Recently our life group was having some discussion about leadership in the workplace. We watched a few testimonial videos of business owners who try to implement working to the glory of God into their workplaces, and leading their people well. During our time talking about how these spiritual matters find their way into our practical lives, I posed the question to the group to share with us a particular leader from their lives that exemplified what it was to be a leader. To my surprise, the men shared fairly quickly, but the women struggled a bit to nail down a good and right answer.
Noticing the tension, one of the women in the group made the comment of how she felt the concept of “female leadership” was a bit more difficult to grasp than “male leadership.” After some more exchange, her husband said (very humbly and graciously, of course), that he had honestly never really thought of “female leadership” as its own entity. The other men, myself included, agreed. From there, we spent some time wondering why that was.
I’m married to a Type-A, no-nonsense, get-it-done firecracker who leads well under pressure and against the clock. I see female leadership on a daily basis in my wife. But specifically in a ministry context, what have I done to call it out in the lives of women in the church, the way I should? Do women see themselves as ministry leaders, or have they heard something else from our pulpits, our Bible studies, and our blogs? Maybe the reason these women struggled to define and articulate what female leadership looks like is because men have done a poor job of defining it and calling it out in them.
That’s what I’m here to do today. Not perfectly, of course. But I want to take a brief moment to explain not only what makes women good leaders, but more importantly, why we, as males, need female leadership.
Females Are Communication Gurus.
From the outset, this statement can make every backwoods fundamentalist quake in his boots, so let me go ahead and clear the air: I don’t think that biblically women are called to be preaching and teaching the Word of God to church congregations of men and women. I hold firmly to the view of complementarianism (check out this summary for more info). But beyond these distinctives, I still believe that women have a crucial place in the communication of the gospel to the church, though it may not be from a pulpit on Sunday morning. There are vast opportunities for women to use their communicative gifts to reach men and women.
My brother wrote a great piece emphasizing the importance of, as John Newton puts it, finding “more female pens employed in the service of the sanctuary.” In the article, Barnhart (him, not me) makes an important distinction, saying, “pastoring a congregation is exercising authority; pouring biblical wisdom into others’ lives is not.” The need for “theologically literate” women who are willing to share their wisdom through blogging, writing, tweeting, creating artwork, and many other forms of communication is prevalent. These are pathways that we should not only encourage our women to pursue, but as men, find ways to employ these kinds of female-led mediums in our local churches.
A great example is a push our church staff has made to employ women volunteers to help us think creatively about and through our sermon series. We invite a few women to participate with us “on the inside” in planning our sermon series. They help us think through what the sermon bumper or artwork should look like. They help us teachers think of important topics, from a woman’s perspective, to be sure we are preaching on. We have even had women reading the relevant Scripture passage from the stage before the sermon. This helps women recognize the importance of their voice in our church. Their gifts of communication have been invaluable in helping us men communicate.
Females are Wired for Disciple-Making.
Jesus picked 12 men to be His disciples, and He had specific reasons for this, which is another post for another day. Point being, this is not a slight against women’s ability to be adequate and capable disciple-makers. In fact, I would argue that the task of disciple-making comes more natural to women than men in many cases. Much of this comes down to our actual biology as males and females.
A huge study compiled by the US National Library of Medicine in 2011 explored gender differences in personality. The study reveals deep and significant truths about how our brains function as males and females, and what many of our differences are. Here are a few take-aways I found interesting:
- Women consistently score higher than men on Agreeableness and related measures, such as tender-mindedness.
- Women tend to score higher than men on Warmth, Gregariousness, and Positive Emotions, whereas men score higher than women on Assertiveness and Excitement Seeking.
- Women have a more interdependent self-construal, in which their sense of self includes others…This gender difference is associated with motivational and behavioral differences, such as women having more interconnected and affiliative social groups…Women, therefore, may be more motivated than men to maintain social and emotional bonds.
- In relation to intelligence, males more often exhibit hubris, while females more often exhibit humility.
These points, among many others, have discipleship implications. The woman’s ability to empathize instead of being indifferent, to journey with someone instead of treating them like a project, to be motivated to maintain relationships instead of being lazy with them, are all wonderful advantages for disciple-making relationships. As men, we sometimes have to fight the temptations of being too assertive, overbearing, or private. We have to be willing to be open, relational, humble, and great listeners. We can learn much from females here.
Females Foster Friendship, Forgiveness, and Faith.
I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for alliteration, so there you have it. When I think about the women in my life, and I think about female friends (there I go again) of mine, these are three of the bigger themes that come to mind. Three things, specifically, that I think as males we are challenged to learn from females in.
One is friendship. For some reason, unfortunately, the concept of two men hanging out together for lunch with no agenda is bizarre. A friend of mine (a male, who I met for lunch, with no agenda) was talking to me about this recently. He said he found it life-giving to meet a guy one-on-one just to talk about life, but sadly, many men don’t. He’s right. This topic will probably turn into a bigger post someday. Suffice it for now to say, women understand the importance of friendship, I think, in a deeper and more significant way than men do. They see the value of it, they feel the loss of it, and they long to find it. And once they do find it, they pursue it. Friendship is so integral to the Christian life. It does my soul more good to have a friend at the end of the day than to be complimented on a sermon or achieve a ministry accomplishment. Women show me that.
Another is forgiveness. I tend to be a diplomat by nature, so I don’t naturally get drawn to aggression or vengeance when I am wronged. But I think much of this has been learned, not instilled. I have watched, for example, my mother live a life of forgiveness. She has been wronged in many ways. And instead of raging, instead of talking behind backs or finding ways to counter-punch, I’ve seen scandalous forgiveness. It was striking, obviously, because here I sit, decades later, reflecting on it. It says a lot about Mom specifically, but it’s not unique to her. There have been many women I have watched teach me and other men about forgiveness. If we are forgiven as Christians, we must forgive.
A final piece is faith. There are numerous examples of women exhibiting a life of faith in Scripture, such as Sarah (Heb. 11:11), Rahab (Heb. 11:31), the Shunammite woman (2 Ki. 4:8-37), and the woman who touched Jesus’s garments (Mk. 5:25-34), among others. In my life, I have watched many different women live out what it looks like to have a faith that is rooted in Christ in the midst of adversity. I have watched my wife walk through an enormous amount of trials in the years I have known her, and I witnessed her faithfulness. She, like so many other women, was able continually to hope and trust in her Redeemer to right wrongs and care for her. I am convinced that the continual evidence of the faithfulness of women in Scripture is God’s way of showing us how we can, as males especially, learn from the women around us in how we learn to trust in Christ.
Females make wonderful leaders, and the church should continue to affirm this. Take note: this starts with the male leadership of the church. Let’s not get so wrapped up in 1 Timothy 2:12 that we squash the leadership gifts of women altogether. Part of our responsibility as male leaders is to find ways to empower and encourage women to use their God-given talents and gifts to strengthen the church. Let’s grab our notepads and learn from the women God has entrusted to our churches.