by Tara Heisey
This article was featured in the September/October 2014 print issue.
While created to be a "help meet", how does a Godly woman function in a position of leadership ? How can she lead strongly, yet graciously? And how may she remain tenderhearted and meek while “on duty” and “in-charge”? I don’t know where you are in your journey, but if currently serving in a position of leadership, how do you find rest? Where do you go with struggle? Perhaps you find yourself feeling weary, alone, useless, and wondering if you even matter. Don’t give up. You’re invited to take a short break from the strains of responsibility and “follow” along for a glimpse into a few examples of feminine leadership.
What does it mean to be feminine? I appreciate the way Larry Crabb describes it in his book, Fully Alive; “…A woman is feminine when she relates in a way that invites others to see something about God that is irresistibly attractive, something about the relational nature of God that she was created to enjoy and reveal” (42). In a society that encourages bold women and an Anabaptist culture that teaches the biblical principle of submission, how can we as women model this in a position of leadership that God has called us to? If you are a sister, mother, nurse, teacher, mentor, dean of women, camp counselor, head cook, or the headn secretary (just to name a few) you are a leader. It doesn’t take a great, outstanding position to be a leader, but someone who is willing to allow her influence to impact the lives of others. Through the following stories I would like to portray the way I believe that every woman uniquely brings her gifts, personality, and story to a position of feminine leadership, even in her weaknesses.
My first experiences in leading began with my birth order; I’m the oldest of five siblings, whom I love very much. Without them I don’t know who I would be today, and along with my parents, they are the ones who have welcomed me home from every venture and granted grace for transition.
When I was eighteen I had the opportunity to be a counselor at RUBIES Camp and begin modeling some of the feminine leadership that had impacted my life. My love for girls grew with girl’s club during missions in Guatemala, and continued with opportunities at RUBIES Camp in Pennsylvania. But by the time I was celebrating my 24th birthday, life hadn’t flowed the way I had expected, and my dreams lay flat. It was on that birthday that God began to reveal His plans and took me beyond my own imagination. I received a call to be the assistant resident advisor (a.k.a. dean) for Elnora Bible Institute (Elnora, IN).
For the next four years God used my time at EBI as a training ground for brokenness and a safe place to grow. In between those seasons of leading He continued to reveal more of His mercy and truth to me through places such as LIFE Ministries, Camp Andrews, the HAFT, and Girl’s Passion. The Holy Spirit began to gently work through the walls I had built around my heart and called me to places where I faced my deeper longings and fears. Gradually my nice, controlled life became messier than desired when deadened longings came to life and guarded fears came to the surface. Even my typical ways of dealing with stress became more obvious to me as I turned to comfort food. Leading was hard work.
Leading requires brokenness and vulnerability, but for a feminine leader to develop those qualities she must enter her fear and acknowledge her desire to control. A feminine leader who is broken may find herself asking, “Who am I? What am I doing here? And who is God?” She can courageously face and admit her weaknesses, while also receiving grace and inviting others to know her in her struggle. Serving as a leader may be lonely, and vulnerability requires honesty. I like the way Allender states it in Leading With A Limp, “Honesty promises to remain tender and kind, full of hope and desire for the other person’s growth. The more we remain honest with the other, the greater our desire will be to know and to be known, to know truth and to be pursued and seized by what is true, by the One who is true. Honesty frees us to care.” (122)
Vulnerability is the character trait of a good leader, and since it is also a unique character trait of femininity, I wonder how much more God’s glory could be revealed through the life of vulnerable feminine leader. As a staff member at Girl’s Passion Camp I’ve had the unique privilege of witnessing God’s character among the committee and staff members. They are a genuine group of five beautiful women who plan camp and lead at the same level as the rest of the staff. They can be honest about their thoughts, emotions, ideas, and spiritual journey. Conflict doesn’t stop them. Their vulnerability and honesty in feminine leadership allows room for grace and questions and extends a warm invitation for me to be a part of them.
