Friday, June 22, 2007

How Blogs Can Change the World


Every now and then I look at the log of people who have visited my blog. While I cannot tell for sure who is visiting, I can usually tell where they are coming from and how they got here. I was intrigued tonight when I saw the a referral from AOL News. So, I visited the referring link. The news story was about a resignation at Southwestern Seminary and there was a button at the bottom to click on to list related blogs and articles. Well, guess who was on that list? Me! The post before this one talks about Southeastern and I guess the search at AOL picked up on that. I just thought it was really cool! And, it goes to show the power of blogging and how it is possible for a single blogger to have a pretty large voice on the internet. You can click on the link above to see a picture of the page.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Putting Some Legs on Our Theology

Moderate Baptists are finally putting some legs under their theology. Although many of us talk about supporting women in ministry, there are very few medium or large churches with women as pastors.

That started to change this week when First Baptist Church of Decatur. Georgia voted to call Julie Pennington-Russell as their senior pastor. Here is the story from Associated Baptist Press:

DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) -- First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., has become the largest church associated with the Southern Baptist Convention or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to hire a woman as senior pastor.

In a closed business session after Sunday morning worship June 17, nearly 400 members voted to call Julie Pennington-Russell as minister. The proposal, approved by a show of hands, went unchallenged in a discussion session.

Pennington-Russell, 46, is currently senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, a post she has held since 1998. She had previously worked as a pastor at Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco. She will begin her new job Aug. 19, succeeding Gary Parker, who resigned.

The church, with 2,700 members, is one of several historic congregations in Decatur, which is now surrounded by metropolitan Atlanta.

“The thought of coming alongside this remarkable congregation in this world-class city at this moment in history fills me with a huge joy,” Pennington-Russell said in a press statement. “Our family is eager to hoist our sail with this great community of Christ-followers.”

In a statement to the church about Pennington-Russell, search committee members said they spent 800 hours considering 64 candidates for the position. The committee also consulted an outside panel of six people “knowledgeable in Baptist life today.”

“At the end of the process, however, our selection was unanimous. Every member of the committee expressed the conviction that the Holy Spirit has indeed led us to our final selection,” the statement said. “We truly believe that [Pennington-Russell] embodies all of the qualities you asked us to find in a pastor, and we are convinced that, like us, you will learn to love her and admire her for her depth, her joyous Christian spirit, and her dedication to the gospel message.”

Pennington-Russell will undoubtedly become a prominent figure in moderate Baptist life. While the SBC's doctrinal statement, the "Baptist Faith and Message," states that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture,” a recent study by Baptist Women in Ministry identified female senior pastors in 117 congregations currently or previously affiliated with the SBC. More than 1,800 women have been ordained to serve in various ministry roles, the study reported.

Pennington-Russell graduated from the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. She is completing a doctor of ministry degree at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Pennington-Russell and her husband, Tim, have two children.

First Baptist Church of Decatur, with a history reaching back to the Civil War, was founded as a Southern Baptist church. According to the church’s website, however, 80 percent of its members now designate their denominational support to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and roughly 20 percent support the SBC. In 2006, the church reported an average Sunday school attendance of roughly 450 people.

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an opponent of women as pastors, agreed Pennington-Russell's selection precedent-setting. For a church with the history and prominence of First Baptist Decatur to call a woman as senior minister is “undeniably historic,” he said in a June 5 post on www.conventionalthinking.net.

“Julie Pennington-Russell will quickly become one of the most prominent leaders among moderate and liberal Baptists,” he wrote. “One additional development is just as certain. This move increases the visible distance between the Southern Baptist Convention and the constellation of moderate Baptist organizations disaffected from the denomination. The distance is theological, cultural, ideological -- and growing.”

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So what is the right role for women? Consider this article from EthicsDaily.com:

Baptist Seminary Offers Degree in Homemaking for Pastors' Wives

Bob Allen
06-15-07

Starting this fall Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will offer a program in Christian homemaking, the seminary's president said Tuesday. "We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family," seminary President Paige Patterson said in his prepared report to the Southern Baptist Convention this week in San Antonio, Texas.

