Learning from women about leadership

Learning from women about leadership

I know it’s a little ironic, but I have been asked to lead a seminar about women in leadership. Full disclosure, I am not and never have been a woman.

I have decided to take the opportunity and to look for ways that women’s voices can be heard in the seminar. I am also hoping to co-chair the seminar with a woman. I decided to do the seminar because I believe in the conference that asked me to speak – they have a brilliant heart and a wonderful vision and also because I believe passionately that we need to empower women to lead at every level.

I didn’t always believe this; as a teenager a proofext from 1 Tim 2.11 was all I needed to close down the debate. I have learnt a lot about biblical hermeneutics and reading scripture in its canonical and cultural context since then. So I am leading this seminar from the perspective of someone who is absolutely committed to the infallibility of scripture and to women in leadership in the church.

I really want to include as many women’s voices in my seminar as possible and so I would  love your help. I have had some terrific responses when I asked the question on twitter.

I found the responses very moving and challenging (see below to read all of them) . Here are my reflections on the tweets I’d love to know your views – I am of course open to suggestion and correction. 

Three things I have learned so far…

1. Leadership Humility

I was struck by the gracious and humble tone of the advice. So many of the contributors encouraged patience and kindness towards those who opposed or rejected women’s leadership. I wish I could see more of this evidenced from people on both sides of the debate when they write about this subject – perhaps it is there but I have been reading the wrong stuff. Wherever we stand on this debate we need to approach this subject with grace and humility.  We are family together and  scripture calls us to be exemplary in the way we handle disputes and debates among us.  For those of us that oppose women in leadership we  need to recognise that the tone and language used to express your views can crush someone who is trying to follow God’s call on their lives to use their gifts. Leadership is often lonely and isolating and attacking someone’s honest and faithful response to God’s call is a dangerous thing to do. This is not just a theological issue : someone’s call to leadership is linked directly to their sense of identity. Similarly for those of us who support women in leadership we need to recognise that for those that don’t agree with us – this is often a question of conscience  for those who oppose us. It is a dangerous thing to ask another Christian to act against their conscience and we act carefully as we seek to persuade someone to change their minds. I was moved by the maturity and generosity of those who offered comment on my twitter question as they encouraged other women to be patient and gracious with those that stood against them.

2. Leadership Integrity

I found this tweet and many of the others like it very enlightening.  There were a lot of calls to be authentic, to be true to whom God has made you to be. I found these words encouraging as it is vital for all leaders to understand the right balance between knowing whom God has made us to be and how we live into that calling with the ongoing challenge of resisting the sin in our lives. 


Too often we overemphasise sin to the exclusion of our God given identity or we overemphasise our identity to the exclusion of the sin in our lives. Now some people will say we should find our identity in Christ and not in the role we have received from him and I do understand that. But the New Testament knows about the intertwining of call and identity – Paul writes:

” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

1 Corinthians 9:16ff

I was moved by so many of the tweets that emphasised the need to be true to yourself in light of the opposition that so many women have faced to taking on leadership roles. It seems that many for many women leaders their identity has been challenged or dare I say oppressed by those that stood against their sense of call as leaders. I remember as a twenty something having a strong sense of call on my life to be an evangelist and a leader in my church telling me I should leave it aside and become a school teacher. I found it crushing that call on my life was being doubted how much worse it must feel to have large groups of the church oppose so vehemently so many womens’ sense of call on their lives to lead.

3. Leadership and Accountability

There were a lot of tweets that emphasised the need for support and accountability. For me that is where groups like Sophia Network have been so helpful . I loved the tone of Rachel’s comment:

I know that when I have felt isolated and criticised I have sometimes responded by  stopping listening to anyone’s advice or critique and to assume that I am always right – to become self-righteous. Rachel’s tweet is rich with wisdom encouraging us to find genuine friends both male and female to speak truth into our lives. Rachel; who has been a family friend since I was a teenager, is a terrific leader and   models the humility this tweet suggests.

