How Pastor Naomi Dowdy’s “attitude problem” about women turned into a ministry

In the spirit of International Women's Day this month, we celebrate and honour all women living out their God-given purpose.

by Theresa Tan // March 22, 2024, 4:44 pm

2018 - PND at Women Arise - altar

Rev Dr Naomi Dowdy praying for participants at the NCW Women Arise conference. Photo courtesy of Network for Christian Women.

One night in 2003, God woke Rev Dr Naomi Dowdy up in the middle of her sleep.

“He said, ‘You have an attitude problem about women’,” she related. 

“I said to Him, ‘I’m a pastor, I mentor men and women. What’s wrong?’”

Pastor Naomi Dowdy praying at an opening ceremony in Singapore in the 1970s. Photos courtesy of Naomi Dowdy.

But as she thought about it in the days following, “I admitted to God that I did have a problem,” she said. She realised that she had only spoken at two women’s conferences in 40 years.

God woke her up again another night and said, “Get a piece of paper and a pen.” When she did, He gave her eight names.

“I looked at the names – they were all international women who speak at big conferences.”

God then said: “Now call them and tell them they have an attitude problem!”

Pastor Dowdy thought: “That’s no way to win friends and influence people, Lord, no way!”

“My purpose is the two will rule and reign together”

It had never been on Pastor Dowdy’s mind to start a dedicated women’s ministry. 

God said, “Now call these international women speakers and tell them they have an attitude problem!”

She came to Singapore as a missionary and evangelist in 1972. She came again in 1975 and this time, in obedience, she stayed and pastored a church, becoming the senior pastor of Trinity Christian Centre for 30 years (1975-2005).

Throughout her many years of ministry, she served God in an array of ways, including founding the Bible school TCA College and halfway house Teen Challenge, and mentoring men and women in church and in the marketplace.

But when God called her out on her “attitude problem” towards women, her obedience led to a new work.

Despite her discomfort, Pastor Dowdy called the eight women to deliver God’s message. 

“All of us had the same attitude – we didn’t want to be stereotyped. Why? Because we all had the same profile, valid ministries speaking to men and women.” 

Their discussions led to them holding several women’s conferences together for a season.

Pastor Dowdy ministering at the 2023 graduation ceremony of TCA College, a multi-disciplinary Christian institute that she founded in 1979. Photo courtesy of TCA College.

“What God said was that men are perceived to be higher and more capable than women,” she explained. 

“He said, ’I want you to break this off women so they can rise up, and there can be a convergence of the men and the women coming together. 

“‘My purpose in Genesis is that the two will rule and reign together, serve together, honour one another, encourage one another, be in unison.’”

Pastor Dowdy took a leap of faith and began by working with one group of women, leaning on God to enable her.

 “We need to water that seed of purpose and allow it to fully develop in every life.”

That grew into meetings where she brought together the women – preachers, pastors’ wives, marketplace leaders – she was mentoring.

At these meetings, negative things that caused them to disqualify themselves, the sense of guilt were removed from these women. They came away with new mindsets.

In 2013, the late Canon James Wong and his wife Esther launched the National Christian Women’s Conference. They invited Pastor Dowdy to be a keynote speaker, along with Lisa Bevere.

Pastor Dowdy and Sister Esther Wong, wife of Canon James Wong, at the 2016 NCW Women Arise conference. Photo courtesy of Network of Christian Women.

The first conference was a success, and Canon James and Sister Esther asked Pastor Dowdy to take over and lead the movement. She accepted, and registered the Network for Christian Women in 2014.

Every year since, NCW has held an annual conference and a twice-yearly mentoring roundtable for women leaders.

Speaking to Salt&Light on the 10th anniversary of NCW, Pastor Dowdy stated: “God has planted a seed of purpose in every person. We need to water that seed and allow it to fully develop in every life.”

Asian women called to arise

Pastor Dowdy has always believed in men and women serving as equals in ministry.

Pastor David Mohan of New Life Assembly of God Church in Madras and his wife Getziel came to know Pastor Dowdy in the early 90s. 

Pastor Dowdy with Pastors David and Getziel Mohan of New Life AG in Chennai. Photo courtesy of Trinity Christian Centre.

She wrote in her book Destiny Calling: “Getziel, who was already a powerful leader, had limited herself to doing only women’s ministry.

“I encouraged her, and affirmed God’s calling and plan to use His gifts that He had deposited in her.” 

With her husband’s support, “Getziel became a regional pastor overseeing hundreds of care cells (small groups).

“This was a breakthrough of great significance and symbolism in a country like India where gender discrimination is deeply entrenched.”

Susan Dunn, co-lead pastor of Alive Church in California with her husband Derek, was a speaker at NCW for two years. 

“Pastor Dowdy’s emphasis on raising Asian women speakers and leaders resonates with me as an Asian woman, and I’m excited about the potential for God’s work through them,” she said.

Pastor Dowdy also sows her time and wisdom into mentoring younger women ministers like Pastor Susan Dunn. Photo courtesy of Susan Dunn.

