Who inspired you to be in ministry? It’s a question many of us can answer, but how often do we stop to consider if we have passed along the same gift? As ministry leaders there is an intentional, but simple, thing we can do to help women move toward ministry. It is important for people who show budding leadership ability to have others who believe in them. When it comes to women, it is even more important for people to name their ministry abilities.
When applying affirmation to a ministry context, we usually think of this being something that occurs after someone performs an act of ministry well. However, when looking at the meaning of “affirm” the words “validate,” “valid,” or “confirm” are implied (Merriam-Webster). A typical pattern that emerges when women are considering ministry involvement is that someone in their lives points out that they can do a particular ministry, confirming this ministry as a valid option. For women who have not yet developed an idea about where they fit in, the act of validation or confirmation may need to take place before they ever experiment with ministry. Elizabeth Loutrel Glanville found this to be particularly important in the “Sovereign Foundations” subphase of Leadership Emergence Theory. In situations where a woman does not have early permission from her family to pursue ministry, at some point she will need someone to help her imagine her role in this. Affirmation opens the door of ministry possibilities for many women.
While affirmation is a simple concept, it is one that requires intentionality. When developing a ministry, it is important to be observant of people at church. Leaders should notice how people interact with one another or who is willing to take on extra responsibility. However, often what actually happens is people turn to the same individuals they already know and trust. It takes more effort to broaden the ministry base and train new leaders. However, we should seek people to affirm and invite them to join the ministry.
When we do not have the time to slow down and identify those who are showing early leadership ability, women will often suffer. Not only do they potentially need validation of ministry as an option for them, but they also see the world from a female experience. As women face assumptions based on stereotype, they have to figure out how to navigate it. All too often they end up struggling, lacking confidence, and internalizing the devaluation of their intelligence, contributions, and abilities. They sometimes hold themselves back or second-guess their decisions. Having mentors and encouragers along the way can help them develop confidence in finding their place and discovering their voice.
I would encourage you to develop eyes to see people of promise. Find those individuals who show a special affinity or spark for others and ministry. Be sure to speak into the lives of the women around you, because they may never have had someone do that before. Help them see the ways God may use them, and see the ministry possibilities in their own lives.
Anessa is currently serving as an Assistant Professor of Bible and Ministry at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. She is a graduate of Harding University (B.A. in Psychology), Harding School of Theology (M.A. and M.Div.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (certificate), and Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.). As a speaker and writer, her specialty is female spiritual development and textual studies. She is passionate about helping women discover their gifts. Anessa is married to Tim and they have three high school/college-age children.