Women in Leadership Leadership

Women in Leadership: Pursuing Gender Equality in both Policy and Practice


In 2018, the PAOC approved a new Statement of Affirmation on the Equality of Women and Men in Leadership.1This statement intrigued me, not only because of my own journey of navigating leadership as a woman in ministry, but also because I was curious as to how there is such a large discrepancy between the policy of gender equality in leadership within the PAOC and what we are seeing in practice. Many churches and organizations have a stated goal of developing and releasing more leaders. Yet, despite that goal, there continues to be a lack of gender equality in leadership opportunities. In the PAOC, as of 2020, there are 905 male senior pastors and 66 female, showing a large gap in gender diversity in senior leadership positions. Additionally, all district superintendents and International Missions regional directors are men. Overall, there are 2,715 men in credentialed PAOC ministry and 1,018 women.2 There is a need to address this gap by examining the pathways to leadership to ensure equitable opportunities for men and women.

Because of competing theological beliefs and varying cultural expectations on women’s choices, women seeking leadership opportunities in the church can experience complex and varied barriers on their leadership journey. The barriers are often out of sight, hidden within our organizational structures and leadership practices. Research shows that these barriers persist because of a lack of reflection around personal and organizational biases that lead to exclusion.3

In 2021, I conducted a research project with Canadian women in leadership for my master of arts degree in global leadership. Even though the women I interviewed had varied experiences, common trends emerged in the barriers they faced and the opportunities for change they envision. The beginning of the leadership journey starts with women having the courage to see themselves as leaders. They should then be given opportunities to lead that match their strengths, spiritual gifts and calling, receive mentoring and development as leaders, and be part of an organizational culture change that empowers women and men to lead. Not all women want to be the senior leader. However, younger women need to see women in those roles, and see them succeeding, so they realize it is a realistic option for them. A key question senior leaders need to ask is, “What steps along the pathway are crucial to provide support to women who have a desire to lead at a senior level?”

Is change possible? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” I have seen evidence of change in my own leadership journey in the church over the past 20+ years. By addressing strategies to eliminate barriers to leadership for women, we will see the entire church engaged in the mission of God, thriving in their calling with the spiritual gifts God has given. Modelling mutuality in leadership between men and women by having diversity represented in leadership teams would be a strong statement to women in Canada and around the world that they, too, are called to lead powerfully and with authority.

Here are five ways to release more women in leadership:

  1. ZOE Network IDENTITY Course: When Leanne McAlister was associate pastor at Living Waters Church in Langley, B.C., she saw women who were gifted with strengths and skills to lead in both the church and the community, but many hesitated to step forward. Women who had been Christians for decades were confused about their role and identity. Most could not name their top spiritual gifts. This led to a disconnection from their place in God’s mission. The IDENTITY course is curriculum written for women from a Pentecostal, egalitarian perspective. It teaches the clear biblical mandate for including women in leadership roles and helps women identify and name their spiritual gifts and leading strengths. It encourages women to step past fear and to take their place in God’s mission in Canada and abroad. IDENTITY course participants have been taking risks of obedience to move forward with their place in God’s mission, with thrilling results. Seeing women step up, church leaders began to ask for the same course to be made available to men as well. Information on ZOE Network Courses, in both English and French, is available online at www.zoenetwork.ca.
  2. Diversity Training: This is important for church leaders, staff, and board members. We cannot change systems until we see ourselves in the system. We all have biases! Hard work and courage are needed to examine our own biases and understand how they influence our decision making. Giftii Girma, associate pastor at Journey Church in Calgary, is a great resource for teaching on diversity and inclusive leadership (visit www.giftiigirma.com).
  3. Listen: Have some intentional conversations with the women in your church and community. Ask them about their experiences in leadership with an open ear. Make sure you are talking to youth, singles and marrieds, and grandmothers. Ask them about their God-given dreams and find out how you can support them in achieving those dreams. You can ask, “What do you need, and how can I help?”
  4. Egalitarian Teaching: I have gone to church my whole life and cannot recall even a single Sunday morning message addressing the challenging passages of the Bible on female leadership. Hello, 1 Timothy 2:12! Don’t assume people know the context of that verse or the many ways Paul celebrates women in leadership. Tell the beautiful stories of Jesus’ radical interactions with women and how they broke all sorts of cultural and religious taboos. Women and men need to be set free from restrictive theological beliefs that damage our interactions as brothers and sisters in Christ and limit our ability to preach the gospel.
  5. Mentorship: When identifying and developing leaders in your church, mentorship is frequently a key component. Women often have a harder time finding mentors because of a lack of women with senior leadership experience, as well as the reluctance some male leaders have in forming mentoring relationships with the opposite sex. Examine how you can provide mentorship to emerging leaders, both male and female, and develop a network of diverse leaders who can be available as mentors.

Sara Curdie is a PAOC global worker with ZOE Network, overseeing ZOE Projects. She has been in ministry for 25 years, serving as missions pastor at First Assembly in Calgary, Alta., and provides oversight to ministries in Europe and Africa. She is based in Calgary while serving globally.

This article appeared in the July/August/September 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

  1. “PAOC Statement of Affirmation Regarding the Equality of Women and Men in Leadership,” June 2018, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, accessed October 1, 2021, https://paoc.org/docs/default-source/church-toolbox/position-papers/statements/paoc-statement-of-affirmation-regarding-the-equality-of-women-and-men-in-leadership.pdf
  2. “Fellowship Statistics,” January 7, 2021, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, accessed October 1, 2021, https://paoc.org/docs/default-source/fellowship-services-documents/fellowship-stats-at-7-jan-2021.pdf.
  3. Amy B. Diehl and Leanne M. Dzubinski, “Making the Invisible Visible: A Cross-Sector Analysis of Gender-Based Leadership Barriers,” Human Resource Development Quarterly 27, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 181-206, https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.21248.

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