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Gifted to Lead The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
By Nancy Beach
Copyright © 2008 Nancy Beach
All right reserved.
Chapter One God Didn't Make a Mistake
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Standing in the concrete alleyway that bordered the backyard of our three- bedroom Cape Cod home, I gazed intently at the back of the house. Wearing longred shorts I called "pedal pushers" and flip-flops I called "thongs," the densehumidity of a lazy Chicago summer afternoon hung heavy in the air.
From my position in the alley, I could easily observe the backyard of ourneighbors on the left, the Johnsons, whose light yellow brick ranch anchored thecorner of our suburban street. On the right stood the perfectly square block offreshly mown grass that made up my best friend Janet's backyard. This is wherewe staged a three-ring circus, played endless games of Red Rover and Mother MayI, and where my loud voice (some described it as "bossy") rallied to create allkinds of adventures and productions. However, on this day I stood alone, quietand unusually reflective for a ten-year-old who liked to talk a lot. For a fewbrief moments, I stepped outside the skinny, straight-haired little girl I wasin the late 1960s and flashed forward to my future.
I want my life to be different from the lives of my mother and the other moms inthis neighborhood. They clean their houses and take care of their children,waiting until 5:30 when all the husbands drive up the driveways. Is theresomething wrong with me for being a girl and not really wanting thesame kind oflife? I love my mom, but I sense that maybe there could be something differentfor me, and I'm determined to find out. I am smart, and the other kids aroundhere seem to follow me, and I have lots of ideas. I will somehow make a difference in this world. Iwill, I will, I will.
My defining moment of determination was interrupted by the call of my friendJanet, waving me over to play. We returned to our usual summer spot on herconcrete stoop and tried to decide what to do next.
"What do you want to do?" one of us would ask.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?" came the inevitable reply.
Oh, the bliss of such unscheduled time just ripe for that next creativeoutburst! I returned to the rhythm of play and fun that marked the hot and humidsummers of my childhood, protecting in my heart the questions I wrestled with inthe alley.
Decades later, I now see that my mother was part of a generation that prescribeda distinctly bordered role for her, with nowhere near the options I wouldeventually embrace. She was really no different from all the other homemakerswho lived in the houses on Prospect Avenue. While my mom didn't excel atcooking, sewing, or other domestic tasks, she made a loving home for her family.During grammar school, my sister, brother, and I walked home each day for aleisurely lunch. Mom made us tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches thatwarmed our stomachs while she read stories to us. We'd beg for just one morechapter, filled with the suspense of how the story would turn out, beforeskipping back to school for the afternoon. Mom was always there, and now as Ilook back, I see how I came to depend on her comforting presence.
As a young woman who grew up during the Depression years, my mom had noopportunity for higher education, marrying my dad in 1946 just after he returnedfrom flying fighter jets as a marine in World War II. My mom's course was markedout for her from the start, and she did her best to fulfill the expectations ofa full-time homemaker. With a winsome personality, a terrific sense of humor,and a quick mind, my mother would have made different choices had she been bornin a different era. After her kids were a little older, she took a job at ourlocal high school where her natural administrative abilities emerged and were deeply appreciated. She also hasgifts of mercy, still visiting "the elderly" even though she herself is in hereighties! My mom is most often the life of any party she attends, and countlesscall her friend.
But on that day in the alleyway, I had not yet witnessed emerging gifts in mymom. I viewed her through a very narrow lens. And I really did speculate attimes if something might be wrong with me because I loved to lead (though Ididn't use that word), and was often far more interested in watching the ChicagoBears with my dad than participating in any domestic activities. Deep down Iwondered if maybe I was really more like a boy, and whether God might have madea mistake when he made me. These concerns lingered beneath the surface of myotherwise happy childhood.
In sixth grade, I was the first girl in the history of my elementary school tobe elected student council president. Again, I wondered if that was really okay-if I was normal or some kind of aberration. Junior high and high schoolafforded me many opportunities to excel academically, in theater and speech, ascheerleader captain, and as a key influencer in my church youth group. In almostevery setting, I emerged as a leader of the team. My classmates voted me BestPersonality and Most Likely to Succeed-honors that both surprised and pleasedme, because I secretly hoped it was possible to be both successful and wellliked.
