When Korista Lewis-Beaty obeyed the Holy Spirit's call to serve as lead pastor of a small rural Assemblies of God church in the Northwest, she had never met another female lead pastor before.
But nine months later she found herself at a conference for AG pastors under age 40 where she met Rachel Ross, who has pastored The Assembly in Jackson, Michigan, since 2002. Ross invited her to breakfast with Leila Ojala, who planted Elements Church in Summit County, Colorado; JenniferMcAfee, pastor of Villages Community in Fort Worth; and KathyCannon of Sacred Church in San Bruno, California.
Each of them is lead pastor of her congregation.
"For me that first meeting was the breath of life," says Lewis-Beaty, 36, who now is lead pastor of VillageHouston, a church in the largest city in Texas. "It was a comfort to know that we had some similar shared experiences in ministry and leadership, but also the diversity of our ministry philosophies, experiences, life seasons and leadership methods added such richness to our discussions."
As the five realized that their connection likewise brought richness to their journeys as female lead pastors, they recognized that sharing their experiences in their own online forum would bless and empower others as well.
Then came the launching of their own blog, The Preacher Girls, which is devoted to issues regarding Christian life and ministry leadership-daily challenges and joys faced by any pastor who's leading a church. Rather than serve as an advocacy platform, the blog aims to encourage, equip all leaders, and connect other women in senior leadership into cohorts and relationships similar to theirs.
Resources on the blog include best practices from the women's journeys and helpful ideas to guide other pastors. Forty percent of the 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per month to the blog are men.
In addition, The Preacher Girls have offered a face-to-face immersion experience that they hope to replicate in the future. That immersion, held in October at First Assembly in North Little Rock, Arkansas, featured panels and breakout sessions on practical subjects such as discipling men, pastoral care, and best practices for missions strategy, among other topics.
At the inception of the Pentecostal movement, women formed an integral part in church leadership. A 2010 AG position paper reaffirmed women in ministry. According to the most recent statistics, 23 percent of the denomination's 36,884 ministers are women. Among the denomination's 10,995 lead pastors, however, only 533 are women - less than five percent.
Cannon, 34, is a fourth-generation AG pastor whose grandfather was discipled and raised up by two female church planters. Two women leading a Bible study started the 75-year-old church she now pastors.
"Our culture changed, and it started to influence our practices," Cannon says. "The next generation did not necessarily know about those women. They weren't in front of them every day.
Several conservative denominations espouse that women cannot have authority over men, thereby prohibiting female lead ministers.
"Pastors and leaders who aren't from our Fellowship have caused a lot of struggle for women pastors," Cannon says.
Ojala, 36, believes that secular feminism altered attitudes toward women in church leadership.
"We had amazing pioneering women, and then the feminist movement came in," she says. Pushing back against that, Christians began to view female leaders even in Pentecostal churches with suspicion.
Ojala notes that her call to preach came as a young woman.
"I'd never seen a woman pastor before," she says. "I had no context for this. I just knew God had called me to lead in the body of Christ."
Although AG leadership is supportive of women lead pastors, she says patriarchal traditions sometimes rule by default. One simple example is that at sectional meetings, breakouts for women were scheduled at the same time as breakouts for ministers. Once Ojala pointed out the problem, the program schedule was changed; organizers simply had not considered the challenge that presented to female ministers.
"In order for young women to see this as possible for them, we do need to keep moving forward," Ojala says. "But we are hopeful."
The Preacher Girls agree that the key issue remains the same for male and female pastors: obeying God's call.
The Preacher Girls (from left) are Kathy Cannon, Rachel Ross, Leila Ojala, Korista Lewis-Beaty, and Jennifer McAfee.