How To Not Be a Token Female Leader

For many women in leadership, earning a place at the leadership table takes years of diligence and hard work. But once you have the seat at the table, how do you avoid being the “token” female leader? In this episode of the Women in Ministry Leadership podcast, hosts Rhonda Davis and Julie Cole talk with Dr. Tammy Dunahoo, who has made a significant impact in her leadership role in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Dr. Rhonda Davis: We are so excited to have our friend with us today, Dr. Tammy Dunahoo. And I want to read just a few things about Tammy, because there’s a lot of wonderful things to say. The thing that I love most is that Tammy’s greatest passion is to create environments where groups of leaders can discern the movement of God together. Where we can imagine creative and effective ways to engage culture with the gospel, where women and men of every people group are connected and equipped to lead a disciple, making growth, culture, wherever they serve and fulfill the mission of God.

I love that purpose statement that she has, but she’s the Director of Leader Health and Development for the Foursquare Church and has served the Foursquare Church in multiple roles for many, many years. Tammy is a friend of mine and a friend to Women in Ministry Leadership. She is a champion for women who are saying yes to the call of God and Tammy, we’re just so grateful that you are with us here today. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Tammy Dunahoo: Thank you, Rhonda, Julie. It’s great to be here.

Julie Cole: Well, I’m going to kick this off with a question that we ask most every guest and that is how did you get here? Did you always dream that you were going to be a woman in ministry leadership, or what was the journey and the steps along the way that led you to this place?

Tammy: Well, my story’s a bit different. I did grow up in the church, but I did not dream of this at all. In fact, I dreamt of being a physician and had planned to go to medical school and didn’t have ministry anywhere on my radar at all. In fact was running quite the opposite direction. A little bit probably like Jonah, and it was while kneeling on a Sunday night in a worship service, a woman that I really respect, an older woman in our church came and she knelt over me and said, “Whatever Jesus is saying to you, do it.” And I knew at that moment she had no idea that this was beyond me and I needed to obey.

And so being the young girl that I was with a lot of immaturity, I began to bargain with God and say, “Well, if I’m going to do this, I can’t do it alone. I need a partner, and this is what I want in my partner.” And two months later, I met my husband. We were joined at the hip immediately, became fast, best friends, and that was 44 years ago. And we began pastoral ministry when I was 19 ,41 years ago in April.

Julie: Wow. And your extended bio says you and your husband pastored together 38 years. I’d love to know what did that look like for the two of you? Were you a co-pastor, or did you have a staff position? How did that look?

Tammy: Yeah. Three years into, we had been associate ministers and worked in our district and our denominations, three years into it, we took our first senior pastor. And early on, we tried to figure it out. And so I did a lot of music, a lot of worship because I’d been a pianist since I was four, really trying to find my voice and my gifting. We had a very pretty traditional mindset at that time about the role of men and women in the church. And so it was over a journey where really my own leadership, gifting and heart began to emerge. And I would say we worked it out through the years and then eventually became co-pastors in the last many years of our pastor, we served as co-pastors.

Rhonda: And then from there, from your pastoral ministry, that led you into broader organizational leadership, is that right?

Tammy: Yes. 19 years ago this week, I began as a denominational leader, and I started as a district supervisor over the state of Arkansas, really planting churches was our emphasis. And then I moved into leadership health and church health ministry, and then 13 years ago, became the vice president general supervisor, and I served in that role for 12 years. And now I’ve been in this role for a year.

Rhonda: That’s amazing. It’s so interesting that you originally felt drawn to the medical field, which is bringing health and putting things back together and that wasn’t all together wrong exactly, just a little bit of a different path. It’s amazing God-

Tammy: Doctor of a different kind is what my husband says.

Rhonda: That’s right.

Tammy: And now really into leader health and development, and it’s a holistic view. So it’s body, soul and spirit. It’s growing healthy leaders that look like Jesus and serve the church and the world. So it really has come full circle. My young mind had a different mentality, but I’m very grateful for the journey in and where we are today.

Rhonda: Yeah. So in your work, you’ve worked with a lot of church leaders, but I’m sure a lot of female leaders especially who are saying yes to the call of God and you have served as such a great model for them of what God can do. But are there any trends that you’ve noticed over the years that female leaders really run into? Maybe blind spots or strengths that come with this ministry calling.

Tammy: Well, I’ll be honest with you guys, I really think that Jesus is doing something right now in his church with women, greater than I’ve ever seen before. Honestly, it has felt like women have led in obscurity, undercover so to speak, for many, many years. But in recent years, I’ve just been experiencing, everywhere I go, interdenominationally across the board, globally, a change in people’s heart and mind toward women in leadership. And I’ve often believed that the key to this is for people to recognize their own journey, take responsibility for their own health and growth and be ready when Jesus says now. And I really think that’s the key for women, that trajectory, no matter what the assignment is right now or what it looks like, prepare yourself, grow, be healthy, be ready. So when the assignment comes, you’re more than equipped and ready to go.

