I was in a shop the other day when a mum came in with a young girl around 11. The fact that the child was clutching an end of year trophy was a perfect lead in to a conversation. Prompted by her mother, she proceeded to reel off a list of honours she’d received on that last day of school, including top in several subjects, perfect attendance and the piece de resistance – she was now the Head Girl. Her mum, not content to leave it at that, encouraged her on and we heard about Sports Day too. She’d won the long jump, the 100-yard dash and almost every other competition she entered.
She shone in the radiance of her mother’s pride. Me? Not so much. Her perfect record was a little hard to identify with and harder still to stomach. Truth was, she came across as pretty self-important.
Some people (apologies to Shakespeare and Twelfth Night) are born leaders, some people achieve leadership …
And some people have leadership thrust upon them.
I’m one of the latter.
The idea that any of God’s leaders are born like that is deeply flawed. Whatever we feel about natural born leaders who were that way from the first time they organised their thumb-sucking peers at nursery school, it’s important to know that most of God’s leaders don’t come from that genre. In God’s economy, leaders aren’t born – they’re cornered! Think Moses!
I love to read the story about the daughters of Zelophehad that starts in Numbers and ends in Joshua. Those five sisters – Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, Tirzah and Mahlah – had leadership thrust upon them. The death of their father and their single state left them with no perceived identity in the eyes of the society they belonged to but these babes were not willing to take no for an answer.
Circumstances, need, and the demand for justice can make a leader out of someone who everyone else thought was totally inadequate, implausible and downright wrong for the job.
That’s me… the girl most unlikely…
These five young women petitioned the most senior governing body of the people of Israel. They stood in front of Moses and Eleazar and the assembled tribes of Israel and asked that laws that had stood for centuries be changed on their behalf.
Moses checked with God. Surprise! Surprise! God was on the girls’ side!
(Leaders take note. Sometimes it’s worth checking what God thinks rather than taking tradition as the start and end point of the decision making process.) From that time and forever more, the inheritance laws for single women were changed in the nation of Israel.
News travels fast and the story that showed that girls with guts get the goods spread like wild fire among the Israelites.
It must have made a big impression on Caleb’s daughter, Acsah because when her dad gave her some land as a dowry, she went back and asked him for a spring of water to go with it. Caleb was obviously so impressed by her courage that he gave her two springs.
Probably the truest statement about what constitutes leadership was made by John Maxwell who famously said that leadership is influence. The influence of those five girls extended out and far beyond just whether they would be provided for into their old age, should they never get married.
It even went beyond the fact that the laws of inheritance now made room for single women forever.
Their influence, which was the clear display of their leadership, affected every woman of courage who came after them. We see women like Sherah, cited in the genealogies of Chronicles as a lady who built cities; Deborah, the leader of the whole nation of Israel; Huldah the prophetess consulted by King Josiah regarding the words of the book of the Lord they’d found, and these are just some of the names of women celebrated in the Bible as leaders.
My early steps of leadership in the church weren’t ground breaking; they weren’t even noticeable to anyone, including myself. I just tried to do what seemed right at the time. Serving in the crèche, on the overhead projector, in the women’s ministry and the church office. No one noticed that God was beginning to do something with my life. I had no qualifications, my husband wasn’t a Christian at the time, I didn’t know much about anything except that I really loved God and I really wanted to serve Him.
Psalm 119:105 Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
God’s Word isn’t a torch or a searchlight. You can’t shine it down the road and find out the direction your life is headed in the future and then aim in that direction. It only has enough light to show you where you are now, and what the next step is. All God requires of any of us is just to take the next step. I never realised those tiny, faltering little steps I was taking then were carrying me not just into leadership of a church and then churches and organisations, but also to move my whole life to live in another country and to travel all over the world.
Would I have taken those steps if I’d seen where they were taking me? I don’t know, but because I did take them, I followed God to a place where I suddenly realised I was leading His people.
Just one step is all God is asking of us. We see a need, an injustice, a possibility, a potential for breakthrough… and we just take one little step… which leads to another and another… and all of a sudden, one day we look around and find there are people following us as we make our way into the new thing He’s doing, because God is always doing a new thing.
Those people aren’t following us because we’re perfect. They’re not behind us because we won all the trophies and had a perfect attendance record. They’re following us because we’re following Him.
The really cool thing about those five daughters of Zelophehad, and the others that walked in the breakthrough they had gained, and in doing so made new breakthroughs for others, is to do with their names. In the Old Testament, when someone had an ‘ah’ sound in their name, it indicated God’s breath on their lives.
None of these women were perfect. If you asked their friends or their parents or their husbands or brothers and sisters, there would be many with plenty to say about how inadequate, implausible and downright wrong those women were as leaders. Probably any or all of them may have been the Girl Most Unlikely… but God isn’t the slightest bit concerned about what people think. The One who has the plan for our lives didn’t design you to be a born leader, but to be a leader crafted by His hands by the processes of time and space and pain and pace. His plan was always that you would lead and the processes of your life, the tiny steps you take in obedience to His promptings, are shaping processes that make you into what He called you to be and do.
God had breathed on these women we read about, and His breath was intoxicating as He called them away to His purposes.
The intoxication of His breath on our lives is vital for whoever chooses to rise to follow Him like these girls did. Let’s face it; you have to be intoxicated to do the mad, amazing, outrageous and sometimes downright dangerous things that are a consequence of being cornered by God to serve Him as a leader of His people.
It’s that intoxication which will enable a woman to put aside her fears and her need to be liked and approved of in order to live out His purposes. Because when she does that, it’s not just for her own needs to be met, but for the needs of all those who will come after her, all those who will hear her story and realise that if she can do it, so can they.
Others will look on and give all the reasons why not, and maybe some of the things they say will be right. But the amazing, wonderful, glorious, faith filled, intoxicating nature of just taking that one tiny little step after the other is that God will lead you beyond the clamour and the protests and even the tradition, into the place of grace and fruitfulness.
Some leaders are born women whether the God Police like it or not.
Originally Published in SheLovesMagazine