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My Difficult Past Makes Me a Better Leader

The very things I saw as weaknesses, I now see as strengths.

Seminary Turned Things Around

Later in life, my husband encouraged me to go to seminary, knowing that I’ve always wanted to go. Enrolling in the MDiv program turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It was there that my gifts were encouraged and I was told to consider becoming a theology professor.

After seminary, I hosted and produced a live radio program where I taught from the Bible and played music. I had a diverse cross-section of listeners from different ethnic backgrounds and denominations. I had white, Hispanic, Jamaican, black, and Asian pastors call in and tell me they were listening to my message, as well as philosophers, teenagers, college students, and women in their 70s. One person even called to tell me that she had rearranged her work schedule just so she could listen to my show.

When my husband and I moved, I was invited to be one of five teaching leaders at an urban church plant, and I gave messages once or twice a month. I was the only woman on the team, and not everyone at the church believed women were allowed to give sermons. But they admitted that I was invited by the four male leaders and that I did have a gift, which in the end was very affirming.

While I once viewed my past as a liability, I now view it as a strength. As a result of my upbringing and minority identity, I have compassion for the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and those who feel invisible. I’m not afraid to lovingly speak up when I see something wrong, and I can easily talk and write about theology.

Churches need the female perspective that comes from women in leadership. I’ve seen precarious situations nearly bungled because some of my dear brothers simply did not have a woman’s insight or experience. I often find myself wincing when I consider the many situations that are mishandled and the lives that are damaged because many women have no say and no leadership roles in their churches.

In a fantastic turn of events, God has given me the opportunity to publish a book on spiritual formation and teach in a seminary where I am helping to form the spiritual lives of my brothers and sisters who are pastors, aspiring pastors, or lay leaders. In addition, I serve as Minister of Pastoral Care at my church. Like Paul, I see how through my perceived weaknesses and disadvantages God has made me stronger, more compassionate, and more justice-oriented. And that makes me a better leader.

—Marlena Graves is a writer, speaker, and the author of A Beautiful Disaster.

November02, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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