said.
The idea of women ministers is not solely a theological question, but also a practical one that is in desperate need of clarity.
Holcomb pointed out that “it is likely that more than 50 percent of your churches are female, and so you have to ask a serious question about the role that all of these Christians are going to play.”
Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry said, “I believe that our churches need all of our voices, male and female, in order to fully be the body of Christ. We need each other. We need to hear each other.”
Hinds agreed that the presence of women in the church is not the issue; it is their location and part in the church that can become a dilemma.
“You’re not shocked to see women working in church and doing things at church. The only shock is to see women in the pulpit. That’s the one little space that has been reserved,” she said.
The ramifications of this issue are not limited to just the Baptist church either, they extend to the lost and hurting world that needs to know value in Christ. “It’s practically important for what view the church presents to the world of how it values all people. I think one of the basic claims of the gospel is at stake, that Jesus died for all,” Holcomb said.
Hinds wrestled through the difficulties of Scripture and the status quo of the church when she was called to be a pastor but landed on the certainty that women are called and capable of being ministers and even pastors.
She said, “I tried to do every kind of ministry you can do at church … but there was always just this longing to do something else, to do something more and I couldn’t put my finger on it but I also couldn’t make it go away,” she said.
After serving at Meadow Oaks for almost two years, Hinds realizes the need for the church to face the issue, come to a conclusion on it, and act on it.
“It’s a different world now from when the Bible was written, and we have to figure out how to engage God and engage our culture. It’s a changing world, and the church has to change,” she said.
Some Baptist churches are willing to embrace the idea of women in ministry and in roles of pastor, but because of the cultural changes, soon all congregations will have to face the issue.
Durso believes that “women in the future will be more creative in finding places of service. They will be church planters. They will organize non-profit organizations. They will find ways to serve God’s kingdom in new and fresh ways.”
Acknowledging the conversations over the roles of women in ministry, Holcomb said, “There is a larger question of how the ministry is going to change. Ministry itself is shifting, and I think that is going to restructure the role that women play in ministry,” Holcomb said, “The bigger question is about who should share the gospel. Our first concern always, always, always, should not be about gender relationships but about sharing the whole gospel with the whole world.”