Ten Ways to Promote Women in Your Church

Debbie Fulthorp:

For a little over five years, I served as a lead pastor. I loved this position, but circumstances beyond my control (here is my story) have placed me on the other side of the pulpit these past few years. My search for a lead pastorate as a woman remains daunting.

As a former lead pastor and now candidate pastor, I’d like to offer ten strategies that churches can implement toward the full inclusion of women in leadership. These strategies are meant to help churches create space for women in church leadership positions with the ultimate goal of ensuring equal opportunity for women at all levels of leadership.

1. Provide Role Models[1]
Male pastors may find this to be a challenging task. I recommend finding trusted female lead pastors or women in various church leadership roles. Share their stories with your congregation. Highlight them on your Facebook page, in a sermon, or through a video clip. Even better, open your pulpit to a female guest preacher or teacher. It is important for both male and female pastors to be intentional about normalizing women in leadership. Congregations need to see that women pastors are normal and not anomalies.
2. Instruct Congregations
Leaders have a responsibility to intentionally teach their congregations that it is biblically and theologically sound for women to lead churches as pastors. Additionally, do not assume, as a female lead pastor, that everyone in your congregation affirms women in leadership. There are those who will overlook their opposition to female pastors because of their relationship/friendship with you or their commitment to the church. It is essential that all congregation members learn how to navigate and interpret controversial Scripture passages concerning women in church leadership. Christians need to hear solid instruction on female pastors. We must stand on strong theological foundations.[2]
3. Correct False Assumptions
If people voice concerns about having women in the pulpit or in a leadership role based on assumptions or misconceptions, gently confront their misgivings. Lovingly challenge them so they can grow and be all the Holy Spirit desires them to be. We must stand against ignorance with the truth of the Word.[3]
4. Mentor Female Leaders
Men–don’t be afraid to include women when you coach a group of male lead pastors. Invite a female lead pastor into a ministerial peer-coaching group of all male pastors. Broaden the spiritual territory of female pastors and make their presence normal. Don’t be afraid to coach the opposite gender, but remain accountable in that mentoring relationship. Employ the same rules you would employ when counseling men.
5. Implement Change Incrementally[4]
Change can often be jarring and disorienting. Try proposing small but meaningful changes to your church’s study materials or curriculum. Implement changes to policies regarding women over time and incrementally add women to your pastoral team. These small changes will give your congregation time to adjust to a significant cultural shift. Founding partner and owner of Leadership Development Resources, Dr. Mel Ming, encourages this type of change: “If you want to change culture, if you can help them experience change in a non-threatening way, they are more likely to embrace it than if you polarize it. Allow them to taste the new without even knowing they are.”[5]

The inclusion of women in leadership is critical for the church, but it doesn’t happen overnight. We must be strategic and intentional in our commitment to gender parity in church leadership.

6. Use Biblical Narrative

Biblical narrative can be a powerful tool in leading people toward paradigm shifts. When our stories are directed by God’s story, we are more likely to make intentional changes.

As Christians, we must be aware of God’s broader plan for humanity. God’s over-arching message of inclusion and equality for men and women in the biblical narrative should be implemented in the day-to-day life of the church. Using biblical narrative as a model for the culture of the church is one effective way to stimulate change.[1]

7. Embrace Vulnerability

Transforming an entrenched culture that limits women to an inclusive culture of ministry where both men and women lead requires openness, honesty, and vulnerability. Promote healthy dialogue to build bridges instead of unhealthy debate that tears down. Have the hard conversations with love and grace.

Mandy Smith, author of The Vulnerable Pastor, reminds us that “It’s not our job to know all the answers, but to know the One who does. It’s our job to faithfully lead our flock to follow him, even though we’re not sure where he’ll take us.”[2]

8. Create a Structure for Change

In his book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan argues, “Most people need a structure to help them channel their aspiration, test and gain distance from their big assumptions, and steadily build a new set of ways to bridge the gap between intentions and behavior.”[3]

Create a structure that ensures women are an integral part of the leadership and preaching team and are in front of your congregation regularly. Don’t leave the representation of women in leadership to chance, but rather, design your services and practices as a church with this intent in mind.

9. Create New Traditions and Practices

Instead of having only men serve communion, start by allowing couples to serve it together. Then, add single men and women who are ministry volunteers or leaders in the church. This creates a new tradition and a new way of serving communion. You can incorporate this practice in other places such as the taking up of offering as well, slowly expanding into every area of church.

10. Rely on the Holy Spirit

Acts 2 narrates the beginnings of the early church after they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. The description “all together and had everything in common” found in Acts 2:44 characterizes the early church after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the one who ultimately commissions believers for ministry. When we are led by and rely on the Holy Spirit, change is imminent. All believers, male and female, will be empowered for all levels of ministry in the body of Christ.

Leading cultural change in any organization can seem impossible and daunting, but it begins with being intentional. Jesus implemented all of the principles I shared in this series.

His disciples thought many things were impossible. But through his transformational leadership, he shifted his disciples from an earthly perspective to a kingdom paradigm. May we as leaders take on this task in our churches so that men and women can both work uninhibited for the kingdom according to God’s plan for us.

Notes for Numbers 1-5.

[1] Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series) 4th edition, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2010), 246.
[2] Deborah Gill and Barbara Cavaness-Parks, God’s Women Then and Now, 3rd edition. (Springfield, MO: Grace and Truth, 2015). This book is an excellent resource for biblical-theological foundations on the subject of women in ministry.
[3] Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2012). This is a good, practical resource to help learn conflict management skills and know how to approach any important conversations.
[4] Schein, 275.
[5] Mel Ming, “Organizational Leadership” (Lecture, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO, March 21, 2012).

For numbers 6-10.

[1] Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 180.
[2] Mandy Smith, The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2015), 120.
[3] Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good) (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2009), 254.


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.