Editor’s Note: In honor of International Women’s Day today, we’re publishing this practical article on developing the next generation of women leaders for ministry. Whatever your role, young women in your church are looking to you as a role model. What a privilege and honor to invest in them and watch God grow and develop them into amazing leaders. —Amy Jackson
Recently, I started helping with a small group for college women. I’m only a few weeks in, but I’m already in love. They’re smart, passionate, kind, creative, and fun to be around. They are crazy about Jesus, and they love the church. They love deeply and care for each other incredibly well. When I look around this small group of 12 young women, I see unlimited potential.
As we were leaving after our second meeting, one of the women asked me, “Are you sure you want to take us on as a small group? I mean, we’re a little crazy.” I smiled, and told her I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I drove home, I started dreaming and praying about how to help them unleash their God-given gifts to make an even greater impact in the world. These girls are the future of the church, and that gives me incredible hope.
An essential ingredient for healthy leadership is the ability to raise up other leaders. This is discipleship at its best: raising up the next generation of leaders in the church who will carry on the mission and vision of Jesus. When we develop leaders, we take the cap off our own leadership capacity and exponentially increase our ability to influence the world around us through discipleship.
In my experience, I’ve found that Millennials eagerly look for people to invest in them and challenge them. Here are five tips to help you recruit and invest in the next generation of women leaders:
1. Believe in her potential.
Stop looking for existing leaders, and start looking for passion and natural influence. When she speaks up, do her peers listen? Does she ask questions and demonstrate interest in a particular area of ministry? If so, she’s exactly who you need to spend more time with. She might not have experience, but maybe that’s because she hasn’t been given a chance yet.
A young woman needs someone to believe in her and tell her she has what it takes. When I was starting out in ministry, I had an incredible boss who saw something in me that I couldn’t yet see in myself. He believed in me, and kept giving me new opportunities that stretched me and helped me grow. If Eric hadn’t believed in my potential, I would never have developed into the leader I am today. Give a young woman the gift of believing in her, and watch her rise to the occasion.
2. Recruit to vision, not to need.
Would you rather help set up chairs, or be part of creating an environment for genuine and authentic community where lives are changed? If we’re in event or ministry planning mode, we often see a list of tasks that need to be done. Then we go about trying to make sure all the tasks are completed. Sure, someone needs to set up chairs, but no one is inspired by that task! Instead, cast vision for how each task helps to accomplish the vision. Specifically, learn to cast vision for how your ministry changes lives.
I work with small groups, and I absolutely believe that small groups are the life of the church. If our small groups aren’t healthy, our church isn’t healthy. Whenever I meet someone who I think could be a potential volunteer, I start sharing my heart for small groups. If I see her get excited about the vision of healthy small groups, then I start sharing a little bit more about what our small-group ministry team does and ask if she’d consider being part of how we’re changing lives through small groups. Always lead with vision, not needs. Once someone buys into your vision, she’ll be willing to meet any and every need that comes up. Show her the impact her life can have if she joins your team, and you’ll find a loyal team member who will stick with you in the trenches.
3. See her as an individual and develop her gifts.
People have a deep desire to be known individually—their unique experiences, gifts, and passions. As you spend time with the next generation of women leaders, call out what makes them unique and help them identify and develop their sweet spot. Encourage their strengths and affirm when you see them excelling in their gifts. When possible, provide roles to help them develop their strengths.
As I get to know the college women in my new small group, I can’t wait to get a fuller picture of what makes each girl unique, encouraging each one in her strengths. One young woman has spunk and grit, and she will make a fierce leader one day. Another has wisdom beyond her years, and one day she will help an organization navigate wisely through a hard season. Yet another has a free spirit, and one day she’ll remind the church to shake off our tired routines and fall in love with Jesus in a fresh new way. Each young woman is made individually and by God for a unique impact in the world. I want to help each one move closer to her unique gifts and calling and watch her come alive.
4. Build relationships.
In Mark 3:14, Jesus didn’t just appoint the 12 disciples to go out—he appointed them "that they might be with him." And Jesus didn’t just bring the disciples around when he was about to teach or perform a miracle. He shared meals with them, travelled with them, and met their families (Matthew 8:14).
The next generation of women leaders look up to you, and want to know how you do what you do. They need to see who you are when you’re not in “ministry mode.” How do you balance work, family, and friends? How do you respond when you’re stressed? How do you take care of yourself? What does your marriage look like? Who are your closest friends, and how do you support one another?
Your greatest ministry doesn’t come from the stage. It comes when others witness the thousands of everyday moments when the character of Christ is being formed in you. Allow these young women to see your real life. They don’t just need to learn ministry skills; they need to develop the character that supports the work God wants to do in and through them. Invite them into your home for dinner, let them run errands with you, and provide an inside look into how God is at work in your everyday, messy, chaotic life.
5. Take a risk and be okay with mess.
If you're going to take a risk in ministry, let it be on believing in people. Development as a leader is messy and these young women will make mistakes along the way. With your care and guidance, those mistakes will turn into learning opportunities that propel them toward even greater leadership.
I was 23 when I started my first job working with a college ministry. I remember the first couple of times I taught at our weekly gathering, and I wince now to think of how it went. But since then, thanks to more and more opportunities to practice and receive feedback, I’ve grown to be much more confident and effective in teaching.
An omnipotent and omniscient God still chooses to work out His purposes through flawed humans because he knows that we’ll grow and develop to be even more effective leaders through the process. How much more should we be willing to take risks and give young women the chance to learn and grow! Reaffirm that you still believe in them, help them learn from their mistakes, and give them a seat at the table with you.
Laura Copeland serves on the small groups team at Saddleback Church in California.