Rhonda: We’ve talked to other pastors and leaders before about especially male leaders that are wanting to see women more active in their churches, and they’re saying, “We want them to show up.” And sometimes it’s like, once they get to the leadership table, they’ve spent so much energy just getting to the table, to the opportunity, that once they get there, there’s not a lot more for them to say. They haven’t done that work that you’re talking about. So talk to us a little bit more, what does that look like to do some of that work, to be ready for the opportunity?

Tammy: Yeah. I have a very strong belief that we all have work to do in our souls. I’ve done a lot of work around neuroscience and human development. Dr. Jim Wilder has become one of my favorite reads and just his work that he’s done on trauma, on things that we need that we don’t get, and things that we don’t need that we do get, and the trauma that causes in life and how it shapes a soul, and that soul work has to be done. And there is not a human alive that doesn’t need that because we all have our journeys and part of the wholeness. I love the word holiness because of what it means in wholeness. And so the work of wholeness that needs to be done in our souls, the spiritual practices that cause us to be ready and fit, our mindsets that need to be stretched, all of those I think are what every disciple of Jesus is called to. And then when we do that work, growing in the leadership competency just becomes a natural gateway beyond that work.

Julie: I love that. Think about the 10 virgins and being ready and having oil in your lamp and how it is so much about that. You can’t just kick back and hope it. Your chance comes. You’ve got to be ready for it.

Tammy: It’s never wasted. No matter what the assignment is, none of that work is wasted because you are a minister and I believe the best practice is before you get a position. The best practice of leadership is without position because that’s the proving ground.

Julie: Okay. I’m going to see if I quote you right, but I was in another panel with you and you said this quote, and I loved it. So many times as a woman, you show up and any of us are the only woman at the table, and you may feel like a token. And you said, “You’re only a token if you don’t deliver.” Did I quote you right?

Tammy: Exactly.

Julie: Can you unpack that a little more?

Tammy: I was told when I took my first denominational role that I was a token leader, and it was a friend of mine who was telling me this and he was trying to warn me.

Rhonda: Man, thanks a lot.

Tammy: About the environment. Well, right. But he really had my best interest in heart because he was really trying to warn me of the environment I was about to step into. And it was at that moment that I knew the Lord spoke this to my heart, that you’re only a token if you act like one. If you come in as a leader and that you’re supposed to be at the table, not that you deserve it, but that you have been graced it, then you need to come in competent and ready and prove that you’re supposed to be at the table. If you don’t, then you’re proving, oh, you’re just a token. What? Your gender, your age, your ethnicity, whatever the reasoning is, you’re there as a token. But if you come in as a contributor and you are well able and prepared, that whole thought goes right out the window when you really contribute to the table.

Julie: And part of that being graced to the table is that soul work, to that point to where you can reach that. Yeah.

Tammy: Exactly.

Julie: Do you have any advice that you’d give to young women that feel like they’re in that unrecognized stage, but they have that leadership call?

Tammy: I always love to point all of us, men and women alike, back to the stories of scripture and how many times there was a long preparation period that we move past so quickly. We read the stories as if they’re three days in essence and they’re 30 years. And we miss the point that the preparation, and really this comes into my core conviction, and so I need to state that my core conviction is that God has one goal for all of us, and that is that we be conformed to the image of his son.

Tammy: And so if this is God’s one goal, it really doesn’t matter about the assignment or the leadership or any of that. If we are submitted to God’s one goal of the transformation of our lives that Christ be formed in us, then whatever we are ready for, that assignment begins to come along because the purpose of God’s confirmation of us is so that Christ will be seen in the world, the faithful presence of Christ through us, his body. So that’s the goal of God.

So I have a little different take even on leadership because I think we’ve talked about leadership so much that we believe we are when the reality is Jesus is the leader and Lord of the church. The rest of us are all members in particular with gifts and grace to give to the body of Christ, to build itself up and be mature in the fullness of Christ. And so it’s really not about the position of leadership or the tables or any of those things, it’s about what position in the body do we fill? Do we fulfill that part well as we all follow the leadership of Christ ahead?


I wonder, it seems like sometimes there are particular trip ups or pitfalls that we fall into as women on that journey. I think early on, like you’re saying, you’re not a token if you don’t deliver. Trying to discern, how do I show up well? How do I use my voice properly? How do I behave as a proper contributor to gain the favor of those that are around me? Can sometimes lead us to patterns where we just keep tripping up. Have you found that with women that you have worked with? Are there issues that you keep circling back to, or was that only just my experience?


