Unique three-pastor team leads innovation in ministry - Word&Way

Unique three-pastor team leads innovation in ministry

Two women and a man. The phrase might conjure snippets from the old television sitcom, “Three’s Company” — but at Englewood Baptist Church in Gladstone, Mo., two women and a man make up a unique, entrepreneurial pastoral team.

Englewood three-pastor team

“Englewood always has been a place of empowering for women,” noted Robin Sandbothe, coordinating pastor of spiritual relationships.

Ministers who serve Englewood Baptist Church in Gladstone, Mo., take a break for a photo on their first Sunday as the three-pastor team. Cynthia Saddler (left) is coordinating pastor of congregational relationships, with Robin Sandbothe as coordinating pastor of spiritual relationships and Mark Buhlig as coordinating pastor of community relationships.

While the congregation didn’t intentionally recruit women, members sought leaders who could move the church forward. Church lay-leaders had been discussing with Central Baptist Theological Seminary administrators the possibility of a team approach and using students.

The team idea stuck — not as a senior pastor plus associates but as something more entrepreneurial and not as traditional.

Central Seminary teaches “entrepreneurial leadership,” a term that “describes the capacity to start new things, transform old things and not be bound by prior templates,” CBTS President Molly Marshall explained.

“Start-up ministries, as well as creative innovation within existing structures, will be necessary in our day,” Marshall added. “Women, especially, will need to develop this style of leadership in order to fulfill their vocational callings.”

Instead of rotating seminary students as the leadership team, the congregation called three individuals with different interests and strengths —Sandbothe as coordinating pastor of spiritual relationships, Cynthia Saddler as coordinating pastor of congregational relationships and Mark Buhlig as coordinating pastor of community relationships.

Each serves the church part-time — Saddler and Buhlig for 20 hours each week and Sandbothe for 10 — and works with other ministries part-time. They share preaching opportunities.

Saddler serves GLOW: Girls Leading Our World, a ministry she and a friend founded in the Kansas City area to reach at-risk young women. Buhleg started Points on the Wheel, a ministry to assist communities struggling with poverty. It engages primarily with the Caribbean and Latin America.

“Englewood allows me to be a participant in local church ministry and allows me flexibility,” Buhlig said.

In place since Oct. 1, the team believes each “brought something to the table” that allows the church to reach out to its community. Though a smaller church with fewer members than other congregations in the area, Englewood has “lots of involvement,” Sandbothe said.

The congregation embraced women in ministry when it called her as associate pastor from 2000-2007 and Micah and Elizabeth Pritchett as co-pastors in 2005. The church also often invited women as guest preachers.

Englewood is affiliated with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and has some connections with the Alliance of Baptists.

Its chief ministry focus is its feeding ministry as a partner with United Services. Buhlig has led the church to use two acres of open space to augment the Giving Grove, a project of Kansas City Community Gardens. In the next few weeks, members will plant an orchard and a young member will plant vegetables as his Eagle Scout project.

The church also partners with an elementary school and an alternative school in the neighborhood, and a care team ministers to shut-ins weekly.

All three pastors see working together as an opportunity to model a unique approach to “doing church” and emphasize that the needs of Englewood and the community come first.

“It’s a rare situation and opportunity when you get to pastor with a man who does not give it a second thought” to serve with women,” Saddler said. “It’s a rare gift from God we’ve been given.”

“I’m just trying to keep up with them,” Buhlig joked.

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Women in ministry