By Darrel Rowland
“I did not set out to do radical stuff,” says this year’s NACC president, Mike Baker.
But he knew “it was going to be a bit of a risk to our tradition” to schedule a woman to preach at a main session, for one of the very few times in convention history.
“There’s two things about me,” Baker said. “I’m an old-school Christian churcher, so I know full well that both my dad and my grandfather, who have passed on, would not approve of me having a woman speaker. But I’m also a word guy, and I’m also a Greek guy, and I also know the word kérussó that we translate as ‘preaching’ simply means to ‘publicly declare.’”
This year’s convention targeted a younger audience, many of whom “think it’s absurd we don’t have a woman preacher,” he said.
Not everyone at this year’s NACC applauded the development, even outside of a formal church setting.
“It appears to me that we have bought in to what we’ve seen in a lot of more liberal, denominational groups, that the biblical teaching about women not preaching in an assembly involving both men and women is merely Paul’s opinion or just a cultural thing that has no relevance today,” said Steve Kehrer, senior minister at University Heights Christian Church in southern Indianapolis.
“Apostolic authority then is apostolic authority now, so I don’t think we can just throw that to the wind. And I fear that we have.”
Kehrer was echoing the concerns raised in blogs shortly after this year’s speaker lineup was announced in 2014, and the traditional view long espoused by those, such as Professor Jack Cottrell of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.
“It has nothing to do with being prejudicial toward women,” Kehrer said. “It has everything to do with paying attention to the clear teaching of the New Testament.”
The speaker was Jodi Hickerson, programming director at Mission Church in Ventura, California, and daughter of past NACC speaker Mike Breaux.
During a convention workshop filled with women, she recalled her father visiting after she spent a year in Haiti following high school and saying the best part was hearing her devotions.
“For some reason he planted a seed in me that maybe God wanted to use me to speak into the hearts and lives of people. I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t know where there’d be the opportunity.”
In the next few years many encouraged her to pursue speaking roles.
“I feel like every time God opened the door for me to have an opportunity, instead of being a lot of resistance, there was a lot of ‘you should go for that,’ and I’m super grateful for that,” she said.
“Meeting other women, it’s been like, wow, I didn’t even know for a lot of the time that there was shame around certain giftedness or resistance or it had been hard.”
Although Hickerson simply wanted to serve as an “all-star volunteer,” an Illinois church where her father still ministers hired her as a teaching pastor. “I could not believe they invested in me that way,” she said.
And now she is working at a church plant in California—where her husband is lead pastor—and getting encouragement before her NACC message from such megachurch leaders as Dave Stone of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Gene Appel of Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California, and Tim Harlow of Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois, last year’s NACC president.
Her cospeaker at the NACC workshop, Laura Buffington, a teaching pastor at SouthBrook Christian Church in Miamisburg—Ohio’s largest Christian church—said when she was a high school senior, her youth pastor told her she should consider full-time ministry.
“Which was a bold move for him because in our church, women sang, women taught kids, women prepared all the potluck meals, but women did very little publicly. They didn’t speak publicly in particular,” Buffington said of her home Christian church in central Ohio.
She went to Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary but still was unsure of her eventual role.
“A big part of me sorting that out had to do with understanding Scripture. And I had been raised in this church that was trying to be very faithful to the way they read Scripture.”
But she “started to learn more stories than the one they focused on,” such as how Phoebe probably delivered the letter of Romans, which likely meant she read it out loud and answered questions; how Priscilla worked alongside Paul in a coteaching role; how Junia (from Romans 16:7) is considered a female apostle; and how Lydia started a church by the river near Philippi.
“My new defense is, you’re right, I shouldn’t be doing this. And neither should you. None of us should. We are the perfect imperfect vessel for what God’s up to. And once I kind of make peace with that, I think I can go forward without pride or role getting in the way of some cool stuff.”
While the dispute over gender roles may be nearly as old as the church itself, the NACC’s most recent experience came in Columbus during the 2002 convention, when Kay Moll spoke after being introduced by her husband, Tom, then senior minister of Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio. Convention veterans also recall that Mildred Welshimer Phillips, daughter of legendary Canton, Ohio, preacher P.H. Welshimer, had a convention speaking role many years ago.
This year’s NACC precedent “will likely ripple through our churches, perhaps leading to a growing acceptance of women serving as elders, as well as preachers,” Kehrer said.
“Once this door has been opened, it’s a Pandora’s box, and therefore difficult to reverse. But I strongly believe that those planning the conventions need to rethink this issue in light of biblical teaching.”
Darrel Rowland is an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church and public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch.