A diverse group of 18 women is studying the perspectives and strategies women in Southern Baptist churches bring to the God-given task of fulfilling the Great Commission.
They comprise the Women's Ministry Advisory Council appointed by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. The council joins a list of advisory councils Page has appointed to provide insight into the needs, desires and goals of the many groups represented in SBC life.
"We are excited about encouraging our leaders in women's ministries across our convention," Page said when he announced plans to form the council. "Women, we appreciate you, and you are not alone!
"In each [advisory council] meeting, we have sought to educate and encourage various demographic subsets about the 'proven and effective cooperative framework' of our Southern Baptist Convention, foster open dialogue, and instill the essence of any and all concerns," Page said. "We have sought to encourage confidence in the SBC way of doing missions."
Advisory council member Chris Adams, senior lead women's ministry specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources and a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., praised Page's efforts.
"Many women in Southern Baptist churches do not feel valued as leaders though they want to make a Kingdom difference," she noted at the advisory council's first meeting. "The fact that the SBC Executive Committee has asked about women in our churches is huge. Thank you for affirming the value of women and encouraging the use of our spiritual gifts in ministry."
Rhonda Kelley, an adjunct professor of women's ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where her husband, Chuck Kelley, is president, chairs the council.
"While the SBC has always valued the worth of women and followed the biblical guidelines for female roles in the church," Rhonda Kelley said of the group, "there is a sincere desire to increase the involvement of Southern Baptist women in biblically appropriate ways at all levels of the convention and to provide the support services to maximize their service."
Kelley, a member of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, referenced LifeWay Research indicating women comprise about 52 percent of church congregations. Historically, she said, women have often been the majority in church attendance and in participation in service projects.
Kelley described input from women across the SBC as "essential for the task force to complete its important assignment."
The advisory council will work throughout 2016 and present its findings to Page in an official report, expected to focus on ways to increase women's participation in church and SBC life. The inaugural meeting was held Jan. 7-8 in Atlanta, convened by Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement.
Questions considered by the council at the first meeting centered on the ministries, training and resources the SBC provides for women; effective evangelistic methods and resources in reaching women with the Gospel; any additional support women might need from the SBC, and recommendations regarding women's ministry to be made to the SBC Executive Committee.
Women from 14 states comprise the council, representing different age groups, stages of life, ethnic backgrounds, and ministry positions.
Joining Kelley and Adams are:
• Jacqueline "Jacki" Anderson, pastor's wife, Women in Ministry director and executive assistant, Colonial Baptist Church, Randallstown, Md.;
• Tabitha Barnette, pastor's wife and speaker, Peace Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.;
• Brandi Biesiadecki, pastor's wife, writer, speaker and women's minister, First Baptist Church, Bartlesville, Okla.;
• Linda Cooper, Woman's Missionary Union president and a member of Forest Park Baptist Church, Bowling Green, Ky.;
• Lourdes Fernandez, an attorney and a member of Riverside Baptist Church, Miami;
• Candi Finch, professor of theology in Women's Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of Hope Church, Fort Worth, Texas;
• Ann Iorg, wife of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary President Jeff Iorg and a member of First Baptist Church, San Francisco;
• Elizabeth Luter, wife of Southern Baptist Convention immediate past president Fred Luter and Women's Ministries director of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans;
• Davee Ly, pastor's wife, school teacher, speaker and Sunday School director at First Hmong Baptist Church, Morganton, N.C.;
• Ana Melendez, Hispanic State Women's consultant and a member of Iglesia Cristo Es Rey, Bolingbrook, Ill.;
• Mary Mohler, wife of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.;
• Trillia Newbell, director of Community Outreach for the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and a member of Redemption City Church, Franklin, Tenn.;
• Rhonda Rhea, pastor's wife, columnist and speaker, and a member of First Baptist Church, Troy, Mo.;
• Myra Sermon, registered nurse and nursing consultant, and a Sunday School teacher at Grace Filipino Church, Woodbridge, Va.;
• Ashley Unzicker, church history songwriter, rapper, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student, and a member of The Summit Church, Durham, N.C.;
• Angela Um, founder and CEO of Boston Academic Consulting Group, and wife of the pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, Cambridge, Mass.
Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor, from a report in the Spring, 2016 issue of SBC LIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention.