This cultural moment is ripe for women to step into their full calling within the local church.
Burdened by a Church history that has not always embraced women as full partners in the Jesus mission, we are beginning to see a future where women feel encouraged, welcomed, and free to find their voice and embrace their part in building up the church.
With this in mind, we are so excited that Exponential has named women leaders as one of the lanes where they want Exponential NEXT to focus! We are excited to get Women NEXT launched and to lead as content curators. In this introductory article, you will find a bit of background information on each of our leadership journeys.
Janet: My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. I lived in five different cities in four different states before I graduated from high school. Everywhere we lived, attending a local church was part of the experience. Even though I didn’t have deep roots in any one church, I was closely observing and was impacted and inspired by the leaders. I deeply loved Jesus as a child and gave my life to him before I left elementary school.
When it came time for me to decide on a career, I dreamt of serving the local church. I was drawn to ministry. And looking back now, I realize I had a deep sense of missional calling, a desire to serve others with the good news of Jesus. However at that point in my life, I had no vision that ministry could or ever would be a vocational calling for me. I had zero examples of women serving the church vocationally. So, I pursued a career in social work as a way to fulfill my calling of bringing hope and transformation to people’s lives.
I continued to move around as a young adult, following my husband’s career advancement. With each move, the local church was central to my life. It was the primary place I experienced God and grew in my faith as I invested in the community of Christ followers and they invested in me.
Ultimately, I was invited to join a church staff where I was developed as a leader in children’s ministry, support and recovery ministry, small groups, and teaching. This eventually led to my husband, Troy, and I planting Restore Community Church in Kansas City, Missouri in 2008. God has worked through Restore to assist in the planting of more than 60 churches, and to invest nearly $2 million dollars into church planting.
I currently lead in discipleship and spiritual formation and community outreach as well as teach and help catalyze the creation of teaching series for our local church in Kansas City.
Sue: Like Janet, my family also moved around quite a bit. I attended five different schools between kindergarten and 6th grade. In each new city or state, we always found a church to attend. I made a decision to follow Jesus at a small church in Green Bay, Wisconsin around age nine. In junior high, I was always the kid inviting friends to attend youth group and camp.
Working in ministry or a church was never on the radar for me though. I went to state college to get a teaching degree. I taught 7th graders for nine years and really enjoyed those years (well, most of them!).
It was during those teaching years that I realized I had gifts that could be used to serve the church as well. I began praying that God would reveal where he wanted me to serve. Two weeks later, I was asked to lead the high school Sunday school class. Because I had been praying, I just knew in the moment that I was supposed to say, “Yes!”
That yes led to years of investing in the high schoolers in that church. When the male youth pastor resigned, the senior pastor asked me to consider taking the job. I don’t think I even prayed about it. I just said, “Thanks, but I don’t have the educational background for that. I didn’t even go to Bible college.” I don’t remember anyone trying to convince me otherwise. And I really don’t remember disqualifying myself because I was a woman, but perhaps looking at an all male staff (except for admin help) played a part. As I look back, I wonder if I missed an opportunity to answer God’s call.
Fast forward a few years, I met and married my husband Dave at that church. He felt a call on his life to plant a church, and six months after we were married, we moved to lay the groundwork for Community Christian Church.
We didn’t really co-plant. I kept teaching in the public school system to pay the bills. Dave and four others planned for the church launch. As we have reflected on that season, we realize I should have been included on that planting team. From the beginning, I used my gifts to serve in the nursery and lead small groups.
After 20 years of serving as a volunteer, I took my first paid role – first in Kids’ City as a leader of leaders, and then in my first love of small groups. This past year, I took a leap of faith that God would provide and accepted an invitation to fill in in an interim co-campus pastor role at our largest location while we looked for a new campus pastor. I clearly heard God say, “Step up for such a time as this.” It was a faith shaping experience that I’m glad I said yes to.
I have invested in, trained, and equipped male and female leaders through the years, but in my current role, 90 percent of my time is spent investing in female leaders. I love watching women lean into God’s calling on their life, and the opportunity to encourage and equip them to take a leap of faith into leadership.
Both of us are grateful for the many church leaders who have invested in us over the years. And now we look forward to the opportunity to be equippers, connectors, and encouragers for women leaders in all church contexts through this opportunity to serve and lead with Exponential NEXT.
The Exponential community includes leaders and churches that are in various places on the theological spectrum of complementarian and egalitarian. While recognizing and respecting this difference, we hope to come together to encourage both men and women to be even more equipped to work alongside one another in our collective missional calling.
We will bring you podcasts, articles, and videos from various missional leaders that we believe will equip and inspire ourselves, our peers, and the next generation of leaders. Stay tuned.