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.