Do you long to make room for younger women to lead? Do you lose sleep wondering how you’re supposed to pass the baton to the next generation? As a leader, you may sense the Lord nudging you to pour into younger women—but as you observe those coming up behind you, how do you decide which women to prepare for leadership and to put on a platform? Find out how to identify and equip new leaders in this interview with Julie White and Leslie Bennett.
Meet Julie and Leslie
Julie White has served the Lord all over the world. After meeting Christ in college, she followed Him to Japan, Egypt, and a number of countries in Eastern Europe. Throughout her life, she has served in both big and small churches, as well as parachurch ministries. Today she is an ambassador for Revive Our Hearts. Julie’s passion is to come alongside female Christian leaders and help them to be all they can be for Christ.
Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two churches and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. A teacher at heart, she is devoted to training and discipling the next generation to treasure Christ above all. Leslie and her husband Mac live in South Carolina, where she loves spending time with family and drinking sweet tea.
Looking for a New Leader
When you are looking for a new female leader, where do you go to find potential candidates?
Leslie: The first place I go is to God. I commit the need to prayer and wait. Generally speaking, I look for new leaders all the time (not just when needs arise or at the beginning of a new ministry cycle), and I keep a mental list of women who are participating and growing in their faith. I meet with women regularly to help them identify their gifts and passions. Often women do not consider themselves qualified to lead, so I try to help them see their potential and express my confidence in the power of Christ working within them. The beauty of leading in God’s multi-faceted kingdom is that He uses all types of personalities and giftings! I also ask other women in leadership to make recommendations. Leader candidates are approved by the pastor in advance.
Describe some of the characteristics that define a woman who may be a good fit for a leadership role.
Julie: In general, a godly woman leader needs to . . .
- Show evidence of a regular habit of studying and submitting to God’s Word.
- Have character that would not put your ministry’s reputation at risk.
- Be a woman who seeks God in prayer.
- Have bandwidth in her personal life to put in the time for the leadership role.
Leslie: She is a woman . . .
- Who is wholly submitted to God.
- Who desires to serve Him out of a deep love and gratitude for the cross of Christ.
- Who is teachable, humble, repentant, trustworthy.
- Who submits to authority and understands the importance of relying on the Holy Spirit, not herself.
- Who is a gatherer and life-giving in her words, heart attitude, and actions.
What characteristics would be a sign that she’s not yet ready for a leadership role?
Julie: When a woman is salivating over an upfront position without having put time in serving in ways that have proven her character, I am hesitant to hand her a teaching role. I think there are exceptions to this but sometimes women have agendas: they want to add to their follower list or put another notch in their ministry belt or get a book deal. I’m looking for a humble servant.
Leslie: If a potential leader is confident in her abilities to do the job, this is a warning sign. She must recognize that while God uses the gifts and graces He’s given us, leadership originates from a place of weakness and brokenness. In small churches, don’t overlook the woman who is young in her faith but hungry to grow. When I was a baby believer, someone took a chance on me to lead. I started with no experience but an older mentor coached me along the way.
What steps do you follow when recruiting a new leader?
Julie: First, I pray and ask God to help me find her. I watch closely and ask myself questions:
- Who is serving faithfully?
- Who is consistently present and dependable?
- Who would I enjoy working alongside?
- Is this woman bossy? Do I find her annoying?
- Is this woman trying to please me by saying “yes,” even though it may not be a good fit for her?
I might take a potential leader to lunch and ask her questions that take a holistic look at her life and schedule so that we can determine her availability to fill the specific role.
- Will you tell me about your faith journey?
- How many children do you have? Are they at home?
- Do you homeschool? Do you work full-time?
- Are you responsible for caring for an aging parent?
Leslie: When meeting with her in person, I explain the responsibilities of the role. We discuss the commitment required and training provided. We thoroughly cover the job description and leadership covenant. In our discussions, I cast a vision for how this opportunity (no matter how seemingly big or small) impacts God’s grand gospel mission. We pray together about her capacity and availability.
Next, I ask her to take a season to pray (typically a week) and to seek her husband’s wisdom and blessing before saying yes or no. I commit to pray for her, and I ask God to show both of us whether He is calling her at this season of her life. This process takes an investment of time but it is fruitful in determining who is called to a specific ministry and who isn’t.
Introduction to Leadership
What are the baseline skills that you want to develop in a new leader?
Julie: Prayerfulness (seeking God for guidance). Dependability (“I will do what I told you I would do”). Teamwork (looking around to see who needs help). Gratitude (remembering to thank God for His work and enabling us to finish well).
Do you expect a new leader to shadow you or serve alongside you before beginning on her own? What does that look like?
Leslie: If an apprentice period is possible, this is an ideal way to train a new leader. An apprentice leader can first observe, then co-lead before spreading her wings to fly solo!
Julie: A wise boss once pointed out how Jesus led His disciples into ministry.
- First, they watched Him. As Jesus taught and healed, they observed.
- Second, Jesus asked them to help. They passed out bread and collected it.
- Next, He sent them out. When they came back and told Him about all that happened, He processed it with them.
- Lastly, He left the disciples on earth to do ministry.
I think that’s a good way for us to do it as well.
What type of feedback do you provide?
Leslie: When it’s feasible, the new leader agrees to a season of coaching where I observe her leading then offer feedback and encouragement.
Julie: Some temperaments like public appreciation. Some prefer private notes and are not comfortable being acknowledged or given applause. Some enjoy small gifts. Others love one-on-one appreciation lunches. I try to match my approval feedback to what means the most to the individual. Constructive feedback, in my opinion, needs to be addressed privately.
Once the new leader is serving in the role independently, how do you continue to provide accountability and feedback to grow her skills?
Leslie: In our Bible studies, the small group leaders meet weekly before the study starts to pray, discuss the lesson, and be trained on leadership skills. Leaders know they aren’t alone as they serve. My role is to support, help them resolve challenges, and pray for them to thrive in their calling. It’s a life-on-life partnership in the gospel.
Julie: I recently visited an old friend who has had a hard time in her ministry. I took the time to listen and asked many questions. I prayed for her. I reminded her of what she is good at and what I have always appreciated about her faithfulness to the Lord. I reminded her of God’s character and His dependability. It meant the world to her that I took the time and spent the money to travel and affirm her. Whether it is a visit, a call, or a note, we all need to be reminded of what people appreciate about us, especially when it comes from one who has helped to shape our early ministry years.
What additional advice would you share with someone who is trying to prepare younger women for a leadership role?
Julie: Try to match the younger woman to a task that fits her God-given giftedness and passion. So often we are looking to find women to fill exact roles. Rather than force a square peg into a round hole, I would rather find out what the new leader is gifted at and then create a role for her that matches her specific giftings. Of course, some of her tasks will not always match her passions but the more she is doing what she loves to do, the happier she will be and, likely, the greater her contribution.
Also, allow the woman to serve as God has gifted her to serve. I have seen some leaders try to make younger leaders a copy of their style of ministry. I have watched a young intern take up running because her boss was a runner. It can be a big boost to your ego when a younger person wants to emulate you but our mentees in ministry do not need to be carbon copies of us. They need to seek God and follow what He would have them do. When a mentee starts wanting you to map out her life for her, you need to send her to the Guide and get off His pedestal.