women leaders

The Gap of Christian Women Leaders — And What We Can Do About It

May 1, 2018

She asked me the question during a coaching call. Her coaching call. She’s a leader, responsible for speaking into the lives of thousands of other women. I was supposed to be asking her the questions. Instead, she turned the tables and put me in the hot seat:

Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you want to be doing then?

It’s a great question, one I’ve asked in coaching calls for years. It’s about vision, goals, and being intentional about the direction you’re headed and what needs to happen to get there.

Problem is, I struggle with thinking beyond a year, maybe two. That’s what happens when you’ve had cancer three times, when living a long, full life is no longer assumed.

I told her as much, then forced myself to wrestle with the question. It’s too important to ignore:

If God, in mercy, allows me five more years, what do I want to be doing?

It took me a minute or two, but then I knew:

Exactly what I’m already doing. Mentoring men and women of faith who want to live and lead well, exactly where they are. Especially the hard places.

But there’s one small difference I didn’t realize until that moment:

I want to mentor Christian women leaders most of all.

Why? That requires a short trip back in time.

Growing up, my parents helped me believe I could do anything. There were no limits, no “glass ceilings” or invisible-but-impenetrable boundaries to crush. I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do.

In the marketplace.

Church, however, was a different story. We came from a faith tradition that believed pastors, elders and deacons were roles filled by men. Women couldn’t serve communion or preach the sermon. Women led women’s bible studies, rocked babies in the nursery, and played the piano or sang in the choir. But they weren’t preachers or teachers or up-front leaders.

Don’t misunderstand: I wasn’t unhappy or discontent. Nor did I feel mistreated for the fact that I was female. It was simply the way it was.

But then I grew up. And as I dug deep into my own study of the Bible, my sense of calling intensified, both in ministry and the marketplace. I started writing books, consulting with larger organizations, and receiving more speaking invitations—most to events including both men and women. And, on numerous occasions, I was asked to be the “guest preacher” for a Sunday morning church service.

Whoa. Hold the phone. Is that even okay?!?!

Yes, I really asked the question. And I was pretty sure the answer was “no.”

All of this forced me to wrestle with long-held assumptions about a woman’s role in ministry. But the biggest challenge wasn’t my internal belief system, although admittedly that was challenge enough.

My biggest challenge was the mentoring gap.

You see, when you grow up in a faith tradition that believes boys are the church’s next generation of leaders, you not only miss out on important mentoring and leadership development, you don’t even know you need it.

Or want it.

Or are allowed to want it.

Because I never saw myself as a leader, never knew my gifts mattered equally in God’s work, I didn’t make it a priority to develop leadership skills and muscles. Things like how to navigate difficult conversations, how to speak up, listen and negotiate, how to create a collaborative culture of growth, how to set and respect boundaries, how and when to be assertive, how to engage in healthy conflict.

However, the more I found myself leadership roles, the more I recognized my lacking.

Thus began years of gulping down leadership resources as quickly as possible. Years of asking questions of every leader I interacted with. Years of jumping into any and every mentoring opportunity offered. Thankfully, several men and women generously invested in me—I had some serious catching up to do.

This is why, five years from now, I hope I’m still investing in women of faith who want to lead well, exactly where they are—in the marketplace and in ministry.

Because I believe there’s an army of amazing women who have been called by God to make a difference in this generation. But the problem is many of them don’t know it yet. Or, if they know it, they aren’t sure what to do about it. Or if it’s even allowed.

This isn’t just their problem. It’s our problem. Because when we stifle any part of the community, we stifle all of it.

This is a different kind of blog post, I know. Not nice and tidy. It probably sparks more questions than provides answers. But, at the least, I hope it makes you a bit uncomfortable, and then prompts you to wrestle with any unchallenged assumptions.

My aim isn’t conflict or activism. Although both can be healthy. My aim is growth.

So here’s my question for you: What’s been your experience? Have you noticed the mentoring gap for Christian women in leadership? If so, what are you willing to do about it? Here are my suggestions:

(1). For Women: Don’t wait for someone to take the initiative to invest in you. Instead, invest in yourself. Take ownership of your growth process. Ask questions. Invite feedback. Listen and learn. And PRACTICE. That means taking risks and being willing to fail. Believe the bigness of the God who created you and called you. And lead wherever you are, with humility and courage. Then, encourage the women around you to do the same. It’s not a competition; it’s a mutual celebration.

(2). For Men: First, I have deep respect for you. My heart to mentor Christian women leaders is not aimed to diminish men. To diminish you is to diminish ourselves. Instead, when we esteem male and female leadership as co-laborers of the greatest mission, we all win, not least of which is the Gospel. That said, are you willing to help bridge the mentoring gap? Start by recognizing the leadership gifts in the women around you. Then, call it out and provide opportunities for them to exercise those gifts.

