Today we hear from Paul Wilcox, who is the founder of The Mentoring Network and a freelance trainer and mentor.
I have not had to think for very long about a woman leader who has inspired me in recent times; her name is Sharon Prior and she is one of the founders of the Sophia Network. I believe that the Holy Spirit has taught and equipped me in new and fresh ways, as I have served in ministry alongside Sharon over the last three years or so, in particular. I speak as someone who comes from a fairly conservative, evangelical tradition and, whilst I was happy to 'tolerate' women in leadership, I could not get beyond what I considered to be fairly fundamental Biblical principles supporting the ideology that leadership is, preferably, male! Then I started to work with godly women like Sharon, Jenny Baker, Ruth Hassall and others, and my experience cut across all my preconceived ideas and taught me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that by far the best model of godly leadership is when men and women serve together in a totally egalitarian way. I have had the privilege of serving in various leadership roles in ministry over the last 20 years or so, both in church structures and within the Para-church context, but I have to say that through her encouragement, affirmation, honest feedback, friendship, sense of fun and utter integrity, Sharon has contributed to an environment in which I have never felt more valued, secure or released to be the kind of leader I was meant to be. We have our disagreements, and anyone who knows Sharon will not be surprised by that (!), but, her examples of tenacity of purpose, care for the individual, sense of justice and fair play (often at significant personal cost), and disdain of gender stereotypes, are exemplary for both women and men in leadership today. I thank God that young women like my own 19 year old daughter have strong female role models around them, like Sharon Prior, who will, often in the face of not insignificant opposition, be prepared to stand up and be counted as a follower of Jesus, at all levels of influence and leadership. I also hope and pray that the lessons I have learned and good practice I have seen modeled, will make me a better and more inclusive leader in the future.