How to Lead: Gender Issues in Leadership

Posted by Jenni Catron on Mar 5, 2019 12:30:00 PM

I frequently get asked, “What is it like to be a woman leader?” 


Frankly, I loathe the question. As if being a woman is like having a third eye or some other science fiction abnormality.


I am a leader who happens to be a woman. That’s all. My gender shouldn’t define my opportunities or limitations. It shouldn’t dictate whether I’m an effective leader or a poor one. It shouldn’t be the thing that restricts me from knowing how to lead, holds me back from leading or is an excuse for me to receive opportunities that I haven’t earned.


But for as much as I wish gender wasn’t an issue, it is, especially in ministry leadership. We get clumsy, fearful, and inhibited when we lead among the opposite sex. Many of our church cultures dictate that men should lead men and women should lead women. Create nice, clean, tidy, and controllable lines. This is applied to everything from leading a small group to teaching in large-group contexts to who should be on boards or committees.


But is that God’s best? Did he intend for us to be segregated? Did he mean for our spiritual gifts to only impact half of the population? Are we limiting God’s work through us because of our fear of the gender he assigned us? And, to make it personal: what does leadership mean to you? That context-specific definition is often the root of this wide scale dynamic.


I believe we can create environments where men and women can lead effectively together and, in doing so, accomplish great work for God’s glory. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it.


How to be an Effective Leader (Men and Women)

We need to wrestle with three questions if we hope to create a culture where both genders can implement effective leadership.


The Theological Question About Leadership and Gender

I know. I know. Some of you were getting twitchy with the subject as soon as you read the title. There’s a legitimate theological conversation to be had about what the Bible has to say about gender roles. If you’ve never explored it, I encourage you to do so. 


Seeking to understand scripture for yourself in this area is incredibly important. Many of us have formed our views about women and leadership by osmosis. We’ve simply absorbed the beliefs of denominations, our leaders, our parents, and our mentors without asking the questions and studying the issue for ourselves about what makes a leader and who is eligible to lead.


2 Timothy 2:15 reminds us to examine God’s word so that we can do the work he’s called us to with confidence. For those of us called to lead men and women in the church, it’s essential that we study the scripture and prayerfully consider how we’ll lead through the gender issue in ministry.


The Sexuality Question: Women in Leadership, Yes or No?

Our over-sexed society has done us a disservice when it comes to an understanding of what it means to develop healthy relationships with the opposite sex. There is ideally one individual among the seven billion people in the world with whom you’ll have a sexual relationship. Do you think God intended for you to avoid half of the population for fear of sexual attraction?


Your temptation is not another human being. Your temptation resides in your heart. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our heart is deceitful. We too must plead as the psalmist did, “search me, oh God, and know my heart.” Rather than avoid others for fear of sexual sin, we must search our hearts and seek God’s healing and restoration. Men and women who authentically ask, “What is servant leadership?” will find that it has little to do with sexuality and everything to do with the posture of the heart.


Effective Leadership: The Community & Unity Question

What does the Biblical community look like and what is the purpose of unity in that equation? What message do we send to a watching world when they see men and women in the church segregated, divided and isolated? In their book, Mixed Ministry, Sue Edwards, Kelley Matthews and Henry J. Rogers share, “God did not create us male and female, so we could tease or limit one another, but so that we could join together, two images of God combined to make a whole, and glorify him through our unity.”

Community in Unity

Psalm 133 says it this way, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

I believe our goal as believers is to reflect the biblical community. What would unity between men and women in your church or ministry look like? Time and time again, I have seen God do great work through teams who have been willing to engage the conversation rather than avoid the issue.


How to Lead Together: Create a Thriving Culture

What clarity might these three questions bring to you and your team?

  1. Men: I would plead with you to take the lead on this conversation with your teams and your churches. Your willingness to engage the conversation is a gift to the women who feel alienated as well as to the men who feel the tension and uncertainty within your culture.
  2. Women: I encourage you to be patient and prayerful about the limitations you may feel. Be faithful to steward well the influence you’ve been given. Don’t allow bitterness or resentment to derail you from being faithful. For those of you who do have positions of influence and leadership, be intentional to pass it on and create opportunities for other women in your organization.

Can men and women learn how to lead together? I believe the answer is yes. When we’re willing to ask difficult questions, wrestle through our uncertainties and fears and seek a community of unity, I believe we create a culture where everyone – men and women – can thrive as they use their gifts for God’s greater purpose.


About the Author

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.

Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.

Topics: Staff Development, Team Culture, Organizational Development, Relationomics

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