Making disciples

Developing Female Leaders Toward the Fulfillment of our Mission

Partners with the President with Gloria Grell

Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin interviewed Gloria Grell about a new cohort for women in ministry called Prepared. You can watch the full interview here.

In my six years as EFCA President, I’ve met many female leaders throughout our movement. They're committed, faithful, strong and eager to serve with a deep heart for the Lord Jesus. As they become more invested in their church, attending Bible studies and weekly services, they sense a call from God to do more, to use the gifts that He’s given them to serve the church for His glory, to disciple and share the good news of Jesus with others inside and outside the church. Yet, due to stage of life, location or financial situation, they often don’t have the opportunity to receive the biblical and theological training needed to step into greater church leadership and discipleship.  

Perhaps you know a woman like this from your church, a woman who has significant gifts for leadership and discipleship and sharing the gospel with others. She has the gifts but she knows, and you know, that these gifts could be stewarded with more formal education and the support of other women traveling with her on this leadership journey.  

I believe this raises a question: How can the EFCA do more to train women toward the fulfillment of our mission?

I believe this raises a question: How can the EFCA do more to train women toward the fulfillment of our mission?

From Deborah to Priscilla 

Throughout Scripture, we see how God raised up women to fulfill His purposes. From the prophet Deborah leading Israel during King Jabin’s reign to Ruth following after the Lord in her mother-in-law's footsteps to Esther becoming the Queen of Persia and helping save the Jewish people from their enemies, these faithful women answered the call God placed on their hearts.  

And, in the New Testament, we see how Jesus honored women in a culture where that wouldn’t have been the norm; even His disciples marveled that he was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:27). After Jesus’ ministry, we see female leaders co-laboring with male leaders, like Priscilla and Aquilla, discipling believers and serving the Church. 

Women in the EFCA 

Likewise, the EFCA has a rich history of women answering the call of the Lord to be on mission and share His good news with the world. In a previous Partners with the President, I wrote about the EFCA’s evangelical heritage and how one of the Free Church’s first mission fields was in Utah to Swedish Mormons. Well, what I didn’t mention was that the first missionary sent to that mission field was a woman—Ellen Modin.  

After reading Fredrick Franson’s article in a Swedish newspaper about the need for missionaries in Utah, Ellen Modin answered the call. She received funding from the Swedish Free Church’s “united treasury,” becoming the first missionary in 1885. She worked there for 6 years, primarily sharing the gospel to Swedish Mormon women. At the time, the Salt Lake City Herald referred to her as “Miss Modin, the Swedish Lady Missionary.” 

Miss Modin is just one of many faithful and dedicated women in the EFCA’s history: there’s Josephine Princell, an author, speaker and founder of Women’s Missionary Society of the EFCA and Amanda Gustafson, an eloquent speaker, teacher and musician who traveled from church to church as an evangelist, among others. Today in the EFCA, women serve in many levels of ministry. To name a few: there’s Jennifer Kvamme and Keri Early serving in local churches; there’s Katie Arnold serving the Oklahoma-Texas District; there’s Diane Martinez serving in Immigrant Hope; there’s Katie Dudgeon, Amy Richey and Jen Cox serving in ReachGlobal; there’s April Warfield and Carole Lehn serving at the national office; there’s Laura Survant and Debby Rowe serving on the EFCA Board of Directors. So many gifted women serve across the movement today.

From the prophet Deborah leading Israel during King Jabin’s reign to Ruth following after the Lord in her mother-in-law's footsteps to Esther becoming the Queen of Persia and helping save the Jewish people from their enemies, these faithful women answered the call God placed on their hearts.

Partnering together toward the fulfillment of our mission 

Along with women leading in the movement, the entire breadth of the EFCA benefits from ministry partnerships with key female leaders. Alex Mandes and April Warfield serve together in the All People Initiative, pursuing our mission by developing multicultural leaders committed to disciplemaking, gospel impact and community transformation; Bob Rowley and Katie Arnold serve together in the EFCA Texas-Oklahoma District, raising up leaders, serving churches and increasing ministry effectiveness in the district; Carole Lehn and I work together at the national office, providing organizational leadership and ensuring the operational health of the national office; Laurie Seay and Justin Wevers work together on Challenge, the EFCA’s biennial youth conference. These are just a few of the significant partnerships across the movement. 

