Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Andrea Edwards.

Andrea, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
As a person with a science background, I think about humanity as the substrate, or layer upon which ministry is done. Because people are everywhere, the opportunities for ministry are, indeed limitless. I can now apply this concept in retrospect as I think about my own experiences in ministry. With that, although my first formal ministerial experience was when I served as graduate assistant to the Dean of the historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University, I came to understand that many of the ways that I was accustomed to existing in the world and walking alongside others in community and the work I engaged in was, indeed, ministry.

As far as what I now recognize as the beginning of a call to ministry, I remember being at home over Christmas break as a junior while I was an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University. I had a series of “strange” dreams. Thank God these dreams did not announce themselves as a “call,” nor did I realize that this was one way to understand what I had experienced. I am confident that I would have been far less agreeable, to say the least. In the dreams, I had started a faith-based counseling practice that focused on holistic wellness and integrative care. I knew of no one who was doing this kind of work and had never heard of anything like it at that time.

After graduation, I returned home for a couple years and worked as a licensed personal trainer. As a trainer, I applied what I had learned as a Health and Exercise Science major in practical application. I witnessed and perhaps, even helped to bring about, healing for my clients. We worked to achieve their fitness goals and rehabilitation, but there was also something less tangible at work — they also seemed to find themselves in a better state psychologically, emotionally and perhaps spiritually than when we started. They talked; I listened. It appeared that the very act of sharing that which ailed them, but was unseen, enabled our professional relationship and commitment to attending to their physical concerns (injury or rehabilitation need) to become stronger.

In that time, questions were raised for which I had no answer, which brought those strange dreams from college back to the forefront of my mind. I wanted to prepare to develop a clinical/pastoral/counseling ministry that would attend to these needs—both the seen and unseen in a holistic approach to health and wellness. With those questions in my head and heart, I went to Howard University School of Divinity to get a theological basis for this integrative work. I needed to delve more deeply into the questions that had been raised through my experiences at the intersection of faith, health, spirituality and healing.

After graduation from Divinity School in 2012, I went back to my hometown in Greensboro, North Carolina where I served my home congregation. Upon returning, I was licensed to preach and became involved in the life of our faith community. I was later appointed as an associate minister, and have had the privilege of serving in this capacity since that time. This has been a learning lab for my development as a public religious leader and fellow journeyer with those who hurt, seek meaning, question, rejoice, and desire to be well. I was ordained as a Baptist minister in 2014.

At the same time, I also worked in student services at North Carolina A&T State University. In that communal and individual work, I encouraged my students to ask the difficult existential questions in life and seek answers within themselves in light of their own beliefs. I found meaning in helping each student to navigate life by meeting them where they were and ensuring them that, while their particular circumstances were unique, adolescent struggles are universal.

Because I worked at a public institution, the ways I guided and helped them to explore their spirituality was not direct, but I encouraged them to be thoughtful each day by reflecting and making sense of their experiences through their core values and beliefs. I found that this opened the door to a meaningful encounter and created a safe space for the exploration of needs. I later came to understand that this was ministry. Today, in my work as Assistant Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Wake Forest School of Divinity, I hold space for prospective and current students in similar ways. My title has changed, as have the goals and vehicle of my work, but the processes and tools are very similar. I am privileged to journey with those seeking answers to the hard questions, and more specifically—how divinity school can help them to connect the dots in their own lives. I find meaning in walking with these seekers of opportunities for transformation, not just for themselves, but also for the communities and people they are called to serve.

How has your understanding of calling and discernment changed, grown, expanded in these last few years as you have worked with students at Wake Forest?
I have experienced an evolution in my understanding. Prior to working in student services at North Carolina A&T and in Admissions at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, my experiences with the notion of discernment and calling felt very personal, because they were. I was trying to “figure it out” both quickly and definitively as a student. I felt enormous pressure to do so because that’s what society tells us. In my work with college, graduate and prospective students in the throes of similar circumstances, things became more clear for me. Each person’s journey is truly unique. Because of the ways the School of Divinity is innovating theological education, I have been witness to our students exploring, taking ownership of, and seeking to live into the unique ways that God is calling them forward. As the recruiter and someone who is often privy to parts of the strangely beautiful, sometimes scary, often messy, process of discernment as it unfolds, I have learned to be a participant observer as people listen for the voice of God along their journey.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One of greatest challenges I have encountered in ministry has been in making sense of the fact that God has and is calling me in ways that do not resemble “traditional” ministry. When I was in divinity school, many of my classmates and closest friends felt called to congregational ministry—I did not. That was difficult because I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I knew that God had called me to the work I was passionate about. I felt like the perfect “misfit” as a seminary student. Because of that discomfort, I grew and I began to flesh-out what God was up to. I began to embrace this and have long since discovered that ministry looks different depending upon the work it’s meant to do and with whom it’s meant to be done.

