Publication Date

Spring 2017

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Randall Capps (Director), Cecile Garmon, and Whitney Peake

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


Subsequent to receiving official approval from denominational authorities more than 40 years ago, an increasing number of women appear to be expressing a ministerial call upon their lives and entering pastoral leadership. Many women pastors find acceptance in mainline protestant denominations (MPD). Yet, despite improvements, women still face unique challenges in ministry compared with men. Nevertheless, they continue to pursue opportunities in ministry. Mentoring helps offset impediments and provides a professional development outlet for enhancing skill sets and empowering women to overcome these hurdles. Thus, the purpose behind this study remains to identify challenges faced by women pastors related to acceptance in MPD and to examine the mentoring models used, if any, for their professional development. Seven mainline denominations served as focal points for this endeavor: United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church, American Baptist Church, United Church of Christ, and Christian Church Disciples of Christ.

A qualitative, case study design provides the framework for this study. One female pastor from each of the seven denominations was purposely selected to participate in a semi-structured interview. Additionally, eight “wild card” options were intentionally chosen for contribution: two male leaders, two professors, two lay members, and two additional female pastors. Two research questions divided into 10 interview questions, as well as a demographic questionnaire encompassed the data gathering materials for this examination. Summarized lists of challenges experienced and mentoring models used captured four main themes relating to journey, challenges, acceptance, and mentoring. Almost all findings for this study are supported by empirically-based literature. Conclusively, many women in pastoral professions experience challenges and limitations from peers, congregants, and the public when accepting and pursuing a call to ministry. Despite the seemingly overwhelming data that suggest women in ministry face an excessive amount of challenges, some remain who not only support the concept, but also embrace it. This leads to empowerment for women that provides satisfying and fulfilling work which produces motivation and retention, not to mention spiritual and worthwhile benefits.


History of Christianity | Leadership Studies | Sociology of Religion | Women's Studies