I celebrate these partnerships and how God is advancing the mission of the EFCA through the work of these faithful men and women serving together. How can we grow these kinds of ministry opportunities and expand the development of female leaders for the sake of the gospel and the furtherance of our mission? 

Acknowledging gifts 

The EFCA exists to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. To effectively live out this mission, we need to recognize and acknowledge the gifts, abilities, perspectives and roles of both women and men in the EFCA. When we honor and affirm each others’ gifts, respect and listen to each others’ perspectives and champion biblically appropriate ways to serve together, we strengthen the church’s effectiveness in our mission.  

When the topic of developing female leaders arises, important questions sometimes come with the discussion. These are natural questions that have risen over the centuries. At the EFCA Theology Conference in February 2020, I reaffirmed the EFCA’s Conference decision on ordination being reserved for men, provided guidance on how to navigate and determine leadership opportunities for women and highlighted how out of those convictions we can expand more opportunities for women in the Free Church. I invite you to read my entire article called Women and Leadership in the EFCA to learn more. 

A significant and growing number of EFCA churches seek to expand opportunities for women to use their gifts and abilities to lead and teach within the church. More churches are hiring women to serve in a variety of ministry roles and include women in various leadership positions. For the spiritual health of the church, we need to expand more opportunities to train and educate female leaders with sound theological and biblical teaching.

When women step into ministry equipped with sound theology and biblical doctrine, pathways for discipleship will increase.

Introducing Prepared 

A little over a year ago, an idea was brought to EFCA national ministries leadership and myself by a group of EFCA women who had been training women across the movement. They said, “We keep hearing requests for a long-term, systematic program for women, rather than just a short seminar, that better equips women for ministry." Out of this idea and need came Prepared, a gospel-centered, affordable, two-year, cohort-based training program that honors the EFCA’s position regarding ordination, led by several women of the Free Church that teach at Christian colleges.  

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Gloria Grell, the director of Prepared. Gloria earned a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1985 and a Doctor of Ministry degree in 2015. She is also an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute. I encourage you to watch the video of my interview with her below to learn more about Prepared:

Equipping women strengthens the EFCA 

The opportunities to grow and strengthen the church are great, with plenty of room to identify women for ministry and invest and equip them to teach the Word of God well. When women step into ministry equipped with sound theology and biblical doctrine, pathways for discipleship will increase. Because, as I mentioned in my last article on Developing the Next Generation of Leaders, they will pass on what they’ve learned as they make more disciples, establishing more sound biblical theology across our movement and strengthening and encouraging those disciples to do likewise.

Include women in the conversation. With humility and grace, invite women to be part of a healthy dialogue in the church about where women can serve, how to cultivate their gifts and what the church can do to support them.

How EFCA churches can develop women for ministry 

Prepared is a tangible way the EFCA educates and trains women for ministry. But how can EFCA churches develop them in their own context? To get started, a couple of principles come to mind (many of which apply universally):  

  • Identify and encourage female leaders in your church. Find women who love the Word, who are godly and faithful and steadfast and who have shown leadership in a church ministry. This may seem simple, but it’s an essential step in the process.  
  • Intentionally find opportunities for women to serve in leading and teaching within your understanding on what the Scriptures and your local church affirm. In many cases, we're just not opening the doors for gifted women to lead. Whatever the position for these leaders, create pathways for opportunities and bring women into those roles. 
  • Include women in the conversation. With humility and grace, invite women to be part of a healthy dialogue in the church about where women can serve, how to cultivate their gifts and what the church can do to support them.  

God calls all people to use their gifts 

We need opportunities for all people in the EFCA to use their gifts toward the fulfillment of our mission. Women and men, young and old, black and white, everyone working toward encouraging and discipling the body, sharing the good news of Jesus and multiplying transformational churches among all people. Like Esther, like Priscilla, like Ellen Modin, women have a significant role to play in this mission. As we move forward on this journey, let’s continue to find ways to develop their God-given gifts and open every door possible, preparing, equipping and encouraging them onward as we co-labor together for His purpose and glory. 

Kevin Kompelien

President, EFCA

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, serving in this role since June 2015. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

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