“She has been a tremendous support in my ministry and marketplace journey. Her teaching has greatly impacted me and even more so her dedication to live her life for Christ is the thing that encourages me to do the same.”

“It was unlike anything we had seen in Japan”

Rev Toyomi Sanga, a District Superintendent with the Assemblies of God in Japan started a women’s mentoring roundtable in 2015 at the encouragement of Pastor Dowdy.

She said: “When I first met Pastor Dowdy, she really challenged my thinking and faith about how God can use a woman. It was unlike anything we had seen in Japan.

Pastor Dowdy with some of the Japanese women ministers she mentors. On the left (in white) is Rev Toyomi Sanga. Photo courtesy of Toyomi Sanga.

“I shared with her my prayers and passion for Japanese women in ministry, for young people, and for the men as well.

“Since 2015, she has come to Japan regularly to lead, teach and mentor us, both in the churches and at the women’s mentoring roundtable. She is guiding us to break out of old unbiblical mindsets. 

“Because of her example, I and these other leaders — both men and women — from various churches have stepped out of our comfort zone, and risen to new levels of faith and leadership. 

“It is an ongoing journey but we are so thankful to her, for being a role model, and for investing her time in us.”

Lilian Ong was running a furnishing business and serving in her church’s nursery ministry when she attended the National Christian Women’s Conference in 2013 and heard Pastor Dowdy speak.

She did not have a clear idea of her calling, but the conference sowed a seed. She said: “I felt a stirring in my spirit for more of God and that I must arise and soar!”

Lilian Ong’s life has been transformed through Pastor Dowdy’s NCW conferences and roundtables, but most of all through her personal mentorship. Photo courtesy of Lilian Ong.

At the conference she learned to trust and obey God, to take courage and step out of her comfort zones, overcoming fear and tearing down ungodly beliefs.

“God wants to see that His women do not sit idle and their gifts do not stay buried but are activated.”

Lilian grew as she came under the mentorship of Pastor Dowdy. In 2017, she published her first book, Women Of Courage, Breaking The Fear Barrier. Pastor Dowdy wrote the foreword.

The book led to the forming of a community called Women of Courage Asia, and a social enterprise Class Living. This year, she held the HER Courage Leaders’ Summit and HER Courage Award, and Pastor Dowdy spoke at the summit.

Lilian said, “Pastor Dowdy has been instrumental in my journey of spiritual growth in leadership development. I have considered her my spiritual mother and mentor since our paths crossed.

“I seek her wise counsel whenever I face challenges. She always prays with me and encourages me to keep trusting God. She believes in me and calls out the strength in me when I struggle with self-doubt.”

Don’t bury God’s gifts

Today, as she has done for these women in ministry and in the marketplace, Pastor Dowdy continues to do for hundreds of women through mentoring roundtables in Asia, and NCW in Singapore.

NCW empowers women leaders by breaking limiting mindsets. Much of the time, the barriers are internal.

“Singapore women mostly do not take time to invest in themselves,” she noted. “They don’t prioritise self-development.”

Through NCW, women get to develop skills and interact with others and “see the Kingdom of God from a larger perspective”, explained Pastor Dowdy.

Pastor Dowdy (second from left) with some of the women leaders she mentors in the Network for Christian Women. Photo courtesy of Yannie Yong.

After the conference, she holds two mentoring roundtable sessions a year with small groups of women. “The purpose of mentoring is not just for them to hear from God but to connect them with others,” she explained.

Many of the women are now flourishing in ministry and in business.

She said: “God wants to see that His women do not sit idle and their gifts do not stay buried but are activated.”

Pastor Dowdy consistently teaches that Christians are to keep moving on to their next God-given assignment.

Just as she handed the leadership of Trinity Christian Centre to Reverend Dominic Yeo in 2005 after 30 years as its senior pastor, her succession planning continues at NCW to Ho Wan Leng, its newly-appointed President.

Wan Leng, a marketplace mentee of Pastor Dowdy, is the CEO of a leadership assessment and succession management consulting firm. 

“Pastor Dowdy’s guidance, wisdom, and unwavering support have been invaluable in my spiritual journey and marketplace leadership,” she said.

Pastor Dowdy is an inspiring mentor to Ho Wan Leng, the newly appointed President of NCW. Photo courtesy of Ho Wan Leng.

Having benefitted from such mentoring, Wan Leng plans to launch a one-year programme in NCW to raise young women leaders in the marketplace.

Starting early 2025, this programme will involve boot camps as well as individual and group mentoring sessions. 

The 10th NCW Women Arise conference will happen August 1-3 at Trinity Paya Lebar.

Wan Leng sums up Pastor Dowdy’s work in NCW: “Her dedication to guiding others along their spiritual journey is a testament to her deep faith and love for God.”

About the author

Theresa Tan

God gave Theresa one talent: the ability to write. Today, she uses that one gift to share His goodness as far and wide as she can. When she's not working with words, this mother of three is looking for TikTok baking trends to try, watching Korean drama and making fun of her cats.