“I’m going to turn around, go back down the stairs, and run out of this building.”
That thought went through my head about nine years ago as I headed to speak to a group of women in my church.
My family and I had moved back to Michigan after living in Tennessee for four years, and we had gladly returned to the church we had attended in the earliest years of our marriage and family. My husband and I jumped back into worshipping, serving, and doing life alongside our church family with our four children.
I reengaged with great hunger and passion in the women’s Bible study classes. I attended a class the first part of that year, and then had the privilege of co-teaching a class later that year with one of my mentors. The women’s ministry director asked if I would be willing to speak at an end-of-the-year celebration for those classes. I was excited, and frankly pretty flattered, to be asked by this woman I respected, so I prepared for that talk like it was the State of the Union.
The morning of the event, I was nervous but still excited—until I walked up the stairs to the meeting room with one of the matriarchs of our church. She kindly complimented my new dress and told me she and her daughter, another respected leader in our church, had prayed for me that morning. At that moment I realized the audience I was speaking to that day—women who had taught me and were still teaching me. Women who had more knowledge and experience than me. Women older and wiser than me. No new dress was going to cover up the fact that I was the rookie. Then the escape plan went through my head.
Thankfully, those panicky moments on the stairs humbled me, and I was able to share effectively with the group that day. But the experience stuck with me. Even now, nearly a decade later, with more experience and teaching behind me, I go back to it. As I lead there are always women who are older, more experienced, and wiser than me. Here are four key lessons I’ve learned in leading older women.
Four Pieces of Wisdom for Younger Leaders
1. Accept a sincere posture of humility.
When you’re the younger woman leading older women, you are automatically in a lower position, even if, initially, the only thing lower is your age. What’s your attitude about that lower position? Acknowledging that you have less experience than the older women you’re leading—whether it’s in life or in ministry—will help shape your perspective. If you willingly and respectfully accept that position, then you’ll be prepared to take on a posture of humility.
Your posture includes your attitude, tone, and intentions. Are you considering the older woman as more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3)? What are your facial expressions and tone as you speak with her? Do your actions reflect a humble posture? A posture of humility will include interacting with older women in sincerity so that Christ might be formed in each of you (Gal. 4:19).
2. Find common ground.
While there will always be differences between younger and older women, there is always some common ground. First and foremost, you are each created in the image of God and are worthy of each other’s respect and care. Your common ground increases exponentially if the other women are Christians. Plus, you’re all women!
You share some kind of context too. You’re part of the same church, group, class, or setting where one is leading the other. Work from that common ground. You probably share some core values, a commitment to God’s Word, a desire to connect with other women, or a host of other common beliefs, gifts, skills, or interests. So look for, talk about, and build on that common ground.
3. Build from differences.
Once you’ve found common ground, go ahead and notice the differences. (You might have noticed those first anyway!) But when I say notice, I really mean pay attention to, acknowledge, and address the differences. There will be different life experiences and circumstances, and perhaps different goals or ideas about how to act, speak, or serve. So instead of questioning or even scoffing at them, take notice, remember the common ground, and then build from a combination of both. Differences have great value when each of us have a shared purpose of glorifying God and making and growing disciples. Through our differences, God grows you and His kingdom.
4. Delight in the combination of older and younger.
While there are complicated, tricky, and just plain hard parts of being a younger woman leading older women, there are wonderful things too. Younger and older women working together are effective for the kingdom in ways we wouldn’t be if we were apart. When I’ve accepted a posture of humility, found common ground, and built upon differences while leading older women, I’ve shared moments of connection—and true delight—I wouldn’t have imagined.
If you pursue these four key things as a younger woman leading older women, you may find the same purpose, growth, and delight I have found. You’ll transition, as I am, from being the younger to the older, in more healthy and helpful ways. And you will be leading like Christ—as a servant focused on His people and His Father.