Just as Jesus affirmed first-century women, calling them to confess Him as Lord and tell the good news of the gospel, He continues to call women in the 21st century to communicate His story to the world.
Many women communicators today are answering that call, serving in denominational “seats of influence,” a term Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J.D. Greear used in his post-election press conference during the SBC in Dallas.
From a national agency to a children’s home; from a state paper to a seminary campus – four women – Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources; Stella Prather, Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCHomes); Jennifer Rash, The Alabama Baptist; and Amy Whitfield, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – are representative of other women serving in key roles as Southern Baptist strategic communications leaders.
For about three quarters of a century collectively, these four women have made their mark on Southern Baptist communications, living out their divine communications callings as they craft messages, make decisions, lead staffs, plan strategically, develop budgets, mentor colleagues, manage crises and more.
Strengthening the denomination
In today’s technological world where every person with a laptop computer or smartphone is, in effect, a communicator, strategic denominational communications takes on an even greater urgency.
“Quality communication is paramount in today’s world as we seek to cut through the noise and connect with those inside and outside of our denomination,” said Pipes, LifeWay’s director of corporate communications. “Effective communication is key to strengthening partnerships, connecting mission to ministry, building life-changing relationships and inviting people into a transformational faith journey.”
Southern Baptist polity and cooperation make effective communication a non-negotiable, said Rash, editor elect for The Alabama Baptist.
“With Southern Baptist polity of local church autonomy merged with cooperative efforts to partner in large-scale efforts added to the mix, effective communication is truly the only way to survive long term,” she added.
“Effective communication cuts down on confusion, keeps the members appropriately informed in a timely manner and allows for enhanced opportunities to resource the members toward our ultimate goals as Southern Baptists – to share the gospel of Jesus Christ; to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Inspired by biblical women
All along the way, today’s women communications leaders find inspiration through the women who come to life on the pages of the New Testament: Martha, Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan woman.
Martha’s “bold proclamation” of Jesus as Messiah “profoundly affected” Whitfield, director of communications at Southeastern Seminary. “While Martha is often most known for her interaction with Jesus about following her sister’s example of ‘choosing the good part,’ I am most moved that she went on to become the only woman documented in scripture to confess Christ as Messiah in John 11,” she said.
“In her greatest moment of grief after losing her brother, she showed tremendous faith in a bold proclamation.”
Having also worked for LifeWay Christian Resources and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Whitfield, co-author of a recently published book, SBC FAQs: A Ready Reference, acknowledges that there are times when she is the only woman in the room for a meeting or event.
“But I have been fortunate to be encouraged and affirmed in my participation,” she said, just as Jesus encouraged and affirmed women in His days on earth.
Rash is inspired by Jesus’ resurrection, she said. “I love the passage in John where the resurrected Jesus called on Mary Magdalene to go and communicate His resurrection message. It provides clarity for me that Jesus saw women just as capable as men to share the gospel. As far as we can tell, Jesus did not look around for a man first but purposefully picked Mary Magdalene to be the initial person to get the privilege of sharing His important message.”
Another woman to share Jesus’ message was an anonymous, despised woman, known in scripture as the Samaritan woman. After meeting Jesus, the Samaritan woman went back into town to tell the people, including men, about her encounter with Jesus in John 4.
“Many … believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony,” said Prather, ABCHomes director of communications. “The Lord used her story to make a difference. I believe He, too, can use the stories and communication I am privileged to tell,” said Prather, who worked previously for Arkansas Baptist News.
Committed to the call
Although every ministry opportunity comes with its share of challenges, women serving as denominational communications leaders find their greatest fulfillment in living out their callings faithfully, they shared.
Sometimes that commitment to the call might include the unexpected. “I still remember a mentor, a boss who took out the trash. It wasn’t that person’s job, but it needed to be done,” Prather said.
Both large and small tasks are a part of the mix of serving in a Christian context, believes Whitfield. “Be willing to accept small tasks as part of the team and to accept big tasks as a way to expand your gifts,” she said.
Through the years, Rash has learned, “If you are truly sensing God’s calling, then stay focused on Him and the work He has for you to do.
“It isn’t always easy, but I am driven by the opportunity and challenge to help believers in Christ learn from each other – to sharpen each other, as scripture says – while also sharing calmly and clearly so we can attempt to be the best versions of the people God made us to be,” Rash said.
Grateful that she has “truly felt support, love and empowerment through most of my career and faith journey,” Rash finds fulfillment as she helps “resource and empower the staff of The Alabama Baptist.”
Pipes, too, is grateful for those who serve alongside her in Christian communications, saying, “My colleagues at LifeWay inspire me to bring my best every day.”
Prather and Rash learned the importance of such mutual support, encouragement and sharpening soon after college graduation, when the two met on the mission field. Rash served with the International Mission Board in a communications-related role and Prather served with the Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board) in college student and resort ministry.
After her mission work, Prather landed an opportunity in public relations with the Florida Baptist Convention. Her passion for storytelling, honed during that first denominational experience, has only intensified through the years.
“I tell people all the time that I have the best job in Arkansas because I have the privilege of telling the story of how Arkansas Baptists are making a difference in the lives of children and families in crisis,” said Prather, the mother of two boys.
“We work for the King of kings. Our communication in telling His story should be of utmost importance.”
Whitfield, who admits that “work-life balance is always a challenge,” echoes Prather’s passion for storytelling.
“I love getting to tell stories of people on mission. Our school’s mission is to equip students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. When I tell the story of our institution and the stories of our students, I get to share one small part of what God is doing in the world.
“Everything we do points to one great story,” she said, “so it is vital that our messages are honest and compelling.”
Years ago, when Pipes served the summer before college graduation with World Changers, a ministry that provides missions experiences for students, she first sensed God calling her to serve Him through communications.
“I realized I loved writing for and about the Church. I especially love sharing stories of how God is working in and through the lives of His people,” she said.
Today, her commitment to that calling directs her.
“My hope is every word I speak, every sentence I publish would honor God, stand for truth and help build Christ’s church,” she said.
“What an honorable task we have to be communicators for our convention.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Margaret Colson is executive director of the Baptist Communicators Association and executive secretary for the Association of State Baptist Publications. This article was originally published by Arkansas Baptist News.)