SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson wants to motivate Southern Baptists to share their faith more regularly and ultimately baptize a million people in the year 2000.
The message has already hit home — with his wife, Dorothy.
“One of the things I want to do myself in my own quiet time and spiritual development is to try to challenge myself to be part of the goals he’s set,” she said.
“It’s very easy in the day-to-day responsibilities to be so wrapped up in kingdom business that I can forget what is the main thing.”
In 35 years of marriage that have taken the Pattersons through seminary studies, pastorates, Criswell College and now Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dorothy Patterson has seen her husband share his faith on a daily basis.
Though she considers her husband “a natural witness,” she knows it is not as easy for him as it appears.
“He has to work at it, focus on it,” she explained. “He doesn’t sit at a table, stop at a gas station or ride on a plane without always thinking in his mind ‘how can I work in the gospel.’ He’s been a wonderful example to me and the children.”
Paige Patterson’s soul-winning example transferred to their children at an early age, to the point of drawing concern from their son’s kindergarten teacher.
She called to ask that Armour be forbidden from telling his classmates they were going to hell, Dorothy Patterson remembered.
“I gave them his daddy’s phone number at the church,” she said.
While his message may have appeared unusual for such a young child, Patterson knew her son was learning the priority of sharing his faith with others.
“He wasn’t even a Christian himself, but he was picking up on that,” she recalled.
Patterson believes the time has come for her to be “even more conscious of that” and has begun to put her conviction into practice.
While making a purchase earlier in the day, she took advantage of the clerk’s interest in her visit for the convention by sharing a brief witness. “We all have to adapt it to our lifestyle if we’re going to reach the goals suggested.”
Patterson has kept the focus of her personal ministry on a commitment she and her husband made early in their marriage. She said he told her that the home and family were the foundation and springboard for all they would do, she recalled. “He asked me early on to give my energies in that area.”
Along the way, she also has earned a master of theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a doctor of ministry from Luther Rice Seminary and, most recently, a doctor of theology degree from the University of South Africa.
The Pattersons’ first full-time ministry after seminary placed them in a setting where her theological training appeared to be wasted.
“When I arrived there, I had a big house to take care of, two babies in diapers, a new community and no family. I was a bit overwhelmed,” she recalled.
Searching for God’s will for that season of her life, she questioned, “What was I doing carrying a diaper pail, cleaning toilets, bouncing babies and never having a coherent thought during the day? I was in a wilderness there, but that, too, was part of my training,” she added.
“I don’t regret at all the five years when I cancelled every engagement and didn’t even travel with Paige” to be available to her teenage children,” Patterson said.
“Those junior high and high school years are so critical. A little child is always bubbling, but when they’re in high school you have to be there for that moment. Once I made the changes and got into that season of life, I was as happy then as at any time in my life.”
She recalled that her husband often flew back on Fridays from out-of-town engagements to be present at their son’s football games during his senior year.
Years later, she heard her son telling someone that while his dad was very busy, he was always there.
The journals Dorothy Patterson wrote during those years of waiting have become valuable accounts of life experiences upon which she has drawn as she counsels and teaches today. Her 1992 book, “A Woman Seeking God,” related many of those experiences.
After raising two children, Armour and Carmen, Patterson has found the time to serve as professor of women’s studies at Southeastern Seminary, in Wake Forest, N.C., general editor of “The Woman’s Study Bible,” author of numerous articles on biblical womanhood and a frequent conference leader.
One of her recent assignments involved serving on the Baptist Faith and Message study committee to recommend a new article on the family for consideration by messengers to the 1998 SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The article was approved June 9.
Pleased to see the denomination giving the family more attention, she said, “When you look at Scripture in Genesis, you see that God started with the family before he established the church. He uses the metaphor of the family to reveal himself and speak of our heavenly abode. All of these terms are richly interwoven with the family.”
Being in Salt Lake City has been a reminder that just bearing the name of Christ is not the ultimate test of where we stand with God individually or in our families, Patterson said.
“We may be lax in thinking that because our families are involved in all the programs of church that they’re automatically OK. As a mother and now a grandmother, I want to be very conscious of trying to be sure I’m not taking anything for granted with those in my inner circle,” she said.
Just as she was available to her own children, Patterson looks forward to a season of life in which she’ll treasure time with her new granddaughter, Abigail. A recent out-of-town visit from her daughter and grandchild drew her away from duties she fulfills at Southeastern Seminary to indulge the baby.
As she travels with her husband on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, she said she hopes to “bring words of encouragement to my sisters out in the churches, whatever the size, to do the first thing, pleasing God, in doing what he says by submitting to our husbands as unto the Lord.
“By our doing that in the homes, we are giving a gift to the Lord. If he says a meek and quiet spirit is an ornament precious to the Lord, it behooves us to again put the spotlight on our own lives and check our priorities,” Patterson said.