LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP) — Just as Jesus affirmed first-century women, calling them to confess Him as Lord and tell the good news of the Gospel, He continues to call women in the 21st century to communicate His story to the world.
Many women communicators today are answering that call, serving in denominational “seats of influence,” a term Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear used in his post-election press conference during the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
From a national entity to a children’s home, and from a state newspaper to a seminary campus, four women — Carol Pipes of LifeWay Christian Resources, Stella Prather of Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries, Jennifer Rash of The Alabama Baptist and Amy Whitfield of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary — are among numerous women in key Southern Baptist communications roles. For about three-quarters of a century collectively, these four women have made their mark on Southern Baptist communications, living out their communications callings as they craft messages, make decisions, lead staffs, plan strategically, develop budgets, mentor colleagues, manage crises and more.
Strengthening the denomination
In today’s technological world where every person with a laptop computer or smartphone is, in effect, a communicator, strategic denominational communications takes on an even greater urgency.
“Quality communication is paramount in today’s world as we seek to cut through the noise and connect with those inside and outside of our denomination,” said Pipes, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications who also is president-elect of the Evangelical Press Association.
“Effective communication is key to strengthening partnerships, connecting mission to ministry, building life-changing relationships and inviting people into a transformational faith journey,” Pipes said.
Southern Baptist polity and cooperation make effective communication a non-negotiable, said Rash, editor-elect of The Alabama Baptist and a former president of the Baptist Communicators Association.
“With Southern Baptist polity of local church autonomy merged with cooperative efforts to partner in large-scale efforts added to the mix, effective communication is truly the only way to survive long-term,” Rash added.
“Effective communication cuts down on confusion, keeps the members appropriately informed in a timely manner and allows for enhanced opportunities to resource the members toward our ultimate goals as Southern Baptists — to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Inspired by biblical women
All along the way, today’s women communications leaders find inspiration through the women who come to life on the pages of the New Testament: Martha, Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman.
Martha’s “bold proclamation” of Jesus as Messiah “profoundly affected” Whitfield, director of communications at Southeastern Seminary who co-hosts the SBC This Week podcast. “While Martha is often most known for her interaction with Jesus about following her sister’s example of ‘choosing the good part,’ I am most moved that she went on to become the only woman documented in Scripture to confess Christ as Messiah in John 11,” Whitfield said. “In her greatest moment of grief after losing her brother, she showed tremendous faith in a bold proclamation.”
Whitfield, coauthor of a recently published book, “SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference,” and an assistant parliamentarian at recent SBC annual meetings, acknowledges that there are times when she is the only woman in the room for a meeting or event. “But I have been fortunate to be encouraged and affirmed in my participation,” she said, just as Jesus encouraged and affirmed women in His days on earth.
Saying she is inspired by Jesus’ resurrection, Rash reflected, “I love the passage in John where the resurrected Jesus called on Mary Magdalene to go and communicate His resurrection message. It provides clarity for me that Jesus saw women just as capable as men to share the Gospel. As far as we can tell, Jesus did not look around for a man first but purposefully picked Mary Magdalene to be the initial person to get the privilege of sharing His important message.”
Another woman to share Jesus’ message was an anonymous, despised woman known in Scripture as the Samaritan woman. After meeting Jesus, the Samaritan woman went back into town to tell the people, including men, about her encounter with Jesus in John 4.
“Many … believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony,” said Prather, director of communications for Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries and also a former Baptist Communicators Association president.
“The Lord used her story to make a difference. I believe He too can use the stories and communication I am privileged to tell,” Prather said.
Committed to the call
Although every ministry comes with its share of challenges, women serving as denominational communications leaders find their greatest fulfillment in living out their callings faithfully, the four women said.
Sometimes that commitment to the call might include the unexpected. “I still remember a mentor, a boss who ‘took out the trash.’ It wasn’t that person’s job, but it needed to be done,” Prather said.
Both large and small tasks are a part of the mix of serving in a Christian context, Whitfield noted. “Be willing to accept small tasks as part of the team and to accept big tasks as a way to expand your gifts,” she said.
Through the years, Rash has learned, “If you are truly sensing God’s calling, then stay focused on Him and the work He has for you to do.
“It isn’t always easy, but I am driven by the opportunity and challenge to help believers in Christ learn from each other — to sharpen each other, as Scripture says — while also sharing calmly and clearly so we can attempt to be the best versions of the people God made us to be,” Rash said. Grateful that she has “truly felt support, love and empowerment through most of my career and faith journey,” Rash finds fulfillment as she helps “resource and empower the staff of The Alabama Baptist.”
Pipes, too, is grateful for those who serve alongside her in Christian communications, saying, “My colleagues at LifeWay inspire me to bring my best every day.”
Prather and Rash learned the importance of such mutual support, encouragement and sharpening soon after college graduation, when the two met as each served on the mission field — Rash, then serving with the International Mission Board in a communications-related role, and Prather, serving with the then-Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) in college student and resort ministry.
After her mission work, Prather landed an opportunity in public relations with the Florida Baptist Convention. Her passion for storytelling, honed during her denominational missions experience, has intensified through the years.
“I tell people all the time that I have the best job in Arkansas because I have the privilege of telling the story of how Arkansas Baptists are making a difference in the lives of children and families in crisis,” said Prather, the mother of two boys.
“We work for the King of kings. Our communication in telling His story should be of upmost importance,” she said.
Years ago, when Pipes served the summer before college graduation with World Changers, a ministry that provides missions experiences for students, she first sensed God calling her to serve Him through communications.
“I realized I loved writing for and about the church. I especially love sharing stories of how God is working in and through the lives of His people,” Pipes said.
“What an honorable task we have to be communicators for our convention.”