Nancy Beach was the first woman in a senior leadership role at Willow Creek Community Church and ‘Gifted to Lead’ is a book about ‘the art of leading as a woman in the church’. It’s not about whether women should lead (as Nancy says, plenty of other people have written on that, and she cites books from both sides of the debate) but about how they should lead, should they be in leadership positions. Willow’s Statement on Women and Men in Leadership says, “We believe that when the Bible is interpreted comprehensively, it teaches the full equality of men and women in status, giftedness and opportunity for ministry” but whatever your stance on this prickly issue, there’s plenty of rich wisdom in this book.
Nancy’s main message is that if you’re a woman with leadership or teaching gifts, God did not make a mistake when he made you. This is an intensely personal issue for her: she’s been refused roles because she’s a woman (even when the person refusing her recognised that she was more gifted than the person they gave it to!) and has time and again been placed in the position of breaking new ground as the first woman on an all male leadership team.
The book is a delicate balance of empowerment and exhortation for women. There’s no sense of pushing an agenda here. Rather, Nancy is passionate about seeing women who have leadership gifts steward them well. Therefore, she:
- points women leaders first to their own character, encouraging them to be gracious, not defensive and to work hard and well (especially if they expect to be viewed on the quality of their work not their gender).
- encourages them to work out their own leadership style without feeling confined to the (mostly male) role models around them. She maintains that this is not determined by gender, but rather by working out how to steward God’s gifts to you in your own uniqueness.
- affirms that self-confidence is a woman’s biggest asset in leadership. Knowing who she is and being secure in that identity is an inspiring quality.
- addresses the difficult question of how motherhood and ministry fit together and whether the combination makes you either a bad mother or a deficient leader.
- exhorts them to see other women in leadership as a support rather than a threat.
- offers a sense of humour and some practical advice when it comes to the unique feminine challenges of heels, lipstick, lapel mics and hormones.
- shares her own struggles with the way people view her and her own lack of confidence.
This is not just a book for women who have leadership gifts. Chapter 7 is ‘An Open Letter to Male Pastors and Church Leaders’. She asks three things of male pastors, with fervour and insight:
- to take a hard, honest look for themselves of what they think the Bible says about women in ministry.
- to take this issue out of the ‘too hard’ or ‘too messy’ basket and start talking about it with their congregations.
- to be the greatest advocate in their church for women in leadership. (No matter where you land on the issue, Nancy reckons there’s more you can do to affirm women.)
At the end, there’s also an FAQ section. In some ways, this is the highlight, where Nancy shows her keen understanding of women of the most piercing questions that women in leadership face such as:
- I have leadership gifts but my husband doesn’t. How does that work out in a marriage?
- A man who reports to me shows resistance. How do I handle this?
- Should I lobby for a job title that’s the same as what men who do the same job have?
- I have a daughter who shows signs of leadership gifting. How do I encourage her?
This book is worth it just for the issues it raises. But it also abounds with penetrating advice, passionate pleas, warmth, wisdom and humour. Buy this book. Read it. Give it to your pastor.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.