We need you. No, scratch that. We need each other. 

women leaders

NOTE: This week I’m wrapping up the Spring 2018 Inspired Life Mastermind, a five-month in-depth mentoring experience for Christian women leaders. The next one starts in August. If you’re ready to discover, develop and exercise your God-given gifts in every aspect of your work and life, join me for the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 Inspired Life Mastermind. We’re all about filling the gap for Jesus-loving women who want to lead well, exactly where they are.NOTE: This week I’m wrapping up the Spring 2018 Inspired Life Mastermind, a five-month in-depth mentoring experience for Christian women leaders. The next one starts in August. If you’re ready to discover, develop and exercise your God-given gifts in every aspect of your work and life, join me for the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 Inspired Life Mastermind. We’re all about filling the gap for Jesus-loving women who want to lead well, exactly where they are.SaveSave

NOTE: This week I’m wrapping up the Spring 2018 Inspired Life Mastermind, a five-month mentoring experience for Christian women leaders. But the next one starts in August, and I’d love for YOU to be there. If you’re ready to discover, develop and exercise your God-given gifts in every aspect of your work and life, join me for the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 Inspired Life Mastermind. Let’s fill the mentoring gap, together.SaveSave

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10 Comments

  1. Dee

    I appreciate and agree with most of what you have said. However 1 Timothy chapter three is clear that deacons and elders are men. I do not believe women should teach in corporate worship because of what the Bible says not because of what I would like it to say. And women in the pulpit is a recent thing. For centuries Christians did not believe God allowed this. Also 1 Timothy 2:12. I believe the Bible is straightforward on this.topic. Women are to be leaders and to use their gifts. Yes men have in the past limited women from using their gifts.

    Reply
  2. Sharon

    I have recently discovered your outreach and am currently reading your book, “I Am”. It’s been very good. I to was raised in a traditional baptist church where I currently still attend. In this blog you say that you’ve been a guest preacher. I’m just curious how you justify that with I Timothy 3:1-7 as pastors are to be husbands which means they are to be men. I’m not condoning or judging at all. It’s been a question of mine for many years and I’m just trying to figure out some things.

    Reply
  3. Jevonnah "Lady J"

    Absolutely love this, Michele! This is my heart as well – to empower and encourage leading ladies in the marketplace who are committed to keeping God first in business. Love your heart!

    Reply
  4. Chris Moss

    I have mentored and helped raise up women leaders through MOPS for 15 years. Nothing brings me greater delight than watching a scared, tired mama blossom into her calling as a leader! I recently invested in myself so I could recruit and train more mentors and raise up more leaders. Because Generation Z is coming, and they are headstrong and ahead of the curve! Mentors will be needed more in the next ten years than ever before!

    Reply
  5. Rita Mayell

    Good article Michele. I have been in ministry and in the marketplace for over 40 years. Yes I have personally experienced the dissing of women more times than I can count. The best story was when I was asked to consult with a seminary in the South. The day of our presentation I was asked to email it because the executive leaders would be offended if I as a woman presented. In fact my recommendations would probably be shot down because of my gender.
    Over the years I have watched this attitude but here is why I am different. I had a dad who infused into my heart who I was in Christ, was taught to embrace my feminity and value of influence as a woman. My father connected me with strong leaders who were women like vonette bright co- founder of CRU. I also was privileged to meet Joyce Meyer and Christian CEOs who were women. So when those experiences happen and they still do, it rolls off my back because I think they are short sighted people who have no clue of the identity we share in Christ. It was women who supported Jesus and clear they were wealthy. Today I am a leader in a global nonprofit and my heart is that evangelize to every women in our org that they have been created for great influence that only they can bring in their uniqueness and style. I am with you. It is time for women to rally together as one voice in the spirit of unity and grace to rise up and be who we were created to be. It is silly to split hairs about preaching, teaching. My Bible says that in Christ there is no gender, race. Come on peeps let’s see one another as He sees us. This is not about flat lander thinking which says there is only right and wrong. We live in a new covenant which is intimacy with God. The relationship supersedes A or B but it too will never thwart Gods word. It will break open and destroy our religious mindsets but not Gods heart. Ok. I could preach right now. Wink

    Reply
  6. Eileen

    Beautifully written. Uncomfortable.. Intriguing. Been wrestling with this for years! It’s hard to fight what’s ingrained in you – like your own personal civil war. Still…… intriguing…..

    Reply
  7. Lisa Harvey

    Thank you for starting this uncomfortable conversation, for inviting me to think about and then research what I actually believe and why – tradition, biblical spot verses or considering the Bible as a whole story where God embodies both male and female and doesn’t demote me because I am a woman. I love this challenge! And I love you!

    Reply
  8. Niki Hardy

    Yes, amen and all the applause! Thank you for this and entering into the conversation. If we don’t enter in we can’t expect to be seen or heard. And mentoring is SO, so important. You may not know it but you are a big mentor to me on so many levels and for that I thank you. Maybe one day we can make it official!! I’d love that.

    Reply
  9. Jerolyn

    Thank you for this. I am one who grew up in an environment where I was taught not to seek leadership. So it has been a long journey to even allow myself to see that it was okay, necessary even, to be a leader. I still struggle as to define how God wants to use me in that area. However, as He pushes me into those situations, I recognize both my responsibility to lead and my desperate need for guidance. So much more could be said but thank you for at least starting the conversation.

    Reply
  10. Petra Creasy

    Thank you, Michele, for that word of encouragement. For years I was actively involved in women’s ministry, finding myself, pleasantly so, in the role of leader/teacher. For many years I have believed my calling to be with women – teaching, loving, encouraging, and discipling. Now, years later, I am in a different season of life and I am no longer able to do those same things in and “active” sort of way. Now the Lord is drawing me towards fiction writing, using my life story and lessons I learned to show women that there is another way through the dark times in life. That the Lord is more than able!

    Might I ask for your prayers in this area? It would be so much appreciated.

    By the way, I love your testimony and your heart for others. I so enjoy watching you with Michael Hyatt and I look forward to reading your books. Thank you for allowing the Lord to work through you, my sister!

    Reply

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