the shape of leadership

Empowering Women to Lead

Doug Clay and others discuss the need for promoting diversity

Kristi Northup on April 15, 2019

How are women in leadership making a difference in the Assemblies of God? To help answer that question, I interviewed four men who are not only leaders in our Movement, but also innovators in strategically placing women in positions of executive leadership.

As the men discussed the importance of having women on their teams, the insight and clarity were encouraging. Each one pointed to women whose examples and leadership have helped shape their personal philosophies.

I asked two questions:

  • What are your personal experiences of bringing women into leadership?
  • In what ways have women positively impacted those organizations?

Nate Ruch

Dr. Nate Ruch is lead pastor of Emmanuel Christian Center (AG) in Minneapolis.

When I became a youth pastor, I inherited a world of church leaders who were mostly male. As I began to lead, I had to realize my own deficits. I started valuing people who had gifts different than my own. A youth leader named Lori who was a math teacher was good at things I wasn’t good at. She wrote the curriculum for our 12-week leader training, and brought clarity to my vision many times.

I went on staff at North Central University. I saw women doing all kinds of things at different levels. My wife ran for school board in our community and won. She served there 12 years. She became a high-profile leader in our community. I was introduced as Jodi Ruch’s husband, which was the opposite of the clergy world. I saw how they leaned in and listened to her. She was competent in her own right.

When we came back to pastor Emmanuel, I came back thinking differently. Jodi and I said, “Let’s remove some of the barriers.” In the body of Christ, there is no difference between male and female. By this time, Lori had received her Ph.D. I asked her to come on our staff as our next gen director.

How I introduced her to the staff mattered, so her title was Dr. Lori. In time, she moved into the executive of ministry role. We have women at every level: in pastoral leadership, worship, board members, Sunday communicators, and on the teaching team.

If an individual goes to work every day and the CEO is a female, the people [who] have important roles are females, they may see the church as behind the times and irrelevant. If they come to our church, and they see men and women leading, they go, “This is my kind of church,” especially for the emerging generation.

If they look around life and see all kinds of diversity, but the church is a mono-ethnic institution, it’s not the real world. But if it’s unleashed, not just on the platform but at every level of leadership, they feel like, I belong here; I have a place here.

I’m not apologizing for being a guy, but I want to make sure I don’t have any blind spots that limit our leadership to the whole congregation.

A few years back, I attended our Mpact Girls crowning ceremony. I thought to myself, What do our girls dream about doing? I want them to dream about becoming anything God wants them to be. I don’t want them thinking, Pastor Nate won’t let me do that. They need to have multiple models to show them the steps forward.

Joe Girdler

Joe Girdler serves as district superintendent of the Kentucky Ministry Network.

My wife is a professional in her own field. She’s a physician. She is also a spiritual woman. Our marriage has always been a mix of medicine and ministry. My wife is my strongest supporter and my balancing act. She helps me process, and thinks differently than me. Her love and her experiences have shaped me as well.

Early on, I always had women on my pastoral team. When I came in as superintendent, I laid out some plans. One of my key initiatives was to help women be the leaders God intended for them to be. Even though our bylaws didn’t speak to the topic, I appointed a woman to the presbytery board.

“When you are leading a ministry that is dominated by male leadership, something is missing.”
— Doug Clay

As I traveled week to week, I began rallying the message, talking about the call of God. In this Bible Belt region, talking about women in pastoral roles is a serious challenge, but we began to see change. Now, 25 percent of our clergy are female, and one of the largest churches in our network is pastored by a woman.

To me, it’s not about women in ministry or men in ministry. It’s about the call. What has God called you to do? It’s not gender based. It’s just enabling men and women to accomplish the call of God.

In practical ways, women bring a different perspective to the table and to the staff. They can be very affirming in relationships. They tend to know how to equip people, and how to engage people.

I think women have given our Kentucky fellowship an extra level of energy that we were lacking before. We’re talking about the Deborahs, and the Esthers, and the Ruths. They are bringing an element to the Church that it has not had, and that it’s missing if it refuses to receive it.

Kent Ingle

Dr. Kent Ingle is president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.

In my first pastorate, Adele Carmichael was a member. She was one of the first women ordained in the Assemblies of God. Though she was in her 90s at the time, she led a morning Bible study that would see up to 300 people attend weekly. When she stepped into that teaching role, there was a powerful anointing. I saw that when God places a calling, He is no respecter of persons. I sat under her weekly, learning from her experiences and wisdom. It shaped my leadership.

On the day that I came to SEU to interview, on the walls were pictures of great leaders. There was Adele Carmichael, leading a revival in the 1930s. It was as if it were a confirmation to me of what God wanted to do.

In my time as president, we have continued the great legacy of our movement. We have brought on the first female vice president of student development, Bethany Thomas. This is at the highest level of leadership in our organization, and she has made an incredible difference. Bethany has been a part of launching the Center for Women in Leadership, where we have some of the most dynamic Pentecostal leaders pouring into young women.

It also works the other way — dynamic female leaders pouring into our entire student body. It’s not just about equipping women; it’s about helping everyone at every level understand how to work together to better serve the church and the world.

Doug Clay

Doug Clay is the general superintendent of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri.

I was raised by a single mom. My mom is in ministry. She is 87 years old. We just spoke at the North Carolina District Council together. She’s amazing.

Having women in leadership has always been part of what I’ve done. When I was the district youth director in Ohio, I brought on the first woman as a youth rep. When I became a senior pastor, two of my first hires were women, a minister of music and a missions pastor. As superintendent of the Ohio Ministry Network, I put in a female as the church planting director, Donna Barrett.

For me, it’s not about being politically correct; it’s about perspective. When you are leading a ministry that is dominated by male leadership, something is missing. I try to always have women in every meeting, in every setting, on every single team, because it changes the perspective. In fact, if I have to choose between hiring a man or a woman [who] is equally qualified, I always lean toward putting a woman on the team, because her perspective will always be different than mine.

To me, it’s natural. It’s a natural part of how God intended ministry: to have both men and women working together. I’ve only benefited by including women in leadership.

When I nominated Donna Barrett for general secretary, it wasn’t because she was a woman. She had the skill set and the experience. But being a woman was an extra advantage, because she brings a different view. Recently, I had a situation with a female credential holder. Donna brought a dynamic to the conversation that would not have been there if it had just been me and another man.

The main leader has to be comfortable; then everyone in the room will be comfortable. It’s my job to set the tone, to include women as part of the team, and then everyone gains from working together.

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