Not God’s Second Choice
ORLANDO, Florida — Assemblies of God ministry leader Beth Backes urged women to mentor, converse with, and spur others on to higher goals in a talk on the opening day of the two-day Influence conference that kicked off July 31. Around 250 people, overwhelmingly female, attended the meeting, one of three dozen breakout sessions that served as a prelude to General Council, the biennial gathering of the U.S. Assemblies of God.
Backes spent a dozen years planting urban churches in Minneapolis, New York, and Seattle before joining the Northwest Ministry Network, where she is director of pastoral care and credentialing, 12 years ago. Backes spoke about “Creating Community-Based Leadership Development for Women in Ministry.”
She sensed a ministry calling during her first year at an AG college. But Backes recounted how the dean discouraged her from signing up for a new church planting degree the school offered — because of her gender. Backes found that odd in a denomination that has advocated the equality of men and women pastors since its inception in 1914. It served as an eye-opening moment as Backes comprehended that her ministry trajectory would be different than her male counterparts because of cultural and systematic hurdles that make advancement difficult.
Although women clergy have constitutional acceptance, there has been a longstanding cultural resistance, Backes said.
The ratio of women ministers has been gradually increasing in recent years, currently up to one-fourth of all AG ministers.
“We are living in one of the best times in history to be a woman in ministry,” said Backes, who is facilitator of the Network of Women Ministers.
Nevertheless, Backes pointed out that only 34 percent of U.S. AG credentialed ministers are ordained, compared to 61 percent of men. Ordination is the key to achieving positions of leadership, she said. She noted that just 5 percent of U.S. AG lead pastors are women and only three of 209 district officials are female.
Motherhood is one reason. Backes didn’t finish her undergraduate degree until her early 30s after giving birth to two children — although she now has a doctorate. But gender biases still keeps women out of key posts, she said.
“We need to be more intentional about providing leadership development for women,” Backes said. “It’s biblical, it aligns our beliefs with our behaviors, and it works.”
While there are women church attendees who are powerful leaders in the business world, their options in serving a congregation too often are limited to distributing bulletins, baking goods for a sale, or changing diapers in the nursery, Backes lamented.
Backes reviewed the importance of women learning from each other to gain confidence. She discussed a variety of peer ministry options, including mentoring, coaching, and webinars. Backes participated in a “mastermind” group,” an online gathering of a dozen women from diverse locations, vocations, and ethnicities.
Shiloh Gideon Sjöström of Minneapolis has been in a mastermind group with Backes. She said the group activated a dormant restlessness, cured her stagnation, and provided support in a safe place.
Dee, an AG single missionary in a sensitive country, said the mastermind group provides a community for common struggles plus enables women to feel less isolated.
Repeatedly, Dee said she’s heard people express sentiments that they feel she is on the mission field only because a man didn’t answer the call.
“I am God’s choice,” Dee declared to applause. “I’m not a second choice.”
Photo: Shiloh Gideon-Sjostrom (left) with Beth Backes