You’ve probably all been in those leadership training sessions where you have to answer questions like ‘what are the top 3 characteristics a leader should have?’; ‘what is the most inspiring quality of your favourite leader from history?’ and many other variations of that question.
Perhaps you’re wishing you could get into a healthy debate around the topic, or perhaps you’re contemplating poking out your eyeballs at just the thought of that question AGAIN. Either way, you’d probably have decision-making up there in your list of desirables for a good leader.
As leaders, we often have to make decisions- we have to put our stake in the ground, and lead the way. But how you make those decisions is a whole other ball game. Whether instinct, insight, reason, morals, whatever…we’ve probably all got a different name for it. But reflecting on what we allow to guide us as we make our decisions is important.
Travel with me to Persia around the year 480 BCE. Picture Queen Esther- a young woman, chosen by the King for her outstanding beauty, hiding her Jewish faith from her husband. She was an exile living in a culture where women were valued based on their appearance. Esther and the other women would have spent months of intense beauty regimes in preparation for one night with the King. We’re told in Esther 2:12 that before the King chose a wife, each woman would have partaken in a whole year of beauty treatments before coming to his bed. Beauty and sex. That kind of sums up where a woman’s value lay at that time.
Women were not encouraged to have a voice, and Esther would have been acutely aware of this. She replaced the King’s previous wife, Vashti, whom the King had had killed for saying no to him. Submissive and silent were the expected qualities of womanhood. Esther was not to approach the King unless he summoned her, and when he did so, it was her duty to please him.
This toxic culture surrounded Esther, trying to mould her into this ideal of what a woman, and particularly what the Queen, should be. I often wonder what impact this would have had on Esther, and how much she let the voices of her culture guide her decisions, and her actions.
But into this story enters an evil plan to kill the Jews, and Esther is faced with a huge decision: to stay silent in the hope of saving her own life by hiding her Jewish identity, but allow the slaughtering of the Jews, or to stand up, at great risk to herself, in an attempt to save the Jews. God isn’t mentioned in the Book of Esther, but we see His hand very much at work. We see Esther’s Uncle, and mentor, Mordecai utter those famous words in chapter 4:
‘For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’
And then we see Esther pray and fast as she searches for God’s guidance in her situation.
Rather than listen to the voices of her culture, telling her to be silent and submissive, and that her value existed only in her beauty, we see Esther decide to step out in boldness, at great risk to herself, ‘for such a time as this’.
Fast forward to today, and women leaders often also have this dual pressure of our culture and our faith attempting to shape our identity and our purpose.
Too often women are still fed this idea, through magazines, the media, and even the people around us, that how we look on the outside matters the most. We also live in a culture that still holds typically ‘masculine’ qualities as those of a great leader. And so we live in this false dichotomy of either embracing leadership and being told that we are too manly or too aggressive, or we think that leadership isn’t for us because we want to retain our femininity.
And yet when we listen to God and we look in the Bible we see that God gives out gifts, including that of leadership, regardless of a person’s gender. He has a purpose for us ‘for such a time as this’ and wants to equip us to live the plans that He has for us, whatever they might be.
“What is God prompting you to do ‘for such a time as this’?” is a question that we enable women aged 18-30s to answer through The Esther Collective, a new leadership and discipleship initiative from GB Ministries, for young women. Whether through our five gatherings, or our regular blogs, we’re constantly opening ourselves up to listen to what God is saying to us, just as Esther did, and preparing ourselves for what this might mean were we to step out in boldness and follow His call.
For so many Christians today we like to think that our faith guides our decisions, and that may be the case when we feel God prompting us to help out with the children’s group, or put our name on the cleaning rota. But when God’s voice nudges us to step out of our comfort zone, do we conveniently stop listening? Or do we, like Esther, decide to step out in faith, no matter how counter-cultural, nor how afraid we might be?
How willing are we to go against the tide?
Charlotte is The Esther Collective Project Leader for Girls’ Brigade Ministries, developing 18-30s Millennial women as they learn what it means to live and lead for Jesus today. The Esther Collective 2015 will launch in Autumn- you can find out more about The Esther Collective on the website, on this video, or by emailing Charlotte on firstname.lastname@example.org.