Becky Gardner believed she would grow up to be a schoolteacher in West Tennessee. But now, as superintendent of an award-winning Christian school in Central Illinois and the first-ever chairwoman of a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminary’s board of trustees, she believes she is right where God wants her to be.
“I have the philosophy that if God opens the door, I need to walk through,” she told the Biblical Recorder in a phone interview.
Gardner was recently elected to chair the board of trustees at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, N.C. The vote was unanimous. She is the first female to hold the chief trustee position at a Southern Baptist seminary, according to SEBTS.
Since she joined the board in 2010, Gardner has previously served as trustee secretary and chair of the campus planning committee.
“Throughout my life, I have tried to be obedient in whatever opportunities God provides,” she said.
Gardner said fellow SEBTS trustees and administration officials have made her feel at home, not “forgotten or second-thought.”
“I never felt like I was just a check in the box,” she said. “They really do value each one of the trustees and the perspectives they bring.”
Gardner’s experience at Peoria Christian School, where she has worked for more than 25 years, seems to fit well with the mission and vision of SEBTS.
Peoria Christian, which educates more than 600 students from preschool through 12th grade, says its goal is to “produce academically skilled students who are equipped with a biblical worldview and who will impact the world for Christ.”
It has been named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education twice in the last ten years for high test score performance. Gardner has been superintendent for six years. Prior to that, she was principal and an elementary teacher.
“I have really enjoyed seeing God at work in the missions opportunities [at SEBTS] and through their strong academics – really encouraging their student body and professors to seek God and be on mission wherever He leads them,” she said. “It’s a blessing to be a part of that.”
When asked for her advice to young women who aspire to denominational leadership, Gardner said, “they don’t need to put themselves or God in a box.”
“What we have comes from Him,” she said. “I encourage them to prayerfully look for opportunities and not be afraid to step into those opportunities. … My life verse is Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’ … We don’t know where God is going to give us opportunities, and many times we don’t know the impact we have.”
She also highlighted the importance of being “a lifelong learner” and serving others rather than “seeking some big, great, glorious title.”
Gardner said she hopes current discussions about women in Southern Baptist life will avoid quarrels over “men versus women.”
She asked, “How can we serve in the places God has called each one of us … in our local churches, in our communities?” and called all Southern Baptists – men and women – to champion the Great Commission.
“We need to come back to what God has commanded us to do as believers,” Gardner said. “Let’s rally around that.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Becky Gardner and her husband, Joe, are members of Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, Ill. He is director of missions for the Metro Peoria Baptist Association and a consultant for the Illinois Baptist State Association. They have three children and five grandchildren.)