What “progressive” means to one Baptist

A very good friend of mine was recently voted in as pastor of a church in south Mississippi. It’s a county seat town and the equivalent of the First Baptist Church. I’m happy for him and wish him all the best in the transition. He is comfortable in this kind of environment, having served in churches in the Magnolia state before. It suits him well.

I’ve served churches in MS also and appreciate the dynamics involved. The state convention is stable and for the most part doesn’t acknowledge or admit the existence of a denominational struggle having taken place for the last 30 years.  It’s like they’ve been asleep all this time. Although not being in the state for a few years, I doubt very much has changed. Great effort seems to be made to avoid conflict and dealing with what has caused other state conventions much division. I had a good experience in MS at the time and still have friends there (I hope).  What caught my attention this last week was a comment my friend made about his new church. He said their pastor search committee was chaired by a woman and also a woman prayed during the worship service of his “trial sermon.”  He concluded that this church was “progressive” and seemed to think that would impress me.

Now, I have to say that this brought me a good laugh in that my situation would be considered “progressive” by many Baptist standards and liberal by others. It made me wonder what my friend would think about our congregation, if what he experienced amazed him. Men and women pray from the pulpit in our church and serve as ushers during the offering. We have men and women deacons and ordain whom we believe are called of God, regardless of their gender. So you can imagine that hearing about a woman being on a search committee or praying in a church service being considered progressive brought a smile to my face.

To be honest, having that go on in a small town MS church WOULD be progressive by their standards. Hearing my friend’s recollection of events reminded me how different Baptist life can be across state lines. There aren’t many CBF churches in MS, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good people serving the Lord down there. It’s just that I couldn’ t return to that environment, one that I consider somewhat backwards and several decades behind the times. I am grateful that having men and women on equal footing isn’t a big issue in our church, but I do sympathize with pastors who are still wrestling with being in Baptist churches who are staunch anti-women in leadership. 

There remains great disparity regarding this issue of women in ministry. I’m reminded of this when speaking to some of friends in the ministry. I guess I would be considered progressive in my current position by some other Baptists. I would rather think of myself serving in a church with an appreciation of both women and men using their spiritual gifts to the glory of God. That’s one definition of “progressive” I suppose. Having heard the word used by my MS friend, I now realize that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. At least for a few folks, it means letting a woman pray in church.



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