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Woodmont’s pastor addresses SBC, CBF ties and history

Nathan Parker has served as senior pastor of Woodmont Baptist Church in Nashville since January 2017.

NASHVILLE (BP) — After the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, many people in the church Nathan Parker pastors were upset.

“They had heard press reports coming out of the convention and asked if we could face it,” he told Baptist Press. “Some members were calling for us to withdraw from the SBC.” So Parker called a town hall meeting.

Woodmont Baptist Church, where Parker serves as senior pastor, wasn’t the only one holding such talks after SBC messengers’ approval of the first step toward a constitutional change limiting the office of pastor to men. However, the church’s history up to then cannot be ignored as it provides context for that family meeting as well as why Woodmont is being discussed among Southern Baptists now.

As listed on the church’s website, Parker earned degrees from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and Lipscomb University. The executive pastor is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The other two ministry staff members are women and listed as ministers, holding degrees from Southwestern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary.

The staff, Parker told BP, all support the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Those details are important as Woodmont is currently part of the broader SBC discussion, particularly online.

Bill Sherman, Woodmont’s pastor for 30 years, led the congregation when the church was an early member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway group that emerged in the early 1990s following the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence. Sherman’s brother, Cecil, was a key leader – arguably the key leader – among that group while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C.

Fast forward to last week. On Aug. 17, interim SBC EC President and CEO Willie McLaurin resigned from that role and was removed by the president and CEO search committee as the likely candidate to fill the position. The next day, EC Vice President for Communications Jonathan Howe, per EC bylaws, was announced by EC Chairman Philip Robertson as the new interim president and CEO.

This week, social media posts and articles reported on Woodmont’s CBF connection while pointing out that Howe’s wife, Beth, serves at Woodmont as minister of students and discipleship. The latter, presumably, is to draw parallels with the SBC’s debate over women holding the title of pastor, though Beth Howe has the title of minister.

“I’ve told my church that I see a lovingly designed, spiritual male headship in Scripture, but it’s not a make-or-break issue,” Parker said. “Originally, we wanted Beth’s position to be for a male pastor. But when she emerged as the best candidate, we changed the job description to remove some of the 1 Timothy elder-qualification [language] because she’s not an elder and doesn’t want to be an elder. None of the women on our staff want to be elders or pastors.”

At the town hall meeting, Parker taught for 30 minutes from Genesis 1-2 about the “God-given, lovingly designed, spiritual male headship to be exercised in the church and the home” as he saw it.

He added that that he did not see it as a Gospel or salvific issue “as long as we are still submitting ourselves to the authority of Scripture.”

Parker’s congregation consists of many who remember the division of the Southern Baptist Convention in the ‘80s and early ‘90s differently than the majority of the SBC today.

“There are folks who were deeply wounded by those on the SBC side,” said Parker, a Nashville native who became Woodmont’s pastor in January 2017. “There’s real trauma there, from both sides. Mud was thrown in both directions.” 

According to the 2022 Annual Church Profile, Woodmont designated 1.6 percent of its budget to be given through the Cooperative Program, the highest in eight years. Members are free to designate the denominational giving portion of their regular budget giving to either the SBC, CBF or both as well as above their regular tithe at Christmas for international missions efforts.

The “vast majority” of those gifts go toward the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Parker said. Woodmont gave $42,134 to that offering in 2022.

The church also financially supports the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s state offering, the Nashville Baptist Association, Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes and Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes. 

COVID dealt Woodmont, like churches everywhere, a financial hit in 2020. Since then, the church has steadily increased giving to Southern Baptists’ signature missions offerings by 35 percent.

Accusations over a lack of commitment to Southern Baptist causes can have an impact, Parker admitted.

“I like to believe that we’re better together,” he said, “but some days it’s hard.”

Woodmont’s front steps are only a few minutes away from the SBC building in downtown Nashville.

“We’re focused on being the healthiest church we can be to the glory of God,” he said. “My job as pastor is to shepherd the flock, to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment as faithfully as possible. Those denominational power struggles are not necessarily part of that mission.”

At that church town hall meeting this summer, a 92-year-old shuffled up to Parker. Bill Sherman, still a member at Woodmont, thanked his senior pastor for the leadership displayed at that moment.

The two are friends. They see eye to eye on what they deem to be faith essentials. Tertiary issues, not as much, and they believe that’s alright.

“He has been nothing but encouraging and kind to me,” Parker said. “He said we can agree to disagree on this, and we walked out of that meeting as a family of faith. No one was upset. No one cried.

“We disagreed on something and it was really healthy. It exhibited a lot of Christian maturity and love for one another.”