There are still many professions in Europe which are dominated by either males or females. The reasons can be biological but in many cases they are just based on tradition. Sometimes tradition is based on religious convictions. Some churches and religions do not accept women in the role of a priest but gladly appoint them to lead and teach children and adults outside the priest’s role.
The tradition of both male and female leaders and preachers in The Salvation Army originates from our historical roots and the example set by William and Catherine Booth. When Catherine, in 1860, was prompted by the Holy Spirit to say a few words in a public meeting, William had not until then been in favour of female preachers, but the power in her speech and the impact it had on people made him change his mind.
This incident set the pattern for The Salvation Army and its tradition of female leadership, even when that was unusual in society in general. However, even with our historical record, the need for promoting equality in leadership is not over. My expectation is that our Territory will continue to see many good examples of joint ministry, where husband and wife each do the part they are gifted for, and that it sometimes can mean giving the woman a more senior role than her husband.
For single people the leadership challenges can be different, but the point is that everyone should be able to contribute to the fellowship and mission in accordance with ability.
So, what is my experience as a female leader? Perhaps I am fortunate in the sense that, coming from Sweden, I have always been a leader alongside men. From a young age, as a scout leader, I always found it was a case of men and women working together. As an officer, I have experienced both good male and female role models. All of my training on leadership has also been with both men and women. Perhaps this explains a little why I personally have never had the feeling of competing with men.
I read a comment that came across social media that girls should not be told that they are bossy, but that they have leadership potential. I think that is true. But that potential has to be nurtured and groomed. Some people remain “bossy” in their leadership and that is destructive.
It is interesting to reflect on leadership. I think that most of us do that. We all meet and work with many leaders. We can reflect on what makes some leaders attract people and achieve good results, while others do not. We can reflect on good leadership from seemingly shy people as well from the more lively ones. We see good leaders getting followers and we see bad leaders getting followers, and we wonder why?
The foundation for Christian leaders, male or female, is always found in Jesus. In his life and teaching I found this perfect balance of denying oneself and standing up for oneself. He teaches about not expecting rewards, putting others first, being an obedient servant and other characteristics that, if isolated, can become very passive and subordinate. But, on the other side of the scale, he also demonstrates focus and determination. He is living, leading and teaching with a clear purpose. He is going to fulfil his Father’s will, whatever the cost. He combines sharp truths with an abundance of grace and he equips his team of followers to take over without competing for positions.
By now, you will have come to the conclusion that I do not see male or female as a special definition of leadership styles. We can all learn from each other and we should always learn from Jesus.
This text has been published in Die Heilsarmee Magazin #3/2017.