According to the seminary Web site, the bachelor-of-arts in humanities degree, with a concentration in homemaking, will be offered through the seminary's undergraduate college program.


" The College at Southwestern endeavors to prepare women to model the characteristics of the godly woman as outlined in Scripture," a description of the program reads. "This is accomplished through instruction in homemaking skills, developing insights into home and family while continuing to equip women to understand and engage the culture of today."

Course work includes three hours of "general homemaking," three hours on "the value of a child," seven hours of "d esign and apparel"--including a four-hour "clothing construction with lab"--seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation and a three-hour course on the "Biblical Model for the Home and Family."


Responding to a question at the SBC annual meeting about the program, Patterson said many wives of future preachers have said, "We need to know in a day when homemaking is no longer honored whether or not it would be possible for us to have a course of study that would lead to a degree in homemaking."


"It is homemaking for the sake of the church and the ministry and homemaking for the sake of our society," Patterson said. "If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed."


The seminary's trustees were told about the new program last fall. It wasn't mentioned in news stories or the seminary's press release, but a Baptist blogger critical of Patterson's administration reported he "nearly shot Diet Coke out of my nose" when he heard the recommendation. Trying to imagine how such a degree falls under the umbrella of the institutional mission of a theological seminary, blogger Benjamin Cole dismissed the idea as "quite silly."


"A seminary degree in cookie-baking is about as useful as an M.Div. in automotive repair, if you ask me," Cole said. After the fall trustee meeting, Cole proceeded to parody what he nicknamed the "Mrs. Degree" in 10 blogs between Oct. 30 and Nov. 21.


The new undergraduate degree is in addition to an existing 13-hour program of seminary studies for student wives and women's ministries concentrations in both the master-of-divinity and master-of-arts-in-Christian-education seminary degrees.


Dorothy Patterson, wife of the seminary president and professor of theology in women's studies, is the only woman faculty member currently teaching in Southwestern's School of Theology.


Another, former Old Testament languages professor Sheri Klouda, sued the seminary in March, claiming she was dismissed from her job simply because she is a woman. The chairman of the seminary's board of trustees was quoted as saying Klouda's unanimous election by trustees five years earlier, under leadership of Patterson's predecessor, was a " momentary lax of parameters."


Located in Fort Worth, Texas, Southwestern isn't the only Southern Baptist seminary encouraging ministers' wives to serve in traditional roles. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., offers a 13-hour certificate of ministry studies through its Seminary Wives Institute that includes "essentials" like "God's plan for marriage," child-rearing and shopping on a budget.


"At Southern Seminary, we recognize the need for God-called ministers' wives to be prepared for ministry," says a program description. "We believe that a minister's wife needs to be educated and equipped as she and her husband prepare for service in the churches and beyond."


An accompanying Women's Ministry Institute at Southern Seminary prepares women to minister to other women in the local church. Both programs are offered through Southern Seminary's Boyce College and headed up by Mary Mohler, wife of Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler.


Mary Mohler and Dorothy Patterson were the only two women serving on a seven-member committee that drafted a family amendment added to the Baptist Faith & Message in 1998. That article proscribed the proper role for a wife as "to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ."

The family article made headlines nationwide. The New York Times quoted Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics as commenting: ''They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home.''


Two years later Southern Baptists updated the Baptist Faith & Message again to specify, " While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."


Southwestern Seminary's online catalogue says the seminary introduces women "to the marketplace of ideas, including both complementarian and egalitarian positions" so they are "thoroughly equipped to give an articulate and well-reasoned evangelical response to the feministic ideology of the age."


In addition to its programs for women, Southern Seminary in Louisville also houses The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Council exists to counter "feminist egalitarianism"--the view that men and women are equal in the church and home--with "the noble Biblical vision of sexual complementarity," which holds that men and women are of equal worth, but God ordained for males to be the head of both the home and the church.

Last year Southern Seminary named the Council's executive director, Randy Stinson, as dean of its School of Leadership and Church Ministry.


Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Two Down, One to Go!

