Leadership has been likened to mountain climbing. Depending on the height of the mountain, the closer to the summit one climbs, the harder it gets. The air is thinner, the winds blow stronger, and the burdens rest on your shoulder more heavily as fewer people have climbed to the upper peaks.
Some who have risen to the summits of leadership may stand up, look around, yell “Hello!” and only hear the echo of their own voice. Some leaders have grown weary in their journey, and still, others are looking for a foothold to scale to the next landing. Leadership is not always easy, and leadership in ministry is not for the faint of heart.
I have been serving in Christian ministry leadership for almost 37 years. God has allowed me to experience launching a new ministry, leading through a church split, being a ministry leader at a church that saw quick, exponential growth, and serving a seminary that has gone through a difficult top-level leadership transition, not to mention a global pandemic where we all experienced new leadership challenges. I have served with some amazing leaders and served with some not-so-amazing leaders. At times through my journey, I found I was just barely surviving, but survival mode is not the place God has for us. There are lessons I have learned on my leadership journey that propels me to thrive and not just survive as a woman whom God has called to ministry leadership.
Commit to stewarding your leadership chair well. Leadership is influence. You are a leader in some form or fashion. Commit to steward the places of leadership God has entrusted to you. You may not be in the place you expected, but it is the leadership chair God has given you. Steward it well. Remember the parable of the talents in Matt 25 and remain faithful to what the Master has entrusted to you.
Some seasons will be harder than others. Be sure to do daily reality checks with God. Elijah felt the hard realities and aloneness of leadership after a particularly challenging time of service. His aloneness turned to desperation, crying to God that he was the “only one left.” God had to remind him that there were still 7000 who had not kneeled to Baal. (I Kings 19) During those hard seasons when the aloneness is most magnified, and the burdens are heaviest, do regular reality checks with God.
Daily build your spiritual foundation to be able to stand alone with no one but God. There are days and times that it will only be you as desperate as you want to find another to do this with. It is on those days the firmness of the foundation upon which you have built your life and ministry will be tested. Make sure you are building as the one who is wise and not the foolish one.
Network when and where you can with others at similar leadership levels. This can be tricky, especially for women serving at higher leadership summits. There may be very few women serving at the same level as you. Be intentional in seeking them out and connecting with them. Attend conferences for the expressed purpose of networking with and connecting with women in ministry serving in similar ministries. This can be difficult, but it can be a lifeline.
Being alone at the leadership summit doesn’t mean you lead alone. Yes, there are moments of vision casting, decision-making, and responsibility that rest with you alone. But the execution of ministry and leadership should be done alongside others. Know when to ask for help, when to delegate, and when to pass on to another.
Keep training for the journey. A leader stays ahead of her followers. Keep training, keep learning keep honing those skills so that you can lead with confidence and those whom you are leading can trust where you are taking them.
Don’t quit too soon. Sometimes the aloneness is overwhelming, and the burdens are so heavy the desire to quit can become all too tempting. Don’t quit too soon. You just never know what God is doing in the background or what He is about to do.
There are days when I stand on the leadership summit upon which God has placed me, I look around, and the aloneness is deafening, the burdens are heavy, and my heart quickens. Then I fix my eyes on Jesus, breathe deeply, and take the next step. This is the cost of discipleship, the cost of following Christ, and the cost of being faithful to do what God has called me to do.
My sisters, if you have been following Christ step by step and find yourself on the leadership summit, I know it is a hard place to be. But God has led you there. God has placed you there. Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
Terri Stovall is the Dean of Women and Professor of Women’s Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Terri also gives oversight to the Southwestern Women’s Center and the Women’s Leadership Institute. Her heart's passion is to equip and enable women to reach women and families for Christ. She and her husband Jay currently live in Arlington, TX, and they enjoy motorcycling as well as traveling the country riding rollercoasters.
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