by Jan Greenwood
My personal journey to becoming a grace-giving leader was long. I began by striving to earn each leadership position by proving myself every step of the way. I did not understand that when God calls you to lead others, He calls you by grace—not by works.
As an emerging leader without this understanding, I found myself wrestling with much uncertainty. Impatient to accomplish great things, I was often frustrated when obstacles were placed before me that seemed designed to hold me back. I was overly sensitive to other’s opinions and strove to please everyone. I had an insatiable yearning to make a difference in the world by being part of something meaningful, but I knew nothing about the importance of grace as a powerful tool of leadership. Instead, I thought the answer was to ignore the discomfort in my heart and to just work harder.
For years, I simply denied my feelings and just kept going. I wanted to prove myself to God and others. I did not want to stop and really look at the sensation of resistance that I later discovered was the presence of the Holy Spirit asking me to wait on His timing. I did not want to wait. After all, He created me competent with a willingness to help others. He put me in these leadership positions to do just that. So I pressed on adding even more projects and responsibilities in spite of my discomfort and impending burnout.By ignoring that nudging on my heart, I soon began to believe I was entitled to more leadership positions. I thought, “They owed me.” Somehow, someone was holding me back or even taking advantage of me.
This kind of self-centered thinking led to many frustrating days of waiting on promotions that I believed were long past due. I didn’t want to wait for what comes next. I was in a hurry. Surely God needed me to keep pushing forward so I could get all His work done.
During those early years, I would feel my head press against a leadership lid, a limitation or even a glass ceiling, and I would think, “Surely someone will see that I have earned advancement.” When they didn’t notice or seem to care, I just performed more. Blame would race along the edges of my mind and injustice would scream for relief. It became easy to believe I was personally rejected or disqualified and that someone or something was holding me back. Was it because I was a woman? I often felt overlooked, disqualified, unchosen, and left out. I struggled with thoughts like: “Maybe I’m not called,” “God doesn’t like me, trust me or care about my feelings.” or “I must have missed it.” There was also a struggle with hopelessness. I constantly battled the lies that my dreams will never come to pass and that I am doomed for failure and frustration.
My moment of truth came when I finally crashed, burned, and realized I was the one creating most of the proverbial glass ceilings all by myself. My need for recognition, acceptance, and success was creating a leadership lid on my life. I couldn’t be trusted by God to lead sooner or greater, because my own heart was not at peace. In His unsurpassed wisdom, God frustrated my plans and resisted my strategies in order to sift out my selfishness and insecurity. If I had advanced easily, according to my own plan of action, I would have spent my whole life trying to work to earn what God wanted to give me for free.
It’s called grace.
Every time I strove for recognition, He comforted me with His presence. Every time I wondered if my gender was the problem, He accepted me. Every time I wanted to shatter the hindrances and obstacles I perceived, He gave me the grace to wait.
This idea that I could change the way I view myself and others through a lens of grace instead of a lens of performance began as a seed of hope in my heart. That hope eventually broke through my hard shell of self-protection opening my eyes to the continuing patterns of self-sabotage that limited my leadership.
That season of growth and maturity eventually led to a greater intention on my part to learn from others, embrace my passion to lead, and allow God to stretch my understanding of what it means to do those things with grace.
Jan Greenwood is a pastor, teacher, and mentor to many. Her latest book The Grace Giving Leader is about how to lead well and develop people. She is also the author of Women at War and founder of Brave Strong Girl, an online mentoring community for women. Jan and her husband Mark have been married for more than 35 and they live in a suburb of Dallas. You can follow her on Instagram.