By David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — “A remarkable number of young women” are enrolling at Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, according to a report delivered last week to the SBC Executive Committee.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, in reporting to the EC Sept. 18, said female SBC seminary graduates are helping to fulfill a need in churches for “strong female Bible teachers.” He attributed the increased number of female students in part to the publication of high-quality theological resources for women by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“One of the things we have all been convinced of at the seminaries,” Patterson said, “is that one of the things we greatly need is a generation of female Bible teachers who really have their act together, who really understand the Word of God.
“… Coming through our programs are a remarkable number of young women who are going all the way [to terminal degrees] and doing the finest job they could possibly do in education,” Patterson said.
Why the increase
According to data submitted to the Association of Theological Schools, SBC seminaries saw a 12 percent increase from 2012-16 in female students enrolled in graduate-level degree programs. Last fall, nearly 1,900 women were pursuing graduate degrees at SBC seminaries.
Though undergraduate data is not reflected on ATS reports, at least some seminaries have experienced female student increases in their undergraduate programs, according to reports received by Baptist Press.
Rhonda Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, attributed the increase in female seminary enrollment both to “student wives taking seminary courses” and women “receiving theological training to equip them for vocational or lay ministry in a variety of different fields, including women’s ministry, psychology and counseling, music, Christian education, preschool and children’s ministry.”
“The variety of degree programs and the introduction of certificate programs with fewer courses focused in a particular area of specialization are more realistic for women who have careers or others who have children at home,” Kelley, who chaired EC President Frank S. Page’s Women’s Advisory Council, told Baptist Press in written comments. “The different delivery models such as extension centers and online courses are more accessible to women. Our experience is that older ladies tend to characterize our certificate programs while more students in undergraduate and graduate degrees are younger.”
Growth at Southwestern
Southwestern, the focus of Patterson’s report, has seen a 35 percent increase since 2012 in female students pursuing graduate degrees, according to ATS data. The female undergraduate population at Southwestern has increased by 30 percent since 2012, according to data provided to BP by the seminary.
During the spring of 2017, 766 women were enrolled in certificate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral classes, Southwestern reported.
Patterson told the EC that Southwestern has four women on its faculty with doctor of philosophy degrees in theology. The seminary told BP 13 percent of its faculty are women, and degree programs at the master’s and doctoral levels allow for focus on women’s ministry and women’s studies.
Southwestern has both an endowed chair focused on women’s studies and a dean of women’s programs.
Other SBC seminaries also offer women’s ministry programs and emphases.
‘Each helps and edifies the other’
Dorothy Patterson, wife of Paige Patterson and a theology professor at Southwestern, told BP, “Woman-to-woman teaching is the New Testament method as presented by God through the apostle Paul in the New Testament (Titus 2:3-5). Women indeed learn from men, and men receive godly wisdom from women as did the learned Apollos from Priscilla. However, the creation order guides both women and men in how each helps and edifies the other.
“More than four decades ago I asked the Lord to bring to me in theological education a ‘few good women’ with whom I could work to change the world! He has been more than faithful, and I rejoice to see the nurturing sensitivities of a myriad of women pouring out their giftedness and wisdom within the boundaries of Scripture,” Dorothy Patterson said in written comments.
The Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI, states that “both women and men are gifted for service in the church,” adding “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, told BP women studying at SBC seminaries “are stewarding their minds for God’s glory by investing in theological education – and women are worthy of the investment.
“They are preparing themselves to make valuable and enduring contributions to the church in their generation,” McCoy said in written comments. “And, they are serving in harmony with, and under the authority of, Scripture’s pattern for women in ministry.”