One of the greatest problems for women leaders is that unless they’re given opportunities to develop their gifts in ways that are regarded as normal for a man, acquiring leadership excellence is really difficult. The lack of provision for developing their leadership capacity through mentoring and exposure is a constant struggle for women who are called to ministry. Even in churches that provide many opportunities in ministry, women are far less likely to be identified, targeted, and groomed for leadership. Without determined male advocates helping them in the process, the opportunities for women leaders to develop the skill sets required to lead are few and far between. Verbal support that doesn’t translate into action is of no use whatever.
To add insult to injury, there are female leaders in every strata of the Kingdom who are operating in a de facto framework, working incredibly hard in their context but without the authority or acknowledgement that is automatically afforded to men in the same situation. Given that, we must have a mindset shift that encourages mentoring women.
Jesus didn’t choose 12 men with great potential and then send them off to Bible college; he worked intensively for three years with the people he’d selected. After that, rather than stay around for another few years because the disciples weren’t ready for such awesome responsibility, he put his brand new Church into their trembling hands, entirely cognizant of the fact that their leadership capacities were not fully developed. And he continues to hand over his bride to the unformed and ill-prepared leaders of every new generation. Increasingly now, that includes the female half of the church.
His method to develop leaders has always been mentoring and this is where women have difficulties. Since the Church’s inception, leaders have been warned and censured against the dangers of relating with any woman, each of whom must be judged guilty as a seductress until proven innocent, something which is difficult to do when you’re being shunned. While the world has found ways to develop feminine leadership in every sector of society without illicit affairs being the inevitable consequence, the Church has developed a siege mentality, addressing its fears of moral failure by cloaking its women in the symbolic burqa of subjugation, anonymity, and rejection.
It’s interesting to note that this has made no difference at all to the degree of moral failure experienced by Church leaders; in fact it has heightened the problems because whenever religious doctrine emphasizes the rights of one people group over another, the way is opened for abuse of power. Sexual abuse of disciples, and the ongoing problem of adultery and immorality within the church proves this point well.
I do not know a single woman leader, and I include myself in this, who has not repeatedly experienced the ignominy of being ignored in conversations among leaders, been held at arm’s length by peers, and been overlooked for roles they are obviously highly qualified for, all because of the survival techniques developed by male leaders.
The fear of women and their potential as leaders has been allowed to operate in the Church far too long. One way that women can help themselves is to own their leadership call. While many women excel at cheering other women leaders on, when they are personally called to step up to the plate they are overcome with fear and feelings of inadequacy. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is too common among women. Statistics show that when responding to a job spec, if a man has more than 50 percent of the experience required he will go for the job. Women under the same conditions will generally not apply for the job unless they have 95-100 percent of the skills required. We undervalue our gifts and abilities and our fear of failure is so debilitating that we defraud the world of some really fine leaders.
Don’t wait for permission. Leadership entails leading, which requires decision-making. Not all of your decisions will be perfect, but you will learn from your mistakes if you’re not afraid of them, and people will learn as much from how you deal with pressure as they would if you got it right first time. Don’t be ashamed of your call. Don’t compare yourself with others.
For a woman to be an effective mentor, she must first acknowledge her own leadership call. It is from this point that she will be able to empower other women, not only to lead but also to encourage others.
Step up to the plate and be the leader you are designed by God to be. This is what it means to be an architect of Kingdom culture. It’s a new day, and the time is now.