Today’s post is an interview of three great women leaders who have served in the role of women’s ministry leader in a church. Kelley Mathews, Gwynne Johnson, and Crickett Keeth. Kelley served in a small church while Crickett’s experience is in a large church setting. Gwynne has served on staff at a mega-church and is now using her gifts in a small town church. You can read their bios here.
Q: Where would you begin if you had a vacancy in a leadership role?
Kelley: We begin with prayer for the one who recently left that role, and asking guidance for filling it with someone new. The temptation is to rush to a decision and find a new leader as soon as possible, but unless an apprentice has been prepared for this new position, being patient can be a wise decision. If your ministry does not have a secondary leader ready to move up, the lead team will want to gather to suggest and discuss potential replacements.
Gwynne: Although it seems “trite” the truth is PRAY! Involve the rest of my leadership team to pray when appropriate. Then begin to dialog with other key leaders as to potential women to consider. Develop an overall strategy to identify and develop leaders from the ground up.
Crickett: I agree with Kelley and Gwynne, start with prayer. And I really like what Kelley said about praying for the one who is leaving that role. If there’s no one on the previous committees who can serve, then I ask my advisory team for suggestions. Also, as I get to know women in the Women’s Bible study, I notice their gifts and will ask accordingly.
For a vacancy on my advisory team (made up of a woman from each decade and stage of life, from 20’s to 90’s), I pray through women I’ve observed who have been faithful to the ministry and know what’s going on.
I often ask my pastor if there are any women he would recommend for a position.
Q: What do you consider the most important quality in a potential leader?
Crickett: Spiritual maturity, faithfulness, and a teachable heart
Kelley: Humility and teachability. People tend to follow leaders who know they don’t have all the answers and are willing to collaborate to find answers.
Gwynne: Teachable spirit (able to receive feedback and make adjustments) and a “hot heart” for God. Then observing how they impact others, how they treat others.
Q: What other character qualities do you consider essential?
Gwynne: Integrity (safety, truthfulness) and faithfulness (does she follow through on commitments)
Kelley: A close, steady relationship with the Lord; follow-through—doing what she says she will do; a love for women and their wellbeing; also, buy-in with the church vision overall.
Crickett: Being a self-starter (someone who can run with the job and doesn’t need me to tell them what to do every step of the way), faithful and dependable, teachable, and someone who is easy to work with and whom people respect
Q: How do you recognize a woman’s spiritual gifting, and how does affect the way you use her?
Kelley: Typically a woman’s spiritual gifting is observed over time and can be verified by several people independently. Her gifting actually serves as the cue for which position she will fill most proficiently. Not only will she have a passion and ability for that role, she won’t be forced into a role that does not fit her. I remember one quiet woman, very friendly and compassionate but who very much preferred to help behind the scenes. As our very young, very small church faced several long-term care scenarios with ill members needing meals, carpooling help, and the like, she naturally began volunteering to help and to coordinate others willing to step in. When our women’s ministry began organizing, she was the most obvious choice to fill that role on our leadership team. Asking her to teach Bible study would have been a mistake!
Crickett: Often, women come to me and tell me what they think their gifting is, and I will ask her to serve in a smaller capacity so I can observe if that is truly an area of gifting. Sometimes, I ask around, “do you know someone with the gift of administration, who would be good at _______?” I will then meet with that person to get a feel for things she has done in the past in that area and if she would be a good fit.
For those who want to teach or think they have the gift of teaching, I teach a summer 6-week course on How to Teach, where they actually teach and we critique one another. That has been very helpful in finding and confirming women with the gift of teaching.
Q: In a small church setting, your options for potential leaders are more limited. How does that affect your choices?
Gwynne: Great question. In addition many of our women are working outside the home, and that further limits options. Again, observation. Then counsel from others who have a broader/other circle of acquaintances. Faithfulness and teachability surface potential.
Kelley: Sure, you don’t have as big a pool of choices, but a small church’s women’s ministry only needs a small team. It helps that almost all the women are known personally by someone on the leadership team. Qualified women should be noticeable, or someone will alert you to their potential for a given role. I found that the challenge was in persuading some that they indeed were qualified and able. Occasionally one person may have to fill two roles for a short duration, and sometimes special projects may have to be dropped if a leader does not step up to take over.
