Vision

Church planters who are women are fueling the future

By Elizabeth Glass-Turner

Women are a vital part of the mission of The Wesleyan Church.

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The back of Rev. Anita Eastlack's office door is plastered with photos. Smiling faces peer toward her desk whenever her door is closed. It's a simple but potent reminder of what's at stake in church multiplication: each person on the back of her door is a woman involved in leading or preparing to lead a church plant in The Wesleyan Church. What started out as just four women whom she was aware of has grown to dozens covering her door -- and the number continues to grow. When Eastlack sees the photos, she prays.

Eastlack, the executive director of Church Multiplication and Discipleship for The Wesleyan Church, began the prayer project and started hosting online video calls to facilitate connections among church planters who were women. From the four women she began with two years ago, the regular calls now involve 42 women involved in church plant leadership across the country. It’s a time when women in church plant ministry can build relationships, learn from others at different stages of a church plant cycle, discuss strategies and vision and problem-solve gender-related challenges. In The Wesleyan Church, 12.1 percent of women pastors are active in lead roles. For women called to lead roles in ministry, church planting can be a creative venture to live out that calling.

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Rev. Natalie Churchman of New Hope Wesleyan Church in Hornell, New York, is one of these women. Churchman, who serves as assistant pastor, describes the satisfaction of fruitful ministry in a lively environment.

“Since the first worship service at New Hope, I knew that God placed me in this position to serve him. It is amazing to watch people who have never understood the love of God and his amazing grace come to a saving faith and be transformed.”

Churchman was in the process of becoming a licensed minister when her home church initiated a church plant. At the time, she was a member of her local board of administration. “I let them know I was feeling led to be a part of the plant.” It was the pastor and leadership of the mother church, Buena Vista Wesleyan in nearby Canisteo, that helped her envision herself at work in a church plant.

Having a varied background in ministry has been invaluable for Churchman.

“I believe the best church planters or co-church planters are men and woman who are able to successfully do a variety of ministries. Any church planter needs to be totally dependent on God for strength and direction. Whatever needs to be done, you may have to do.”
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Meanwhile, Shalom Liddick and her husband, Michael, who is also a pastor, are planting a church in Arizona. There is “no specific way you have to look to be a pastor. You just have to be obedient.”

Born in Nigeria and raised in Belize, Liddick believes the call to ministry is clear — but it took a while for the pastor’s daughter to picture herself in pastoral ministry.

“God had to break down the walls.” Liddick didn’t grow up in a denomination that affirmed women in ministry, but finally the moment came.

“The call to pastoral ministry is clear. There’s a certainty, a moment in history.” This clarity is necessary because, Liddick continues, “we’re going to have challenges.” Difficult times can cause ministers to doubt their calling unless that experience is planted deeply to sustain pastors through hard seasons.

Currently, the Liddicks are growing their team, meeting with their coaches and connecting to their community as they prepare for preview services this fall; the official launch is slated for December. As she prepares to step further into the unknown, for Liddick, following her call comes down to learning to trust — and being willing to accept God’s answer, whatever it is.

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In Canada, Kingswood University graduate Amanda Oicle never pictured herself as a church planter. She has a diverse background in ministry, leading kids’ church, prayer groups, small group ministry and launching a Celebrate Recovery program, but never expected to be a pastor.

“When I felt a call to ministry I did not assume it meant pastoral ministry,” said Oicle. “I expected it to be Christian counseling because I had no experience with women in senior leadership, but as I was discerning my next steps for education I felt like God was saying pastoral ministry. My pastor was the first person I talked to about being a pastor and then a planter.”

With the encouragement of her pastor, Oicle’s sense of calling from pastoral ministry to church planting arrived quite specifically.

“God called me to church planting through a vision,”said Oicle. “I was ‘young’ in the gift of prophecy at that time, so you can imagine how shocked I was. I had a dream that my husband and I were walking around with a real estate agent to find a store front building to launch a church. My home church, Deep Water [in Halifax, Nova Scotia], was a church plant so the idea of starting something from scratch was not completely new to me; however, me leading was a very new concept.”

Beginning this August, she is slated to provide senior leadership to a six-year-old church plant in the Toronto area. Part of her preparation for the role has been participating in a church planter cohort for women, which Oicle describes as “a great network of support and encouragement.” Her study at Kingswood has also prepared her for the distinct opportunities and challenges of ministry in a church plant.

Oicole reflected on young adults considering ministry, especially women.

I want women to know that they are vital in the mission of the Church.

“When it comes to the next generation the best way for them to discover the prospect of church planting is to empower them to use their gifts and passions and then mentor them, speak into their lives and help them visualize what God may be leading them to do.”

Back in Eastlack’s office, her door is ready and waiting for more photos of women actively serving in church plant leadership. As she looks for avenues to “close the gospel gap,” Eastlack is driven by an all-hands-on-deck urgency, praying for multigenerational, multiethnic, men and women and lay and clergy ministers to take up the call of the Great Commission and live as sent people.

As Eastlack surveys the North American population, she is quick to note that, “the nations have come to us! North America has become a mission field.” She is determined to mobilize strategies to engage in the mission field on our doorsteps.

“God has given us everyone and everything we need to reach this generation for Christ,” she affirms. The back of her door testifies to this reality.

SERVING GOD TOGETHER is the best way to accomplish the mission of the church. The church needs advocates for women in ministry to open up possibilities for everyone’s gifts.