Chinese Faith Leaders Join the “Women in SBC Ministry” Conversation, Offer Historical Perspective

Written By Sarah M. Graham

Chinese Faith Leaders Join the “Women in SBC Ministry” Conversation, Offer Historical Perspective

TORONTO, Canada – Leadership from the Chinese Baptist Fellowship of the United States and Canada (CBF) released an official statement entitled “Women in Ministry: Roles and Titles in Chinese Baptist Churches” in an effort to “inform the broader Baptist family to consider the matter from the lens of other cultures.” The nearly 500-word statement speaks to two issues affecting Chinese churches resulting from a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention wherein churches that affirm, appoint, or employ “only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture” would be considered in friendly cooperation with the SBC.

While Southern Baptists have been debating the roles and titles of women in ministry across the country for decades, messengers at the 2023 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans definitively voted in affirmation that 2 churches be removed from friendly cooperation within the convention of churches for employing women with varying titles of “Pastor.”

Shortly after the 2023 meeting, CSBC Executive Director Pete Ramirez was invited to speak to the issue from a Hispanic perspective on SBC’s Spanish language podcast, “Vida SBC,” where he offered clarity on potential consequences for Spanish churches within the convention family who embrace the term “Pastora.” (Para escuchar el podcast completo en español, haga clic aquí). On the podcast, Ramirez expressed concerns over the notion of “inserting ourselves into the business of churches” and the harmful implications for our ethnic family. “What worries me is that we make decisions without thinking about the consequences for ethnic churches.”

Ramirez also was clear to note that the practice of disfellowshipping churches “is a radical change” that he believes we could “regret long-term as we fulfill the Great Commission.”

Likewise, leaders from the National African American Fellowship encouraged churches toward prayer and dialogue, speaking specifically to concerns over disfellowshipping “like-minded” and cooperating “great commission” churches without properly considering the broader ramifications of such a decision.

CBF has now followed suit, echoing similar sentiments by adding both “a historical perspective,” as well as language and translation concerns within a Chinese church context.

According to the statement, women were, historically, some of the first believers in China, leading out in evangelism, teaching, and discipleship. The letter continues, “This still takes place today within the Chinese church in China and among the Chinese Diaspora including North America with women having shepherding roles and caring responsibilities for women’s, children and youth, administrative, and other ministries under the male leadership of a senior pastor.”

Additionally, the statement breaks down 5 Chinese words currently employed to describe women who serve in ministry, including pastor, since “the Chinese term for minister is now translated as pastor.” The Chinese church has established “Reverend” as the defining title to “delineate authority, given through ordination, and limited to men.”   

Reverend Amos Lee, former Executive Director of the Chinese Baptist Fellowship and Senior Advisor to the current Executive Director, expressed a collective motivation to offer clarity for leaders across the convention to consider the nuance used in Chinese Baptist Churches that sometimes gets “lost in translation;” nuances which he says are, “informed by our history and usage, especially in describing the pastoral leadership in the churches which is very clear in our practice.” Lee went on to say, “For Chinese Baptist churches, the designation of “pastor” is not a position in a hierarchy but a generic description of a role in ministry, as a servant of God, serving in the church. Our treasured Baptist polity of the autonomy of the local church gives us the freedom for each church to practice that understanding in the context of our history and language.”

Lee shared that the entire statement is to encourage “thoughtful consideration” and collective mindfulness of Southern Baptist’s diversity and, therefore, diverse points of view. He said that cementing one absolute definition for everyone is unbiblical. “In 2 Timothy 2:14, Scripture warns against arguing over words which are not edifying nor fruitful, but a distraction from our main thing.  By clarifying, we hope that our use of “Pastor” to designate a generic role in the church will not get our churches disfellowshipped, thereby causing disunity within the body.”

CSBC Missions Team Leader Francis Chung confirmed that the group of Chinese leaders who collaboratively worked over 3 months to craft this statement was comprised of 8 men and 2 women, representing both pastors and laypersons. The geographical makeup of the 10 includes first- and second-generation believers living in New York, Hawaii, Georgia, Texas, Vancouver, Toronto, and California who were born either in the United States, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, or Indonesia.

You can read ”Women in Ministry: Roles and Titles in Chinese Baptist Churches” in its entirety here or on the California Southern Baptist Convention website.

About the Author

Sarah M. Graham
Communications Director, CSBC

Sarah Graham earned her bachelor's degree from Azusa Pacific University and a Master's in Leadership and Business Management from California Baptist University. She currently serves CSBC as the Director of Communications. Sarah is a mother of two grown children, Kirsten (25) and Daniel (21) and she serves as a member of the worship team at Clovis Hills Community Church.

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