Q: In a large or mega-church or large para-church group, it is impossible to know everyone well. Are there ways to use women whom you don’t know well and still feel comfortable with them in leadership roles?
Crickett: I seldom put someone I don’t know well in a major leadership role (like heading up the retreat or another big event). But my committee leaders often ask women to be on their committees whom I don’t know, and that allows me to see how they do in a smaller leadership/serving role. That has actually been a great way to find new leaders as they serve first on a committee. Occasionally, I will put someone in a leadership role if I get enough feedback from several people who highly recommend this person. But that’s the exception rather than the norm. I like to see them serve in a smaller capacity first before putting them in charge of something big.
Gwynne: Key to this for me is leaning on the input of other leaders that I have confidence in and respect their counsel. Training those leaders to look for faithfulness and teachability and a growing life in Christ. Letting them know that they are key to continual development of new leaders. Making that a part of their role as a leader. Also, having an ongoing plan for training and equipping new leaders allows for development of skills in a leader, but faithfulness and teachability are key.
Q: If you have a woman volunteer for a big role and you don’t know her or perhaps she is unproven, how would you handle the situation?
Kelley: Ideally, she could be assigned to assist the team leader in that role, to give her time to learn the ministry as well as for the team to learn about her true skills, personality, and gifting.
Gwynne: I would affirm her willingness to make herself available and let her know that I have been praying about the person that God might be calling to that position. I would certainly pray with her about whether or not this might be right for her. Then I would engage her on “her story” to determine her experience and if I have a clear set of expectations for the “big role” it is likely that there would be some areas that might not “fit”….or perhaps her story would confirm that this might be a place to partner her with another leader that I do know. This is why I much prefer to invite to leadership rather than “open it up” to volunteers. If I do open a position for volunteers I have to be willing to allow someone to try their hand at it. I would not offer publically a “big role” for a volunteer. If someone I don’t know were to volunteer even though I hadn’t offered it publicly I think I could actually say that the reason I didn’t was that I needed to know the person for that role personally and that relationships develop over time. I then might ask her to take a different role of leadership (not so “big”) and see how she responded to that. Her response it revealing of her character.
Crickett: I’ve had that happen. I’ve had several women tell me they want to be on my advisory team, or head up an event, but I know that they are not the right fit. If it’s someone who hasn’t served in Women’s Ministry at all, I’m honest with them and tell them that I need to see them involved in the ministry on a small scale before I put them in a leadership role. Sometimes, I’ve just not had a position open and I can tell them that I don’t have an open leadership position at the time. If I know it’s not the right fit for them to ever be in a leadership position, I have found something else for them to do that is a better fit, not in a big leadership role.
Q: What is your best advice to a woman or team looking for leaders to fill important roles?
Crickett: Pray. Don’t rush into asking someone to lead. Try to give them a smaller role first in which you can observe them on a team and observe their leadership skills. Get input from others who know a person well before you ask them to take a leadership role. (I have learned that the hard way.) I’ve made mistakes, and have put people in leadership who were not a good fit for the role. But I’ve learned to not give up on them, and to come alongside and coach them through it. It just makes it more work for me and more hands-on than I’d prefer.
Gwynne: Pray and Observe. Don’t be in a hurry or desperate. Be clear about what you are asking someone to do. Clarify expectations. Look for those who have faithfully served in other areas and who are responsive to your leadership. (Teachable) Observe who others are naturally following. When you think you have a potential leader, don’t ask them to make a “snap” decision but ask them to pray about it to confirm how God seems to be leading you. Don’t be afraid to ask the busy person. Don’t make the choice for them by not giving them the opportunity to participate with you. (We often don’t ask because we have reasons why they probably can’t….)
Kelley: Don’t rush. Be willing to take the time necessary to find the right person.
Thank you Kelley, Gwynne, and Crickett for sharing your wisdom and experience. I know from my own experience how important it is to start with the right people for leadership roles. Your guidance may save a reader from getting into a difficult situation.