Where have you found encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
Gosh, I am encouraged and inspired in both the major and the minor, the big and small, and in the ordinary and extraordinary. I try to be intentional in how I live from moment to moment, and in that, I have found that I can be fully present to the ways God is speaking through and in my life. I am also encouraged by the hope I witness in others daily, which helps to ignite something in me, especially when life is tough. I am encouraged when I see and experience others living into the fullness of their own callings in all the ways that means for them. In that, I am inspired to be and do the same.

Soul and Role: The Journey toward Wholeness by Pam Durso

We all have those books . . . the ones we return to over and over again. One of mine is To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it every spring, and as I write this blog, my tattered paperback copy of Harper Lee’s classic is on my nightstand waiting for its 2017 reading.

Another book I return to with great frequency is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life. It has been a life-changing book, helping me to sort through my hardest questions about ministry and my personal identity. In his small book, Palmer addresses the big topic of our human tendency to live divided lives, lives in which our souls somehow are detached from our roles. He contends that we often hide our true identities from each other, even from ourselves, and as a result, “we become separated from our own souls.”

Palmer’s analysis is true for so many of us, but I think his words are especially true for ministers, and even more especially true for women ministers.

Even though great strides have been made toward parity in ministry, women are still in the minority. Church staffs continue to be dominated by men. Even today, women often make tremendous sacrifices in order to find places in which to serve, and once called by a church, women typically have to work much harder than their male counterparts to sustain their ministry positions. As a result, women sacrifice part of their souls in order to keep the peace. Women ministers all too frequently find themselves silencing their voices, keeping their views to themselves.

Palmer describes this divided life as one in which “we hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change; we conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.”

Every time I read these words in A Hidden Wholeness, I wonder if Parker Palmer has been leafing through my journals or eavesdropping on my prayers for I have spent far too much of my life hiding, avoiding, concealing. I have held back, sat quietly, not interrupted, let things slide. I have not made waves or stirred up trouble. I have gone along, made it work. All that hiding, avoiding, and concealing leaves me feeling divided. Some days I wake up and wonder how I ended up with my identity so disconnected from my daily reality.

Perhaps the reason I return so often to Palmer’s book is not because he diagnoses my life condition so well, but because he offers hope that I can rejoin my soul and my role! In his wisdom, he proclaims that embracing the challenge of wholeness requires “trustworthy relationships, tenacious communities of support.” This is where he sings my song, preaches my sermon. At the very core of what I believe most strongly about ministry, especially about women in ministry, is that we cannot do it alone. We need each other. We need communities of support. We need friends and colleagues, families and parishioners to walk this journey with us.

What I have found to be most true for me is that I need friends who will call me out, who will ask me the hard questions, who will name my weaknesses, confront my sins, and address my deficiencies. I need friends who also will call out my giftedness, who will tell me the truth about my areas of strength, who will push me toward grace and call on me to forgive myself. I need friends who will dream with me, see my possibilities, and imagine with me what my life might look like, how it could all turn out. I need friends who will pray with me and for me. I need friends who help me in the reconnecting my soul with my role.

Because I am beyond blessed, I have a small circle of friends who have been for me “tenacious communities of support” and who have helped me in my never-ending journey toward wholeness. In your own journey, may you too be blessed with trustworthy friends who share your joy and sadness and who remind you often that you are not alone. May you have companions who encourage you toward wholeness.

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.

I Am a Feminist by Griff Martin

At my installation service the congregation was asked to write blessings and prayers over my ministry at First Baptist Austin. I was surprised to read through them and find this: “Griff, the Feminist! For years I have desired a pastor who was a feminist and now I have one. Don’t stop! Keep on.”

My immediate reaction was that I did not know I was a feminist, or at least I had never self-labeled myself as one. As a disciple of Richard Rohr I try my hardest to stay away from labels because they tend to distract my spirituality. And besides that, could a male Baptist pastor really label themselves a feminist.

