American Baptists’ affirmation of the priesthood of all believers has profound implications for our roles within church life. God not only offers us a personal relationship, but grants each of us spiritual gifts. It is our belief that God expects those gifts to be put to use within the church. The vitality of any local congregation is dependent not only on inspiring preaching, but also on Christian education, visitation, prayer ministries, youth work, stewardship programs and many other components that draw upon the varied skills of the entire church family.
Laymen and laywomen are essential to the life of all congregations. Two organizations committed to developing the skills of lay leaders are American Baptist Women’s Ministries and American Baptist Men USA. For many years, Baptist Leader has been a valuable resource for leadership. In addition, regional and national organizations work together to sponsor a wide variety of lay leadership training events, many of which are held at the American Baptist Assembly in Green Lake, Wis.
Some men and women are called by God to professional Christian service–as pastors, chaplains, counselors, religious educators, regional or national staff persons. American Baptists provide support for and nurturing of those persons as they prepare for their various ministries. American Baptist leaders also have ongoing opportunities for continuing education through conferences, workshops, scholarships and support systems that are available at every level of denominational life. The denomination has programs to support bivocational pastors or pastors who have not been to seminary as they develop the skills of leadership.
In all areas of denominational life, volunteers have contributed significantly to ministry in Christ’s name. Volunteer recruitment and training programs have strengthened the work of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, International Ministries and our regions.
The educational programs of American Baptist Home Mission Societies focus on church leadership. Through American Baptist Home Mission Societies, our denomination maintains a relationship with sixteen American Baptist-related colleges and universities and nine American Baptist-related seminaries–institutions that play a major role in preparing leaders. We relate to many other institutions of higher learning overseas through International Ministries.
Three Centers for the Ministry provide counseling and guidance for professional leaders who seek to know how their gifts can be used in the most productive way possible. The Ministerial Leadership Commission, a national Ministers Council and 36 local Ministers Council across the U.S. all provide support for professional church leaders through advocacy, resourcing, the development of ordination standards and other services. The Women in Ministry program lifts up the pastoral and leadership gifts of women.
Another area of support for the denomination’s professional and lay leaders is provided by The Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board through medical, retirement, death and disability benefits and financial counseling.
The American Baptist commitment to developing strong leaders is a part of our work with Baptist unions throughout the world. For example, the founding and staffing of the Summer Institute of Theological Education program, held in the Czech Republic, has been an important outreach of American Baptist International Ministries. Through the SITE program, hundreds of church leaders throughout the world–including many from the new democracies of Eastern Europe–have received training that has enabled them to more effectively serve their churches.