Oh, absolutely, Rhonda. I don’t mean this the way it’s quite good to sound, but it’s just so fitting all the time for me. When Jesus is sending people out, he said, “I’m going to send you out a sheep among wolves.” And I would say, that’s not the people that were being sent to, it’s the environment. When it’s not conducive to women leading, the environment is like wolves. And this is what he said, “Be wise as a serpent.” And I took those two words, and for me, wise as a serpent, I’ve prayed since I was a little girl that God would make me wise beyond my years and my experience, because I knew in all of my life, I’ve been placed in places that I was not old enough nor wise enough to do from family all the way through.

And so that’s always been my prayer. And I’ve learned that prayer, actually there’s a shrewd point of that. And shrewd means to be extremely astute, wise and discerning. It’s cunning in a right way, in a righteous way. It’s a deeper word than I think sometimes we grasp and women especially should walk in that wisdom that Proverbs talks to us about specific to our gender, that we walk in such wisdom, astuteness, discernment, that we know what to say and when to say it and how to say it. And that’s the harmless as dubs point. So I’m so astute that in the moment, I’m harmless as a dove. So I call it velvet covered steel. It is being wise and discerning and gracious and kind. And when you put those together, there’s a weightiness that comes in your leadership that doesn’t come from a position, it doesn’t come from a skillset, it comes from that work of God on the inside.

Julie: So good. When I read your heartfelt desire and your bio, it almost sounds like a picture of revelation. Let me see. It has diversity in engaging culture, men, women of every background and engaging the culture with the gospel of Christ. And I wondered, that’s a big vision and we all want that, but are there places or a place where you have seen that recently or in your career where it’s like, okay, that’s a glimpse of what I’m going for?

Tammy: I can tell you a story of a young woman I just sat with, and she’s a therapist. She’s moved to Northwest Arkansas, and she has such a passion for table communities, and she has come into this city and she’s moved into a neighborhood, and she started with her family on Sunday morning, around the table having church. And then they began to invite people to the table from their community. And what started it for her, it’s an African American family, and they were the only African American family in their entire neighborhood. So when all of the racial tension had been growing so strong, she put flyers on everybody’s door and said, “Can we talk? Can we just have a conversation about this?” 40 of the 42 houses in her neighborhood showed up for the gathering.

Julie: That’s amazing.

Tammy: And they ate together and they talked together. We were there this Easter Sunday when they launched a house church network and they had all kinds of games for the kids and food and had invited the entire neighborhood to these block parties. Now more and more, she’s beginning to have spiritual conversations with her neighbors. And I stood there on the lawn looking around, and I saw every generation. I saw different ethnicities. I saw men and women, and I literally wept standing there on her front yard because I went, here’s the kingdom of God. This is it. This is what it looks like when real people follow Jesus, are transformed by him and live assault and light, wherever they work, worship, rest, and play.

And it was lived out right there.

Rhonda: That’s awesome.

Tammy: And that’s why I say to her, you are minister of the gospel in your office, in your neighborhood, everywhere you go. That’s the kingdom of God. And women have, I believe, have a unique gift to do this because I believe we have a gift of hospitality, and I’m not talking about just setting a table. I’m talking about providing a welcome. We know how to create an environment of welcome, and that’s really the biblical gift of hospitality,

Rhonda: Which is so different than chasing after a title or a role or a job, it’s actually kind of the opposite. It’s inviting a conversation that says, maybe I could learn from you too. Maybe we could learn from each other, and we talk a lot about championing one another. We talk a lot about just resting in the way God has made us and how much more powerful. Literally, our bodies as women are designed to welcome.

And so I think that it’s amazing. Maybe if we would stop striving so much and just invite conversations, maybe that’s the difference that you were talking about earlier between just sitting back and taking up this seat and really engaging and contributing to conversation.

Tammy: It’s actually what I was going to refer to, Rhonda, when you ask where do women keep getting tripped up. I think this is it. I think striving for a position, striving for a place of the table, striving for leadership can actually take you out of your best self. There’s nothing that I’ve done that I went looking for. I was always surprised when it came to me and I always said no the first time, every single time. In fact, our president at the time, the last time he called and invited me to the Journal Supervisor’s office, I said, “No.” And he said, “You always tell me no, just wait and pray about it.” And it’s because I don’t expect it. I don’t go looking for it. And so when it comes, I feel so incompetent, unprepared, and really inadequate for the role. But I think that when we step into it with that position, we know we’re desperate for God to lead through us. And every single time that’s been my story.

And I really believe that for one thing, I believe the culture of leadership in the world and in the church is changing radically. And because of that, if women could understand in this past probably four decades leadership as it’s been defined by the world and the church is very masculine in its characteristics, its traits, it’s persona, but that’s been shifting in recent years. And if you look at the persona of leadership today and in the corporate world and in the church, what’s beginning to happen, it’s been for me, I’ve been just watching it with such joy because I’m seeing a shift where women will naturally fit in this leadership style where maybe they didn’t fit as well before. I think that’s the work of God, just moving us toward his kingdom in this hour. And I don’t think women are going to have to strive. I think there’s going to be plenty of room for everybody. If we will just not get distracted by looking toward leadership.

