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Baptist Pastors: Mothers Influenced Ministry

The current generation of Baptist pastors didn’t grow up with “minister mothers”—at least in the formal sense—but that’s not to say that mothers didn’t influence their vocational choice.
Jeff Rogers, pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., said his Lutheran minister father, as opposed to his mother, really influenced his decision to enter the ministry. 

“Except that I have come to realize that my mother would have made a much better minister than my father,” he said. “She had much a broader range of gifts and capacity to work within institutional boundaries than my father did.”

“Her influence was not so much in my decision to enter the ministry but more on who I am and what I do as a minister,” he said. “The range of gifts I received from my mother are those that I think, I hope, I pray will allow me to survive in ministry.” 

Rogers said his mother supported his decision to enter the ministry, though she also had misgivings about its influence on his health and security.

Sarah Shelton, pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., grew up the daughter of a Baptist minister. But she said her mother “was very much an equal partner and carried her fair share of responsibility.” Shelton’s mother taught the church’s largest Sunday school class, which had over 100 members. 

As for her mother’s influence, Shelton said: “She kept introducing other women into my life who were strong to keep me exposed to what the possibilities were. It had a huge impact on me.”

“When I went to her and said, ‘I’m thinking of going to seminary,’ she never missed a beat,” Shelton said. Her mother died on Easter Sunday 1982—one week before Shelton was ordained. 

“She had a powerful influence on me,” Shelton said, adding that both parents taught this overriding lesson: “There’s not anything you can’t do.”

As for recognizing the role of motherhood, Lutheran-bred Rogers said his family celebrated Mother’s Day in the home, but he wasn’t accustomed to the prominence Baptists gave it in church. When he became a Baptist at age 20, Baptist celebrations of Mother’s Day caught him off-guard. 

“A Mother’s Day emphasis in worship was a brand new phenomenon to me when I became a Baptist,” he said. “I was really taken aback at all the Mother’s Day hoopla. I was surprised that Mother’s Day was more important than Pentecost.”

Shelton said most Baptist congregants expect a word from the pulpit about Mother’s Day, and many Baptist churches give flowers to honor the oldest mother, youngest mother, mother with most children, etc. Shelton, however, said she has never been part of a church with such traditions. 

“I’m grateful for that,” she said. “It’s just a mixed bag of tricks.”

Shelton said she continues to think about appropriate ways to incorporate the notion of motherhood and mothering into church. She recently learned of a church tradition that recognizes “spiritual mothers” in the church. 

“That’s a concept that’s pretty powerful,” she said.

At the time she was interviewed, Shelton said her church was still planning its service for this year’s Mother’s Day. She added that the message may focus on Solomon and the two women who fight over the baby, while the pastoral prayer will deal with nurturing, mothering and motherhood. 

Rogers said another pastor on staff will deliver the message this Sunday, so fitting the sermon to the holiday isn’t his responsibility this year.

Last year, however, he preached on “Motherhood and Mother Church” (available in EthicsDaily.com’s sermon library). His Bible texts: Isaiah 66 and Mark 3—not Proverbs “The Virtuous Woman” 31, which many Baptists are accustomed to reading on Mother’s Day. 

Rogers concluded that sermon by quoting Augustine, who frequently spoke of the church as mother:

 

“One Mother, prolific with offspring: of her we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are made alive.”

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.