Sometimes I wonder if the topic of women in leadership is the “final frontier” of our day. (Now just for fun, imagine my best Star Trek voice.) These are the voyages of women everywhere. Their lifetime mission: to explore strange new worlds of authority, to seek out new leadership opportunities and communities, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Seriously, sometimes it feels like we are forging territory we’ve never crossed before, as if an empowered woman was something to view as a strange phenomenon, something heroic and daring. Yet the truth is women have been in positions of authority and influence since the beginning of time. Remember the quote “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”? Mothers raise their children with the intention of empowering them to grow strong and mighty. Her greatest desire is to teach them to walk confidently into their destiny.
We can easily scan the Scripture and find example after example of women who used their influence and their position to positively influence the next generation. There are many empowering and empowered women in our presence today; they simply are appearing in bold and new ways. You and I live in a generation where women can be a mom and CEO; a pastor or president; single and a leader. This shift in opportunities for women has left many confused or fearful about how to navigate in our generation.
The real question is how do we empower women in a way that releases the very best of their strength, gender, and compassion?
I believe the answer is grace.
If you and I could learn to become “grace-filled” leaders, we would naturally become empowering leaders. Grace is not leniency, indulgence, or even acceptance of bad behavior or sloppy work. It’s not about softly coercing others into following. Rather grace is the key to power. So what is grace? Grace can be defined as unmerited favor. We can’t earn it, and we don’t deserve it. It is the gift of the unearned kindness and favor of God toward us. We first experience the grace of God at the moment of our salvation.
“For by grace (unmerited favor) you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NIV, Ephesians 2:8-9).
Once we know Christ, grace overflows into all aspects of our lives, giving us a divine ability to compassionately accept ourselves and others while releasing a confident expectation that we are becoming more and more like Jesus. Grace drives out judgment, condemnation, and belittlement. It destroys hopelessness and is essential for real transformation in our lives.
That is what grace is, but what grace does is the key to empowering others.
Grace is power – a divine power to “will and do” (NIV, Philippians 2:13) according to God’s purpose.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them” (NIV, Acts 4:33).
When we receive grace, we are empowered. When we give grace, we empower others.
Grace enables us to change, to become like Christ, to mature, to dream, to experience revelation, to become something and someone more than we have ever been. It involves the tenacious belief in the best version of who God created people to be, and it refuses to allow those we lead to live beneath the vision of God’s highest dreams for their lives. When we lead by grace, we demonstrate a courage and confidence in how God created us – and we naturally extend the same grace to those who follow.
People follow leaders who exhibit a compassionate understanding of where they are right now while empowering them to make courageous, faithful choices that help them become successful.
I personally experienced grace in a transformative way when I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2009. I was already working as a part of the women’s ministry team at Gateway Church. We were in a particularly busy season with lots of ministry projects that required attention. Soon after I was diagnosed, I began to think about how the team would need to shift or change in order to continue with the forward momentum we needed.
I am naturally strategic in my thinking, and, as an only child, I am also pretty practical. In addition, I tend to be performance-driven. Because I have a strong gift of leadership, I can barrel through and make things happen. I thought I knew what needed to be done. I needed to step aside, and others would need to step up. Ministry deadlines would not yield to my circumstances, and as a result, I would need to drop out or move to the side. I was very unhappy that cancer would steal my involvement in a team and ministry that I loved.
Yet, when I visited with my friend and boss, Pastor Debbie Morris, she had a different strategic vision in mind. Rather than sitting me down, she stood me up. She recommended that we wait and see. “Let’s see how you handle the treatments and then determine how it will impact your work. We can stop ministry and wait until we know more.”
We can stop? We can wait?
At that moment, God released a sweet, sweeping sense of grace. She was telling me in my weakness – at the moment I could not perform or lead – there was still a place for me. She valued me over the work of the ministry.
This changed my life.
I approached treatment with a desire to keep working. Pastor Debbie gave me permission to attend to my medical needs and to continue to work as I felt able. Over the next 18 months, I experienced 19 rounds of chemotherapy, a full regimen of radiation, and a lumpectomy. I did not work everyday, but I did work consistently.
And somehow, all the ministry moved forward. God graced me with the ability to accomplish more with less. I learned that my weakness was not a disqualification but rather an opportunity to rest in grace.
That experience changed how I lead. Now I want to pour out grace on others. I want them to feel the sweet, sweeping impact of grace and how it makes us feel valuable, empowered, and blessed. When grace is poured out on our weaknesses, we will experience the beauty of a powerful leader and become empowered to move forward.
Now that we’ve established how powerful grace can be, let’s think about the concept of leadership.
What is leadership?
Leadership is not control, manipulation, coercion or the use of might to motivate others. “
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead you must be a servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, for even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NIV, Matthew 20:24-28).
So much of the leadership we see in the world looks like “lording it over others.” There are plenty of opportunities to practice this style of leadership. It’s full of selfish ambition, desire for control, and is rooted in forcing others into cooperation. Apparently this has been an issue for a very long time because Jesus clearly felt the need to redefine leadership as servanthood. He didn’t just talk about leadership, He modeled it. His whole leadership development program was based upon a “come, follow me” style of compassion and service to others.
'Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV, I Peter 4:10).
When we set out to serve one another, to share the gospel, or to offer encouragement, God bestows a divine authority on our work. With that authority comes an equal measure of responsibility. We are responsible to steward our authority for the good of others and for the destruction of darkness. Leadership is also about teamwork and partnerships. You and I partner with God and one another to accomplish a divine purpose.
This is at the core of Godly leadership.
The church is a team. Our families are a team. Our circles of influence are a team. Leadership is service in its purist form.
It’s more about our willingness to take the lower, more humble position than it is about our ability to lead the charge.
If we want to be a better leader, we must become a better servant.
So, what’s empowering you?
If you are empowered by pain, fear, selfish ambition, or lack, you will be a leader that struggles to empower others. But, if your power comes from Jesus Christ, the source of all authority, you will lead with grace empowering others and producing a beautiful array of fruitfulness in your life and in the lives of others.