Wesleyans come from a long tradition of believing that women have a lot to bring to the table — not only as guests but as hosts — leading in every position, every field and in every space of ministry as both clergy and laity.

Each of our Wesleyan universities are living into this tradition, employing women leaders hosting in a variety of spaces. Part one of this article looks at some of the Wesleyan women making a difference at Indiana Wesleyan University, Kingswood University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Wesley Seminary.

Rev. Torrey Martin, university pastor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU), reflects on her recent learning as a woman in leadership, saying, “I have been an independent woman my whole life; but I am learning that ministry is a partnership. We get to link arms with other believers and see what God is doing.” Rev. Martin is the university pastor for OKWU students who are present on campus and those who are alumni.

As Rev. Martin has been in this role, she has seen the ways the Lord has used her leadership to help others be a Kingdom Force in their community. She has been able to have conversations with students and mentor those who have graduated to see where they are noticing the work of God in their domain.

Rev. Martin’s work runs parallel to Rev. Dr. Andrea Summers, who serves as dean of Spiritual Formation at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) “Our office serves as pastors within a large church, serving a university of about 2,500 students (plus co-workers and alumni). My role is as a village priest who is helping people through pastoral counseling, speaking the Word of truth and pointing them to God,” said Dr. Summers.

Rev. Martin and Dr. Summers have a unique opportunity to shepherd those in this generation and other generations to come, while also stewarding spiritual influence with faculty, staff and friends of the university, all of whom are co-laborers in student formation.

Currently, Rev. Martin and Dr. Summers work with students to help them own their faith — to try to understand the mystery and depth of God. “Many students are wanting to surrender their wills and desires and wanting to see God move in their life,” stated Rev. Martin. “There is hunger and the compassion that is stirring in this generation to want to see where the spirit is moving and how they can be part of it.”

While Rev. Martin’s and Dr. Summers’ roles are more ministerial in function, Rev. Dr. Colleen Derr serves in academic administration, tending to systems and structures that allow students to flourish.

Dr. Derr is the president of Wesley Seminary and sees the primary labor of her day-to-day leadership role as one of stewarding the people and the long-term vision of Wesley Seminary. That labor requires many competencies — in personal interactions, administrative systems, fundraising and teaching (which she still does on occasion). But underneath all those competencies, she says, lies an important focus on prayerful attentiveness to God’s voice.

“I have to keep the long-term vision in mind when I make decisions,” said Dr. Derr. “I need to make time to pray and have lots of discernment when things come my way and learn to make the best right decision all around — even if others cannot understand. Giving grace to myself and others I work with.”

Rev. Dr. Janet Starks, vice president for Institutional Effectiveness at Kingswood University, is learning the encouragement she can bring to other women in leadership, too: “I want to be a role model for females who are called to the ministry. God called me and he does call women to step into these roles of leadership.”

She, too, shares Dr. Derr’s conviction that part of the work of Christian institutions of higher learning is to create space in which the Holy Spirit can lead and guide persons to identifying and accepting a call, and intentionally clearing the path for those often overlooked for leadership positions within Christian circles (including women and minorities).

Drs. Starks and Derr both have devoted their lives to the importance of formation, both in education and in the local church. Kingswood and Wesley Seminary (and all our Wesleyan educational institutions) are making it a priority that those who are called to ministry be well-equipped for the role. People are always changing and so is ministry — so to help equip others to be creative in their roles helps the church.

“When they hear a sermon or a history lesson (or anything they experience in their formation) we want to help nudge them to see how everything is tied together,” stated Dr. Derr. Ministry is full circle in any domain and helping others to see God in their context — bringing it all together — is a central component of formation for both Drs. Derr and Starks.

When asked what words of insight they might give women who are or will be in ministry, these leaders give this advice to consider:

  • “Be confident in your call and that God has called you to this” (Dr. Starks).
  • “It’s important to be really intentional with the Lord on a daily basis — to know the discernment of the Spirit” (Dr. Derr).
  • “Surround yourself with strong leaders and people that can be cheering and praying you along” (Dr. Derr).
  • “Let your identity be from God — people are opinionated which can be a barrier but a reminder to let the Holy Spirit lead you.” (Dr. Summers).
  • “We are called to love God and to love his people. We cannot do ministry by ourselves. It is important to come together to experience the full joy of building a Kingdom Force ministry” (Rev. Martin).

To learn more about Wesleyan women leaders, read “Kingdom-style leadership” and visit Wesleyan.org for more information.

On June 30, 2023, Dr. Derr will be transitioning from president of Wesley Seminary to president of Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, Massachusetts, to continue her kingdom leadership journey in Christian higher education. Click here to read the formal announcement.

Sarah Linder is a lay minister for congregational care at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and a stay-at-home mom of 3 boys: Ezra (5) Isaiah (4), and Jack (2).