Women in Spiritual Leadership

Six months ago, a large church in my city asked if I would serve as their interim senior pastor. It was the beginning of quarantine, and it seemed like everyone was doing hard things, what if this was mine?

My husband Todd and I went for a long walk where we explored topics we had previously only spoken about in theory, Can women be senior pastors? Does God give temporary assignments? Without formal training, could I hold a position of such spiritual authority?  

One of the words that guides my decisions is a Hebrew word I learned years ago, hineni.  It is translated in our Bibles as “here I am,” but is better translated as “whatever it is you are asking of me, I am already in agreement of it.” I knew that I knew God was asking this of me, so the answers to all my questions and insecurities would be ‘yes.’

It hasn’t been easy to lead a congregation who is used to a man, but I have found my gender has actually benefitted me. Instead of trying to be masculine, or worse yet — gender neutral, here are some ways I see my femininity as a strength:    

  1. I mother the teams I lead. Not in the stereotypical nagging caricature of a mother, but in the nurturing-bring-snacks-ask-how-you-are kind of way. It’s non-threatening, hyperaware of the feelings of others, and makes my teams feel safe. Felt safety has led to less drama, less power posing, and more productivity. 
  1. I am a life-giver. Women bring forth, we incubate. We literally bring into the world new life, but we also breathe life into broken hearts and new dreams – every time we cheer on, pick up, prop up, we are acting like Jesus and using the nature He stamped into us. So, yes to your idea, colleague, yes to trying again, yes to the hard-is-worth-it. 
  1. I can emotionally and cognitively multi-task. Women have long been required to balance many roles and responsibilities. I may be preparing a message, while answering an email, while lifting up the needs of a colleague, while mentally formulating tonight’s evening meal. The rhythm changes throughout the day depending on the needs of those around me and the length of my to-do list, but when I settled on finding rhythm over balance, I have danced my way through most days. 
  2. I deliver hard truths with gentle authority. My husband has long called it the “velvet hammer”, but I am humbled by this opportunity and so regularly am checking in with the Lord before speaking. Is this what you want me to say, God? That boldness, coupled with tenderness allows for the truth to land before someone can see to put up a defense.
  3. I have nothing to prove. It’s not my job to have a platform or to change someone’s mind. It’s my job to obey. I read my Bible and see how Jesus treated women (sending the first missionary out from the well as a woman, showing His resurrected self first to a woman, teaching women as a rabbi would…) but most people form opinions about women in leadership from their emotions, not from their understanding. I am not going to reason away their conviction, so I pray and lead, and let God do the swaying. 

Everything Jesus did was perfectly on point, He only ever did what the Bible says He saw His Father doing. He treated women with respect and dignity because that’s how His Father taught him. He gave them responsibilities, trusted their insight, and wove them into His ministry, because we, too were made in the image of God. These characteristics typically assigned to women:  shielding, comforting, birthing, protecting, hovering… these are God qualities and they manifest in us, because we are of Him and from Him. Don’t apologize for it or let someone mock you for exercising who you are made to be. 

Whether you are leading your family, your church, or your division at work: you are killing it. Be all you were made to be, and let the questions of others fall down around you, even the unanswered ones in your own mind. No one has time for that — there’s work to do, people to lead, prompts to follow, projects to create, teachings to obey… Remind yourself liberally and surround yourself with others who do the same: God is so proud of how you model His image. Lead.

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