And then I began to think back and wonder what I had done in the pulpit that allowed a congregant to label me as a feminist. I know that I am not scared to talk about the issues that girls and women face in the world today. I know that I am willing to talk about the huge issues of gender equality. I can preach words like rape and sexual abuse knowing they need to be spoken aloud in our world. But surely, honesty alone does not make me a feminist.

I know I am honest about the female voices that have deeply impacted my own spirituality from Barbara Brown Taylor to Paula D’Arcy. I know well the roles some pivotal women have played in my own sense of calling from Ruth Ann Foster to Suzii Paynter. I know how the church has truly mothered not only me, but my ministry. But surely, recognition alone does not make me a feminist.

I know that I personally need to hear the Gospel in a female voice in order to be whole. So, I find ways to regularly hear female pastors proclaiming the Gospel, because I am not whole without those sacred voices preaching in my soul. But surely, simply acknowledging a spiritual need does not make me a feminist.

I know the commitment I had made to the First Austin pastor search committee and to the church, to have a female voice in our pulpit at least once every two months, although we aim to increase that even further. In the last year we have had Lee Ann Rathbun, Stacy Blackmon, Meredith Massar-Munson, Amelia Fulbright and Leigh Jackson preach and we have Ann Pitman-Zarate, Tracee Henekee, Carrie Houston and Anna Carter Florence all lined up to preach soon. Additionally this spring child-led worship and youth-led worship both feature females in the pulpit. But surely, that commitment alone does not make me a feminist.

I know that I have a daughter who seems very interested in spiritual things and I know that I want her to grow up in a church where she hears the Gospel in her own voice, where she sees females in leadership roles, where being female is celebrated and where equality of male and females is the aim. But surely, trying to make the church more realistic for my daughter does not make me a feminist.

And I know I have a son who pays a lot of attention to things and I want him to grow up in a church where he hears the Gospel in a voice that does not sound like his. I want him to see women in bold leadership roles and to learn equality is the Kingdom of God. But again, trying to make the church more realistic for my son does not make me a feminist.

Surely simply doing these things alone does not make me a feminist, this is just the work a pastor should be doing, right?

And then I thought about the words of one of my favorite authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”

And if that is the case, well I know there is a deep problem with gender as it is today in most Baptist pulpits and I want to help us to do better. I want more female peers leading churches. I want to hear the Gospel spoken by all people. I want the leadership of the church to look more like the Kingdom of God—like creation where male and female, in God’s image, God created them. I don’t want my kids to have to look for a church with female clergy, I want that to be the norm.

So yes, I am a Baptist male pastor and I am feminist. And, it takes both to finally bring equality into this blessed calling of ministry.

Griff Martin is pastor at First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.


Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Sandra Cisnero.

Sandra, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served?
I have served alongside my husband for thirty-five years. We pastored Templo Baptist Church in Victoria, Texas for twenty-five years; Primera Iglesia Bautista in LaGrange, Texas for thirteen years; Primera Iglesia in Kyle, Texas for four years; and now, we are pastoring Sunny Slope Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. After moving from Victoria to San Antonio, I served five years as minister of education at Eisenhauer Baptist Church, in San Antonio, Texas.

I am currently serving as director for the Baptist Bible Institute at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio. In this role, I am responsible for organizing the educational program that takes place on campus for our Spanish-speaking students. I also meet pastors and church leaders globally and look for opportunities to establish BBI Extension Centers anywhere a door may open. We have a good number of BBI’s in Texas, across the nation, and in foreign countries.

I am also the president and founder of Anchored Love Ministries, which mentors, encourages, trains, and empowers women of all ages, cultures, languages, and cultural backgrounds. Five years ago, we established the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI). After dialogue with Baptist University of the Américas, our educational program was endorsed. Up to this moment, we have graduated a total of thirty women. From time to time, I receive messages from women enrolled in the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) and my heart is encouraged when I read that their learning is transforming their lives and influencing the ministry that they do in their local churches. Nothing can really replace that joy! I don’t do this work alone. I have groups of women from various cities in Texas that meet with me to pray and to strategize what the Lord will have us do each year. My friend, Rachel Saldaña has been serving by my side since 2003 when Anchored Love was established.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I have always been able to exercise my leadership role with freedom–that is until, I served in a church staff position. I’m not sure if the issue was because I was a woman or because I was Hispanic. Regardless of the reason, I believe that when someone is called to serve, full trust and affirmation to leadership is necessary in order to serve freely. Perhaps, this is an area or topic that needs to be addressed in our churches and in conferences. No one should be discriminated because of color, race or social status. We need to learn from Jesus as he addressed his disciples when he told them: “…I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). I believe that love needs to take place inside the church first in order to be ready to love and accept those on the outside of the four walls of our churches.

