Women & Leadership

February 1, 2016
Annesley Writers Forum
Dr. JoAnne Lyon

This title in itself some would deem an oxymoron. It would be interesting to do a survey to find out how many women self-identify as leaders. We generally connect leadership with a title we may have, as opposed to what our inner gifts and being may be. In fact, I well remember forty years ago running a multi-million dollar government-funded jobs program in the inner city of Kansas City, but not identifying myself as a leader—particularly as I crossed over into church circles. The language of church leadership was, at that time, male-oriented.

I am happy to say that times have changed. But in those early years of leadership, it was the study of scripture and church history that helped me most understand my own gifts. I looked at Priscilla and realized that she was a powerful leader—able to discern what was needed in the early church. And, not only did she discern, but acted! I discovered the courage of Junia to become church planter to Rome—the most powerful city in the world at the time. She displayed true leadership to me.

From Wesleyan church history, Phoebe Palmer preached to crowds of 10,000 as well as organized mission agencies and educational institutions such as Drew University and Garrett Theological Seminary. She was also a wife and mother. Of course, another powerful example is that of Catherine Booth. She saw evil, addressed it, and was not afraid of advocating for the poor to the point of lobbying Queen Victoria—all while raising eight children.

The list goes on and on. There is a legacy of hundreds and thousands of women who followed these examples of women in leadership. Often we confess a need for role models, and I agree. These women-of-the-past helped me immensely.

Even so, we still need to look at the barriers that exist within ourselves regarding leadership:

Our own lack of self-confidence

This is rooted in cultural socialization and, while things are certainly better for our children, challenges remain. Deep within our psyche, most of us do not believe we deserve to lead—that is, unless there is no one else.

I remember being asked to write Sunday School material with two preschoolers in tow. I was tempted to say, “Well, I just can’t do this until my children are grown and besides, I am not a scholar. I need a quiet space to write. I need to do this writing in Hawaii, not Michigan in the winter. Also, there are far more competent people than I. You know, I bet they can’t find anyone else. I’m probably their last choice.”

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