At Gifted for Leadership, we're all about encouraging women to understand that God has gifted many of us specifically for leadership and that if we have that gift it's not really our choice whether or not we use it; it's just a matter of where and how and whether we put it to good use. How has God called you to use the leadership gifts he has given you?
Like many women, I was a bit of a reluctant leader. I have a lot of ideas but I wasn't used to being the person who was looked to. Over time, God very gently called me, through the validation of community where people were giving voice to how my input was helping either the organization or their lives specifically. People were coming to me and saying, "Why are you not stepping out? Everyone is looking to you for guidance in this scenario and yet you're not stepping up." So it took a bit of prodding from the community.
Eventually I did recognize God's part in that. And the more I stepped into things, the more validated by my involvement it became. So it's been a reluctant thing, but over time God has continued to bring opportunities my way that I probably wouldn't have pursued but I knew it was obedience to take.
Some of what you described is pretty common for women leaders. It's good for all of us to hear someone describe our own experiences.
Research has identified that one of the ways women are different from men is that they have to feel that they're invited in. They're not likely to insert themselves, whereas in a mostly male leadership culture, guys just expect that of each other. If you have something to offer, then for heaven's sake don't sit around waiting for somebody to say something. Get off the bench and go do it.
That is apparently a gender issue, whether it's socialized or not. Certainly we can come up with examples of men and women who don't default to that. But once I knew God was inviting me to it, whether or not the men or women around me were, that was all I needed. But I did need to know that God was inviting me in.
Primarily how are you using your leadership gifts now?
It has changed a lot. I started Soul Care-ish things as early as 1998, and that was just a dream to help people learn how to care for their souls. Most of what I was doing at that point was coalescing great resources, helping artists and writers give voice to things that would help people. It was kind of vague and ill-defined—a big, huge vision, but mostly a dream. Over time, as doors have opened, God has used me to be entrepreneurial to try things that nobody else would do and others would think were crazy. So it was very independent. Not fully isolated by any stretch, but very independent. Then I would get invited again into some things that were more organizational, like serving on a small elder team and finding my voice amidst the other leaders there, and loving that and seeing the fruit of the decisions we made together. Then on the staff at Willow Creek, in a structural role, a system, and having to adapt to influence with almost no authority. That took me to a kind of leadership that had to be more vision-oriented than structural.
Then especially with the writing and speaking I did for those intervening years, it was almost frustrating because there is a part of me that loves to build things, and I would go and speak and I would leave. I would try to integrate what I was doing to serve what they were trying to build, but in the end you're a contract laborer. You come in and do what they need, and you leave. So I was mostly using the leadership to cast a vision and compel people into a different way of life, which is a big part of what I do with Soul Care. But I felt like I wasn't building anything.
That's what I loved about being invited to join the WCA. I was not only building things, but building some entrepreneurial things, new ways we could help church leaders lead for transformation. I was once again working with a team in an organization, and I loved that. But again it was a shift from more of a voice leadership to a structural leadership.
Now, in the last five months I've been asked to give some pretty strong leadership to a start-up subsidiary of the WCA. It's more like leading the start-up phase of a business, yet it's all about helping churches with transformation and leveraging technology to do that. So I find myself in yet another thing where I'm aligning different work projects, getting deep into some of the technology needs, developing marketing plans, having to handle situations with employees that are struggling. It's just a very different, more direct leadership role. I still do what I do on the side with Soul Care, but the essence of my formation message is the deep undergirding of everything we're doing.
Speaking of that Soul Care focus that you've had, how did God produce that passion for Soul Care in you? Where did that come from?
Most people, if they're familiar with me at all, would know that that just emerges out of my story of some pretty deep brokenness in the 10 years that I was in Boston when we were planting a church. In a nutshell, I was severely depleted but had no clue and just kept pushing and pushing. I had no rhetoric, no way of thinking about my own soul. You know, a soul is saved, what else do you need to know about it, right? All my drivenness, my co-dependencies, led me right over a cliff of my own physical health that sidelined me from my own life for a few months. In that season, I was doing some deep reflection, deep prayer, really wrestling with God, confused. And I emerged with a very different resolve that anything I was going to attempt in my life had to come from a different place—not from my striving, my achieving, my leveraging, harnessing. I was absolutely done being so very intentional and strategic. I resolved to build as deep a relationship with God as I knew how. I had no idea what that meant, but I said, "From now on, from that place of deep relationship, God can do through me whatever he jolly well pleases. I'm done caring. I'm done trying so hard, I'm done." And the crazy thing is, the deeper I dove into a new way of life, into authentic connection with God, with community, with my true stuff, the more doors kept swinging wide open for influence in ways that I never would have had the guts to include in a strategic plan. It seemed to validate further what God's talking about in John 15. You abide, you remain, you trust, you freefall, you dive deep and really let the outcomes go, and if God chooses to bear fruit through you in a season, you rejoice. If there's a season that doesn't have any apparent fruit, you just rest in God. What a change.
So many of us come out of those deep valleys with a sense of mission and purpose.
And it was unintended. My only mission was to not be driven anymore. Everything that came by way of my leadership, my teaching, was all secondary. My mission is to build the deepest relationship with God that I know how. And He can do through me whatever he jolly well pleases.