Who have been your best encouragers and sources of inspiration?
My husband has been a great encourager. He not only sees me as a team member with him, but he also has great respect and values my personal call to ministry and has stood by me at every level. Whether I was preaching, teaching, leading, or serving, he has affirmed me. My children and grandchildren are my greatest inspiration. Since day one, when they were placed in my arms, I made a commitment to be a godly example for them. Last but not least, my students at BUA, students in the Christian Leadership Institute, and women that I minister through Anchored Love and in any other ministry, serve as a great inspiration in my life. I am committed to those He has called me to serve. To this I will echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “I am a debtor.” (Romans 1:14).

What is the most helpful ministry advice you have ever received?
The best words I heard when I was a child and through my teen years were these: “Be You. Fulfill your purpose. Never look back, always look forward. If you fall, get up, learn from it and move on.” I will never forget these wise words of inspiration that carries so much value and affirmation from my grandmother Felísita Samuel. Her message not only challenged me, but they also holed me accountable to live a life worthy of my calling and worthy of the One that called me to ministry.

Founding Mothers by Pam Durso

March is Women’s History Month, the perfect time to do some remembering. March is also the month in which Baptist Women in Ministry was dreamed into existence. A planning meeting was held in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20-21, 1983, and the thirty-three women who attended that meeting are our founders. We lovingly call them our founding mothers.

It seems only right that we honor and remember those thirty-three women by naming their names:

Becky Albritton
Pat Ayres
Pat Bailey
Linda McKinnish Bridges
Harriett Clay
Reba Sloan Cobb
Jeni Cook
Anne Davis
Pearl Duvall
Velma Farrell
Nancy Foil
Lela Hendrix
Cindy Harp Johnson
Molly T. Marshall
June McEwen
Barbara McNeir
Karen Conn Mitcham
Anne Thomas Neil
Carol Noffsinger
Brenda Paddleford
Betty McGary Pearce
Nina T. Pollard
Verna Quirin
Inez Register
Nancy Hastings Sehested
Linda Stack
Evelyn Stagg
Susan Taylor
Lynda Weaver-Williams
Carolyn Weatherford
Jenny Graves Weisz

Today, and every day, I give thanks for these women who recognized the great need for an organization that would do the work of connecting, networking, and advocating for Baptist women ministers. I give thanks for these women who made sacrifices of their time and resources to create something new, something significant that would give support and care to gifted and called Baptist women. I give thanks for these women who dared to dream big and to challenge Baptists to re-imagine a new future with women serving in all capacities of ministry. I give thanks for these women who made Baptist Women in Ministry a reality!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. The featured photo is from the 1985 gathering of what was then Southern Baptist Women in Ministry. Molly T. Marshall was one of the preachers for worship that year.

The First Meeting by Vallerie King

From the editor: This week, Baptist Women in Ministry celebrates an anniversary. Thirty-four years ago, on March 20-21, 1983, thirty-three women met and dreamed into existence a new organization that would advocate for and support Baptist women ministers. The women concluded that a gathering for Baptist women ministers should be held on June 11, 1983 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Vallerie King, then a seminary student and now a pastor in Virginia, attended that June meeting, and today she shares her memories on the BWIM blog.

In the summer of 1983, I had just completed my first year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a Master of Divinity student. When I returned to campus in the fall, I would be co-leading, along with my friend, Rachel, the Women in Ministry group at Southern. Because of my involvement with Women in Ministry on campus, I learned that a national group was forming, and the first meeting would be held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rachel and I decided it was important for us to attend.

Over the summer break, I went back home to Silver Spring, Maryland to take a job as a bank teller. Because I had no car, I took a Greyhound bus to Pittsburgh and stayed overnight in a college dorm room at Duquesne University. The next day, I attended the first meeting of Southern Baptist Women in Ministry, which was held in a small conferences room in the convention hotel.

