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How to Be the Elephant in the Room

Is it possible to be yourself, or should you become one of the guys?

Esther is my hero. Thankfully, I’m rarely called to put my life on the line by entering a king’s presence uninvited. I do, however, often look to Esther for courage when I am called to step into rooms where I don’t feel comfortable.

Last week I received an invitation to a breakfast meeting for local lead pastors. I glanced over the recipients of the email to see if I knew anyone who was attending and realized I was the only woman on the list. My heart sank.

I’m with groups of pastors all the time. When I’m with leaders from mainline denominations, urban churches, or post-Christian contexts, there’s wonderful diversity—including many woman. But when I’m invited to evangelical events, where I feel I most belong theologically, I’m often the only woman in the room. This leads to some awkward moments. For instance, one time someone assumed that I was there only to take minutes for the event. Another time one of the other pastors joked that the room got prettier when I entered. And, in addition to the usual discomfort of being the elephant in the room, there are some who believe “elephants” shouldn’t even be in the room. There are valid reasons I’m uncomfortable being the only woman in the room.

As I lay in bed the morning of the breakfast meeting, I realized I was rehearsing short, catchy ways to sum up my ministry and church. I’ve been to enough of these events to know the questions I’ll be asked: What’s your church brand? What’s your church strategy? These questions assume a certain management style of pastoring that doesn’t fit me. While women certainly can succeed in this style of management, the way I lead my church doesn’t ...

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Thu, 19 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Most Important Thing to Do When You Start with a New Team

Dont skip this critical first step.

Stepping into a new leadership role can bring a rush of excitement. When God provides an opportunity, my natural inclination is to jump in full force. In my eagerness to get started, however, I may overlook the critical first step—developing an atmosphere of trust within the group.

Have you ever been appointed to a leadership position, only to be met with opposition? Maybe you’re leading a small group in your home or a women’s Bible study at church. Maybe you’re heading up a committee or organizing an event. Whatever the role, leaders must gain the group’s trust. When my members know they can trust me, God can accomplish great things through us. So how do we inspire trust in our teams or groups?

In the book of Joshua, God gives us instructions on the importance of building trust. God called Joshua to lead the Israelites at a crucial time in history. Moses led God’s people for 40 years, and now Joshua would direct them into the Promised Land. From Joshua’s story, we can learn four important things that will help us develop trust.

1. Understand you are appointed by God.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them.” —Joshua 1:1–2

The Lord gave Joshua his charge, saying “the time has come.” Joshua heard the clear voice of God. He understood the part he would play in God’s divine plan. Can women have this same confidence when God gives us our charge to lead?

Oftentimes our inclination as women is to try to win the approval of others. We feel the need to ...

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Thu, 12 January 2017 08:00:00 CST
The Power of Women Helping Each Other

As you consider your New Years resolutions, follow the example of Harriet Tubman.

My mother was the chair of the Black History Month Committee, which meant I was enlisted in the school's program. One year, we had a wonderful play which highlighted major figures in African-American history. I put a scarf on my head and a long skirt, a blouse, and an old sweater and became Harriet Tubman. I transitioned back in time to become a powerful, fearless slavery abolitionist, humanitarian, and suffragist. I marveled at her determination to escape slavery. I was inspired by the sacrifice she made to free others.

I can only imagine how Tubman felt when she first tasted freedom. She stated, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."

If this is true—if Harriet Tubman had a piece of heaven right here on Earth—why would she risk losing it by going back to rescue others from slavery? Tubman believed that because she was free, her family should also be free, so she decided that she must go back to get them.

Today, Harriet Tubman is considered a hero. In fact, her heroism has landed her on the forthcoming 20-dollar bill. She not only led over 300 people to freedom, but she did as a woman. Frederick Douglass, a slave abolitionist, wrote to Tubman, "The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. ... The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your ...

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Thu, 5 January 2017 10:04:00 CST
You Are Needed

The church—the entire body of Christ—needs women leaders.

I remember our conversation like it was yesterday.

“Have you ever thought about being a pastor when you grow up?” Pastor Mylinda leaned over and asked, pointing to the people and the building around us. “I could see you doing what I do.”

I looked at her and gawked. Me? I wanted her to see something bigger, shinier, and perhaps a bit higher-paying for me. But she saw pastoring in my future, and a pastor of sorts I eventually became. It all began when Mylinda spoke those holy words to me.

Over the next 15 years, though, I began to doubt them. I hardly saw any women in positions of leadership. I’d left the little American Baptist church I grew up in—a denomination known for its support of women—and the church Mylinda pastored. Most of the worship settings I chose hadn’t yet figured out what they believed about females in the church.

