Monday, September 12, 2011

Unlikely Leaders

While my husband was in seminary, we attended a church in a very wealthy area.  Surprisingly, it had no women’s ministry.  Since I had a rich background of women’s ministry growing up – I consider myself a WMK (Women’s Ministry Kid) as my mom coordinated women’s ministry for over 20 years at our church – I was asked to start one.  I felt inadequate, but God reminded me that He had given me on-the-job training.  For years my mom dragged my sisters and me to women’s events to serve in whatever capacity was needed.  So, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and trusted that God had given me this opportunity for a reason.

One advantage I had coming into that church was I didn’t have preconceived ideas about who could do what, what women had which gifts, or what baggage women carried with them.  Instead I was able to observe, asking God to raise up women for the leadership roles we were establishing. 

I’ll never forget the first time I met Pat.  She wasn’t this church’s typical member – wealthy, well dressed, perfectly coiffed, overflowing with social skills and confidence.  Instead, she appeared to be cowering on the sidelines, uncertain about where she fit in.  She was single, quiet, and appeared lonely.  Yet as I got to know her, God allowed me to see something more.

Our first women’s event was planned; it was going to be an overnight retreat to get to know each other.  Our small committee was excited; they had never had a women’s retreat before.  Many of them had never exercised their gifts or even knew they had any.  We were totally dependent on God, daring to ask Him to bring 65 women.  It was a gigantic leap of faith.  When the last registration was counted, exactly 65 women had signed up!  You should have seen the women’s faces when they heard the news.  You would have thought they had just witnessed the parting of the Red Sea!

All throughout the planning, I kept thinking about Pat.  No one knew her, and we had yet to discover her gifts.  God was telling me to pull her into the weekend program somehow.  Pat was an avid reader, so I asked her to present several reviews of the latest Christian books she had read.  At first, she was hesitant.  “You can do it,” I cheered her on.  She eventually said okay.

The weekend finally arrived and the place was brimming with chatter and excitement.  The time came for Pat’s presentation.  It was hilarious and insightful, and she came alive.  Afterwards, Pat was surrounded by women; and throughout the conference this unassuming, quiet woman was glowing with a smile that never left her face.  Now, everyone wanted to be her friend and she suddenly found herself fitting in – I think for the first time in her adult life.  We eventually brought her onto the coordinating team where she continued to grow and blossom.  To watch her transformation was one of my greatest ministry lessons and joys.

I wonder how many Pats are out there under our noses?  Women who will one day make incredible leaders and do great things for God – if only someone will notice.  It’s so easy to gravitate only to women like ourselves, to look for the natural leaders, to look for those who fit the image we have of a leader  women who are polished, look good, or speak well.  I have seen over and over again that some of the best leaders are the unlikely leaders, because they’re the women God chooses.  As women leaders, we need to pray that God will give us His eyes to see the women around us, to trust His choices, and to be willing to take risks with women like Pat.

Years later, Pat became the women’s ministry coordinator of that church.  God had selected her and He had prepared her.  Amazingly, it all started with a couple of book reviews that got Pat off the sidelines and into action.  God had taken Pat’s small step of faith and transformed it into something extraordinary, and an unlikely woman became an influential leader, discovering her gifts and finding her place of service in the church.  

In His service,

Shelly Esser 


  1. thanks for the encouragement - our church is just getting started on womens ministry

  2. WM leaders tend to look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. So often I've found that the ones with the enthusiasm and the drive are the last ones I would have selected, yet they are the ones the Lord has handpicked.