What struck me the most about that meeting was the wonderful presence of Carolyn Weatherford. She was a fierce advocate for women in ministry. I remember being surprised that the executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union would be such a strong supporter of women ministers. Her courage and fortitude made everything seem possible. Molly T. Marshall and Reba Cobb also attended the meeting. These were two women I knew and greatly admired. There were other well-known women present, who I came to know and recognize over the years.

Rachel and I sat together and took it all in. The plans were bold, yet it all seemed so natural. The group decided to begin a publication that would be a voice for women ministers. The mood in the room was joyous. The Holy Spirit filled the space with such power and peace.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I was watching history being made. But I knew that what was being started would continue. There was such hope, strength, and giftedness in the women present. The time had come, our kairos moment had arrived.

After the meeting, I boarded another Greyhound bus and returned home. I could never have imagined that one day Baptist Women in Ministry would be the large, national organization it is today. I am grateful that pioneering women had the courage and foresight to start this organization. I am also grateful that as a first-year seminary student, I got to witness history in the making.

Vallerie King is the pastor of Emmaus Baptist Church in Providence Forge, Virginia.

Baptist Women in Leadership: Then and Now, 2010 and 2017 by Pam Durso

“Leadership roles in major institutions still elude women. According to Catalyst, women hold less than 3 percent of the chief executive jobs in the Fortune 500 (and that is the highest number ever) and less than 16 percent of corporate officer jobs (a number that has remained static since 2002).” So begins the 2010 book, Her Place at the Table: A Women’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success, by Deborah M. Kolb, Judith Williams, and Carol Frohlinger.

The same year that the book was released eighty-four leaders within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship movement, then led by executive coordinator Daniel Vestal, gathered at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. These Baptists spent three days talking about CBF’s future. I had the good fortune of being present and had the opportunity to address the group. I looked back this week at my presentation manuscript and discovered that I said essentially the same thing that the authors of Her Place at the Table wrote in their introduction: “Leadership roles of major Baptist organizations still elude women.”

Molly Marshall headshot

Molly T. Marshall

I started with these words: “I feel comfortable saying that in this room are gathered some of the strongest supporters of women in Baptist life. Indeed, the Cooperative Baptist movement from its very beginning has placed itself firmly and vocally on the side of women. Every year for twenty years now women have led worship at General Assembly, women have served communion, and women have preached. CBF national and state organizations have had women serve as moderators and as members of their coordinating councils. Most of the CBF-affiliated theological schools have women faculty members, and Central has Molly! (Molly T. Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas). Several CBF schools have 50% female student populations. Over 100 CBF-affiliated churches have women serving as pastors or co-pastors, and most CBF churches have women staff members and have women serving as deacons. Women have held visible leadership roles in this Baptist movement.”

I was a lot younger seven years ago and either naive or really brave because the next words I said were: “Here is when I meddle some . . . look around this room filled by some eighty leaders in CBF life. How many women do you see? How many of the women in this room are serving in top leadership positions? How many of the women present are coordinators and executives of CBF organizations and its partner organizations?”

I do remember pausing and gulping a bit after I said that. But here is what I remember of that room in 2010. Other than Molly, there were no other women seminary presidents in the room, because no other CBF seminary had a female president in 2010. There were no CBF state/regional organizations that had a paid female coordinator in 2010, and I think I may have been the only or at least one of the only executive directors of CBF-partner organization present (I was near the conclusion of my first year with BWIM, and at that point, there was certainly no guarantee that the organization would even survive).

Linda McKinnish Bridges

Linda McKinnish Bridges

What a difference seven years has made! The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is now led by Suzii Paynter. There are now four CBF state/regional organizations led by women: Rhonda Blevins in Kentucky, Phyllis Boozer in the northeast, Terri Byrd in Alabama, and Trisha Miller Manarin in Mid-Atlantic. And just this year we have added names to our list of women leaders. Amanda Tyler began service as executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty on January 3, 2017, and just this week, the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond announced that Linda McKinnish Bridges is their presidential candidate.

Seven years ago, I knew that it was critical for Baptists to have female executives and coordinators. I was convinced that for shifts to happen within Baptist life a few women would have to shatter those ceilings of glass and move into the top leadership roles. In 2010, women’s leadership was important to me for so many reasons, but mainly because I knew that for change to happen in local churches, congregations needed to see women leaders serving in the highest roles within our Baptist organizations and schools. I knew that for churches to call women pastors in increasing numbers they needed the female leadership visual. They needed to see in order to believe and to act!

