Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead

Written by Mary T. Lederleitner Reviewed By Rochelle Cathcart Scheuermann

Women serving and leading in ministry is a widely discussed and contested topic. Most works that address this subject center on the theological and hermeneutical challenges of key biblical texts, making their argument either for or against women assuming leadership roles in the church, in parachurch ministries, and in mission agencies. But how do women leaders themselves view leadership and experience the ascent to ministry roles in the midst of this volatile landscape? With her book, Women in God’s Mission, Mary Lederleitner steps into this void with a rich telling of women’s experiences, thoughts, and convictions as leaders.

Lederleitner organizes her book into four sections, revolving around who these women leaders are, how they lead, the challenges they face (e.g., gender discrimination), and what helps them flourish. Each chapter opens with a quote and a story of one woman, and then moves on to explore various themes that emerge from the research. Each chapter closes with reflective discussion questions that allow readers to consider the issues raised and their implications for various contexts and organizations. What makes this book stand out? It is extensively researched and broadly inclusive. This study includes more than ninety Protestant, evangelical women leaders from 31 countries. These women are educators, pastors, missionaries, vice-presidents, board members, and more. Their voices are heard through thick description and extensive use of quotation, giving readers a greater sense of the women themselves. The women describe diverse paths toward leadership and the role of calling. They describe moments of both flourishing and discrimination as well as the wisdom needed to navigate through difficult circumstances. They explain how they persevere in ways that are confident yet humble. They do not look for a fight. Instead, they seek to find many ways to accommodate to the realities around them.

These women leaders embrace a holistic sense of mission. They strive for faithful service for and with others. They are high achieving and concerned for ministry impact, bathing their work and their lives in prayer. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is that for some characteristics, like collaboration, women’s gender seems to trump women’s culture. These women do not always act in ways that cultural leadership studies like GLOBE would predict (p. 70). In the end, Lederleitner’s research suggests a new model of leading, the faithful connected leader.

Lederleitner weaves the women’s stories together with various leadership theories and gender studies. She suggests that women in leadership is a normative reality in the work of God’s kingdom, yet barriers (structural, social, and at times theological) continue to impede and disrupt the efforts of women leaders. Her work reveals the rich, albeit complex, lives of women who step (confidently and timidly) into positions of leadership. She calls readers to have a greater understanding for who these women are and the ways they can be supported.

Lederleitner is careful not to collapse each woman’s experience and her conclusions include important notes on the differences that set each woman apart (e.g., life stages, marital status). She closes with points of application and includes tips and questions for organizations that desire to assess and address structural issues that affect women’s access to and experience within the organization. There is much we should learn from the rich depth of research and experience that Lederleitner has collected in this accessible book. No wonder it received Christianity Today’s 2020 Book of the Year Award among mission/global church books. Both men and women will be well-served in reading it and taking its lessons to heart.

Rochelle Cathcart Scheuermann

Rochelle Cathcart Scheuermann
Wheaton College
Wheaton, Illinois, USA

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