Rhonda: I agree. Well, what are you involved with right now? What’s happening where you are?

Tammy: Well, it just so happens we are doing some fun things in our denomination of Foursquare Church, really moving us toward an atmosphere of growth culture that this is just the norm. We make disciples and we grow. I use the language from womb to tomb. So we never stop growing. And that our healthy culture of holding people able is around that mindset of we’re always growing, and we need one another to do that. So I’m very excited about that and the direction we’re taking. But there’s another piece to this that’s in my responsibility that I started moving toward and then recognized, oh no, there’s a grace and a call on this that’s larger than our particular movement and tradition, and it’s become very interdenominational.

I’m partnering with Danielle Strickland and a group of other leaders in something called The Company, and we’re taking that from Psalm 68:11. “The Lord gives the command and a great company of women brings the good news.” So the Lord just begin to put something in my heart about a year and a half ago of what would it look like to mobilize a company of women to do something different than maybe they find a place to do right now? And it’s a lot of what we’ve just been talking about. So a group of us got together, we had a prophetic prayer day. We had two or three days together in New York, planning meeting. We ended up with six nations represented and none of us I think had in our minds what this was actually becoming, but we have three things that we’re focusing on and that’s being companions of Jesus and one another. It’s cultivating vibrant ecosystems like I just described of the lady in our community. And then it’s birthing new faith communities.

I believe that there are lots of new faith communities to be established all around the world by women. I know that’s a strong part of our tradition and I believe it is of many others. And I just sense the Lord saying, “It’s time.” And so we are very excited. We’ll be launching in just the next few months, and we’ll just see what it all becomes. It’s very interdenominational. That’s what’s fun for me. The women that are just coming from groups everywhere, networks, denominations, hearing about it, we’re making contact with them. We have a vision for a minimum, I’m saying now. It grew from 500 to 5000, and now I’m saying a minimum of 5000 women who will be involved in The Company.

Rhonda: Oh, I want to be in The Company.

Julie: Yes. And so for those that maybe listening and say, “I want to be in this,” how do they find you? The Company.

Tammy: If they’ll email me right now at, we will be launching with our own emails and websites soon. But for right now, I’m making personal contacts with anyone who reaches out.

Rhonda: Okay. That’s great. I love having conversations with you because I always leave feeling better and stronger, and so I have no doubt-

Julie: Inspired.

Rhonda: Yeah, inspired. I have no doubt that these 5000 will feel the same too. But as we end our conversation, what’s something that you’ve been reading or practicing lately that’s been helping you grow?

Tammy: Well, as I mentioned to you earlier, I’ve been reading all things Jim Wilder. So Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You and Renovated, and it’s shifted something significant in me. I had an encounter with God in January that has really, I’m 61 years old, and it has radically changed me and released a joy in my life like I’ve never known. I’ve always been a person of peace. The Lord, I think gave me that as a young girl. I’ve always had this sense of peace in my life, but I’ve never experienced joy like I have in these last six months.

And so it’s finding a relationship with Jesus, a constant awareness of his presence like I’ve never known. It’s going for a walk and knowing he’s walking with me. Waking up in the morning and saying good morning, and it’s not just the same way. There’s something fresh and unique about understanding the Emanuel God. And it has been really life changing for me. And I just encourage every woman out there, that is the most important thing that when you are so attached to God, that you have that mutual mind with God, that with-ness with God, changes us from the inside out, and that is contagious. It is infectious. People want to be around people who are truly becoming like Jesus, just like they wanted to be with him. They want to be with us when we look like him. So that’s what’s been stirring in me for about six months now and I am very grateful.

Rhonda: That’s wonderful. And maybe if we can all join together and go on this journey together. How much more impact personally and for the kingdom? So we appreciate the work that you’re doing and just pray, blessing, and favor on it as you continue to gather women, and thank you just for being such a model of what’s most important along with wonderful successes that can be appreciated and celebrated, really that strong inner life and attention to the spirit is what is so attractive about you.

Julie: I’m impacted too that your whole ministry started by a woman leaning over your shoulder and saying, “Whatever he says to you, do it,” and how you now are doing the same for multiple women. And perhaps that’s part of the invitation that we women get to usher, or whatever he says to you do it.

Rhonda: Right.

Tammy: Absolutely.

Rhonda: Well, thank you for being with us, Tammy. It’s just such a joy to chat with you, and thanks for the time today.

Tammy: Thanks to both of you, enjoyed it very much.

Rhonda: So thanks for listening today. If you liked what you’re heard, we just asked you to click the subscribe button, and we’ll keep coming back for more conversations as we grow as women in ministry leadership.