When I was fifteen, two new youth pastors came to our little evangelical church.Dave Holmbo was a gifted musician and an incredibly creative artist. His friend,Bill Hybels, was an intense young man who led us by his example and by histeaching.
At the time, our youth group, on a good night, included about fifty students.Through Bill's teaching, Dave's endless creative ideas, and an unmistakableoutpouring of the Holy Spirit, something life-changing was brewing in thatlittle group-something most of us didn't yet see. All of us became passionateabout reaching our high school friends with the transforming love of Jesus. Weprayed, fasted, and began designing experiences to communicate the truths ofScripture in relevant, creative ways to our friends.Two years later, when I was a senior in high school, over a thousand studentscrammed into our white pews every week, and hundreds came to faith. We felt likewe were in the middle of a modern-day miracle.
A piece of that miracle for me was that I learned to see myself differentlybecause of the way Bill and Dave saw me. They both observed my abilities andgave me opportunities to experiment. They described me as a leader, a creativeforce, a person who could influence and impact others. Because they named thesegifts in me, I began to stand a little taller and grow in confidence. With Dave,I was given the opportunity to create, particularly through the art form ofdrama. I built a team of actors and writers, and also contributed to the overalldesign of our weekly events. Bill called out my leadership gifts, seeing me as aprimary catalyst in the group.
When it came time to structure the exploding youth group into smaller teams,Bill and Dave decided each team would be led by a "captain." They asked to meetwith me and essentially said, "Nancy, you are a strong leader and could be acaptain of a team. But we think, for now, those should be guys. We have aleadership role for the girls, whom we will call 'secretaries' [how ironic!],and we'd like to pair you as a secretary with one of the weaker guy captains soyou can help him along." So I became the secretary of a team led by Mark, a guyso new to the Christian faith and to any form of leadership that he asked me towrite down for him every word he should say to our team. I was functioning as ashadow leader behind Mark, who eventually grew and developed into an outstandingChristian man who still serves a vital role in our church today.
Women in the church I grew up in did not lead up front, except for children'sministries and women's groups. The men were deacons; the women deaconesses.Being a deaconess essentially required the gift of hospitality, as deaconessesprovided food for the grieving and served in other compassionate ways. No womenserved on the board of the church or ever spoke in the pulpit on Sunday exceptto make an announcement. As a young woman with a leadership gift, I got the message loud and clear: You don't fit. Nevertheless, Iput my head down and determined to be the best secretary I could be. Eventually,I initiated the launch of a drama team for that youth group, which tapped intomy love for the creative and performing arts.
As I moved ahead with plans for college, a job in the marketplace, andeventually, graduate school, I continued to explore what it meant to be a womanand a leader in various settings. In academics as well as in the workplace, Isensed very few, if any, limits to what I could achieve. Gender was becomingless and less of an issue in those arenas.
I set my sights on a future in the world of film and television, thinking Icould maybe make a difference for God by bringing a Christian presence andworldview to Hollywood. However, even as I studied and prepared for a career asa producer, a little voice inside whispered that maybe, just maybe, my giftsshould be invested in the church. As an artist and a leader, my first take onthat idea was that it was a total loser option! I thought only the lessercreative types who couldn't make it on Broadway or in Hollywood ended up in thelocal church. Add to that perspective the little detail that I was a woman withleadership gifts, and it seemed nearly preposterous. Where had I seen that workwell in the church? Most likely to succeed? I don't think so!
And yet, that persistent whispering in my heart couldn't be silenced. Onesummer, as a newlywed just out of graduate school, I fought with God on our backpatio. For hours and hours I sat there and contemplated my options. Throughprayer, journaling, and even arguing with God, I finally said yes to the veryidea I had spent so much time resisting. I accepted a full-time staff positionat the church that was birthed out of that exploding youth group: Willow CreekCommunity Church.
Excerpted from Gifted to Lead by Nancy Beach Copyright © 2008by Nancy Beach.Excerpted by permission.
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