Saddleback Church has appointed its first female pastors, despite being affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which specifically prohibits women from being ordained.
“Yesterday was a historic night for Saddleback Church in many ways!” said Saddleback in a Facebook update posted on Friday, May 7. “We ordained our first three women pastors, Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty, and Katie Edwards!”
At present, little is known about what each of the women’s roles will entail, including whether their responsibilities involve preaching in front of the whole congregation.
Saddleback Church Makes ‘Historic’ Change
Saddleback Church is a megachurch based in Lake Forest, Calif., and is led by “The Purpose-Driven Life” author, Pastor Rick Warren. The church lists 15 national and four international campuses on its website and has over 23,000 members.
One of the newly ordained women, Cynthia Petty, shared in an interview with LiveGood how being selected for the new position has impacted her. “I had always been involved in churches where women could lead, under the authority of a male pastor,” she said. “So, this change in philosophy for ‘women in ministry’ was revolutionary. I was honored and felt extremely humbled. And the thing I believe meant the most to me was how this would be groundbreaking for all the younger women ministers on staff who really did have the desire or dream to be a pastor one day!”
Petty learned she had been selected as of the church’s first female pastors in the fall of 2020. She said Warren called her on Nov. 2 and told her “that he and the elders had been discussing for many months the possibility to ordain women as pastors at Saddleback Church.” She said, “He told me that the elders unanimously voted to appoint me one of the first three women pastors at Saddleback Church! And that it would be announced in the staff meeting that afternoon! He affirmed my leadership and my calling to ministry, and it was a conversation I will not forget.”
According to Petty’s LinkedIn profile, she went to Golden Gate Seminary and has been serving as a children’s minister at Saddleback for over 22 years. Her new title will be NextGen Ministries Pastor. Based on the responsibilities of Saddleback’s NextGen Pastor Kurt Johnston, described here, it seems likely Petty will be pastoring students.
Liz Puffer’s LinkedIn profile says she attended Rockbridge Seminary and lists her as a “Minister at Saddleback Church,” where she has served for over 27 years. Katie Edwards is currently serving as Lake Forest Student Ministries Pastor at Saddleback and has been doing junior high ministry for 21 years.
Saddleback Church and the SBC
Saddleback Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and is among the largest churches in the denomination—which takes a clear stand against women being pastors. An SBC resolution from 1984 states, “We encourage the service of women in all aspects of church life and work other than pastoral functions and leadership roles entailing ordination.” Article VI of the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M) 2000 says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Several prominent SBC leaders commented on Saddleback’s decision on Twitter. Dr. Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, tweeted a quote from his seminary’s founder, B.H. Carroll:
“The custom in some congregations of having a woman as pastor is in flat contradiction to this apostolic teaching and is open rebellion against Christ our King, and high treason against His sovereignty . . . Under no circumstances conceivable is it justifiable.”
— Adam W. Greenway (@AdamGreenway) May 9, 2021
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kansas City, Mo.) president Jason Keith Allen tweeted, “This is a disappointing departure from the clear teaching of Scripture, the BF&M, & long-held SBC consensus & practice.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, critiqued Saddleback’s decision with a quote from John A. Broadus, a former president of his seminary—and a former slave owner.