“You have the type of leadership gift that has baffled the church for years!” Tom said to me, bemused.
“Yeah, I know,” I admitted sheepishly, feeling like I ought to apologize.
He wasn't the first person to make this observation. Most of my life I've felt like a walking contradiction. Christian-Woman-Leader: three characteristics that aren't ALL THREE supposed to be found in one person. Believe me, I've asked God to give me different gifts. No one is bothered by a woman with the gift of hospitality. Or mercy. Or service.
My friend Tom was right. Some Christian organizations don’t seem to know what to do with women leaders, and as a result, some women leaders don’t really know what to do with themselves in Christian organizations. Though many of us have owned and operated successful businesses, directed community projects, or held public offices, the minute we find ourselves among the body of believers, we’re like fish out of water.
Which is sad, really, because the God who saved us also gifted us and called us. He gifted us to lead. And contrary to popular belief, most Christian women who have strong leadership abilities have absolutely no desire to overstep their God-given boundaries. We submit to our husbands. We respect our pastors. We pray for our elders. We want to do the Lord’s will in the Lord’s way. But somehow this becomes crazily confusing at church or on the mission field! The rules of engagement are often unspoken and awkwardly enforced through sanctioned condescension or polite indifference. I've never heard anyone try to argue that God does not gift women to lead; yet, I've seen many try to avoid the implications of the fact that he does.
Some have tried to resolve this tension by defining arenas within Christian organizations and churches where women are permitted to serve as leaders. Women can lead children (what mother doesn't?); Women can lead other women; Women can serve as deacons; Women can chair event committees. I know some the verses that seem to support such an approach; yet I know many others that contradict it. Priscilla would have been out of a ministry position—after all, she taught a man. Deborah could not have been a judge—she had authority over men. And don’t even mention Junia (no one ever does!)—the woman that Paul refers to as an apostle.
On the other hand, some people have sought to resolve this tension by waging war in the church. Losing sight of grace, love, and humility, they have wrangled rights and recognition using means that no end could possibly justify. Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that the way up is down, that the first shall be last. We (men and women) are to seek to serve not demand to lead. While pitching self-righteous fits in the name of equality, many have forgotten that our ultimate call is to wash feet. We fight over titles and ignore the real work that needs to be done.
So what’s a girl to do? If she pushes too hard she might get stamped with an ugly label and create strife among the body of believers. If she suppresses the gift she might quench a fire that burns within her. What is God’s highest and best for both the body of believers and the women leaders in its midst?
Through the years, I have been blessed to work in churches that have helped me to grow and thrive as a leader. I have also been blessed to serve in Christian organizations that respect traditional views about women in leadership. In both experiences, I've made a lot of mistakes. But I am learning how to honor my brothers and sisters in Christ while doing the kingdom work to which I have been called. Over the next few months I’d like to explore some attitudes and activities that I’m trying to embrace as a leader. Topics will include:
· Submitting willingly to every authority that God has placed in my life· Washing feet. Keep washing feet.
· Honoring my brothers/sisters; speaking well of them and of their leadership
· Staying teachable, welcoming input, responding favorably to feedback
· Blessing my critics
· Leading where I am in quiet confidence (without expecting applause)
None of these are new concepts and none of them originated with me. They are simply some things I am learning to apply to my life so that my leadership will honor Jesus. I’ll be dedicating one blog a week to the subject of leadership, a subject that both thrills and terrifies me.
If you regularly read my blog, then you know that I don’t instruct or teach—I don’t in any way consider myself an expert. I just share my experiences, I explore ideas, and I describe what the Lord is teaching ME. I will take that same approach to this subject. Please feel free to chime in! I welcome your input and I grow from your wisdom. May all be said and done for the glory of God.