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.
Dear female friends, what’s the best piece advice you have for women called as leaders in the church?
— krish kandiah (@krishk) July 30, 2014
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:
@krishk Lead! Welcome feedback. Surround yourself with good men and women. Avoid comparison. Serve humbly, love Jesus more than your role.
— Rachel Riddall (@rachel_riddall) July 31, 2014
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)