Pivoting with the Times
General Secretary Donna Barrett takes steps to ensure her office runs efficiently.Nearly 3½ years into her role as general secretary of the Assemblies of God, Donna L. Barrett is enjoying the nuts and bolts of a job that would drive many former pastors bonkers. Her duties include overseeing the credentialing of ministers, chartering churches, and compiling official statistics.
But being wired to tackle administrative chores and with a background as a paralegal in a law office, Barrett is in her element.
“It’s a part of the Church that has to be done if we’re going to be a Church of integrity,” says Barrett. “Providing accountability and having a robust credentialing system is important.”
Barrett came into the vacant office in June 2018 by a vote of the 21-member Executive Presbytery, which serves as the board of directors for the Fellowship. In 2019, General Council delegates elected her to a four-year term.
She is the first female executive in the history of the AG, working at the national office in Springfield, Missouri, as one of the six members of the Executive Leadership Team.
When she travels for her job, Barrett says she is often surprised at the number of women ministers who view her as an inspiration.
“Those who have given their life to an organization benefit from seeing someone like them in leadership and feeling they can flourish in leadership in whatever opportunity comes their way,” says Barrett, who served as a church planter and general presbyter in Ohio before her taking on her national role.
Among credentialed ministers in the AG, a record 27% are female, and 6% of lead pastors are women. Barrett is encouraged that many women ministers are developing leadership skills.
“They do not want to be invited to the table just because they are a woman,” she says. “They want opportunities to come their way because they are the best leader qualified for the position.”
At present, five women are in general secretary posts among the AG’s 66 districts/ministry networks, including the first two in non-Hispanic districts last year. Barrett says she longs for the day when women won’t be recognized primarily for their gender-breaking accomplishments.
“It’s my goal that we normalize men and women working shoulder to shoulder as ministry colleagues, instead of it being such an anomaly,” says Barrett.
Barrett says she doesn’t feel like a token as the only woman on the six-member ELT because each elected officer brings a unique perspective. She notes that U.S. Missions Executive Director Malcolm P. Burleigh enlightens others on the team from an African American standpoint, as does General Treasurer Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús from his Hispanic background.
Barrett says she appreciates the approach General Superintendent Doug Clay takes in ELT meetings.
“It’s not a top-down leadership style, but it’s a collaborative roundtable leadership style that gives space to have difficult conversations,” she says. “Doug, while being a strong leader, is an avid listener not intimidated by pushback. He is the best leader I know.”
The admiration runs both ways.
“Donna brings an expertise of skill sets to her ministry assignment, and a deep love for the Church and ministers, which makes her an outstanding general secretary,” Clay says. “She is a blessing to our Fellowship and our leadership team.”
With COVID-19 restrictions implemented around the country in the spring of 2020 impacting churches, Barrett’s department had to pivot from many traditional methods of gathering and disseminating statistics.
Rather than the year-end Annual Church Ministries Report, Barrett says her office has implemented “ACMR Reimagined,” a form that requests fewer responses and allows churches to respond at more convenient intervals rather than merely at the end of the year.
In addition, because many district/ministry network offices closed physically during the pandemic — sometimes for months — the general secretary’s office introduced a method by which ministerial applicants could take a proctored test remotely. Now, authentication of required signatures can be done through digital documentation, rather than relying on the postal service.
Among Barrett’s goals are helping the AG multiply congregations as swiftly as legally possible, plus assisting districts/ministry networks in facilitating the credentialing process.
“We want to ensure that the person called to ministry finds the on-ramp of how to obtain credentials in a fast, efficient, and user-friendly way,” Barrett says.
Barrett also is working to ensure that those in the AG’s two dozen language fellowships feel at ease in efforts to charter churches and credential ministers. Currently, 32% of AG credentialed ministers are ethnic minorities, a record high.
“We want the culture of the general secretary’s office to be less like the IRS and more like Chick-fil-A,” Barrett says. “We want to get them through the line quicker, keep the quality high, and not have too many hoops to jump through.”
Barrett credits her office team of 12 for keeping apace with the needed changes. She lauds the efforts of Sherri L. Doty, who has been the denomination’s statistician for 40 years.
“The Assemblies of God has the reputation of having the robust system of collecting and disseminating accurate statistics and all the credit goes to Sherri Doty,” Barrett says. “She is an amazing statistician who stands head and shoulders above her counterparts in other tribes.”