“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.