In 2017, I am thankful for search committees who with courage over the past seven years have called gifted women into places of leadership, and I am grateful that our new Baptist visual is giving courage to more and more pastor search committees and congregations.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

The featured image is of Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.


Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Anna Goetz.

Anna, tell us about your ministry journey–the places and ways you have served.
I grew up at First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas, where my mom has served on staff my entire life, and my dad serves as a deacon. Although I was never fully employed by First Baptist Church, Arlington, the church and staff provided opportunities for me to serve. It will always be the place where I first felt called to ministry and the first place to give me a chance to live out that calling.

I attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and received my bachelor of music degree with an emphasis in classical voice and a minor in youth ministry. I was fortunate to be at a school where I could combine my passion for music and for youth ministry and take classes for both! While I was at Belmont, I had the opportunity to lead mission trips and serve with the church I attended, Brentwood Baptist Church. I was a student ministry intern there for two summers and worked in their student ministry for a year after I graduated from college. I received a ton of first-hand ministry experience at Brentwood.

I then attended George W. Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, and in December 2014, I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in missions and world Christianity. While attending Truett, I served on the student recruitment team, participated in a youth ministry mission trip to Germany, and attended Calvary Baptist Church, where I had the opportunity to be part of the student ministry and missions ministry. Calvary provided many experiences to lead and to follow my calling in church ministry.

During seminary, I spent my summers working as a staffer for a student ministry camp. I had multiple leadership opportunities and learned so much about leadership, ministry, and the importance of intentionality in ministry during those summers.

When I graduated from seminary, I moved home and worked at Restore Hope, a non-profit in Arlington, Texas, where I worked with many projects, including ones that focused on the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and the steps to recovery for that nation. This job grew my understanding of the world and of the ways we can serve others in the name of Jesus. Cindy Wiles, the executive director of Restore Hope, was a mentor for me, and I am thankful for her encouragement and support.

Currently, I am the associate minister to students at First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas. To be honest, this is the perfect job for me—one that I did not know would be perfect! God has been so faithful to bring me to a place that loves me deeply. This position allows me to combine so many of my passions. First Baptist is truly a fantastic church.

What are some of the greatest challenges of church ministry?
Although I am at a church filled with people who love me and support me, I have not always been surrounded with such support. During my last semester in seminary, I preached at a chapel service and later received a phone call from someone in an organization that did not support my calling to preach. The phone call was devastating, heartbreaking, and confusing, because the organization was made up of people that I felt knew me well and supported me. I was truly hurt and ended up walking away, because I felt that I could no longer be a part of an organization that didn’t support my calling.

This experience shook my confidence in my calling, and it has taken me a few years to get back to the place where I know and trust that God has called me to ministry. It has been challenging to not let one person’s opinion/ one organization’s opinion influence my calling. Although there are times when I still struggle with confidence in my calling and in ministry, I know I am at a church now that encourages me and affirms me.

Another challenge I have found in ministry is balance. As a single minister, there are times when, because I don’t have a family to come home to or to take care of, I fill my schedule with all kinds of events and ministry opportunities. While all of these things are good, I am learning that I must find time to care for myself and to step back and refuel at times. Learning to say no and not feeling guilty about saying no in order to build in time for myself has been and continues to be a challenge. I’m learning that the expectations I set for myself are not the same as the expectations set by my church, and I am welcomed and encouraged by my church family to find time alone, so I can refuel for the week and be the best minister I can be.

What have been the greatest joys?
Mondays are one of my favorite days in student ministry right now. Each Monday morning I meet with our senior girls for an early breakfast and Bible study. It’s been such a joy to spend time with these girls as they finish their senior year and look towards what is next.

Each Monday night ends with Bible study with middle school girls. These girls bring me so much joy and laughter. I’ve loved spending time with them, hearing about what God is doing in their lives, and discussing what it means to live this Christian life in middle school. Mondays begin and end with Bible study and students, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We also have staff meetings on Monday, and I love being with our church staff. We really do get things done, but most Monday afternoons are filled with laughter. It’s great to be on a staff that genuinely enjoys each other.

