By Dr. Deborah Waterbury
I was doing an interview recently about my book, The Lies that Bind: And the Truth that Sets You Free, when the interviewer asked me something that sort of took me by surprise. Up to that point, the interview had been going pretty much like all of the others, but then this particular interviewer asked something that quite frankly, no one has asked me before, at least not so candidly or with such heart-felt sincerity. She simply paused for a second or two and almost whispered, “Deb, how were you able to share this part of your life? I mean, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it. How could you do it?”
I generally don’t skip much of a beat during interviews. As I just stated, I like them. I enjoy the opportunity, and I’m pretty quick on my feet. However, I have to admit, I paused for a quick breath. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms. Truthfully, not sharing either what has happened to me or what I have done had never occurred to me. It’s not that I’m transparent, as so many have accredited to me. It’s just that I’m so grateful. I’m so appreciative. How could I not share what I have done if it means not sharing what God has done for me?
As a teacher and a minister, that truth takes on an entirely new level of importance. Once we take on that mantel of responsibility, we also step into a different arena when it comes to God’s accountability. He demands more of us, and He will call us to a greater reckoning. That is a sobering reality, and if it doesn’t make every leader who is reading this article quake just a little bit in her shoes, then you aren’t thinking straight. James wrote in James 3:1, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (ESV) Now just in case you might argue that you don’t teach, you simply lead or counsel, I would argue that every time you move in some sort of leadership over another, you take up the mantel of teacher, and therefore this verse applies to all who lead in the church.
So what does “transparency” or “candor” have to do with responsibility in leadership, especially when it comes to leadership of women in the church?
Women are relational. They are sensitive, and they are wary of judgment. I would venture to guess that is exactly why the interviewer who originally asked me the question at the beginning of this article was a woman. She couldn’t imagine sharing what I’ve shared because of the judgment she feared would come.
Conversely, when a woman feels a sense of security and peace, when she feels freedom and a knowledge that she is in a place where there is no judgment, she will receive truth and love and knowledge without restriction. She will open herself in ways that otherwise she would not, but that requires at least one person in this equation to have the courage to risk the judgment that every other hurting woman is trying to avoid. That woman must be the leader.
If God has called you to lead women or to minister to women, then I guarantee you that He has called you to some level of transparency. I can also guarantee you that there are more rewards than you can count when you will allow the charred ashes of your past be the beautiful balm that soothes the wounds of women in pain.
Let me end with a few ways you can be this candid, and let me stress, if you haven’t done anything like this up to now, it won’t come easy. However, as a leader, this attribute of vulnerability isn’t negotiable, not for the women’s leader. Some level of vulnerability is completely necessary, so even if you find it difficult, please give it at least some attention.
I’ll be brutally honest. My Dad wanted a son to take over his business. He had two girls, and I was the heir-apparent. My “Daddy issues” carried over into my marriage. Roger, my fledgling pastor-husband, sought advice from our church counselor about how to handle a driven wife. Dr. Dowdle advised, “Julie is a talented and powerful woman. You had better set her free to be all that God wants her to be, or in twenty years you’re going to have a very angry lady on your hands.”
By Laurel Strasshofer
It’s the question that has stayed with me since I recently heard a snippet from a speech given by inspirational American conductor, Benjamin Zander in which he states:
“The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound…He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful…I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.” He continued, “If the eyes are shining, you know you are doing it…” 1
A few months ago, I was getting dinner for my grandchildren. I was tired and admittedly distracted and a little less-than-patient as I was focusing on “getting it done” (a flaw I will battle forever, I think). My grandson was excitedly prattling on about something when I reacted to him in harshness. I don’t remember his words. I don’t remember my words. I only remember how instantaneously his bright, joy-filled eyes were cast down and how he appeared almost shamed. It broke my heart to know I was responsible for that, and I have not forgotten how his eyes and spirit changed because of my voice.
In that moment, I remembered one of Zander’s challenges from that speech, “If the eyes are not shining, you’ve got to ask a question… ‘Who am I being that my children’s eyes are not shining?’” Ugh… I also thought of Proverbs 15:4: “A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit.” Double ugh!
But I am a slow learner. Apparently.
It was not too long ago in a staff meeting one of my own team members shared her “low” for the week had been that she felt she “failed two times” a few days earlier. She was attempting to make light of it, but it was easy to see she was still impacted by what had happened, most likely by my own part in how I handled the situation. I was glad for her honesty, and at the same time, her words genuinely pricked and grieved me. Many things could have contributed to her demeanor, and in my weakness I would have preferred to leave the blame there. Still, I knew in my heart that as her leader I was largely responsible for the state of her spirit at that moment, and I needed to work to mend it. I had to consider the possibility of my own role in the situation.
Isn’t it true? So often we will naturally lean into blaming those we lead – whether our children, our coworkers, or our ministry team members – for their low demeanor, lack of passion or mediocre performance. While we as individuals do have responsibility for our own attitudes and actions, I don’t believe the latter was necessarily Jesus’ focus when he spoke on things pertaining to what makes a great leader. He always made the shepherd responsible for the tender care of the sheep. He always emphasized humility in leadership. He always focused on the intentional pursuit of the lost one. He also basically said, “If you don’t like what you are seeing in those you lead, uh… check the mirror.”
Seriously. Check it:
“And He also spoke a parable to them: ‘A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.’” (Luke 6:39&40 NASB)
Is it possible that he meant the one who follows will reflect what he has seen demonstrated by the one he looks to for leadership? Or, that a student will only rise to the spiritual, professional and emotional heights that the leader allows or takes them? I believe he meant ALL of that, and then some.
I do believe as Christ-followers we are responsible to raise those we lead to new heights – to help them fulfill their potential. And, so when someone in my sphere of influence is cast down, I am compelled to ask myself what kind of leader I am being.
Actually, Benjamin Zander said best what I genuinely desire. Toward the end of his speech, he stated how he measures “success” in leadership. He said,
“For me, it’s very simple. It is not about wealth or fame or power, it’s about how many shining eyes I have around me.”
What a measure of success as we lead in the varied roles in which we are privileged to be serving!
Paul actually brings it home in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the for of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:3-7 NASB; emphasis mine)
In reading this, I am convicted that making those I lead 100% responsible for their passion, motivation and sense of security is not an attitude of humility or regarding them as more important than myself. It is one of pride and lacking in mercy – especially in light of all Christ has done and continues to do for me daily as I learn to walk with Him. I must become more introspective and humble myself to be willing to see what is in their eyes as a potential reflection of how they are being led. I must be brave enough to ask: