Women of Color Absent From Baylor University’s ‘Most Effective Preachers’ List

The 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world were identified in a survey by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary
The "12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world" were identified in a survey by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. (Photo composite: Baylor University)

Nearly 800 preachers were nominated in Baylor University’s survey to determine the “12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world,” with the title eventually going to 11 men and one woman. Notably, no women of color nor preachers in English-speaking countries outside of the United States made the cut.

“The preachers were chosen based on how well their preaching represented seven criteria determined by members of the Evangelical Homiletics Society (EHS) and the Academy of Homiletics (AoH), composed of homiletics professors,” according to a news released published May 1 on Baylor University’s website.

A total of 179 homiletics professors served as judges. The criteria they used to weigh the preachers include their “careful exegetical study of selected Biblical texts,” relevant sermon applications, personal integrity, theological orthodoxy, sermon structure, effective communication, and delivery.

Among the private Baptist university’s “12 most effective preachers” are well-known pastors and best-selling authors, such as Tony Evans, Timothy Keller, John Piper, and Andy Stanley. Three of the preachers are African American, nine appear to be White, and Episcopal priest Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor is the only woman among them. All 12 preachers are based in the United States.

Although English is one of Canada’s official languages, as is the case for Australia, England, and several countries in the Caribbean, no preachers living in these areas are noted among the list of 12. Faithfully Magazine sent an email to the Waco, Texas, school’s media communications team to inquire about representation of non-U.S. preachers from the English-speaking world among the initial nominees, but did not receive a response by press time.

khrist adams faithfully podcast
Khristi Lauren Adams.

The publication had also inquired if women of color appeared among the initial group of nearly 800 nominees. Their omission from the final list of “effective preachers” is a reminder of the hurdles minority women have had to historically navigate in churches resistant to them taking on leadership roles as preachers and pastors. Women of Color in Ministry is an example of at least organization launched in recent times to specifically address the erasure and marginalization of minority women ministers.

Khristi Laruen Adams, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Somerset, New Jersey, dismissed the survey due to its glaring omission.

“It’s hard for me to consider these type of narrowly-based surveys with any seriousness. I’m not surprised when less that 200 people, likely from theologically conservative cultures, choose this particular way. Typically in those circles there is one prototype for a preacher; [W]hite and male. Therefore I am neither angry, [nor] surprised. I’ll continue to do the work I’ve been called to do,” Adams said.

The 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world were identified in a survey by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. (Photo composite: Baylor University)
The 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world were identified in a survey by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. (Photo composite: Baylor University)

Sandra Maria Van Opstal, a second-generation Latina, liturgist, and executive pastor at Grace and Peace Community Church on Chicago’s West Side, also took issue with the “12 most effective preachers” list.

“I think this says less about ‘those who can really preach’ and more about 1) how insular our networks are and 2) who gets to be heard,” Van Opstal wrote on Twitter.

sandra maria van opstal faithfully podcast
Sandra Maria Van Opstal.

Baylor University, which installed its first woman president in more than 171 years last year amid scandal, conducted the same kind of survey in 1996. The results 22 years ago were nearly identical demographically to this current list of “most effective preachers,” despite its original pool of 1,548 nominees voted on by “341 seminary professors and editors of religious periodicals.” Four of the 12 preachers that emerged as the “most effective” in the 1996 survey also appear on this current roster—with Taylor also appearing then as the sole woman, and women preachers of color omitted.

In general, women represent about 9 percent of Protestant pastors, according to the Barna Group’s most recent State of Pastors report. However, women account for at least 20 percent of all clergy positions, according to 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. While the average clergy member is a White male, African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and Asians account for the next largest segments of clergy. Comparatively, about 80 percent of clergy are White while Native Americans account for less than half of one percent of the field, according to U.S. government statistics presented by Data USA.

The “most effective” preacher survey was overseen by the Kyle Lake Center for Effective Preaching, which is based at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and operates under the direction of Dr. W. Hulitt Gloer. The process for the survey began as early as February 2016, when the 1996 survey criteria were reviewed for recommendations.

“Now, I want you to understand that this list is not in the order of the number of votes anybody got,” Gloer said during a filmed public presentation on the survey’s findings. “We wanted this to be a list of people on a level playing field. We don’t have a winner. We have 12 people who were chosen by the most people to be most effective preachers.”

Gloer went on to say that there were other “most effective preachers” who may never get recognition.

“This list is obviously people who are well-known, people that many people have had the opportunity to hear. We’re holding these people up as people who meet the criteria as judged by people who teach the criteria. So they’re not the only effective preachers. They may not be the most effective preachers, but they do exemplify the criteria,” he said.

Here are the “12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world” in alphabetical order, according to the survey’s results (available here):

  • Dr. Alistair Begg – Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, a position he has held since 1983
  • Dr. Tony Evans – founding pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas
  • Dr. Joel C. Gregory – George W. Truett Endowed Chair in Preaching and Evangelism at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas
  • Dr. Timothy Keller – founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York
  • Dr. Thomas G. Long – Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Director of the Early Career Pastoral Leadership Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Dr. Otis Moss III – pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. He is a preacher, activist, author, and filmmaker
  • Dr. John Piper – chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Piper is a pastor, author, and leader of desiringGod.org
  • Dr. Haddon Robinson – Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
  • Pastor Andy Stanley – senior pastor of North Point Community Church, Buckhead Church, Browns Bridge Church, Gwinnett Church, Woodstock City Church, and Decatur City Church
  • Dr. Charles Swindoll – pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher
  • Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor – Episcopal priest, professor, author, and theologian
  • Dr. Ralph Douglas West – founder and senior pastor of The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas
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    Written by Nicola A. Menzie

    Nicola A. Menzie is Managing Editor of Faithfully Magazine. Nicola is a religion reporter in NYC whose bylines have appeared on the websites of the Religion News Service, The Christian Post, CBS News and Vibe magazine. You can find her on Twitter @namenzie. Email: nicola.menzie (at) faithfullymagazine.com.

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