Another true joy of ministry is sharing life with students and their families. I love going to sporting events, concerts, plays, and anything else that our students participate in throughout the week. It’s such a joy to watch them compete and perform, and I love seeing our students and their families outside of the church. It gives me a way to connect with them and build deeper relationships with them throughout the week.

Another true joy of ministry for me are the events and opportunities we have for our students to serve and to live out their calling as Christians. Right now we are preparing for our high school mission trip, and it’s such a joy to prepare with our students and to encourage them to use their gifts and talents to share the love of Jesus with others. I love watching our students take the passions God has given them and use them to bring glory to God. And let’s be honest, we have so much fun on our trips with our students. I’m looking forward to the late night talks, the late night dance parties, and all the fun that comes with a trip like this. I love laughing and living life with our students.

Who have been the sources of encouragement for you as you have lived out your calling?
There are many that have walked with me as I have figured out what it means for me to live out my calling. First and foremost, my parents have been there every step of the way. They were incredibly supportive when I changed my major in college, when I stayed in Nashville to work for a year, when I applied and attended seminary, when I spent ten months living at home, and when I moved to Amarillo. They have prayed for me and encouraged me in so many ways. I am so thankful for the ways they continue to love and support me.

Pastors and staff members at each church I’ve attended have walked through this process with me and have given me opportunities over the years to explore this calling, including Charles Wade, former pastor at FBC Arlington, Texas; Dennis Wiles, current pastor at FBC Arlington; Jim Coston, former pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas; and Howie Batson, current pastor at FBC Amarillo, Texas. Each of these pastors in their own ways have encouraged, challenged, affirmed, and supported me as I have navigated my ministry calling. I am thankful for their support and love.

My time at Truett Seminary provided many professors who challenged me and supported me in and out of the classroom. Mike Stroope encouraged me to think missionally and to live out my calling for missions and the church. Andrew Arterbury attended the same church as I did in seminary, and he always checked in with me and encouraged me when I saw him not just in the classroom, but outside it. Hulitt Gloer was the first person who pointed out a gift of preaching in me and encouraged me to pursue this. David Garland supported me, not only as a professor, but also as a “boss,” when I had the opportunity to work in his office as a student worker. Dennis Tucker met with me right after the hurtful phone call when I preached in chapel and challenged me to see beyond what one person thought and remember that God had called me to ministry, no matter what others say. Each of these professors and others during my time at Truett continually encouraged me and pointed out things they saw in me that made me a better minister. I am so thankful for them.

Lastly, at FBC Amarillo, the staff and members, have embraced me and loved me well over the past year and a few months. They have served as sources of encouragement by providing opportunities to lead, not only in our student ministry, but also throughout different experiences with the church as a whole. I am encouraged as I continue to seek what it means for me to be at this church and to pursue the calling God has placed on my life. I know that the Lord has called me here, and I am so thankful for the people in my congregation.

Women Pastors: The Good News and the Other News by Pam Durso

There are more women serving as pastors than ever before.

Churches are calling women pastors. This assertion is not supported merely by anecdotal evidence. In its recent State of Pastors Report, the Barna Group compiled findings from five different sources, consulted their own research, and concluded that there has been a slow and steady rise of female pastors. According to Barna, one of every eleven Protestant pastors is a woman, and that is triple as many women pastors as were serving twenty-five years ago. Barna’s report was reviewed by Halee Gray Scott in a February 26, 2017 Christianity Today article, which is titled “Female Pastors Are on the Rise.”

The conclusion of the Barna report does not come as a surprise to me. Last summer, Baptist Women in Ministry released its own report–The State of Women in Baptist Life 2015. It is the fourth such report, and I have had the privilege of working on each one of them. You should read the report! But here is what I concluded after I crunched our Baptist numbers.

“When the first State of Women in Baptist Life report was published in 2005, 102 women were identified as pastors or co-pastors serving in churches affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, or the Baptist General Association of Virginia. In 2015, BWIM also gathered information from the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. By the end of 2015, the total number of women pastors and co-pastors had grown to 174, which is a 71% increase over the last ten years. These increases indicate that incremental change is taking place.”

I recently updated my list of pastors and co-pastors. I have been busy adding new names in the last year (and also deleting the names of women who have retired or resigned). The net gain from December 31, 2015 to February 28, 2017 is twelve. Twelve! That is an average of about one per month. My list now has 186 names: 137 pastors and 49 co-pastors. And there are more names to be added soon! The news is good and should be celebrated.

