Women Senior Pastors Speak Out: An Interview

CGM: What unique blessings have you experienced as a woman in ministry?

Cheryl: The most unique blessing is the opportunity to bond in ministry partnership with sisters who are women of God.

Diana: I have been tremendously blessed over the years. I am certain that some of the opportunities that I have had in ministry have been the result of the calling body wanting to hear a female voice and perspective. So, I have been the “token” female in a plethora of situations. But those opportunities opened the way for me to be called not simply because I was female, but because I was gifted and met the need of the ministry. As a result, I have literally traveled the world, and have friends and supporters on just about every state in the Union and on nearly every continent in the world.

Donna: Internally, there is such peace, rest, respite, and joy of knowing I Am has blessed me to be who I am. But externally, I have met and entered the lives of so many wonderful people because of my calling—from pregnancy care centers, to government, to women’s conferences and special interests, to cashiers at Walmart. Sometimes, just sometimes, such a spark goes off standing in line at Walmart talking. After a little conversation, which I cannot resist, someone says the magic words, “What do you do?” That is a rush. Also, the privilege to carry the Word in visioning, creativity, preaching, and teaching alongside great men and women who’ve blazed that trail is my great joy, as well as the fellowship of other women in ministry—a haven and a healing in itself.

Melissa_Pratt_FORWEBMelissa: I don’t think it is because I am a woman in ministry, but I have been blessed to lead a congregation that hasn’t questioned my leadership. I think, however, that is a response to my gift mix and simply the fact that God has decided to use me at this time, in this place. Again, I don’t know if it is gender-related or gifts-related, but I see a wide-variety of ministry needs that I don’t think many of my colleagues see and respond to. I think the way God uses me to nurture the congregation (follow up after surgeries, celebrate their successes in school and with their sports team, notice their absences, remember their special days, stay connected with students even when they go to college, etc.) is perhaps somewhat like a mother. That ability has been very effective in retaining people and opening the door for significant conversations and in-depth ministry.

Shannon: I would guess my blessings are the same as any pastor. I feel blessed to be allowed to be a part of people’s lives and to speak into them. I feel blessed to be involved in a church that is actively moving towards a building (we are currently worshiping in a storefront). I feel blessed that God can use my life to draw people into the kingdom.

CGM: What are one or two things you wish people would better understand about women in ministry?

Cheryl: That excellence in ministry reflects God’s creativity more than human conformity. God has called each of us to become our best self in fulfillment of his purpose.

Diana: God calls people not by their gender, but by design and by the measure of his gift and grace in them. Women can serve in the ministry and in the home without contradiction.

Donna: It’s biblical. Of course, we can’t mandate people’s personal judgement on this issue, but this is the Church of God, right? Learn what the Church of God vision of women in ministry is. If you don’t embrace it, you are not in alignment with this movement. If you bring your personal and cultural preferences into a church that believes in women in ministry, you are bringing in a divisive spirit that may create division later. You automatically cut your prospects by 50 percent when you rule out women based on personal or cultural preferences. It’s a tremendous covering to have both genders ministering together in our churches, campaigns, and various arenas of service.

Melissa: Women often have insight/intuition that male counterparts don’t possess. In a world where professional women lead businesses and corporations, those kind of professional women need to feel their gifts and abilities are recognized and utilized and welcomed by the church. Of course, ongoing education from Scripture about the call of women is also critical. Pulpit committees who are afraid to candidate and call women need to talk to churches
where effective women have led.

Shannon_New_Spangler_FORWEBShannon: We are no different than the men who lead: We have lives and families and feelings. We struggle and work hard, we have weak moments and God-inspired moments. We do what we do because we believe that God has asked us to do it. We want to be used as well; we want to share in the ministry of God’s kingdom-come. We believe our voices need to be heard.

CGM: Which women in ministry have been particularly inspiring to you in your ministry journey?

Cheryl: My inspiration has come from many women ministers, both within and beyond the Church of God, more than I can name, but here is a short list: Willie Barrow, civil rights leader in Chicago (deceased); Pansy M. Brown, pioneer in Christian education (deceased); Letitia Jones, pastor in Arlington, Virginia (deceased); Delores Carpenter, Howard University; Hattie Downer, Brooklyn, New York; Jeannette Flynn, Summerfield, Florida; Hyacinth Grannum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rebecca New-Edson, western Pennsylvania; Lori Salierno-Maldonado, Kennesaw, Georgia; Susie Stanley, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Gina Stewart, Memphis, Tennessee; and Diana Swoope, Akron, Ohio.

Diana: I was extremely blessed to be exposed to women in ministry all through my formative years. Ozzie Waddleton was a frequent evangelist at our church in Detroit, as well as Johnnie Mae Brown. I was mentored by Rita Johnson and Annie Ayers. Addie Wyatt and Willie Barrow were quite influential in my development. I preached several times for Lillie McCutcheon, and had the privilege of counseling with her. I am constantly inspired by the courage and tenacity of my contemporaries, such as Cheryl Sanders, Jeannette Flynn, Arnetta McNeese-Bailey, and others. I see great hope in the church as I witness the ministry of Erin Taylor, Melissa Pratt-Senseman, Tatum Osborne, among others.

Donna: Jeanette Flynn, Brenda Snedden, Bobbie Walker, Arrow McCullough, Ann Gramlich, Judy Weeks, Cynthia James…

Melissa: A few of my Church of God sisters who have gone before me have been people I have admired (Cheryl Sanders, Diana Swoope, Jeanette Flynn), but they have been so few and far between that there isn’t a standout “mentor.” I am hoping to be that mentor for several women coming after me.

Shannon: Rebecca New-Edson—she is my mom, but she is such a great inspiration and example of what it looks like to be faithful to God through everything. She has broken through barriers, and led with wisdom and humility. She is the reason I always knew that women were called by God as well as men. Jen Hatmaker—author, speaker, mom. She has inspired me to lead well, to lead with integrity, and that family comes first. The first time I heard her speak I thought, “I want to be like her!”

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