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Women’s ministry programs offered at all 6 Southern Baptist seminaries

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Women called of God to a variety of assignments are welcome at all six Southern Baptist seminaries through diploma, master’s and doctoral studies in theology, Christian education, music and other ministry disciplines. And all of the seminaries specifically prepare student wives for the unique role of a minister’s wife.

In the early 1990s, the wives of students at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary were offered classes that elevated a preaching role for some women. The old certificate program was scrapped in 1996, however, when Sharon Coppenger developed a program to equip a ministering wife. Now offered on the diploma level, the Midwestern program incorporates the MasterLife discipleship program, Baptist history and doctrine, ministry in the home, local church and mission settings, as well as Bible courses.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was the first Southern Baptist school to offer formal, specialized theological education in the area of women’s ministry. Since its beginning in March 1997, this innovative program has increased in student enrollment and degree options. Its success is the result of growing interest in women’s ministry, the need for pragmatic training in women’s work, and increased leadership roles for women in the local church.

Three- and five-day workshops are accessible to women commuting from throughout the region. Students can earn a basic or advanced women’s ministry certificate, associate degree in women’s ministry, a bachelor’s degree with a minor in women’s ministry, a master of divinity with a specialization in women’s ministry and a master of arts in Christian education with the women’s ministry specialization.

A certificate of excellence, meanwhile, prepares student wives at New Orleans for ministry alongside their husbands, drawing upon a foundation developed by Joanne Leavell, the former seminary president’s wife and continued under Rhonda Kelley, wife of the current president.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary offers a master of divinity in women’s studies with 35 credit hours of track requirements and 14 hours of track electives on top of a 41-credit-hour foundation in general master of divinity studies. Students gain an understanding of the biblical truths and historical record on the role of the woman in the home, church and community. A practical survey course relating to the role of the minister’s wife is offered to student wives in a semester-long format. A mentoring program provides one-on-one discipleship for women students.

At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a master’s degree in Christian education is available with a concentration in women’s ministry for women called to equip and mobilize other women in worship, evangelism, discipleship and ministry through the local church. The seminary also integrates practical, spiritual and academic studies through Seminary Studies for Student Wives. A certificate of education and ministry is awarded upon completion of 12 credit hours. “We are committed to making Seminary Studies a vital part of the student wife’s experience at Southwestern,” the school’s catalog states. “Our goal is to equip God-called ministry teams through biblically based teaching, preparing the seminary couple for service together in churches, at home and abroad.”

The Seminary Wives Institute is an academic program of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which leads to a certificate of ministry studies after completing 13 academic units. Required courses deal with discipleship, essentials for the minister’s wife, Old and New Testament surveys, doctrine, Baptist history, and family life. “The time a student wife is in the seminary setting with her husband is the perfect time to undertake this training,” the school’s website states. “She has opportunity to network with other wives who are preparing for the place God has for them. She will benefit from her study with faculty wives who can share from their rich experience.”

The most recent addition to the collection of programs is the Partners in Ministry training offered at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California. The program enables seminary couples to maximize their time by preparing both partners to be co-laborers for Christ. Courses are taught by seminary professors and accomplished practitioners, and are designed to increase biblical knowledge, deepen relationships with Jesus and sharpen practical skills in leadership ministry.

“It is such a wonderful time to be a Southern Baptist woman, called by God to salvation and to service,” said Rhonda Kelley, adjunct professor at New Orleans Seminary. “God has opened so many doors for me personally to minister in his name and he has developed my God-given spiritual gifts for his glory. I have been able to completely fulfill my call to minister to women through my writing, teaching, and speaking ministries.”

In giving leadership to the student wives program and women’s ministry program at the NOBTS, Kelley has met hundreds of women who also are called to minister to other women. “They are seeking training through seminaries to better prepare themselves to serve the Lord as volunteers or staff members of local churches and denominational agencies,” she explained. “God has truly empowered these women to reach out to other women whom they can relate to and encourage. Through teaching and mentoring as well as by example, committed Christian leaders are influencing other women to a closer relationship with the Lord. God is working through their godly lives and ministries to strengthen the church as well as its families.”

In spite of the secular media often portraying Southern Baptists as limiting the role of women, Kelley said, “Our Southern Baptist seminaries are providing excellent training for ministry wives and women called to minister as well as support of those women seeking to serve the Lord in accordance with biblical guidelines.”

At Southeastern Seminary, the women seeking the master of divinity degree in women’s studies must complete the core curriculum of the M.Div. program while encouraged to take a second year in Greek and in Hebrew. In a communications course they are taught how to prepare and deliver a message.

“When I look at the Bible I don’t feel oppressed, I feel encouraged and overwhelmed with opportunities,” Kelley said. The fact that every Southern Baptist seminary provides an academic program for women, often at little or no cost and with childcare provided, is an indication of the encouragement women find in the SBC, she said. “We are saying, ‘Yes, women can learn and we want to do everything we can to help them learn.'”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter