When I was asked to join the staff of a small church as the small-group coordinator, I was thrilled. I was also naïve. Being on staff meant that I was joining two men, one 10 years my senior, the other just a few years younger than my father. I moved from working with peers in a college ministry where I'd found that my gender rarely had an effect on what I could do, to a family church with a variety of traditional values represented. I had no idea how much gender would come into play.
Take our first weekly staff lunch outing. My coworkers rushed to open all doors for me, offering me the front seat in the car while one of them drove. At the restaurant, we were seated at a booth, and there was some awkwardness as my coworkers decided it best that they sit next to each other. It was insisted that I order first (as the lady at the table) and that my coworker pour my tea for me. Later as one of my coworkers remarked on our productive lunch, he said, "Thanks, guys." He quickly blushed and apologized for calling me a guy. (For the record, I have absolutely no issue with being referred to as the collective "guys.") I chalked up these humorous interactions to new job awkwardness. But then they continued…and broadened.
In a conversation about buying new lapel mics, I asked if there were options with smaller battery packs, or battery packs that could clip on in other ways than a back pocket—something my Sunday outfits rarely had. I got blank looks from the men buying the mics.
When we had an opportunity to go to a pastors' retreat, there were two awkward interactions. First, there was a long conversation about the fact that I would need my own room at the retreat because all the other pastors were men. While this did get worked out, it was quite a topic of discussion. Then the wives of my coworkers decided they'd get together while we were gone for a pastor's wife hangout. They wondered aloud if they should invite my husband, then decided we should probably all just hang out at another time instead.
There was also confusion one day at a staff meeting when I revealed I am an introvert. "But women are so relational," one of my coworkers protested.
My husband and I learned to laugh these things off. After all, this was uncharted territory for all of us, and there was a steep learning curve. Despite the funny moments, my coworkers fully believed that God called women to ministry and that he had called me to leadership. Instead of my coworkers questioning my calling, what was more likely was questioning my own calling. And that's when I learned how important confidence in my calling is.
When we embrace our leadership callings—in whatever context we find ourselves—chances are we'll be charting new territory. Everyone will need to adjust, and even when they're willing to adjust, it simply takes time. What can make the process smoother, though, is having confidence in our calling. When we show that we have utter confidence in who and what God is calling us to, others are more likely to follow suit. And our confidence helps us navigate these funny interactions with grace and humility.
That said, I've also learned the hard way that some character attributes—like confidence and assertiveness—are a little scary when seen in women, even when they're celebrated in men. While I pray that we will see the day when that absurd unspoken gender norm is overthrown, we must also realize that we women leaders compete with it each day. I've found that I have to have confidence in my calling, humility in how I live out that calling, and a team-player attitude that assures my coworkers that I'm working with them.
We will face awkward moments as others around us adjust to seeing strong, competent, passionate, confident, called women in leadership roles. It's inevitable. Some moments will be silly, others more hurtful. In the end, though, we must rest in the calling that God has given us and lean into his wisdom for navigating healthy, fruitful relationships. Don't let others take away your confidence in your calling. Live it out with all you've got.