Questions soon overwhelmed me: Could women hold positions of leadership in the church? All I knew was that I wasn’t seeing people who looked like me leading the flock. As a young woman, not seeing older women in leadership positions felt detrimental to my calling, my sex, and my identity. If there wasn’t room for other seminary-trained, called, women who had gifts and talents to share, how could I ever attempt to do the same?

It felt like there wasn’t a place for me, but there is—even if it wasn’t clear at that particular time. There continues to be a place for someone like me, and for someone like you. There’s a place for all women and men, girls and boys, who come and gather around the table. There’s room enough for all of us. And you, woman in leadership, are a needed and necessary part of the story.

There are ...

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Tue, 3 January 2017 11:31:00 CST
Live Your Calling: A 40-Day Devotional for Women Leaders

A brand-new resource designed especially for you

If you like sneak peeks, we’ve got a big one for you. In the next few weeks, Gifted for Leadership is getting a modern update to better reflect our mission. I’ll post more about the specifics later, but in the meantime, you can get a first look by checking out our brand-new devotional. It includes our new name, logo, and colors, so you can get a peek at the exciting changes coming soon. Best of all, it’s available right now from Amazon, so you can get it in time for New Year’s!

Live Your Calling is a unique devotional specifically designed for women leaders in the church. Through 40 devotions written by a diverse group of women leaders, you’ll be empowered to boldly live the life God has called you to.

Women leaders often face struggles, questions, and obstacles male leaders simply don’t experience. In Live Your Calling, you’ll discover inspiring and authentic insights from leaders who understand. Despite the obstacles, women bring a unique and needed perspective to ministry. In this devotional, you’ll be encouraged to gain clarity on your calling, focus on your identity in Christ, get the rest and care you need to be a healthy leader, lead authentically and vulnerably, face difficult days with confidence, and take bold steps to fully live your calling.

With five devotions for each week, creative ideas for the weekend, and tips for leading a group through this devotional, Live Your Calling is designed to help you lead with intentionality.

Features:

  • 40 days of devotions, five for each week, including Scripture readings and reflection questions
  • Suggested weekend activities to go deeper with each week’s theme
  • Ideas for leading a group through this devotional, including questions and activities

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Thu, 22 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
Top 16 Articles of 2016

A snapshot of what Gifted for Leadership is all about.

Every year at this time, we take a look back at the top articles of the year. I always enjoy this task, but this year I’m especially proud. The top articles represent what Gifted for Leadership is all about: a diverse group of women leaders talking about important issues that women leaders face in church ministry. You can see that we haven’t shied away from any hard topics—like working with men, ministering to people who don’t like you, and sexism in the church. There were so many great articles on this list that I decided to highlight the top 16 rather than just the top 10. Let’s be honest: after getting through 2016, we deserve a few extra. So here you are! Check out our most-read articles of 2016:

1. Ladies Who Lunch—with Men
Do your coworkers follow the Billy Graham Rule?
Tracey Bianchi

2. I Don’t Fit the Senior Pastor Mold
But I’m leading in the way God has gifted me.
Tara Beth Leach

3. How to Minister to People Who Don’t Like You
Eight tips to love the hard-to-love
Dorothy J. Haire

4. Wounded Leaders Wound Others
The negative effects of leading with unmet intimacy needs.
Julia Mateer

5. The Truth About Sexism in the Church
And how to keep it from breaking you down.
Karoline Lewis

6. Step Out of Fear into Your Calling
How to overcome insecurity in ministry.
Linda Wurzbacher

7. What Do You Do in Your Spare Time?
If you laugh at that question, you’re doing ministry wrong.
Cara Meredith

8. How to Lead Dominating Male Leaders
Three things I’ve learned as I’ve led dominant men
Linda Wurzbacher

9. God Calls All Women
But we don’t all have the same calling.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

10. How to Get People to Respect Your LeadershipStart by making a believer ...

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Mon, 19 December 2016 13:13:00 CST
Overlooked: When Women Are Passed Over for Leadership

Research suggests a reason for this phenomenon beyond the glass ceiling.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and professor of business psychology, looks beyond the familiar theories for why there are not more women in management positions (e.g., lack of capability, lack of interest, and the ubiquitous glass ceiling) in hopes of finding something more essential. His conclusion is as brave as it is honest:

We commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. … The only advantage that men have over women is the fact that manifestations of hubris—often masked as charisma or charm—are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

Sadly, this phenomenon is not limited to the business world. Consider these two church scenarios:

Scenario #1. Mike* was a brilliant seminarian who charmed his leaders and parishioners with his engaging, self-effacing sermons. As the years went by, those who worked closely with him began to see him from a different, less favorable vantage point. He refused to be challenged, dismissed alternative points of view, and lacked empathy. Despite these realities, he was celebrated and promoted within his denomination. Less than ten years after becoming a pastor, Mike had a crisis of faith, admitted that he no longer felt called to pastor, and moved on.

