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Leading Across the Gender Gap

Despite challenges, Kelly Preston is fulfilling God's calling as a senior pastor in Ohio.

Women who are leaders are nothing new to the residents of Gahanna, Ohio. The mayor, several council members, and a number of prominent business leaders are female. So when Eastside Community Church opened its doors in the Columbus suburb in 2012, Kelly Preston -- a wife, mom, and the fledgling congregation's lead pastor -- quickly gained acceptance.

It wasn't always so easy for Preston, however. Growing up in church, she believed she could pursue any dream God gave her. Yet she rarely encountered female ministry leaders.

"I never met a woman pastor until I was an adult," Preston says. "Still, the more I grew in the Lord and my understanding of the spiritual need in the world, the more I felt I wanted to pursue ministry."

Preston and her husband, Greg, served seven years as missionaries in the Eurasia region. There she met gifted women whose skills in a male-centered culture weren't recognized or utilized.

"I was frustrated because I wanted to lead people and care for them," Preston says. "I wanted to preach and be myself rather than feeling inhibited by my gender."

At one point, when Preston accepted an offer to preach at an international church in North Africa, part of the congregation vowed to stay home rather than listen to a woman.

After returning to the U.S. in 2007, the couple began fasting and seeking God about their next steps. Kelly felt called to preach, while Greg sensed he would serve better in other areas of church ministry.

"I had never seen a married woman serving as a church's lead pastor, so I never even considered it," she says.

Nevertheless, as Kelly and Greg planted a church together, their unique gifts and roles became increasingly apparent.

With Kelly settled in as lead pastor, and Greg serving as executive pastor, the congregation is growing and thriving. The church that started as a home Bible study now meets at the local YMCA, with a weekly attendance of 80 to 100. In the U.S. Assemblies of God, 22.9 percent of ministerial credential holders are women, and 4.8 percent of lead pastors are female.

The couple has two sons and a daughter. Preston says she hopes they will learn by example that every worker is wanted and needed in God's kingdom.

"I don't even want this to be an issue for my daughter when she is 25," Preston says of Claire, who is now 4. "I want her to know that whatever God puts in her heart, whatever her passions are, she can do them. He didn't give her skills because someone else wasn't available. He purposely gave her those to use for His glory."

Christina Quick

Christina Quick is a former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer who attends James River Church (Assemblies of God) in Ozark, Missouri.