Risk and Reinvention Posted on Aug 13, 2011 by Susan Sparks

Pastor Susan Sparks: From Law to Grace

Originally published by Howell Scott on From Law to Grace.

There aren’t many of us out there — lawyers who are now pastors.  Please try to refrain from thinking about a lawyer joke at this point!  To go from practicing law to preaching grace is a hard transition.  Just ask my wife, and she’ll be more than happy to let you know how hard.  So when I read about other lawyers-turned-pastors, I’m always intrigued by their journey.

One such journey involves Susan Sparks, Senior Pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.  I must confess that I had never heard of Pastor Sparks prior to reading an article she wrote which was posted on the ABP website on Friday.  Her post, “Opinion:  Female jet pilot?  Sure.  Preacher?  No.” analyzes the Southern Baptist Convention’s current stance on female pastors in light of the recent disfellowshipping of Flat Rock Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, NC from the local Baptist Association.

The church, which had been a part of the local Baptist Association or fellowship of churches since 1905, was kicked out two weeks after the church called a woman, 28 year-old Bailey Nelson, as their pastor.  In Baptist life, that’s quicker than a Baptist preacher can say, “pass the fried chicken!”  That’s pretty darn quick.  Rev. Sparks laments what she sees as the plight of many women within the SBC who, like Bailey Nelson and Susan Sparks, herself, were told that they were not welcome in the Southern Baptist Convention, at least not as Pastors.  Pastor Sparks shares one such childhood memory that has stuck with her, even after all these years:

I remember at an early age telling a vacation Bible school teacher that “I was trying to decide between being a minister or a jet pilot.” She smiled and said, “Well, girls can be jet pilots, but God only calls men to preach.”

While I personally believe that God limits the office of pastor to men (as qualified according to Scripture), I find it sad that Pastor Sparks is not welcome to preach share a testimony in her home church in Charlotte where she grew up.  Even though many SB churches “allow” women to share testimonies or sing in the choir or otherwise make noise in church services, the thought of having Susan Sparks (or any woman pastor) behind the pulpit would be too much to bear.  Who knows?  She might stop testifying and go on to preaching.  There’s a bright line that we must protect at all costs!  We wouldn’t want anyone who is not qualified (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) to deliver God’s Word in a worship service, now would we?

Within Southern Baptist life and culture, there is no question that women in ministry — particularly women serving as Senior Pastors — is one of the most highly contentious issues that we find ourselves arguing about.  And, while I may argue for a male-only pastorate, there is at least one female pastor that I would not want to get in an argument with — Susan Sparks.

Whether you agree with her or disagree with her, Pastor Sparks persuasively argues for the full inclusion of women in the life of the church, including serving as Senior Pastors.  Even though she does not tackle 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1 directly, she nevertheless addresses a few passages of Scripture that often times make for some of the most convoluted and pretzel-like arguments used against women serving as pastors.  Pastor Sparks critiques the inconsistent application in one such passage, 1 Timothy 2:11-12, where Paul says:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Not even addressing the historical context of this scripture which demonstrates these words were directed at marital issues and not ministry, there is a larger problem of selective enforcement. For example, that same passage also forbids women to wear gold jewelry or pearls. We don’t hear much about that section. I guess the SBC decided that would be too much to enforce on us bling-lovin’ southern sisters.

Some will argue that Susan Sparks should not be referred to as a Pastor or Reverend.  It seems that calling her “the lady” is all that Christian charity and grace require for some of the brethren.  I suppose that’s because she’s not qualified to be a Pastor according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  If we want to start enforcing all those Scriptural qualifications before referring to someone as “pastor,” there are probably a lot of male pastors that would lose the title fairly quickly over issues unrelated to gender, but I digress.

I gotta say, I don’t know that I would want to try to enforce anything on such a “bling-lovin’ southern sister” who has been transplanted to NYC.  What a combination.  And, what a combination that Pastor Sparks brings to her calling — a lawyer-turned-pastor.  You just never know who God will bring from law to grace!