BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — This year’s fifth annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast focused on how women in a diversity of life stages have learned what it means to lead in their contexts by developing themselves and those under them for the glory of God.
The annual event is hosted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Missie Branch, director of graduate life and assistant dean of students to women at SEBTS, moderated the June 12 panel discussion in Birmingham, Ala. Panelists included Lesley Hildreth, women’s discipleship director at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Elizabeth Graham, director of events for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and owner of Yellow Brick Events in Nashville, Tenn.; Becky Gardner, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for SEBTS and superintendent of Peoria Christian School in East Peoria, Ill.; and Betsy Gomez, writer and speaker for Revive Our Hearts ministries.
Hildreth spoke on the importance of modeling weakness to the women under them, noting that women often live in a culture of inferiority and comparison to one another. The event was held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, June 11-12.
“We’re never going to be enough, but our God is enough,” she said, noting that those in leadership must have a dependency on the Lord because they need His wisdom in all of their decision-making.
Graham explained that women are called to steward their giftings well in order for the church to be its healthiest.
“The beauty of diversity in giftings and using the giftings that the Lord has given you for the glory of God is very important for the health of the body,” Graham said.
For Gomez, leadership simply comes out of the overflow of a close walk with Christ.
“Leadership is the outcome of Christian maturity,” said Gomez, who explained that if a woman is faithfully looking to the greatest leader, Jesus Christ, she will be intentionally leading others whether it’s in the home or in the office.
That part of leadership development, Gardner said, is recognizing God-given giftings that are coupled with a desire to continue learning. Likewise, daily time in the Bible is vital to the life of those leading in ministry, she said.
“Just as God encourages us to grow in His word and who He has made us, we need to continue to be open in growing in the areas that God has directed us,” said Gardner, who noted that she seeks to develop herself as a leader through her theological education, webinars and other avenues. At the same time, Gardner said, all of those attempts to grow in learning need to be filtered through the lens of God’s Word.
Hildreth explained that many things are vying for the attention of women, which is why they must be careful to guard their time and steward it well.
“Leaders make tons of decisions and because of that, we need to make sure that the wisdom that we are receiving to make these decisions comes from the Lord and comes from the truth of His Word,” Hildreth said.
Panelists spoke on the importance of motivation behind leadership development, guarding against pursuit of a calling at the expense of intimacy with the Lord and letting Him lead in that pursuit.
Gardner explained that as a pastor’s daughter and wife, she has frequently dealt with the compulsion to say yes to many opportunities. However, women need to let God’s Word inform these decisions rather than the perceived expectation felt by others, she said.
“We can have those expectations that we perceive or that we place on ourselves that can lead us instead of allowing God,” Gardner said.
Gomez said, “Sometimes we think that leadership is something that you have to go and pursue, but I don’t see that pattern in the Scripture. I see God’s invisible hand doing His work.”
Panelists took time to share with attendees how they each specifically help to develop other women leaders in their workplace.
“I’m constantly looking for ways that I can develop [my teams] both spiritually and professionally,” said Graham, who during her time working at Southeastern was influenced in these ways and now is doing that for those under her leadership.
After the panel discussion Julia Bickley, assistant professor of ministry to women and associate dean of graduate program administration at SEBTS, highlighted the specific ways in which SEBTS is seeking to train and equip women to lead and serve the local church. This is being done specifically through the restructuring of the master of arts in ministry to women and the master of arts in ministry to women and biblical counseling, which will be offered in a layered hybrid format. See related story.
This format allows women to pursue these degrees from anywhere in the world by offering two courses online and one weekend on campus each semester. For more information on degrees at SEBTS, visit sebts.edu.