Although she was a young mother of twin girls with a fear of public speaking, Chris Adams became a women's ministry pioneer in the Southern Baptist Convention.
After 22 years of training leaders as the women's ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, Adams retired in February from a role that God began leading her toward 30-plus years ago at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.
As she navigated motherhood, Adams gained a desire to share with others the wisdom that women at Green Acres had poured into her, which led to a church staff position coordinating women's ministry and missions education for a decade.
In 1994, LifeWay asked Adams to consider replicating nationally what she had done at Green Acres, and she arrived just as Beth Moore's first Bible study was being published. When thousands of women turned out in churches and then arenas for Moore's Living Proof Live events, the hunger for women's discipleship in God's Word was evident.
Few churches back then had women's ministries, Adams told Baptist Press, and she entered the role "with fear and trembling and a lot of prayer," with no one having served in the position before her.
"Something I was terrified of doing to begin with—public speaking—was what God actually ended up calling me to do as I was training leaders," Adams said. "That was never on my radar growing up and even as a young adult. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I said I would never be a public speaker. So I think it's really humorous that the Lord took my greatest fear and gave me an incredible love for what He called me to do."
Adams' main focus was helping church leaders reach and disciple women.
"There's no formula for it, so it's really more principles that we taught, which we ended up putting in our first leadership book, 'Women Reaching Women,' which are still the same principles I've been teaching all these 22 years. That has not changed," Adams said. "They can take the principles and fine-tune them for their local church and their women and what's happening in their community."
In recent years, Adams was on the road training leaders through events such as You Lead conferences that precede Living Proof Live events and the annual Women's Leadership Forums hosted by LifeWay. She also worked with state Baptist conventions and in one-on-one settings in local churches.
Prayer, she said, is chief among the principles she has taught over the years. "You can't just start doing ministry. You have to ask God's direction for your specific setting and your women and your church," Adams told BP.
She also urges strong communication between women's ministry leaders and the church staff so that everyone is working toward the same goal.
"Too often—and I think it's still common in some churches today—they say, 'Oh, just let the women go do their thing.' Well, that is so wrong because real women's ministry is not about going and doing our own thing," Adams said. "It's not just about having tea parties and baby showers, although those aren't bad things.
"But that's not the depth of what we want to see happen," she said, noting that women's ministry leaders want to be an asset to the church staff in helping the church accomplish its mission.
"We want women to be discipled well and to grow in their faith so they are serving in the church and serving in the community and sharing their faith and doing all of those things that we're supposed to be doing anyway."
Rhonda Kelley, the president's wife and adjunct professor of women's ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press, "The influence of Chris Adams on women in the SBC is greater than any other person."
Adams co-taught her first women's ministry class with Kelley at New Orleans Seminary in 1997.
It was the first women's ministry course ever offered at any SBC seminary and was the catalyst for our NOBTS Women's Academic Programs, Kelley said, adding that Adams, since 1997, has taught 56 classes on six different topics to more than 800 students at NOBTS alone.
"I will never be able to adequately express my true love and deep appreciation for the faithful commitment of Chris Adams," Kelley told BP. "Her leadership legacy will continue into eternity."
In February, Adams was honored at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for her contribution to women's ministry convention-wide.
Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs at Southwestern, said Adams "tirelessly invested in the lives of countless leaders, used her influence at LifeWay to keep a focus on training leaders and has been a valuable partner with the six SBC seminaries."
"Today, we honor Chris as she completes her time at LifeWay, retiring from her position as senior lead women's ministry specialist," Stovall said in chapel. "We, the women of the Seminary Women's Network, are grateful for the impact she has had on woman-to-woman training before many of us had formal academic programs, spurring us on to do even more. She is a friend, a co-laborer and a faithful servant to the Kingdom."
Kathy Ferguson Litton, national consultant for ministry to pastors' wives at the North American Mission Board, called Adams "a pioneer in leading women to lead women in the local church."
"Years ago Chris came to Colorado as I was just beginning to lean into my role as a leader," Litton recalled. "As a pastor's wife I had few resources in which to be equipped, encouraged and challenged to develop as a leader.
"Chris Adams became that source for myself as well as thousands of others," Litton said. "Not only has she written critical resources, created catalytic training events and personally coached countless women, she has modeled faithfulness to the local church in her personal life." As "a true champion for women in the SBC," Litton said Adams leaves "a lasting footprint of women across all generations serving churches and leading women to know Christ."
Cindy Hall, executive director of ministry operations at Centreville Baptist Church in Centreville, Va., called Adams an answer to prayer.
"We were in the beginning years of forming a women's ministry at CBC and there were very few resources or other women available to offer us help," Hall told BP. "We began attending the Forum in Nashville about 15 years ago and have used that annual event, along with both of the resources Chris compiled, to train and equip hundreds of women over the years.
"The women who have been equipped because of LifeWay have not only served in our women's ministry but have gone on to lead in other ministry areas of our church and even lead or start ministries at other churches," Hall said.
Lorie Keene, a pastor's wife at Glory Fellowship Baptist Church in Jasper, Ala., recounted her time of service as a women's ministry intern with Adams at LifeWay one summer. During that time, Keene observed Adams as a "gifted minister to women in the local church" and as a woman she wanted to model in her home life.
"Despite her busy schedule, Chris never failed to provide an example of a woman who wisely balanced her ministry in the home with what had God called her to do outside of the home," Keene told BP. "I believe without a doubt local churches, LifeWay and our denomination have greatly benefited from her walk with Christ. I say this because I know that my marriage and ministry have only been strengthened by her example."
Faith Whatley, director of adult ministries at LifeWay, said, "If there was a way to describe the dedication and contribution of Chris Adams, it would be constant service in the same direction with passion so great it was contagious."
Adams' position at LifeWay has been filled by Kelly King, who served 11 years as a women's ministry specialist at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.