Ah, the mountaintop.
Those moments or places where we feel supremely clear and confident about God’s gifting, calling, and power in our lives. We feel we can conquer the world. We boldly claim Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (nkjv). We shout victoriously in our hearts, or maybe even out loud. With a spring in our step, we bound down the mountain, ready to join God’s work in the world.
And then reality hits.
Criticism. Doubt. Waiting and not hearing from God. A dry desert place. Ongoing obstacles. Brokenness.
We begin to question. “What are you up to, Lord? I thought I heard you loud and clear. Don’t you see your child? Why is this so hard?”
The Bible never promises that following God will be easy. In fact, Jesus says that believers should expect to experience trouble in this world (John 16:33). While Christians are promised ultimate victory, the Bible gives plenty of examples of men and women who experienced challenges as they sought to obey God’s calling.
The bottom line is that following God will at some point involve hardship, especially when we are called to walk the often lonely road of leadership. The question is not whether we will experience challenges, but how we will respond to them. Here are the six common challenges women leaders face, with encouragement to get you through them.
The Bible says that wounds from a friend can be trusted (Psalm 27:6), but I don’t care who it comes from, or how helpful the intent: criticism stings. While it definitely helps to consider the source, the best response is to focus on what God says. Just as counterfeit currency spotters are trained through extensive time with the real deal, the clearer we are about how God views us, the less power external criticism will have.
Doubt can come in many forms and from many sources. The most insidious is that which comes from within ourselves—questioning our abilities, our qualifications, or our place, particularly in comparison to others. But leadership doesn’t come from a particular position or type of organization. It flows from the influence that every one of us possesses. You are a leader. God has created you for a unique purpose. Live and lead for an audience of One.
One night after many years serving in full-time youth ministry, God made it clear that he was calling me to something new. Because I recognized the voice of the Lord, I peacefully responded, “Okay, what’s next?” It would be years before I received a clear answer. Years of wandering, wondering, and, too often—worrying. The Bible reminds us that in God’s sight, a thousand years is like a day (Psalm 90:4) and that God’s ways are higher than human ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Trust his plan, in his timing. God is always at work, and God never wastes anything.
Sometimes the challenge is not that God’s voice seems absent, but that our soul is parched—but the symptoms are often the same. God feels distant. We have a hard time even imagining his presence and favor, much less experiencing it. However, prayer becomes most important when God may feel most absent. It’s easy to worship when life feels rich and abundant, and it seems that the streams will never run dry. It’s essential when the soil is parched and our souls ache.
Hardship could include ongoing difficulty, misfortune, or adversity. As with other challenges, hardship causes us to question our calling and our next steps. Is a particular obstacle a test to overcome, or a sign to turn around? But perhaps that is the wrong question. The better question might be, “What does God want to teach me through this?” God wants us, not merely what we can do for him. Hardship might be a roadblock from the enemy, but it can also be the means by which God shapes us and brings us closer to him.
It’s a very good thing that Jesus didn’t focus on perfection when calling his disciples. And we forget that many of the greatest biblical “heroes of the faith” also experienced utter defeat. But brokenness doesn’t disqualify us for ministry; it prepares us for ministry. Being aware of God’s grace in our own lives makes us more humble, compassionate, merciful, and gracious to others.
Challenges are inevitable as we follow God’s calling in our lives. But God is good, and he is more interested in our growth than our gifts. Allow him to use challenges to mold you into the influencer he has called you to be.
Angie Ward is a leader, popular speaker, seminary professor, award-winning writer, and pastor’s wife. Her latest book, I Am a Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of their Calling, released from NavPress in March 2020. Connect with Angie via Facebook or her website.