ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – The North American Mission Board issued a statement  Thursday (Oct. 14) re-asserting its position that “only qualified men” will “serve as the communicator for teaching and preaching” in the main gatherings or worship services of church plants endorsed by the Southern Baptist entity.
In serving SBC churches, the statement began, NAMB seeks to “fulfill its mission in fidelity” to The Baptist Faith and Message. As part of that commitment, NAMB will endorse or fund church planters whose practices remain consistent with the BF&M. In this case, “consistent” refers to Article 6 of the BF&M, which includes, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
“We recognize there are differing views on how best to interpret and apply Article VI,” the letter said. “… We will continue to partner with and assist any cooperating churches. We believe it best, however, to reserve endorsement and funding for planters who are willing to reflect the practice of most Southern Baptists in this issue.”
While the context and challenges of church planting may seemingly be in an ever-changing state of flux, NAMB President Kevin Ezell told Baptist Press that those endorsed by the agency are expected to adhere to Southern Baptist expectations.
“We are always walking with planters through the challenges of their missionary work and clarifying our guidance as they seek to serve God as He has called them,” he said. “NAMB reaffirmed again this week that we always have and always will only endorse Biblically qualified men as pastors, fulfilling those responsibilities unique to that of a pastor. We are committed to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and are complementarian by conviction. There should be no doubt about our expectations. We love and support our missionaries and our prayer is that every Southern Baptist will continue to confidently and enthusiastically support them as well.
“The challenge of church planting is as tough as it has ever been. The divisiveness we see in the media every day, the lingering impacts of the global pandemic and an increasing secularized world are all reminders of why taking the Gospel to every city and town is so important.”
The letter further reflected on NAMB’s history of encouraging church planters in harmony toward “the majority of Southern Baptist churches in belief and practice.” On this particular topic, only qualified men would hold the office or titles such as pastor, elder, bishop or overseer.
“Since culture, practice and methodology in the early years of a church plant set a foundation for future ministry, all endorsed Send Network planters will agree to abide by this guideline for the duration of their endorsement period,” it concluded.
The announcement comes after accusations earlier this year of women in some NAMB church plants having pastoral teaching roles or titles with “pastor” in them, though none were listed as the senior or lead pastor of the church. On Feb. 18, NAMB issued a statement on the matter. In a review of 1,200 endorsed church planters at that time, six listed a woman with the title of pastor or in a staff role.
“Those have been addressed,” it said. “We individually and appropriately address these situations as they come to our attention.” In those situations where a church planter insisted on keeping a woman in a pastoral teaching role or with the title on staff, the letter continued, NAMB would remove endorsement and funding.
Debate over the subject peaked in early May when Saddleback Community Church in California, the SBC’s largest congregation, ordained three women into teaching roles that included the title of pastor or a variation thereof. Various SBC leaders, including then-President J.D. Greear and Southern Seminary President Al Mohler, issued statements disagreeing with Saddleback’s decision.