This article was originally posted on July 22, 2021 by Lifeway Research.
My ministry journey has been unconventional. It hasn’t moved in a straight path, nor at the pace I expected. But whenever someone asks me to share how God got me to where I am today, the one answer I repeatedly give is leadership development.
Throughout my career, various leaders have helped change the trajectory of my life by simply giving me an opportunity. Recognizing my potential, they gave me opportunities to develop my leadership skills. They did so because they viewed ministry as a marathon relay race. They trained me, intending one day to pass me the baton to run the next leg of the race.
Like the leaders who shaped my life, all church leaders must be thinking about who will come behind us to continue the work of ministry. Specifically, women already in positions of influence need to have eyes to see that the next generation of women is ready to be catalyzed for the gospel! Innovative, creative, and passionate about mission, these women need us to train them to be leaders.
Whether the format is informal or formal, most successful leadership development programs have several consistent components. Over the years, I’ve learned that the following ones are key to training young leaders well.
One topic that is commonplace among millennials and Gen Z is purpose. Like many others, they are looking for ways to make an impact in the world. However, this generation sometimes doesn’t believe there is space to do so in the church. They might think leadership is reserved for men only. Or, struggling with imposter syndrome, they may believe they aren’t good enough to serve in those roles.
As we train women to lead, we need to cast vision for them constantly. We need to show them how God has gifted them and the potential impact they can make—both inside and outside of the church. Women are essential to the mission of God. So, we need to communicate this truth repeatedly, painting a picture of the mighty ways God can use them to build His kingdom.
Biblical illiteracy is one of the major problems facing the evangelical church, which means most evangelical Christians do not know or understand the core truths of their faith. Lifeway Research found 57% of Protestant churchgoers find it challenging to make sense of the Bible when they read it on their own. What this means is that millennials and Gen Z need to be trained to think deeply about their faith. They need to learn how to live wisely and skillfully engage culture through a solid biblical worldview. While there is a vast array of content we can provide our leaders, there are three major categories our training should focus on.
To effectively navigate their faith, our women need an understanding of biblical theology, systematic theology, and spiritual formation. This allows them to comprehensively understand the story of the Bible, the beliefs that are informed by that story, and the habits/disciplines we use to live out those beliefs. Theology is not just for pastors or seminary students. It is an essential tool that equips our women to grow to maturity in Christ and lead others to do the same.
Leadership is more about being than doing. When we have godly character, we will lead in a way that honors God and His people. Consequently, we should help our women understand who they need to be to lead well. Our training should emphasize character traits like humility, servanthood, respect, vulnerability, perseverance, and courage. As we share from Scripture and the experiences of our own lives, we enable women to see how godly character strengthens our leadership and how an absence of godly character weakens it.
Practical Leadership Skills
While leadership is more about being than doing, the doing still matters. Thus, our training programs should provide practical guidance for specific leadership skills. Conflict resolution, ministry development, teaching, and volunteer care are just a few of the skill sets that should be addressed. These conversations should also include guidance on how to serve alongside men, build confidence, and battle self-esteem issues.
There are unique obstacles for women in ministry, and we need to prepare women to overcome them. We also have to remember, however, that everyone has a different personality and set of giftings. Therefore, we should highlight how God has uniquely wired them to lead and resist conforming them to a specific leadership style.
Even though vision and training are essential for millennials and Gen Z, the secret sauce of any leadership development program is mentoring. It is hard to grow in a skill set when you don’t have guidance from a more experienced person. Mentoring provides our women with support as they implement what they’ve learned and the feedback they need to improve.
In addition, mentoring helps address two things many of our women struggle with—entitlement and a lack of commitment. Because of our immediate gratification and social media highlight-reel culture, this generation has been trained to believe they can have whatever they want, whenever they want it. These dynamics have also made some impatient, unable to commit long-term to relationships or responsibilities. By doing life with someone more mature than them, our women are able to see the value of faithfulness, patience, and wisdom. They also get a front-row seat to what it looks like to live well as a woman leader in any season of life.
Opportunities to Lead
You can read all the books and attend all the classes you want, but you don’t really learn how to lead until you start leading. For this reason, our leadership development programs should provide real-life opportunities for women to practice what they are learning. Over the years, I’ve learned to start people with a small amount of responsibility and then expand it over time. I have also learned that sometimes I need to add a role to a team to make room for them. Whether it’s social media or missions, their giftings can help take the team to another level!
As you think about passing the baton of ministry, I hope you will develop the next generation for women to lead well. Through casting vision, training, mentorship, and providing leadership opportunities, I hope you inspire them to live out God’s calling on their life.
Check out Elizabeth’s new book, Embrace Your Life. Grab your copy today!
Would you like to learn a wide variety of leadership skills and strategies through more than 20 personalized breakout sessions led by experienced leaders? Join Elizabeth Woodson alongside other Christian leaders including Kelly Minter, Kristi McLelland, Tara-Leigh Cobble, Carey Nieuwhof, Whitney Capps, Lauren Chandler and more at Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum!
Elizabeth Woodson received a Masters in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary and works as the Institute Classes and Curriculum Director at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.