By Diana Chandler
NASHVILLE (BP) – The newly launched SBC Women's Leadership Network will empower Southern Baptist women while concurrently embracing theological complementarianism, two network leaders told Baptist Press.
The group provides a resource for women that is already prevalent among Southern Baptist men, leaders said.
"Historically in SBC life men have had multiple options to connect in this way," WLN steering committee member Kathy Ferguson Litton told Baptist Press April 5. "Women have had very few environments where we could organically relate, mentor, and collaborate across all the domains in which we lead. It is time to change that.
"We believe that women sharpen women, and no cause could be more significantly eternal than women strengthened for Gospel work," said Litton, director of planter spouse development for the North American Mission Board.
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, applauded the network in comments to BP.
"I told the Executive Committee on Tuesday that we need to experience and lead toward growth and advancement in several keys areas in Southern Baptist leadership, including broader inclusion of women who affirm the gender roles affirmed in the Baptist Faith and Message," Floyd said today. "We need to provide multiple avenues for godly women to flourish and to help us navigate the future in this challenging day. This new network is an exciting step in that direction."
The WLN is not an official SBC group, but will hold its inaugural meeting at the SBC's 2019 annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. WLN offers a blog, podcast and Facebook page that has registered more than 700 members since its March 25 debut. The Christian Standard Bible is a network sponsor.
All 14 members of WLN's multicultural steering committee are complementarian and affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, said Litton and committee member Amy Whitfield, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary director of marketing and communications.
"Connecting and strengthening women leaders is our number one mission," Whitfield told BP. "The issue of women's roles in ministry is not an inappropriate discussion, it simply is not the primary goal of this network."
Biblical women and martyrs are hailed and Joel 2:29 is quoted in WLN's mission statement at sbcwomen.net.
"Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy (Joel 2:29)," the statement reads. "From Lydia's house church to Priscilla's teaching ministry, to Phoebe's service, women in the early church period were essential to the spreading of the Gospel across the Mediterranean world.
"Martyrs such as Blandina, Perpetua, and Felicitas faced their violent deaths with astounding courage," WLN said. "Missionaries Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong not only took the Gospel to the lost but tirelessly promoted mission work and education in our churches. Through the years women have eagerly and competently served in local church ministries, denominational agencies, committees and boards, and diverse ministry roles."
WLN will be active throughout the year. While details of the inaugural event in Birmingham are forthcoming, connections and personal conversations engaged there will hopefully assist women in connecting regionally, Whitfield told BP.
"A key element in the network is to connect all women across different areas of our denomination both in service and age," Whitfield said. "We hope that women who are coming up in our denomination are equipped, challenged, and proud of the work that is happening through the resources of the SBC and that this would provide an avenue to connect and strengthen one another through mutual support and encouragement."
Women share challenges that networking can address, said Litton, who is also a pastor's wife.
"We share many common issues from a unique female perspective such as personal leadership development, working in male-dominated environments, juggling multiple responsibilities at home and work, vision casting, leading volunteers, fundraising, staying fresh with technology, and maintaining work/life balance," Litton said.
"We have been slow to get to the table of denominational leadership, yet women are becoming increasingly involved in the SBC," said Litton, whose husband Ed is pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Ala. "More than ever women are theologically trained. We hope to see their footprint grow as valued theologians in our tribe."
Completing the steering committee are Joy Allmond, managing editor of Facts & Trends, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources; Michelle "Missie" Branch, SEBTS assistant dean of students to women and director of graduate life; Donna Gaines, president of the board of ARISE2Read, a Bible teacher, author, and editor; Elizabeth Graham, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) director of events; author and Bible teacher Susie Hawkins; author and 2019 ERLC Leadership Council member Christine Hoover; women's ministry leader and Bible teacher Jacki C. King; Julie Masson, ERLC marketing and social media manager and Church Answers director of marketing; Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women's studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Lori McDaniel, manager of church initiatives in mobilization for the International Mission Board; Carol Pipes, LifeWay director of corporate communications and Facts & Trends editor; and Alicia Wong, an associate professor of women's ministry at Gateway Seminary of the SBC and a former IMB and North American Mission Board missionary.
Among Southern Baptist entity leaders and pastors endorsing the network is SBC President J.D. Greear.
"Women are indispensable partners in God's mission, and I am praying for a new era in the SBC, one in which all people – male and female – would exercise their God-given gifts for that mission," said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. "The SBC Women's Leadership Network is one more step along the way, and I'm excited to see where it takes us."
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.
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