Christian Women and Leadership -- By: Roberta Hestenes

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 20:4 (Autumn 2006)
Article: Christian Women and Leadership
Author: Roberta Hestenes


Christian Women and Leadership

Roberta Hestenes

ROBERTA HESTENES (D.Min., Fuller Theological Seminary) served as president of Eastern University from 1987-1996, where she helped found Eastern’s Center for Christian Women in Leadership and the Center for Organizational Excellence in World Missions. Since 1980 she has served on the board of directors for both World Vision USA and World Vision International, including seven years as Chair of the Board of World Vision International. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I believe that God calls both women and men into roles of leadership with all the opportunities and challenges these roles entail. Scripture and church history make abundantly clear that women can and do exercise significant influence and power in a variety of contexts, including the church. Yet, most of the books and articles available on Christian leadership are written by and for men. In this paper, I will address some leadership issues with a focus on women as leaders.1

Five symptoms of the current crisis in Christian leadership

It’s a tough time to be a leader in today’s Christian circles. Of course, a few people are very eager to be “in charge,” but many avoid leadership roles and opportunities. They may be willing to help, but they don’t want to be responsible in the way leaders are expected to be. Perhaps they believe they lack leadership gifts, or that they lack “permission” to lead. But I fear that sometimes this reluctance emerges—especially for many evangelical women—out of fear of what might happen if we took the risks of leadership. I would like to explore a few symptoms of the current leadership crisis within American Christianity and culture.

1. In Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate, Bob Woodward (the famous Washington Post reporter) described how the atmosphere has become poisoned for political leadership in the United States. This highly competitive, combative environment teaches people that leadership is dangerous. People who tackle tough problems or take a stand on issues can be hurt and even destroyed. Therefore we should either be self-protective and cautious, or ruthless and hard. Both of these reactions prohibit healthy leadership.

This poisoned atmosphere can even exist within the Christian community where commitments to a cause or position can come with a willingness to attack others’ motives, characters, and actions. In many Christian contexts, women leaders are attacked simply because they are women in positions traditionally held only by men. Not all criticism, of course, is undeserved. Leaders need to be held accountable. But many potential leaders—including women—would rather re...

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