On March 25, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) launched the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). The WLN arose out of a desire to increase collaboration among female leaders in the SBC.
“We find ourselves in the midst of multiple pivotal, transforming moments in the life of our denomination in regard to women,” reads the About statement on the WLN website. “Conditions are rising for a monumental shift in the way women are valued, treated and welcomed into places of service, impact and leadership as it comes to the collaborative effort of pursuing Great Commission work in our denomination.”
The page’s authors observe that women have played key roles throughout history in fulfilling the Great Commission. Noting the level of training available to modern women, the authors say they want to “create environments that cultivate supportive relationships, multi-generational mentoring and robust personal development.” The ultimate purpose is for the women in the SBC to more effectively use their knowledge and gifts to share the gospel and build God’s kingdom.
Kathy Litton, who is on the WLN’s steering committee, told the Biblical Recorder, “Previously we have had no environment to network with each other across the domains in which we lead and serve. We want to change that.”
How Did the WLN Begin?
In a statement to ChurchLeaders, Jacki C. King, who is also on the WLN’s steering committee, said that after the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, a group of women began discussing the need for female leaders to better network with each other, to have more opportunities to be mentored, and to cultivate their gifts. In late Fall 2018, the women formed the steering committee in order to plan what the WLN would look like. King says the WLN came about organically out of a recognized need and not as the result of one particular event: “The events of 2018 sparked many conversations that concerned SBC women, but the desire to engage at multiple levels has been present for some time.”
The WLN is complementarian and holds to the SBC’s statement of faith. Regarding the SBC’s policy of not allowing women to be ordained as pastors or serve as elders, King says that there is nothing wrong with having a conversation about women’s roles in the church, but that having that discussion is not one of the WLN’s goals. Rather, “Connecting and strengthening women leaders is our number one mission… Rather than conversations on what women can or can’t do, this is primarily an effort to champion the gifts and perspectives women bring not only to the local church and our denomination, but also to our workplaces and communities.”
WLN will seek to champion women by offering “virtual interactions and in-person events” to women who are members of the denomination (there is no formal process to join the network). On the website there is a blog and podcast where the WLN will share news that concerns SBC women and highlight stories of female leaders throughout the denomination. Women can also subscribe to the WLN’s email list and join its Facebook group. Also, the network’s first annual meeting will be held on June 11 in Birmingham, Alabama. As it works to foster relationships, the WLN does not have numerical goals in mind or plan to track how many women become involved in formal ministry roles.
In a statement on the WLN website, SBC president J.D. Greear said,
In Christ’s service, every brother and sister finds unimaginable grace, inestimable value, and eternal purpose. Women are indispensable partners in God’s mission, and I am praying for a new era in the SBC, one in which all people—male and female—would exercise their God-given gifts for that mission. The SBC Women’s Leadership Network is one more step along the way, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.