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A Southern Baptist pastor's wife responds to the 'women pastor' issue

Courtesy of Tosha Williams

“Don’t ever think you’re going to use those gifts of a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Our interviewer looked me square in the eyes as he read me the results of my spiritual gifts test. My husband, Kelly, and I were 25 years old, meeting in Atlanta with the SBC Home Mission Board. Earlier that year in 1996, as we graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary, we said “yes” to God’s call to church planting. Our Southern Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, where my husband served as interim pastor, sent us to that year’s SBC convention in New Orleans. There, after Dr. Bob Reccord’s plenary message, God very clearly called Kelly and me to plant, not just a church, but a Southern Baptist church. Through that decision, He ultimately led us to Colorado. Here, the Colorado SBC leaders welcomed us and found us the opportunity to apply for the church planter apprentice program. 

Giving God our word

When we gave God our “yes” to church planting, we promised to do what He told us to do regardless of how the provision came, who believed in us, or what opposition we faced. Still, the opportunity for some monthly support from the SBC was almost too good to be true. We decided to apply.

The rigorous process included personality tests, background checks, recommendations, interview calls, and spiritual gifts tests. We followed the vetting process prayerfully. Finally, we were flown to SBC headquarters to meet for our final interviews and assessments. We were excited and nervous, but nothing prepared us for the way it all unfolded. The denouement moment came when the interviewer read us our spiritual gifts test results. He started with Kelly’s and then read mine.

Allowed to use your spiritual gifts — unless you’re a woman

We all know Scripture teaches that spiritual gifts are from God. He chooses who gets which gifts; He decides how they are appointed. 1 Corinthians 12:11 clarifies, “It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

Nonetheless, our interviewer told me, after reading my test results, that my gifts were nullified because I am a woman. “Your spiritual gifts are those of a pastor,” he said, “and don’t ever think you’re going to use those gifts of a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.” He didn’t open other doors or offer suggestions for how to use my God-given spiritual gifts in different ways. He simply, firmly and arrogantly told me what I would never do and knocked the wind out of me.

The battle to say yes to church planting was the biggest act of submission in my entire young life. My husband and I were seeking to courageously enter this lifelong ministry of starting and leading a church. We needed every resource, every fiber of strength, every ounce of resolve, every bit of partnership, every piece of our seminary training, every word of encouragement, AND every spiritual gift God has given the two of us. But there, in that meeting room, one of us had point-blank been invalidated and had our hands tied behind our backs. 

Kelly and I returned to our hotel room, both stunned by the blow. The next day we were on a plane back to Colorado, back to a state out West where the Southern Baptist leadership believed in us as a couple. They unbound our hands and allowed us to begin the overwhelming work of church planting. 

Still keeping our word

Almost 27 years later, my husband is still the senior pastor of Vanguard Church. We have seen 3,350 public professions of faith through baptisms, the last of which I was privileged to perform for a boy named Kael a couple of weeks ago. I’ve faithfully served alongside Kelly all these years using the spiritual gifts God has given me. I started the Family Disciple Me ministry, and I’ve led thousands of people through the decades. Along the way, some have begun to call me “Pastor Tosha.” To be clear, I have not sought, nor do I have the official title of “pastor.” However, I am grateful that my husband affirms that I am not just a Mrs., as important as that is. My pastor husband also affirms my God-given spiritual gifts, which happen to align with those of a pastor, writing about women in leadership.

Truth is, I may be called “Pastor Tosha,” but I am not overtaking his role, subverting the elders’ authority or striving to rule over men. My commission has been to submissively, and yet simultaneously, courageously, boldly, vocally and lead all those God has entrusted to me.

I know I’m not the only woman with this calling.

The SBC keeping its word

Turns out, as of this week, the Southern Baptist Convention is true to its word given me years ago, voting to communicate to every woman gifted by God with pastoral gifts: “You will never use those gifts of a pastor in the Southern Baptist convention.”

The thing is, I will also be true to my word. Back in 1996, I made a promise with my husband to God that we were going to serve Him for a lifetime, leading a church and using every gift and resource He has given us. It’s not about titles; it’s about faithful, enduring commitment to the sovereign God who made us.

I don’t know what the future holds regarding the SBC and Vanguard Church — or any other Southern Baptist church with women who serve in pastoral roles or have pastoral gifts. But I do know this. I have not been called by men. I have been called by God, and I will keep my word and obey Him as long as He gives me breath.

May such be so in your life, as well.

Tosha Lamdin Williams is married to senior pastor Kelly M. Williams and the mother of five. She co-founded Vanguard Church of Colorado Springs in 1997 and started the nonprofit Family Disciple Me, which provides free, easily accessible discipleship resources. Tosha podcasts about weekly discipleship conversations at "It Starts with a Conversation".  She is a graduate of Liberty University (BS Communications, 1993) and Dallas Theological Seminary (MABS, 1996).

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