The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri (CBFMO) will offer cash incentives to any member church that is willing to consider hiring a female pastor.
CBFMO leadership decided in September to pay interview, travel, and other expenses incurred by search committees that include a woman in their list of candidates in hopes of expanding the number of women in church leadership.
None of the 50 CBFMO churches have female senior pastors.
"The whole idea behind it, honestly, is to reduce the anxiety or risk that churches feel," CBFMO associate coordinator Jeff Langford told Christianity Today. "Search committees don't want to break new ground or rock the boat."
There already is a lot of anxiety surrounding searching for a pastor, he said. Search committees want to make a good decision but not one that is too progressive, so often they choose what feels comfortable to them—a male candidate, he said.
Paying expenses is a way to lessen that risk of opening the door to a woman pastor, he said.
"Then once they open that door, I really believe that they will be surprised by the quality of candidates they're going to see," Langford said. "They will surprise themselves by how open they actually are to the idea. I hope both of those things happen."
Where some see the move as giving churches a hand to help them over the gender divide, others see the initiative as a sign that women in church leadership just isn't working.
"To me, it's very telling," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler said. "This reveals a sincere level of frustration on their part."
While the Southern Baptist Convention does not allow women to be pastors, affirmation of women in ministry was one of the founding principles of the Cooperative Baptist ...1