During my time at the Passion Girl’s Camp this past summer I thought I miserably failed my campers when I admitted to some of my own struggle during one of the sessions. After a brief pause, one of my caring and courageous campers asked if they could pray for me. I was surprised by her offer and the way she moved to care about me as their leader. I felt something pull inside of me and realized it was actually difficult to say yes! Tears began to flow when I felt the comfort of another camper who left her spot in the circle to place her arm around my shoulders, and I heard each girl pray to the Father for the struggle I had shared. I hadn’t expected all, or any of the care that they offered and some time later I was still critiquing myself with contempt for “falling apart” and leaving my campers with such a burden. I still struggled to admit that I needed to talk with someone until a committee member asked if I was ok. I quickly spilled the frustration I held against myself and she calmly offered to pray for me before I ran out the door for another activity. At the end of the weekend, my campers blessed me with truth and grace by being honest about the strength and weaknesses they saw.
A vulnerable feminine leader will also invite godly men to lead with their protection and logical insight. One of the blessings for me as a leader has been growing to see God’s unique design for femininity by allowing men to take care of things for me, asking for their advice, and trusting them with the concerns I bring. It’s been a long challenge for me to bring questions or concerns, and of course, there’s the struggle of when to voice an opinion or withhold it respectfully. I believe it’s important for a godly feminine leader to respect the men around her, allow their protection, and abide by their decisions -even when she doesn’t agree. She may bring helpful insight or opinions, but then it is best for her to leave it in the care of masculine leadership. As women it is incredibly difficult to trust and allow men to lead, but how can she honor and encourage men in their design to be leaders? How can she invite the strength of younger men, brothers, and little boys though she herself may be fully capable? Godly men will take responsibility, even own their mistakes, which allows the feminine leader to freely carry out her tasks that help, nurture, and care in the unique way God has designed and created for her. Not all of the men in your life may have been safe leaders you can trust, and you may also notice that you like to be in control more than what you realized, but I hope that you will also discover more of God’s glory through His created order.
It’s easy to become discontent, discouraged, and disconnected in the position we serve. Sometimes there are external pressures and circumstances, weighty decisions, and other matters that bring pressure to the team you may be serving alongside. Often these things will creep in unaware, and we become susceptible to the lies of the enemy. We want to cast blame, form stronger opinions, avoid confrontation, hide, or just fix the problem. It will take a conscious effort and the help of the Holy Spirit for the feminine leader not to close her heart and create more disunity through gossip.
A feminine leader must not fall into the trap of comparing herself to others and must admit that it is easier to see the flaws of someone else than it is to see our own. One way we can grow to understand and appreciate our gifts and those we serve with is by the prophet, priest, and king concept. While Jesus perfectly lived and fulfilled all three, I will attempt to encapsulate how God has uniquely gifted each of us with a form of those characteristics.
A prophet will see and speak truth. She is willing to interrupt comfort with new challenges, call out faulty living, and invite one to move toward a greater vision. The priest is an intercessor and an encourager. She connects with people through stories that remind them of where they’ve come from and offers rest by creating a safe place. The kingly leader creates order through detailed organization. She is bold and honest while willing to make unpopular decisions. One is not better than the other, and we need all three to bring balance to our team.*
Finally, quiet time is essential for your spiritual and personal life, the position in which you serve, and those whom you are called to lead. Spending time at the feet of Jesus, seeking the Father, and coming before His throne of grace is where you may find true rest and joy, brokenness and healing, and His strength in your weakness. It’s good to have time off, a safe place to go, and a trusted friend or mentor to connect with.
Wherever you find yourself today, may the Holy Spirit be your guide, comfort, wisdom, and understanding. May He fill you, complete His good work in you, and bless you as you open your heart to His ultimate leading.
* Dan Allender, Leading With a Limp, page 185
Hello, my name is Tara Heisey and I am 27 years old. My favorite fad foods include things like “salted caramel”, homemade iced coffees, and breads! I love connecting with those around me through heartto-heart conversations, sister time, and caring for the elderly in my occupation as a CNA. I enjoy traveling and embracing the differences in various cultures. I feel very passionate about sharing Jesus through relationship as I learn more of His character, my love for Him, and His love for me.