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Women on Baptist Faith & Message committee support ministry opportunities for women

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–“One of the greatest blessings of living in this day and age is that so many opportunities are available to women,” stated Suzy Hawkins of Dallas, one of two Southern Baptist women who served on the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee.

The second woman, Heather King, is director of Woman’s Missionary Union and women’s enrichment ministries for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.

“In the past those opportunities were very limited,” Hawkins recalled. “One thing I’ve always tried to emphasize to my girls is to find what God wants you to do and, if he wants you to do that, it will fit his plan and his parameters. He will lead you where he wants you to be.”

Hawkins encourages her daughters, ages 25 and 23, to develop their own interests and careers, but she also hopes they eventually will marry and have lots of children.

“They have a very valuable contribution to make to society and the church,” Hawkins said. She’s grateful for changing attitudes which provide “such a general acceptance that women have every bit as much value in the kingdom,” adding, “Jesus made that very clear.”

At age 10 Hawkins professed her faith in Christ at Hyde Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas. But she has been involved in a Southern Baptist church “from conception” with parents and grandparents who were active members.

At age 18 she married O.S. Hawkins who was already serving as a minister of youth, so she knew her life would be wrapped up in local church ministry.

“We’ve been in the pastorate for 25 years,” Hawkins said of their partnership in ministry. They served “two small churches in Oklahoma, at Fort Lauderdale for 15 years and First Baptist Church of Dallas,” before her husband became president of the SBC’s Annuity Board.

Just as her own ministry roles have changed, Hawkins wants her daughters to know that “what works at one time in your life” will change as God develops other abilities. “Don’t ever think, ‘This is where I’ll be forever.'”

King, of Indianapolis, said she has witnessed an explosion of opportunities for ministry among women.

“Traditionally, Woman’s Missionary Union has provided avenues for women to be involved directly with women. WMU has a great heritage in missions, but now, in addition to that, all of our Southern Baptist agencies have women on staff.

“The key is to help women realize that no one is denied service to Christ. We all have contributions to make,” King said. “Even if we aren’t vocationally in the ministry, we still have opportunity in our daily lives in our everyday world around us.”

While a third grader at East Grand Baptist Church in Dallas, King accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior after hearing elderly Sunday school teachers share Bible stories and verses like John 3:16. When she saw her father express his own desire to follow God’s direction, it “set the wheels in motion to begin asking questions about God.”

Later, King sensed God calling her to devote her life to ministry, though she didn’t know the specific task or time span.

“I began to pursue some personal interests and asked God to redirect me if that was not the way I was supposed to go,” she said.

King explored opportunities for counseling at a crisis pregnancy center and considered a calling to missions. Though she feared the possibility that God would direct her to far-off Africa as she attempted to be available for any task, King realized she it is “not only a duty and a responsibility” to serve God, but more importantly a “privilege.”

“Even though God didn’t place me on a foreign field, I believe he began to develop a love for missions in my heart by realizing that God has a heart for the nations,” King said. After completing her master of arts degree in counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, King accepted the invitation to direct women’s ministries and Woman’s Missionary Union programs.

“Before going to Indiana I had no inkling God would necessarily change my direction from working with women in a counseling or crisis setting to working on a state level,” she said. She simply followed where God led.

To discover the particular ways God chooses to use women, King directs them back to Scripture.

“For those women who feel the call to minister, no matter what that call is, they need to measure that feeling against what Scripture says.” Emotions and feelings change as women grow and mature amid changing circumstances, King said, “We can’t base our whole lives on what we feel. We have to base it on what doesn’t change, and that’s the Word of God.”

Though fully aware of the role she married into, Hawkins admitted she “didn’t know the first thing about serving God” when they went to their first church. She was already well-grounded in evangelism and began to develop a philosophy of ministry as she learned from spiritually mature Christians how to develop a “life ministry.” Together, the Hawkinses “learned about spiritual gifts, trusting God and his provision.”

With every church Hawkins found the requirements a little different from the last.

“When you’re in a small church you do what needs to be done. I did a lot of jobs I didn’t like. But I always wanted to be active and was drawn to women’s ministry before there even was such a thing,” she said.

When her husband moved into leadership of a Southern Baptist agency, Hawkins found her life changing from what she had experienced as a pastor’s wife to a role comparable to the wife of a corporate executive.

“It’s a different role — still a partnership — but it’s a change. When O.S. took this position, I said, `You mean all I have to do is go to a Christmas luncheon and two trustee meetings?'”

As the day-to-day expectations changed, Hawkins said the experience gave her another dimension for understanding the lives of the women to whom she now ministers at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas where she leads women’s ministries.