But Scott’s Christianity Today article notes the hard news as well: “study after study finds women must work harder to get hired, promoted, or named to leadership positions.” In Baptist life, the process of being called by a church is painfully slow and often disheartening. Women still hear that old refrain, “Our church isn’t ready yet for a woman pastor,” and women often finish in “second place” to a male candidate.

After working with numerous pastor search committees and talking with many women candidates, I believe that one of the greatest challenges is that of hearing. Search committees and women candidates often “talk past each other.” A search committee member recently said to me, “Hers was by far the best resume, but when we talked with her, she just didn’t seem to want to be our pastor. She wasn’t confident in her calling or in her giftedness.” Meanwhile, a woman candidate said to me, “I invested myself fully in this process. I put my best self out there and was bold in sharing about my calling and giftedness.” The sad reality is that committee member — and that woman — were sitting at the same table, involved in the same conversation!  They were talking to each other but interpreted the experience very differently. I have heard similar stories multiple times in recent years.

My conclusion is that we must create spaces in which search committees and women candidates truly hear each other. That kind of hearing takes work and requires practice. In recent months, I have been reaching out more and encouraging committees to hear beyond just the words said in interviews, and I have been talking with women, coaching them to speak with confidence and clarity in their interviews. There is still  much work to do as we seek to hear one another and as we seek to follow the leading of the Spirit. My prayer is that we will all grow in our attentiveness and listen with care and openness to each other.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. 


Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Deborah Loftis. 

Deborah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
Currently I am executive director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, a position that I have held since 2009. Prior to that I served on the faculty as church music professor (1999-2008) at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Before that, I was . . . well, let me say that my ministry journey has been anything but a straight line! I started seminary in an education degree and switched (in what I can only describe as a Damascus Road experience) to music. Ordained to the ministry in 1983, I’ve worked as a minister of music, associate pastor, and music librarian in a public library alongside a volunteer music ministry. There were four years that I was a “full-time volunteer.” It was during that period that I served as Moderator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in its fledgling days. I was piecing together ministry and my call as best I could. Every time I thought I had figured out my vocational path, there was a left turn in the road that made me refigure things.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I think my greatest challenge has been to keep exploring new ways of ministry despite the seeming roadblocks along the way. Sometimes I’ve had to work bi-vocationally, paying the bills with one job and pursuing my call in volunteer ways. In my present position, one might consider the work simply administrative – most of my days are spent at the computer and on the phone. I see my work, however, as an opportunity to encourage individuals and congregations to enliven their worship practices through active participation in singing. I am working to encourage the poets and composers who create new songs for our worship and I’m still engaged in teaching, both in the classroom (live and online) and one-to-one as people call, and email their questions about hymnody.

What have been some of the unexpected surprises of ministry?
When I finally had the opportunity to teach church music at the seminary level, moreover, to design a course of study in church music, I thought I had found my dream calling, the one thing I had been working toward. I was able to meld my experiences as a local congregational minister with the years of academic study. I thought that all my prior work and preparation were now coming to fruition. I thought I’d retire as a professor. When the teaching position ended because of financial strictures at the seminary, there was another surprise “left turn” for me.

In my work with The Hymn Society, I am still pulling together all the experiences and preparation of earlier jobs and academic study – minister of music, reference librarian, seminary professor. My dream job is now this one – this must be really what God intended as my calling. Sometimes I think everything must have been leading to this work with a not-for-profit organization. Looking back honestly, though, I think each of my ministry positions was the right one for that time. I think I did important work and I’m grateful for those opportunities. But I’m a little worried: I’m retiring in a few months and think I have all my plans in place. Uh-oh – there’s probably a left turn ahead.

What are some of the resources or practices that are important for you as you seek to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy?
My most important practice is to stay connected to family and friends. It sounds simplistic, but these are the folks who help me negotiate those pesky left turns and remind me of God’s greater call on my life than just one particular job. When the pressures of work seem to be pushing me toward isolated, task-driven existence, that’s exactly when I need to work on family and friend relationships and remember how vital they are. That helps me maintain my balance.

Another vital practice for me is music. I worship best through musical expression, particularly song. It’s important for me to maintain space in my life to make music – both individually and in groups. Music invigorates me at the deepest levels and reminds me as I sing with others that we are The Body of Christ- alive and energetic.