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FIRST-PERSON: I want to be the pastor

Robin Hadaway (BP file photo)

“I want to be the pastor,” said the woman in our church. It was 1985, and I was a first-term missionary in Tanzania. The lady was a graduate of Tanzania’s Baptist seminary and the wife of a government official, while the other candidates were uneducated men. I explained to her why this was not biblical.

In 2002, I was the International Mission Board’s regional leader for eastern South America, supervising about 350 missionaries in Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. I received word that a local Brazilian church had ordained a female IMB missionary. A trustee and I asked her to rescind the ordination. She agreed, but soon after her retirement, a stateside Southern Baptist church ordained her.

Messengers to the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in June will vote on an amendment which would add a sixth subparagraph to Article III, Paragraph 1 of the SBC Constitution. Article III outlines the criteria for churches to be able to seat messengers at an annual meeting.

In order to be deemed “in friendly cooperation” with the SBC, a church should:

  • Align with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000
  • State its intention to cooperate (often this is in the form of filing an Annual Church Profile report)
  • Contribute through the Cooperative Program or other SBC-related channels
  • Align with the Convention’s beliefs regarding the handling of sexual abuse
  • Refrain from exhibiting or affirming racial discriminatory behavior

The Law Amendment would add a sixth criterion. A church will be in friendly cooperation only if it “Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

I support the amendment for three reasons.

1. It clarifies Southern Baptists’ view of who should be a pastor. Even on the mission field this issue emerges. The matter is not about a woman’s status before the Lord. The amendment addresses only who can be a pastor. Scripture teaches that men and women are equal before God (I Peter 3:7). Yet their roles are different and complementary. Men and women need one another for Southern Baptist churches to represent Christ to a lost world.

2. I do not believe passing this amendment will result in a flood of efforts to exclude churches who use the title “pastor” incorrectly. I served on the SBC Credentials Committee (CC) at the 2000 annual meeting (and the Resolutions Committee in 2005 and 2006). Although configured differently today, the CC still responds to issues brought to it rather than search for violations.

Article III states that one evidence of cooperation is “regular filing of the annual report requested by the Convention.” According to the latest ACP data, only 69 percent of Southern Baptist churches fulfilled this marker indicative of friendly cooperation. Even though many churches do not file an ACP report, there has been no movement to dismiss these churches – only encouragement for them to do better. 

3. One’s stance on the amendment should be based upon Scripture and not perceived cultural, ethnic or linguistic factors. I served as an IMB missionary in Africa for 12 years, and the finest Christians I know live there. These believers decide doctrinal issues according to biblical hermeneutics, not to match certain cultural practices. Furthermore, I supervised IMB missions in eastern South America for six-and-a-half years. I dealt with the usage of the Portuguese and Spanish term, pastora. In most cases, the word was used for the pastor’s wife, not to indicate a female pastor or co-pastor. When a church did use the term pastora incorrectly, they were lovingly corrected. The use or misuse of a foreign word or perceived cultural preference should not influence a determination of the merits of the Law Amendment.

As secular culture pushes Christianity to conform to its evolving redefinitions of orthodoxy, the SBC must periodically recalibrate its documents accordingly. The Law Amendment clarifies what Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches concerning who is qualified to serve in the role of pastor.

At last year’s convention, my wife Kathy and I were thrilled to see all the young pastors and their wives lifting their ballots and voting for the first reading of the Law Amendment. In 1979, we were members of Bellevue Baptist Church when Adrian Rogers was elected SBC President. As a young pastor, I attended my first annual meeting in Los Angeles in 1981. I was senior pastor of two Southern Baptist churches for six years. Then my wife and I served as IMB missionaries for 18 years. I taught at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as the residential missions professor for another 18 years. This year we join many young pastors and their wives in supporting the Law Amendment.

    About the Author

  • Robin Hadaway

    Robin Dale Hadaway is a member of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, Calif., and senior professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (semi-retired). He was a candidate for SBC president in 2022.

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