Recently, a friend shared a conversation she'd had with another woman in leadership. "All she talked about is how no one will support her preaching, and how she's having a hard time getting ordained. Not once did she talk about serving, or call, or God's direction."
Ambition isn't unique to women. Men strive to get ahead just like we do. But within women's leadership circles, I'm noticing a troubling trend: In our rally cry to gain a place in the pulpit, we may be losing something else—our heart for servanthood.
I'm as pro-woman as they come. I believe the church would benefit from more women teaching in larger venues. But as I look at the "glory" of being "in the spotlight"—for both men and women—I have to ask myself, How did Jesus teach?
Jesus taught one woman at the well what it means to have living water. He taught a small group of disciples what it meant to follow him. And he also taught a large crowd how to be blessed in this life. We're just as likely to receive wisdom from Jesus' teaching when he ate a meal with his disciples as when he stood in the synagogue and read from Isaiah. The answer to the question, How did Jesus teach? is that he taught in a wide variety of venues, and always with a heart to serve his listeners, no matter how big or small the crowd. And he did it even in the midst of having people not "support" his preaching, as my friend bemoaned about her own situation.
If Jesus lived, loved, and taught primarily through relationships rather than in the synagogue, then all of us already have opportunities to teach, even without a pulpit. Plus, Scripture makes it clear that God cares first and foremost about the state of our hearts—our character. If we've been called to teach, we're held to a higher standard: "Brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness" (James 3:1).
I know what it is to yearn for greater influence. But I also know that it's a slippery slope to believe that my greatest effectiveness comes by teaching at center stage. The best thing I can do is take the role I've been given and work at it with all my heart—to earn my place of leadership without promoting a hidden agenda of self-ambition. I must leverage the influence I do have, and rejoice when it moves the kingdom forward, knowing that my "labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58) regardless of whether I preached the sermon myself or contributed to the discussion in a staff meeting with a pastor the week before. And I can pursue my calling, understanding as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:6, that as I humble myself, under God's mighty hand, he will lift me up in due time. Then my influence builds because of my reputation of servanthood, not my loud cries to be noticed.
Nicole Unice is a contributing editor for GiftedforLeadership.com, and she works in Family and Student Ministry at Hope Church in Richmond, VA.