I had just finished preaching as the guest speaker at a church when a lady approached me and said, “That was amazing, you should be a pastor!” I made a joke about no church wanting to keep me around for more than a day, and the lady laughed.

Deep down, I asked myself the question: Why are we surprised when women are good preachers? Why is it countercultural to suggest that a woman be a pastor?

Throughout the history of The Wesleyan Church (TWC), women have been encouraged to use their gifts in the local church setting including preaching and leading churches. From the beginning of this holiness movement, women in ministry leadership have been a core value to TWC and continue to be encouraged by the denomination.

However, only three percent of pastors leading established Wesleyan churches in Canada and the United States are women.* This stands in stark contrast to the historical and theological values that support women in all levels of leadership in our denomination. TWC embraces these values publicly, yet they are not lived out fully in the local church, especially in the role of senior pastor.

There are three areas that need to be active for TWC to change our current trend and to create a culture of receptivity of women being welcomed into our churches as senior pastors.

Relational Support for Women in Leadership

Can you name a woman called and gifted to lead who married a man unsupportive of women in leadership? If so, is that woman leading today? When women deal with a constant struggle to obtain leadership roles, having familial support is vital to keeping them encouraged and focused on their calling.

It is important for a family to be supportive of a woman’s calling to leadership. If that woman is married, then it is vital for her husband to be supportive of his wife’s spiritual calling into senior pastoral ministry. In multiple cases, a pastor’s husband not only encouraged his wife to become a senior pastor but proactively quit his stable job and moved to a new location so his wife could pursue her journey in vocational ministry.

To change the direction of the current trend, families and spouses need to be supportive of our calling to lead.

Leaders Opens Doors of Opportunity

An overwhelming factor in turning the tide is having a supportive district superintendent (DS) to open the door of opportunity for senior pastors who are women. If you talk with current women senior pastors in TWC, you will hear that a DS was one of the most significant individuals aiding them.

The DS has an important job connecting two groups of people: the local church who has the need for a pastor and the potential pastor who is ready to serve a congregation. Without this bridge, the current number of women serving in leadership among established churches would be much lower, and the percentage of women serving as senior pastors would quite possibly grow as more district superintendents become supportive and proactive towards the pursuit of changing the current trends.

To change the direction of the current trend, district superintendents need to proactively open doors for us to become senior pastors.

Inclusive Education in the Local Church

The local church hiring the senior pastor who is a woman plays an active and important role in breaking the existing glass ceiling. Many TWC churches led by senior pastors who are women have been prepared for her leadership through lay leaders educating congregations on the importance of inclusive leadership. These churches have proactively taught The Wesleyan Church’s theological values and history of women in ministry, as well as the importance of freeing up the entire body of Christ to follow God as he leads. Local churches who are educated in the biblical and Wesleyan foundations of women in ministerial leadership play a significant factor in helping more women become senior pastors.

Once a local church understands the necessity of freeing up both men and women to lead, perceptions can change, and women can be encouraged to lead with excellence and freedom. Putting intentional energy into teaching the local church about the importance of women being encouraged in leadership is vital to move TWC forward as a place where both men and women are welcomed to lead our churches.

To change the direction of the current trend, our local churches need to be proactively teaching their congregations about the importance of women in leadership and showing examples of women who are leading well.

*Based on 2019 statistics.

Rev. Tanya Nace is the executive director of World Hope International (Canada). She and her husband, Jonathan, have two children and reside on Prince Edward Island, Canada.