It is hard to believe that 2 years have already gone by. If I have learned one thing in my second year, it is this: three years is not enough time to learn everything you want to know about God and how to be an effective minister for Him; a lifetime is not enough time. Although I am told I am in one of the most academically rigorous M.Div programs and have spent the last two years doing little more than studying, I still feel like there is so much that I do not know. I have learned things that I did not know I did not know, and there is still so much to learn!

One of my prayers for this year was for God to give me some clarity about my future. Where should I focus my attention? Should I pursue a Ph.D. and teach, or work in the local church? I feel like God has sent me the message loud and clear: “I need you in the local church. That's where you belong.” As I think back over the events of the past year, I cannot help but think about a trip my wife and I made to Mepkin Abbey outside of Charleston, SC. During the visit, I began to envy the time the monks had to study. Wouldn't it be great to live a life that is fully devoted to the study of God and obtaining a deeper relationship with him. The monks did not have to worry about pleasing a board of deacons, interviewing with search committees, or keeping a congregation happy. What a life! As I sit here writing this letter, I can hear that still, small voice telling me, “That's not the life I have chosen for you. I need you to be out with my people, caring for them, loving them, and sharing what you have learned.” Like the old hymn says, “Wherever he leads, I'll go,” so the focus of my third year will be preparing for work in the local church and then looking for the place where God wants me to serve.

Those of you who know me well know what a hard decision this has been. My own experiences and the experiences of other Wake students help explain why there are so few students who plan to work full time in the local church. The church is broken. We have to do better. We have to do MUCH better. How do we do that? I think the best place to start is with a statement made by Dr. Frank Campbell, former pastor at FBC Statesville and former president of Gardner-Webb University, at the funeral of one of FBC Statesville's christian educators Leath Johnson. Campbell said that he gave all seminary students that there are 3 things they have to do if they want to be successful in church work. First, they have to work hard. While this is great advice for church work, it equally applies to secular jobs as well. Perhaps the biggest difference, however, between secular and church work is the amount of work and number of skills required of minister. The senior pastor is expected to be the CEO, the preacher, a counselor, and a chaplain just to name a few. It is nearly impossible for one person to do all of these things well, but we are expected to try.

Secondly, a minister has to love his congregation. This advice obviously mirror's Jesus' commandment that we love one another. Let's face it, there are some people who are pretty unlovable, but, as a minister or even just as a Christian, we are called to love them. This is why I believe this year's resolution by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is wrong. I believe that removing congregations that allow homosexuals to become members is ignoring Jesus' commandment that we love one another. There are plenty of people who will probably disagree with me on that statement, but I believe they fail to take into account the second part of John 13:34. Jesus continues by saying, "as I have loved you." Jesus loved his disciples unconditionally. Jesus loved the adulterous woman in John 8 unconditionally. Notice there is nothing in that text that says the woman confessed her sin or stopped sinning, but Jesus showed compassion for her anyway. By not allowing homosexuals to become members of our churches are we not making them second class people? Are we not loving them a little bit (or maybe even a lot) less than we are loving everyone else? Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told us to love one another? He loved us so much he died for us? How many of us can say we love the unlovable that way?

Finally, Dr. Campbell said that a minister should always tell the truth. This is where the church can and should be very different from the secular world. The church is not all about the bottom line. The church is not about manipulating the data in such a way that it hides or distorts the truth. The truth is often not pretty, but that does not remove our obligation to tell the truth. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "Peace if possible, but truth at all costs." When we make a decision, as a minister of the church, we should be able to stand up at the pulpit or in a business meeting and explain how and why we made the decision we did. If we have to hide behind lies, distortion, or secrecy, the wrong decision was probably made. Church health or church healing or protecting our jobs are not reasons to stray from the truth. "Peace if possible, but truth at all costs."

I believe the church is broken, but I also believe in a God that is more than able to transform brokenness into wholeness. But, He is only able to do that if his leaders are willing to follow him. That is what I hope to do in my ministry. It is my hope that a new generation of church leaders will be able to fix what is broken and help bring the church closer to what God wants it to be.