You can read all of  the responses below:

(Photo was adapted with text but taken from JustArd’s lovely Flickr account)



7 thoughts on “Learning from women about leadership

  1. Dan Yarnell says:

    I think you have clearly captured some of the best of how women engage in their approaches to leadership. In our own network we have been trying to work together in partnership for a number of years, although this is not always the case, and we have a very long way to go. I have think I have learned more from female leaders who have shown passion, generosity, good listening, an intuitiveness to the Holy Spirit, new approaches to scripture and team, than in general from men, and I have learned a lot from great male leaders as well. I wonder if we need to revisit the sense of being partners in mission together and taking a lead from both the Genesis narratives (which demonstrate difference and unity), as well as the early development of the church, where it was the women who were entrusted at first with the good news of Jesus and were often those who continued to the end.

  2. Dr Bex Lewis says:

    There’s a number of women in these tweets who go to this – http://gatheringofwomenleaders.info for those in the UK – I have found it incredibly helpful for networking, encouragement, friendship building, and topics that need thinking about.

  3. Julia Ogilvy says:

    Very similar themes in my book – hope you got a chance to read it. Good to see your thoughts, Julia

  4. Thanks for writing this Krish.
    My advice to women who feel called to lead?
    1)The wrestling that goes on inside you as you live with and carry a gifting/calling that is not fully being recognised/stretched/used is not wrong. Don’t fear it. That wrestle, that angst that you live with is a gift to you. It’s the same turmoil that compelled Luther to nail his 95 thesis to the door that started the reformation. It’s the same angst that compelled jacqui pullinger to board a flight to china. That angst and wrestling is from God and is for your good. Use it.
    2) Work out what you think. Study.
    3) Pursue God. Not what’s in his hands but his face. We seek him not so that height bless OUR ministry but that we might be blessed to be involved in HIS plan for the earth.
    4)The ambition that fuels you is not wrong but it’s end goal might be. When our zeal and ambition are aimed at accolades and achievements that is wrong. But when our ambition is aimed at being great in His eyes and not in the eyes of the world then there is nothing more befitting a woman.
    5) Get ready for God to go to work on
    your character.
    6) Surrender your Agenda and follow His for your life. Give Him permission to spend your life anyway He pleases whether on great or small things. You will not be dissapointed.

  5. Abi says:

    Ok, so I am a woman but I’m not a leader in the church, I understand leadership and leadership in the church and hope I can briefly interject to enhance your discussions. I can’t possible read all the above, I just have no space in my head so I hope I don’t repeat or offend.

    Leadership to me is equipping, enabling, facilitating and encouraging. I watched my father disarm and equip throughout his minastry. He did this with honesty, hard graft, many many man hours of simple labour and few hours of key conversation. He lived for others and God, never for political, financial, or heroic media coverage or gains. He was often portrayed as the last to respond and the least to react, but he never allowed harm. He was noticed at a wedding that his curate was providing over, working in the grounds of the church, the mother of the bride asked, who is the Gardener? The curate replied ‘a man set about the glory of God, not himself. ‘

    If a person can bring humility, grace and prayer to a role let them come and lead, a woman’s place is in God’s house.

    I hope this is helpful.

  6. Courtney says:


    I’m a Social Worker and a Christian who happened to come upon your blog while in search of some similar topics. I was a bit taken aback by a male speaking at a conference on Women in Leadership, after thinking about it for awhile, I realized that in the midst of a ‘issue’ that is so rooted in oppression, it’s the privileged group that holds the responsibility to instigate change. Just as White people are the ones who should be stepping up to speak out and educate a racist society, men hold a lot of responsibility in reshaping how the church things about women in leadership. I hope all goes well. You have a lot of great feedback on this blog!

    1. hi courtney great to hear from you, do you know about our charity http://www.homeforgood.org.uk that we are just setting up – love your input into it as a social worker

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