“The question is not WHETHER you have influence. The questions are WHERE do you have influence, and HOW are you going to use that influence to bring honor and glory to God?”
That statement from Dr. Angie Ward in I Am A Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling jolted me from my narrow concept of leadership this winter. I feel like she’s telling me and every woman who can get their hands on this book, “Face it, sister, God has called you to be a leader. You get to start right where you are even while He develops you for bigger purposes.”
But the cool thing is, Angie isn’t just some author whose book I’ve read. This 30-year ministry vet, leadership expert, seminary professor, and award-winning writer has become both a friend and major encourager to me. For you fellow Navarro Cheer fans, she’s been a combo of Coach Monica and mat-talking Jerry, spurring others to discern and embrace their callings. In typical Angie-fashion, she’s also graciously answered several questions on leadership and calling from some of you in my cohort of brave, leading-lady friends. For this post and next, then, grab your coffee and enjoy the advice to any woman who’s realized that as an “influencer-in-chief,” whether in ministry, home, workplace, non-profit organization, or neighborhood and city, she is undeniably a leader.
Cassia: Let’s start with a fun one: What advice would you give your younger self about leadership and/or calling?
Angie: I would tell my younger self something that I first heard in college, that has taken years to live into: “The world will not come to an end, regardless of your performance.” I’m a leader, a do-er, a firstborn, and hyper-responsible. I constantly battle the desire to control, to fix, to blame myself, and to be a perfectionist. The antidote to all that is Psalm 46:10: “Be still,” or as some translations say, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
Cassia: Along those lines, I like how you say in the book that “God wants you. More than anything you can do in service to Him, God wants to shape your being.” As you reflect on how you’ve yielded to His shaping power, here’s a related question: Has God had to change your mind on issues of leadership and particularly about women serving in ministry roles?
Angie: Yes, God has changed my mind. My theology (or what was handed down to me) said that not only were women limited to certain ministry roles, but (more difficult for me), women could not be leaders in general, or in personality or wiring or gifting. There have also been times where I tried to put God into my box of how I thought He should behave, and He continues to blow those apart.
Cassia: I like what you say in I Am A Leader about calling and authority structures and that you allow for various denominational understandings and systems. You also do a great job re-framing the discussion about women and leadership by challenging us to consider to whom we are accountable (and we ALL need to be accountable to other humans and to God) rather than just who has authority to grant permission to walk out our callings. It’s refreshing to see that you’ve been open to God changing your mind in certain areas and that you’ve taken time to search the scriptures and live out your calling in the systems where He’s planted you.
Speaking of “changing your mind,” one woman asks, What do you do when you feel like God has changed his mind? I feel like he asked me to step up and into a new area and nothing seems to be happening. Did God change his mind about what he seemed to be asking me to do? How do I handle that?
Angie: God may have “changed His mind,” or maybe he’s just leading you through a long period of preparation. In my own experience, I have learned to stick with what was clear to me, even in periods of doubt or dry spells or questioning. When I went to Denver Seminary as a 23-year-old, it was because God had very clearly closed all other doors, and then opened the gates wide to Denver. But then I experienced terrible homesickness, second-guessing myself. I began making plans to transfer. I talked with another student about it, and he said, “Did God call you here?” I could answer yes, very clearly. Then he asked, “Did God call you away?” And I realized that it was my own doubts and fears, not a change in God’s direction. I ended up staying. And that man ended up becoming my husband.
Cassia: Excellent advice! By the way, what about seminary or other kinds of training? Another reader asks, How do I know what areas I need formal training in as opposed to life experience in order to pursue my calling? What “skills for leaders” would you recommend that I shore up and how?
Angie: You can ask questions and observe others who are doing what you sense God might be calling you to. For instance, does it seem that a certain type of training or education/degree is necessary as the “union card” for entry into certain systems or roles? As you seek God, he will continue to provide clarity about next steps. Regardless of how you pursue any kind of training, I’d say there are three general skills for leaders to develop:
1. Learn to discern God’s voice above all others.
2. Work on your own emotional baggage (we all have it!) so you can be what therapist and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman calls a “non-anxious presence” that can give and take feedback without taking it personally.
3. Continue to grow in wisdom, not just knowledge.
Next post, Angie gives advice on how to know if you’ve “heard” God’s call correctly, how to heal from betrayal in a season of leadership or ministry, the role of suffering in fulfilling our callings, and the Biblical figure (besides Jesus) with whom she most identifies in the journey of living out her purpose. Until then, check out the book trailer from NavPress for I Am A Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling.