As a woman, how do you know if you’re called to leadership? How do you discern God’s call in your life?
Last year I talked with women at seminaries across the country and asked them these questions. I was curious to find out what worked for them. Few evangelical women attend seminary, so I wanted to know what made these women different. What empowered them to take the risk?
Here’s what I expected to find: go-getters. I thought they would be confident, life-of-the-party visionaries. I thought they would have a clear focus, and a sure stride toward their goal.
And some of them did.
But not all of them. Many of the women were unsure of their call. They were confused about the direction. It seemed impractical. It didn’t make sense. Some women actively ran from their calling for years. Not a single woman woke up one morning and thought, “I think I’ll go to seminary! That sounds like fun!” In fact, many women felt just the opposite.
My instincts were wrong about the type of women God calls to ministry. Their stories caught me by surprise, but they also taught me three important things about women, leadership, and calling:
First, personality does not predict leadership ability. Leaders are not always extroverts. They’re not always loud or strong-willed or dreamers. It’s a good thing too, because different types of people need different types of leaders. God calls the loud and the quiet, the verbal processors and the introspective, the figureheads and the behind-the-scenes strategists. Your personality may be different than your pastor’s or your favorite teacher’s, but that doesn’t mean you’re not called.
The second lesson I learned was this: no story of calling is the same. When it comes to calling, many of us want a burning bush. We want a clear word from God, an easy path, and no roadblocks. However even in Scripture, no story of calling was the same. Moses had a burning bush, but Joseph had a dream, Mary had an angel, and David had Samuel. Every story was different, and the same is true for us.
So, how DO you discern God’s calling? If personality is no predictor, and no one’s story is the same, how can you know for sure? What should you be looking for?
This third lesson answers that question: Calling comes through community. Every woman I interviewed was different, and every woman’s story was different, but they all had this in common: people who supported them. Each woman had a family member, a friend, a pastor, a mentor, or a professor who identified her gifts and helped her cultivate them. Each woman could pinpoint someone in her life who said, “You should go to seminary,” or “God is calling you to ministry.” It was these words of affirmation that empowered the women to push through their fears and self-doubt.
Is community the only way God calls? Definitely not. The Bible is full of stories of God calling people directly, because sometimes your community doesn’t have the eyes to see. But in most cases, your community helps you to see things you cannot see yourself.
That’s what I want to encourage you with today. If you think you might be called to ministry, but you’re afraid, or you’re unsure, or you doubt yourself, just take a moment to listen. What does your family see in you? What about your friends? Has your pastor, or Bible study leader, or mentor every identified leadership gifts in you? Even if it’s only one person, consider taking them seriously. They might be sent by God.
And if you’re still scared, remember this: Moses was too. So was Jonah, Jeremiah, and over half the women I talked to. There is a long history of God calling people who try to talk their way out of it. You are not alone. Thankfully, the same God who called Moses, Jonah, Mary, and Paul, the God who used them to do mighty things in His name, He is the God calling you. Your fear does not scare Him, so sister, step into your call. We are counting on you!