Preparing Women in Ministry Leadership: Why It’s So Important

by Stephanie Thurrott

When Azusa Pacific University was founded as a training school for Christian workers in 1899, preparing women in ministry leadership was a key part of the school’s mission. And that focus on equipping female leaders continues today.

Karen Strand Winslow, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies and director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Azusa Pacific Seminary, explained that God’s call to serve reaches both men and women. “Notice, as you read your Bible, how inclusive and welcoming God is, how God not only calls, but also provides and directs, not into roles based on your gender, but based on who God needs you to be, and what God needs you to do,” she noted.

Opportunities abound for all. Here’s what you need to know if you’re a woman interested in becoming a leading figure within your ministry.

The Importance of Women in Ministry

Frustratingly, women have often been blocked from serving in leadership roles. According to Winslow, this is “because women have been restricted from access to classrooms, pulpits, platforms, and lecterns for much of history.” Often, women have not been able to see other women in the roles they envision for themselves. Seminary training at APU aims to change that by giving them the foundation to pastor, teach, lead, and serve throughout the church.

“At Azusa Pacific University, our ministry, theology, and Bible courses demonstrate that women throughout the ages encountered God, witnessed God’s salvation, and were used to spread the good news of God’s love,” Winslow said. “APU supports women serving and leading in all areas of the church.”

How APU Prepares Students to Serve

In the master’s degree programs at Azusa Pacific Seminary, women build the foundation for a life of service. The degree path prepares women for ministry leadership positions, paying special attention to the ordination in their denomination. And rightfully so—female students are more than capable of preaching in congregations, writing curricula, leading organizations, running businesses, and pastoring churches.

“Exposure, experience, and encouragement play a critical role in helping women develop as leaders in ministry,” said Janette H. Ok, Ph.D., associate professor of biblical studies at APU.

Emily Wood ‘19, who expects to earn her M.A. in Pastoral Studies in December, noted that education through a seminary program is essential in developing spiritual gifts and equipping pupils to thrive within the ministries to which they hear their calling. “There is much to learn within our faith and much to pass on to those we walk alongside in the journey of discipleship to Jesus,” she said.

Tamala Kelly, ‘09, M.Div. ‘14, D.Min., co-pastor of Abundant Living Family Church in San Gabriel Valley, recognizes how her studies at APU helped prepare her to excel in her career. “[My master’s degree] really strengthened and sharpened me theologically,” she explained.

Women in the programs also learn to respond to challenges they may face based on their gender. Seminary prepares them to defend their calls to serve the church. In addition, this curriculum confirms women’s experiences with God and their desires to follow Christ—and it provides them with crucial ongoing support.

Taking a Leadership Role

Azusa Pacific Seminary is a leader in developing women in ministry leadership. According to the Association of Theological Schools, women make up 28.6 percent of students enrolled in the M.Div. program. That’s nearly four times the 7.5 percent average across other Southern California seminaries. And in all seminary programs offered at APU, women make up 40.2 percent of enrolled students—compared to the 30.9 percent average across regional institutions.

With APU’s proximity to many churches in the Los Angeles region, the school effectively prepares women (from a variety of life stages) for ministry. Those who are newly called to serve learn alongside individuals who are already serving, as well as those who seek more biblical, theological, spiritual, and pastoral formation and training.

“We are a school where women can forge lasting relationships with other students and faculty and gain a supportive network of fellow ministers with whom they can collaborate, commiserate, pray, and partner for God’s kingdom work,” Ok said.