Hawkins objects to misrepresentations of her committee’s revision to the Baptist Faith and Message — specifically the perceptions of some that it says women can’t be in ministry.

“No one has ever said those words except the people who question what we’re doing. Jesus never said that as far as ministering and using your gifts. But there are some very specific guidelines in the Bible about the role of pastor — his marriage, character and conduct. It is a noble task and the fact that he is to be a male is just one of those guidelines.”

That limitation occurs only in the context of a local church pastor, Hawkins explained.

“It isn’t a reference to service in other church staff positions, schools, para-church organizations or other institutions where women certainly can minister,” she insisted. “Our opponents have generalized this to mean something no one has ever said. If a woman — genuinely, with all her heart — desires to serve God and use her gifts, he’s going to show her a place to do it. If her heart’s desire is a position or office, that’s a different matter.”

King finds the coverage of some reporters offensive as references are made to Southern Baptists’ condemning women pastors.

“I find it ironic because that word ‘condemn’ has never been in our Baptist Faith and Message. In fact, we have a very specific sentence that says we affirm the giftedness of men and women. That’s a very positive statement,” she said.

King turns to the biblical model of the godhead to note that the Son of God submitted himself to the father willingly, even unto the point of death. “Even though the son and father are equal in person, they have different roles. That did not make Christ any less worthy or useful.”

King and Hawkins said they found their fellow committee members anxious to hear their perspectives as they worked through the revisions to the Baptist Faith and Message statement.

“I think we were all on equal standing there. We did voice some concerns and suggestions and were listened to just as much as other members,” King said.

Hawkins noticed “a genuine interest in what we thought, especially in regard to this issue and how it would be received. We were not trying to put forth an agenda or pull something over on Southern Baptists,” she added, but emphasized a desire to reflect the views of Southern Baptists.

In spite of the number of theologians on the committee, Hawkins said she was pleased to hear their concern for what the revision says to the person in the pew.

“What do we all do in our churches?” she asked in regard to the role of women in ministry. “How do we really live? How is this played out every day in our Southern Baptist churches?” King asked.

While some may be proponents of women pastors, Hawkins said that in reality less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Southern Baptist churches have them. “That says something.”

The scriptural teaching that the pastorate should be occupied by a man is “not something Southern Baptists decided to start believing in the year 2000,” King added. “This is something we have held to throughout our history. It’s evident in our practice that we are together on this. It’s a big deal for the secular media, but we as Southern Baptists are really together on this. The secular media has and will continue to make this an issue, but it’s not so controversial for us.”

Noting that both the 1925 and 1963 Baptist Faith and Message committees asserted the right of Southern Baptists to revise the confession to deal with issues of the day, Hawkins said the current committee sought to deal with contemporary views on women in ministry.

With so many opportunities available, King feels some who argue for the right of women to preach “seem to find it more worthy or more important to teach men than women.”

To both King and Hawkins, the instruction of Titus 2 for women to teach and minister to one another is a great privilege. “The world’s philosophy teaches that by having a man in leadership, any woman under him is inferior,” King said. “It’s as if subordination equals denigration and that is simply not true.”

The need for mature Christian women to assume a mentoring role with new believers is a recurring theme that Hawkins and King have heard from those to whom they minister. Each credits her own mother as a tremendous influence in personal spiritual growth. In addition, they said godly women gave their time to offer advice and friendship along the way.

Hawkins points to the help she received from older women when she was a young mom learning to parent. King recalls Sunday school teachers, youth leaders and seminary professors who discipled her. “I think the greatest pleasure in the world is for older women to teach the younger women,” Hawkins said.

“At my age I have that responsibility. When my daughter served as a youth camp counselor, I reminded her that she was older than those 14-year-olds and needed to be an example in sound doctrine, gracious behavior and good speech. Everybody has a place to mentor, befriend and develop a relationship with another woman. I don’t know that you ever quit needing that,” she added.

King sees requests for older mentors as coming out of an explosion of women desiring to grow spiritually, hungering for God’s Word and seeing the value of instruction.

“I find there are far more younger women wanting to be mentored than older women I can match them up with. If we don’t have these older women to train and teach the next generation, that is a little frightening,” she said. “Women will go someplace to fill that need and we need to direct them back to Scripture and what it has to say.”

Hawkins believes the baby boomer women have “dropped the ball” in this area.

“I hear over and over from women in their 30s and 20s that they want a mentor,” she said. “For a million different reasons they want somebody to lead the way. God placed that need in women and that’s why he gave us the command to mentor them. Whether you’re in a career, getting married or having children, you’ve never been there before and need someone to show you the way. It’s a critical need for women to reach out to a younger generation. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we just need to do this and not worry about women being pastors.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter