by Dawn Jackson
I wasn’t planning on going into ministry, my background was in teaching. But God called me into leadership, and I had to learn on the go. Over the years I have had the privilege of getting to train many other young women as they step into leadership: many of them were as surprised to find themselves there as I first was. Here are four things I want every woman leader to learn:
Imposter syndrome is a real thing: we wonder what we are doing here, or how we got here. But early on, God gave me a promise from 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 that He has made us competent as ministers. Even if we may not feel sufficient in ourselves to claim anything, as Paul described feeling himself, the fact is that God has made us sufficient for the task by His Spirit.
I was blessed to have men and women who were pouring into and encouraging me along the journey, but even if I hadn’t had those - the most important voice to hear as I grew into leadership was that of God’s declaration of my competence. God does not let his people go hungry, and He called me (as He calls you) to feed them. God gives us the spiritual food to give to others: we can trust him to speak through us. As we speak the words of Jesus, people will be fed.
We don’t need to dazzle people. And even if we feel inadequate, we can lean in to God’s promise that he’ll use us, even as he used stuttering, trembling Moses. Our confidence isn’t an indicator of our competence. God uses people with trembling knees (1 Corinthians 2:4). That’s one of the ways He ensures the glory goes to Him.
If following Jesus was all about doing things we already knew how to do, it wouldn’t call for faith. But God does stretch us on our faith journey, and once we’ve been stretched in one challenge, he doesn’t let us go back to our original place as if we were a rubber band. No, once we’ve grown into a new stretch—even if we felt we might rip apart at first—He always knows when to challenge us, when to let us grow into a new position of flexibility, and then when to stretch us a little further.
When I first started out as a leader, I felt like I had to have everything “ready and prepared.” I was so nervous and would stick so closely to my ‘script’ that sometimes I came across as wooden or stilted. But over the years I’ve learned that being present to people and the situation is even more important than prep. I’ve learned to do my preparation for meetings or teaching, but then think of these conversations as something like a dance: even if I learned the steps beforehand, I never know where things will lead in the moment. Learning to be present to what God is doing right in the moment —what he might have me add to a conversation or a message—is important. Good leaders have their ears open for others’ questions and concerns; they’re ready to adapt and work collaboratively with all that God might bring in the moment.
One of the earliest principles I learned as a leader was to always take somebody with me who I was developing as a leader; inviting them to watch and learn as they grow in leadership, too. But taking time to talk about how each event went afterwards was just as important as them observing the event itself.
Taking time to debrief with others is key in our own and others’ leadership development: much of our learning happens when we verbally process an experience. Without it, we quickly forget or we don’t “connect the dots” in ways that stick for our learning and development. It takes courage to offer and receive feedback, but it helps to ask some questions:
What were we hoping to accomplish when we went in? Did we accomplish those things?
How did we grow in this? What did we learn about ourselves through this task/event? How did others grow in their faith and practice?
What did this experience inspire you to do next? What new dreams or goals might have arisen through this?
Even things that feel like ‘failures’ are all opportunities to learn, and debriefing these with others allows us to develop and grow together. The only true failure is choosing to not learn. Don’t let setbacks or fear of negative feedback fuel the lies of imposter syndrome. God has made you competent, and he’s called you to grow even as you lead. And He is always—100%—with you and for you and in you on the journey.
Dawn Jackson recently transitioned into the role of Chief of Staff for Propel Women and Equip and Empower Ministries. Prior to this she served thirty-three years as a pastor at FAITH Church in West Covina, California. Dawn is passionate about supporting women in the development of their leadership gifts and very excited to be working on our new Propel ministry–Ecclesia: Cohorts for Women in Ministry. Outside of ministry Dawn can be found running, hiking and backpacking the trails of Southern California.