Scenario #2. When a large, Midwestern church felt ready to hire a full-time worship leader, they embarked on a year-long search. They curiously overlooked Jennifer* who had faithfully served on the church’s worship team and displayed both maturity and gifting. Instead, they offered the job ...

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Thu, 15 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
Making Space for Women Leaders in the Church

The day my bubble burst about women in ministry.

Being a woman in ministry has its perks—I take particular delight in surprising people. “Wait, you’re a minister?” they ask. “But you’re so [insert the quality that busted their expectations]!”

I’m an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I come from a tradition and a family where this is relatively unremarkable. Both of my parents are Presbyterian pastors. My father has served primarily in parish ministry, while my mother has served in both parish ministry and spiritual direction.

When I was a toddler, my father served at a three-church-yoked parish. It was there I first saw someone in ministry who looked like me—an Asian American woman. She was a seminary intern my father supervised. The second was a pastor my parents knew in their presbytery. The third was my mother, who started seminary when I was in junior high, interned at a church when I was in high school, and was ordained when I was in seminary.

The Bubble Bursts

Unaware of any reason this vocational path wouldn’t be open to me, I began to pursue parish ministry. The primary obstacles I saw were the ones everyone in our denomination has to tackle: passing the exams, obtaining a Master’s of Divinity, and undergoing the care process with a judicatory that oversees ministry formation. I expected some adversity because I was young, a woman, and a person of color. I was no stranger to cultural and structural inequality, but I’d had few experiences of anyone challenging my calling.

It wasn’t until I had graduated from seminary and was serving as the coordinator of a ministry program for Asian American young adult Christians that I realized my work would bring me into contact with Christians that, due ...

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Thu, 8 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
The Problem with Self-Esteem

God offers a better way.

According to author, researcher, and psychology professor Kristin Neff, the self-esteem movement was a bust. The issue with self-esteem, Neff says, isn’t in having it but in seeking it. “The problem is we're constantly comparing ourselves to others. We try to puff ourselves up.” Because boosting our self-esteem is based in comparing ourselves to others, it’s fundamentally transient and potentially harmful. Constantly seeking to build our own self-concept can lead to bullying and narcissism. When our self-esteem is based on being better than others, it quickly deserts us when our performance shows we’re not better after all.

So, if self-esteem doesn’t work, what does? Self-compassion. It turns out this is a real struggle for many women. “It's a very small difference,” Neff says, “but it's consistent: Women tend to be less self-compassionate than men.” According to her research, this is especially true for women who strongly identify with traditional stereotypes. “Women are told they should not take care of themselves; that they should always be outwardly focused.” In my experience, this can be a serious struggle for women in ministry.

When we lack self-compassion, we are quick to criticize ourselves in ways and at times we would never criticize someone else. We routinely say things to ourselves we would never say to others: You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re hopeless. We might tell ourselves we’re stupid when we would never consider saying such words to our children. Telling ourselves these words, however, is just as devastating to us as it would be to our kids.

So what does it mean to have self-compassion? ...

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Mon, 5 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
Female Insights into the Christmas Story

Women bring unique perspectives when they teach the Word of God.

Shortly after I started my first job as a pastor, I was given the opportunity to be one of the first women in our church to preach in our Sunday services. To say I was intimidated by the thought of preaching in front of the entire congregation would be an understatement—I was terrified.

After preaching that first fateful Sunday morning, I was pleasantly surprised when a man from the congregation came up to me after church to thank me for my sermon. During our conversation, he mentioned how much he appreciated the many sports analogies I used, you know, considering I was a woman.

Now, I happen to be a woman who thoroughly enjoys sports. I have been an athlete all my life, so it’s not surprising that I would make sports references in a sermon. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, if part of me defaulted to some of the typical male-focused analogies I’d been privy to over the years. Was I using more masculine examples as a way of subconsciously compensating for my femaleness?

After sharing the situation with a mentor, she encouraged me to pay attention to the unique insights that came to me when I studied the Bible. She challenged me to look for opportunities to freely discuss what I was learning from Scripture from my perspective—one made unique by my experiences as a woman, a mother, an athlete, and more.

A Second Chance

Sure enough, that chance came a few months later just after returning from maternity leave with my first child. I was asked to teach on Luke 1:39–44, the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth while they were pregnant. While I prepared for the sermon, I was amazed at how differently I read the passage after experiencing pregnancy and childbirth myself. So many things jumped ...

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Thu, 1 December 2016 08:00:00 CST
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