The Least Likely Leader

by Bronwyn Lea

Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.



“We are looking for three things when we train leaders,” my college mentor said. I’ve always been one to mentally “fill in the blanks”, and so I made a quick guess as to what he would say next. My money was on “good communicator”, “competent”, and “respected by peers”.

But I was wrong on all three accounts. What were they looking for in a leader? Someone faithful - who showed up reliably to participate, someone available - in other words, with time and capacity to take a next step in their commitment, and someone teachable - someone with readiness and humility to learn.

None of these were categories that made the list of “qualities most likely to get you hired” by the careers office at my university, but the longer I’ve been in leadership circles in church, family, and work settings, the more I’m realizing the wisdom of identifying (and encouraging) leaders who might not be the most outspoken or most powerful person in a group. In fact, it might be the person we least expect who God uses to lead in the most powerful ways.

Am I A Leader?

The Samaritan woman who came to Jacob’s well in John 4 to draw water at noon picked the worst time of day to do so. Only fools chug heavy buckets of water around in the midday sun… fools, or perhaps a shamed woman desperate to avoid accusing and gossipping crowds.

The woman was surprised herself when Jesus engaged her in conversation, asking her to help him draw water and then quickly pivoting the conversation to the living water he could offer her: an extraordinary invitation. Jesus knew she had had five husbands already (John 4:17), and was living with someone she wasn’t married to. He knew she carried the scorn and shame of her community. And yet, he called the woman to know him and worship him, making her the first person in the gospels to whom he revealed his identity as the promised Messiah (John 4:26).

This woman had no qualifications and no honor—the disciples were surprised that Jesus was even talking to her!—and yet Jesus entrusted her with the most privileged information, and she showed herself to be just the kind of covert leader the Kingdom uses: faithful, available, and teachable. John tells us that the woman immediately returned home and said to others “Come! See a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29). And following her invitation, people came in droves from their town, making their way to Jesus.

How can you tell if someone is a leader? People are following them.

This woman may not have had a single credential on her resume, but people followed her to Jesus. That makes her a leader.

Follow Me as I Follow Christ

I’ve thought about the Samaritan woman often as I’ve thought about future leaders. The extroverts (like the apostle Peter) and those with obvious emotional intelligence (like the apostle John) are often the first to attract our attention as potential leaders, but I’m reminded that there were nine other disciples whose names might not immediately come to mind as “top tier” leaders, but who were Jesus’ choice of faithful, available, teachable people through whom he would launch the entire church.

I think of Andrew and Bartholemew and Thaddaeus and Matthew (Matthew 10:1-4). None of these were recognized “leaders” in their day, yet Jesus found them right where they were in fishing boats and at tax collection booths and started investing in them to change the world.

I think of the Samaritan woman and how many followed her to Jesus. Though her background could not have been more different from the Apostle Paul’s, her leadership pattern was startlingly similar: calling people to follow her as she followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

This gives me new eyes to consider leaders. Who is following Jesus? And who is following them? Again and again, I’m asking God to give me his eyes to see the people around me. He’s an expert at calling and equipping unqualified and unlikely leaders… and I should know, because he called the Samaritan woman, and he called me.




Bronwyn Lea is a mom, pastor, editor at Propel Women, and author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian brothers and sisters in a Sex-Crazed World. Connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.