I'm very good at choosing vegetables. And I'm not afraid to say it.
As a kid, I went to the Green Grocer every week with my Mom. She showed me how to sniff tomatoes, squeeze avocados, and knock on butternut squash. Because she showed me how to do it, as an adult, I have confidence that the produce I buy will be good. Mom knew what she was doing. Now I do.
I wish I'd had the same kind of confidence in other parts of life. Like stepping into ministry. I gained confidence in my own ability to pick out produce by watching my Mom do it 30 years ago. But when it comes to ministry, I lack the same kind of role models.
Whose role is this, anyway?
During Bible College my ministry partnerships with my husband were fruitful, yet I was always a little unsure about what my role should be. But I really had to wrestle with some demons when I felt God was drawing me into church leadership.
The key moment in the struggle came at a big ministry conference I attended. I had been a freelance Christian writer, women's conference speaker, pastor's wife, and associate pastor for years, but now I was about to become co-lead pastor. I attended this event for leaders, hoping God would use it to prepare me for my new role. He did use it, but not in the way I had expected.
As much as I wanted to take it all in, after two days at this conference, I just couldn't be there anymore. I loved the people I was listening to and I shared their passion for mission. But none of them looked or thought or spoke like me. And it my uneasiness went beyond different personal styles. I desperately-needed role models, but what I found there were leaders all very much like each other and very unlike me. I was an introverted female artist from Australia. They were extroverted men and thoroughly American in their approach to ministry. It all made me feel like a hopeless outsider.
So I locked myself in my hotel room and cried out to God: "I have nothing! You've made a mistake!"
Clearing a path
In the years since that day, God has gently revealed to me ways that a woman, an introvert, an artist and a foreigner can do this. It's been grueling work, and often felt like clearing a path through an overgrown wilderness. I've learned it's possible to step into a role you've never seen filled by someone like yourself. But it's a personal kind of pioneering as you create your own path. It takes more time and energy than following a well-worn trail.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have had a mentor who embodied what we wanted to become. But most leaders, in some way or another will have to find for themselves a way of ministering that is true to who they are.
Scripture is filled with pioneers and unlikely leaders—people who were the wrong age, the wrong gender, had the wrong gifts, the wrong background. I think of Esther, Timothy, Moses, Joseph, David—all of whom were powerfully used by God in spite of apparent shortcomings. While I haven't yet found one person who makes me want to say, "I want to be just like them," I've cobbled together my own model, based on attributes of many different people. And as strange as it sounds, I've also learned to be my own role model. If I've never seen someone do something, I do it, once. And then I know if it can be done or not. The very first time I preached as lead pastor, my initial instinct was to present a stunning sermon to prove what a great leader I could be. But instead I felt led to simply share my own testimony, which gave me a knot in my stomach all week. But I did it. And it worked. So now I've seen it done. And even if it was done by me, it still counts as an example.