“It’s not my season to lead.”
“I don’t have the right spiritual gifts.”
“Leading/mentoring just isn’t my thing.”
“I don’t feel qualified.”
Sound familiar? When meeting with women in small groups and through mentoring relationships, I’ve heard these responses quite often as I’ve invited women to step out to lead or mentor.
Why do many women believe they must have their acts completely together in order to step out and lead other women? True, as servants of the Lord serving His women, we are to exemplify excellence while shepherding our flocks, as we are serving God Himself. But it’s equally true that no one, especially not our heavenly Father, expects us to lead perfectly. In fact, perfectionism can derail God’s higher plans for our ministry. (Read this post for more on perfectionism.) God shapes us into the leaders He made us to be as we are leading.
Here are five truths to prevent a woman with tremendous leadership potential from quitting before she begins:
1. Great leaders learn as they lead.
Joshua, Moses, Esther. These leaders were called to step out in faith long before they felt ready. They held three things in common: teachable hearts, faith in God, and overwhelming opposition. God used battles and desperate, seemingly dead-end situations to train them in courage. They weren’t instantly courageous, nor were they instantly faultless leaders. God taught each one as they took small (and sometimes giant) steps of obedience. Ask a potential, but intimidated prospective leader if perhaps taking an uncomfortable step of obedience is part of the training God might have for her.
2. Qualified leaders are serious about sin.
I once interviewed a woman in whom I saw great potential to lead. We were discussing her readiness to be a mentor in a high-commitment, nine-month program. She nearly removed herself from consideration because of her tendency toward uncontrolled anger with her husband.
She admitted her sin battle and shared how God was using the Word to apply truths to dismantle the stronghold of anger in her life. What she assumed would disqualify her for leadership in fact qualified her and raised my opinion of her character. Her confession displayed great transparency and humility. She asked if she could pray about mentoring, and I walked away from our meeting convinced she was far more qualified than others I’d interviewed.
Why? She wasn’t cavalier about sin. Instead, she humbly took a hard look at her tendencies toward anger and was actively seeking God’s freedom and healing from her sin struggle. I want a leader on my team who is quick to see the plank in her eye and take it to the only One who can remove it.
Be certain to help a potential leader identify if she needs to deal with her sin struggle before she leads or if it’s something the enemy is using to deceive and disqualify her. A leader who is openly vulnerable with her sin struggles gives those she’s leading permission to be authentic and real with their sin. But one who hasn’t dealt rightly with unconfessed and deliberate sin needs more time before she’s ready to lead others.
3. Leadership styles vary (and that’s a good thing).
As I direct women’s discipleship in my church, I often visit women’s groups. It never ceases to amaze me how differently each group operates under the same core values of encountering God, studying and applying His Word, and serving others. Some leaders begin their groups with music. Others start with prayer. Others warm up with an icebreaker question and catch-up conversation. Some share how they applied the Scripture lesson. There are about as many varieties of good leadership styles as there are varieties of wild flowers. The tapestry of leaders in the Church puts God’s beauty, strength, and creativity on display—no two leaders are alike!
If a potential leader feels defeated by not being as well versed in Scripture as “leader A” or not being extroverted like “leader B” or not being able to pray down heaven like “leader C,” I simply encourage her by identifying the specific strengths she brings to the leadership table. You might also suggest a spiritual gifts inventory and discuss the results together.
4. Leaders grow when nudged outside their comfort zones.
Stepping out of our comfort zone is seldom easy. Often, it can be terrifying, but it can also be enormously gratifying. It helps to have others pushing us out of the nest and cheering us on as we stretch our wings and attempt to fly.
Every ministry leader has been asked (or told) to lead an event, program, or campaign that she dreaded to attempt or never dreamed she could pull off. Share the ways God has personally called you out of your comfort zone into areas that stretched and taught you. Be truthful about the fears and failures that accompanied the new role or challenging ministry area. Recount the victories that came with obediently following God’s lead and relying on His strength rather than your own qualifications. This will help a leader see her own potential and give her permission to learn through both her failures and successes.
5. Exemplary leaders focus on being vs. doing.
My pastor constantly reminds us, “Ministry flows from being a person of God.” Powerful and effective leadership flows from being with God first. Identify the women in your sphere who have an intimate, vibrant relationship with God as a prerequisite for ministry. Chances are, the women who might discount their ability to be a leader are most qualified because they are resting in whose they are instead of trying to define themselves by getting busy doing leadership things.
If you’ve identified a woman who’s tempted to quit before she begins to lead, take a moment to ask why. Could it be she’s allowing some obstacles to prevent her from serving in an expanded capacity? Consider scheduling a follow-up conversation and listen with the ears of your heart. One or more of these five truths may encourage her to soar to new heights as a not-yet-perfect but developing member of your women’s ministry team.