7 Ways Women Leaders Grow

Anna Morgan

by Anna Morgan


It’s no secret that men and women aren’t the same. We are very similar, but we aren’t the same. Women experience life differently, carrying different social roles and pressures. What’s more, the differences are built into our bodies: the swirl of chemicals affecting a man’s brain are different from those in a woman’s.

I’m different from my male peers, and my journey has looked different. I’ve been pastoring in local churches for the past two decades. In my twenties, I found myself leading a large worship ministry as a single woman. I didn’t know anyone doing what I did who looked like me. Pastors I knew were mostly male, of an older generation, or had a different calling and gifting.

I often felt alone, struggling to figure out my leadership questions. I searched for resources for women leaders that just didn’t exist. Nobody was talking about what it was like to lead as a woman in ministry. I frequently felt stuck, figuring things out through trial and error. One night, after a particularly humiliating public showdown with a man on my worship team twice my age and skill, I felt totally out of my depth and discouraged. I called him the next day and we painfully worked through his frustrations with how I was leading our team, one by one. In doing this hard work with him I made him an ally, but these kinds of struggles to lead men set me on a pathway toward doctoral research, to learn how women leaders develop influence and authority in ministry.

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What I discovered is that female ministry leadership development involves far more than a Bible college degree or an internship—God develops women leaders over their lifetime. In a sovereignly directed journey, God works to grow women leaders in seven distinct ways. God keeps shaping us from the moment we say yes to him until we graduate to eternity. Here’s what those seven ways look like:

1. Spiritual formation

As God calls us to serve him and we say yes, God begins to form women spiritually. He speaks to us and calls us to leadership. God plants a dream in our hearts. As we step out in humble obedience, submitted to his authority, we ourselves gain spiritual authority.

2. Leadership thinking

When we begin to think about ourselves as leaders and recognize our influence with others, we start to think as leaders do. We consider the impact of our decisions and behaviors on others before we act. We become self-aware of our own gifts and skills for leading, learning to trust our own decision-making ability. Many women deal with imposter syndrome, doubting that we are qualified for or capable of leading well. Self-confidence comes from taking risks that pay off, producing tangible success.

3. Emotional intelligence

As we develop, women leaders learn to process and manage their feelings about what we experience. We learn self-awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, and to regulate our emotions when we hear difficult feedback. We learn to empathize and build connection with those we lead. We get comfortable in our own skin, without feeling like we need to be someone else.

4. Ministry Leadership Environment

As we are formed inwardly as women leaders, we are shaped by how we respond to our ministry environment. Its culture and policies, and how well it supports women in leadership frame the opportunities that create authority. Ministry environments where women flourish provide things like flexibility, and various types of childcare support. These places provide opportunities for women leaders based on their potential, not just their performance (or perpetual availability).

5. Home life

Women leaders are also formed by their home life. The support or lack of support a woman leader receives in her home determines her capacity to lead beyond her home. Mothers in ministry leadership navigate seasons with small children. A wife who leads will need to negotiate that leadership relationship with her husband. This requires learning to relate to her family in new ways and expanding the boundaries of her family to include others who can help her.

6. Leadership Relationship Development

Women leaders form leadership relationships through leadership interactions with others. Women leaders relate to others in 360 degrees—up, down, and across. Women leaders need to form relationships with mentors, coaches, sponsors, peers, and proteges. As these relationships grow, so does her influence. Without such relationships, her influence will be limited.

7. Communication development

Women leaders develop communication skills that help them navigate difficult interpersonal conversations that move people forward, as well as being able to inspire groups of people through public speaking, writing, or social media. These skills can be cultivated through pursuing training from coaches or taking courses. Saying yes to opportunities to present to smaller groups prepares a woman for speaking to larger groups. Developing online influence begins by recognizing social media can be a powerful tool for ministry, and then developing a strategy for engagement. As a woman identifies and focuses on the key issues she is called and equipped to engage, she develops her leadership voice.

Take the Assessment

Try this two-part female leader self-assessment to do some reflecting about your own development. Part 1 is for all female leaders, for Part 2 there are assessments for both married and single women.

Women leaders who feel stuck can consider these seven facets of their growth to find a focus for their development. Consider these questions:

• What aspects of your development haven’t you considered before?
• What aspect of your development might benefit from increased attention and energy?

Despite all the unknowns and the complexity involved in our development, we can be confident that God is guiding this process. “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, CSB).




Dr. Anna Morgan pastors Word of Life Church with her husband John in Northern Virginia. Anna is Vice President of Academics at Ascent College and Associate Professor of Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. Anna earned an MA in Global Leadership and a Doctor of Intercultural Studies degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. She researched the development of women leaders in local churches. @annarmorgan