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A Mile in Her Shoes: Highlighting Female Pastors in Rural Churches (part 2)

Grace Leone & Janna Lu

To understand the rural church in its entirety, we delved into the experience of female pastors in their rural settings and explored their understanding of God’s call to ministry. You can find the first part of this two-part series here.

Now, to gain a more holistic view of their lives and ministry, we asked them about the blessings and challenges of the ministry in their lives. Many thanks to the pastors who took the time to craft thoughtful replies to our questions.  

The Challenges Female Pastors Face

Trials in ministry come in many different forms, but all pastors experience certain challenges in shepherding a congregation. Over the past year, many of these challenges were related to the pandemic and the seemingly never-ending string of adaptations churches and other organizations were forced to make in response to it.  

For one group of PRM pastors, the challenges of navigating a year of pandemic restrictions, often marketed by strong opinions on opposing sides, may have had a slightly familiar feel. For many female pastors in rural churches, working through challenges and differing opinions has been a longstanding part of ministry.  

Pastor Dawn Sherwood describes how there have been a few people who left the church because a female pastor was called. “For some,” she reflects, “accepting a female ministry happens quickly. For others, it is a long—or nonexistent—process.” Pastor Pratt shares a similar experience. “We just have to keep proving [to] ourselves that our call is real.” Pastor Hunt adds that it is important for “any pastor, but women in particular, to be approachable and flexible while also able to stand our ground when confronted.” Drawing on her background in business and music, she states, “God prepared me to deal with high powered personalities. Training in Holy Spirit-directed decision making mitigates self-centered decision making and builds a teamwork culture. That culture is a great benefit to any pastor.” 

For some accepting a female ministry happens quickly. For others, it is a long—or nonexistent—process.

Pastor Dawn Sherwood

Focusing on what really matters is something that the pastors hope people can come to do when they see a woman in ministry. Aside from understanding the implications of a rural setting and the rural lifestyle, Pastor Hunt emphasizes that ultimately “people are just people. And most respond positively to kindness, integrity, respect, and sincerity. As a woman in the pulpit, I first pray that my messages are trustworthy to God’s word, and secondly that they are relatable and informative to both men and women.” 

The Blessings Female Pastors Find 

Despite the challenges, there are undeniable and fruitful blessings to being a woman in ministry. A lot of them center around community. Pastor Sherwood emphasizes the importance of fellowshipping with other female pastors. For her, this is in the form of a group of pastors that meet weekly over Zoom to discuss Scripture. Working and praying side by side with brothers and sisters in Christ is fruitful to all involved, and a great opportunity for ministry.    

Efforts to keep the church running through the pandemic came from the inside and outside. Pastor Schubert recalls some of these blessings. “In the last twelve months, God has prospered us through grants, material donations from partnering churches and organizations, and outside cash donations. We gained a testimony and a new purpose. We’ve only gotten to the beginning of serving our community and extending our reach. Love joins us together. We are fit for His use.”  

Ultimately, blessings come from somewhere other than the internal workings of the church and those on the outside donating time or money to keep it running. Mother Elizabeth remarks that “most blessings in ministry have more to do with God and the personal gifts that He gave you.” Addressing those who protest to a woman in the pulpit, most pastors commented on how their gender is not what matters. Mother Elizabeth shares that despite people setting different expectations for female pastors, “there are ways in which my gender is useful in ministry, and it is lovely when people recognize those aspects as well.”  

Points of Prayer  

When asked how they could be prayed for, the pastors mentioned a variety of opportunities for encouragement. All asked for prayer for wisdom, guidance, and perseverance. “I ask for prayer for all pastors—male and female—as we continue to negotiate this pandemic,” Pastor Sherwood states. “Much progress has been made, but challenges continue to lie ahead of us. Pastors are normally the people who others come to with not only concerns and prayer requests, but complaints about the current situation. Please pray that our congregations may have patience as each of us handles this to the best of our ability. Prayer for church leaders is extremely important as we discern how God is guiding us through this storm.” 

Mother Elizabeth asks for encouragement for young women who want to go into ministry. “Encourage women to lead groups or missions, to give talks on their topics of interest. The real encouragements for me have come when people have taken me seriously as a priest and allowed me to do the work I am called to.” In a similar vein, Pastor Hunt provides a word of caution for women going into ministry. “It will require training and equipping to ensure that you are prepared to deal with opposition and criticism from both genders and are able to respond with spiritual and emotional maturity.” 

Further Encouragement 

Finding their place in Christ and in the specific churches they serve, the pastors appreciate groups that encourage that incentive further. “Groups like my seminary, my denomination, and the Rural Ministry Program encourage me because they live for a higher purpose,” Pastor Schubert reflects. She hopes that she can encourage someone else to live out what they believe God is calling them to. Through the trials and blessings of finding your vocation and navigating its ups and downs, success lies in a Christ-centered focus. “Find your place,” Pastor Schubert remarks. “Stay there and rest.” 

Grace is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior English major with writing and design minors at Grove City College. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area. 

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Janna is a writing intern for the PRM and a junior economics major with a writing minor at Grove City College. She is the Vice President of Student Mission Fellowship and Marketing Director of Kingdom Week. She grew up in Singapore but calls Turkey home now.