The week of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly is always a joyful one for me. Growing up, this week meant family vacation–and an ever-growing collection of swag pens and Post-It note-pads. More recently, I attend as part of my own vocational development and for the joy of spending time with friends and mentors. One highlight of the week is gathering with Baptist Women in Ministry to share in a time of worship, communion, celebration, and fellowship.

This year BWIM’s Wednesday morning conversation about the brave intentionality of our callings overflowed into the rest of the week. There were direct statements made in workshops and from the Assembly dais about the continued work to dismantle that stained-glass ceiling, and there were many life-giving conversations acknowledging that the work to affirm, empower, and employ women in ministry is not done.

But there were also complaints, overheard in the hallways and read on Twitter: “Why are we still talking about issues from twenty-five years ago?”

It’s become increasingly clear to me that this latter sentiment is much more prevalent than I first thought in moderate and progressive Baptist life. Plenty of congregations choose not to participate in the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Women’s Preaching because, and I quote, “we’ve already dealt with the question of women in ministry.” When conversations about supporting women in ministry do occur, often only women gather around the table.

Affirming a woman’s right to the pulpit was a key question more than twenty-five years ago when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was founded, and more than thirty years ago when the Alliance of Baptists was founded. For those who were involved in the pitched battles of that era, I understand why it seems the issue has already come to a head.

Yet the generations who’ve grown up since those early debates need everyone to keep talking. We should ask earnestly why the next generation of women still struggles to be called and supported as ministers.

Numbers highlight the continued disparity. BWIM publishes a periodic report called The State of Women in Baptist Life, combining narrative stories with data about Baptist women who serve in vocational ministry. The most recent report was published in 2015, and the number to remember is 6.5%. In the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, only 6.5% of pastorates are held by women (117 women serve as pastors or co-pastors in the 1,800 CBF-affiliating churches). For the Alliance of Baptists, that number is 42% (60 women serve as pastors and co-pastors in 143 affiliating churches). Taken together, that is still significantly less than half of the pulpits in moderate and progressive Baptist life. While the subject of women in ministry garnered much attention as these two groups were founded, there is still much work to be done.

And we better get to work, because the numbers also show that when congregations say they affirm women in ministry, the girls in those congregations believe us. In 2015, many of the CBF-affiliated seminaries saw close to a fifty-fifty split between men and women in their enrolled students. If nearly half of recent seminary graduates are women, but significantly less than half of moderate and progressive Baptist churches are pastored by women, where are those recent female graduates going to serve? Girls in our church pews are growing into women following the call to ministry, but where is that call leading?

For me, after seminary graduation I was met with a year-and-a-half of relative silence as I navigated the search process. I was serving as a hospital chaplain, so I was never out of ministry while seeking a congregational position. But it took me much, much longer than my male seminarian peers to find a position. The rhetoric of my denominational home had led me to believe that the most important part of affirming women in ministry is actually calling them to serve in a ministry.

It is one thing to state an affirmation for women in ministry. It is another thing altogether to make sure they are able to pursue their theological education in an environment that treats them like they belong there; to see women through an ordination process that discerns their gifts and affirms their calling; to invite them women into pulpits and assist them in finding a call to a church; and to ensure that women are paid at an equitable rate compared to men in equivalent roles.

It is another thing altogether to treat these women not like trophies of our progressivism, but like pastors.

If affirming women in ministry is a core value for those of us who call ourselves moderate and progressive Baptists, we need to say so, often. And we need to have conversations that center the voices of those who are impacted by what support can and should look like. We’ve got quite a long way to go.

Dismantling second-generation bias and getting used to the presence of women in ministerial leadership takes some difficult conversations and concrete policy changes. In this series of blogs, Laura Levens and I will try to prepare the way. We’ll talk about why the issue of women in ministry still needs to be discussed. We’ll provide possibilities for supporting women once they are ministers so that they can develop their gifts and styles as leaders of your congregation. We’ll also confront some of the barriers from a female perspective, and offer advice about what women can do to help themselves.

Lauren McDuffie is the associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Morehead, Kentucky. Email her:

Laura Levens is assistant professor of Christian Mission at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Email her: