Being a Christian leader is hard.
But being a Christian leader in the face of toxic religious culture and patriarchal beliefs telling you that you shouldn’t even be there, is exponentially harder. It can be downright exhausting to face critics inside the church when they’re constantly trying to ‘put you in your place’ because you’re a woman. So I”m here to tell you that you are supposed to be there, no matter what others say.
The TLDR version of this conversation is this:
ALL Christians are called to lead and there’s no fine print that excludes you because of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other label people try to put on you.
If you ever struggle with your role as a Christian leader, I hope you find a little comfort knowing you’re not alone. I’ve been doing this for a decade and I can tell you first hand toxic religious culture takes a toll on our mind, body, and spirit. You’ve got to have good healthy habits in place to release that pressure and keep you connected to God if you want to keep doing this work.
Below I’ve listed my top 10 tips for being a Christian leader without losing yourself in toxic religion.
I hope this list helps you develop healthy habits, stay connected to God, and learn to trust yourself more in the face of the ignorance and hate you’re facing.
1. Start at the feet of Jesus everyday
You cannot pour into others what you are unwilling to receive from God. Let me warn you if you don’t already know…when you’re actively working to smash patriarchy and toxic religion in your daily life, you end up pouring out a LOT. Prioritize your relationship with God, and don’t get lost in the weeds of the work you’re doing. The connection with God is what will sustain and fuel this work. Starting at Jesus’ feet daily and focus on connection, not perfection. Being present with God on the regular will anchor you in a way that prevents burnout and enhances the justice work you’re so passionate about doing.
2. Love yourself the way God loves you
In order to be a good leader you absolutely need to love yourself the way God does. Just as you are: A beloved daughter who He loves very much. Absolutely forgiven: No negative self talk or low blows when old wounds surface. You’re going to get hit with a lot of negative stuff from the ‘all lives matter’ and ‘your husband is your spiritual authority’ crowd so don’t feed that on the inside. We internalize so much of the misogyny in the world, and that starts to wreak havoc on our self-perception and just zaps our courage. But loving yourself the way God loves you, with grace, kindness, and encouragement, is the key to showing up fully and knowing the hate others are spewing, is all about their pain and insecurities, not your attributes.
3. Stop hustling to earn approval, love, or whatever else you’ve been deprived of
If people let you down in the past, you cannot heal that wound by earning their approval today. You also cannot smooth over for past hurts by filling yourself up with achievements, accolades, and praise from new people Trying to earn your way free becomes an idol and is a distraction the enemy uses to keep you focused on what you lack instead of God’s presence in your life. Trust me, you can’t hustle your way out of trauma and toxic religious culture, you have to do your healing work and release it for good. By the way, working yourself to the bone is NOT going to root out entrenched patriarchal beliefs and bias in your church, company, or organization anyway. You can’t outwork someone else’s toxicity and change an organization that doesn’t want to be changed. . So stop trying to outrun and outwork your pain, and do your healing work.
4. Choose leadership as your identity, not your job
Leadership is a God-given anointing. It’s part of your very DNA. Uncovering the leader within us is part of the healing journey back to our pre-fall intimacy with God. Running from it keeps God at arms length by saying He’s wrong about this part of you. It creates shame and encourages you to hide. Don’t fall for it. But being a leader is what is in your identity…. your day job is NOT your identity. Knowing that reduces the pressure of having to have a certain title or position of influence. Being confident in your identity can also keep you from getting caught up in the hamster wheel of always looking affirmation from other people. It will help you become a GREAT, God-appointed leader who prioritizes healthy boundaries with your work.
5. Give in to your anointing
We waste so much time doubting ourselves and doubting whether or not God is really calling us to lead. So let’s settle it right now-God IS CALLING YOU TO THIS. Don’t let the gender bias in the church tell you that your anointing isn’t real or sinful. Don’t let their ignorance convince you that you are hearing God incorrectly, just because ‘that’s what women do’. You also don’t have to prove it to your faith community to get started. Just lean into the conversation with God and let that conversation shape your next steps.
6. Recognize the influence you have instead of exhausting yourself to get what you don’t
Women, especially BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ woman, are taught to take up as little space in the toxic religious church as possible. We are taught to undervalue our time, worth, and influence because it’s easier to maintain an unjust system if people don’t recognize their own power. So you do have influence, and again I’m going to say that you don’t have to prove your anointing to lead to anyone. God gave that to you, so start pay attention to who asks you for advice or seeks you out for emotional support when things get hard. That’s where you lead. The small private conversations are where massive transformation can happen for people so don’t ignore those.
7. Practice emotional honesty and cultivate gratitude
There is a phrase called “toxic positivity” that tells us to focus on silver linings and only pay attention to what is nice and shiny in a situation. Women are indoctrinated in this early because toxic religious culture says that women aren’t allowed to be angry, sad, or offended. Gratitude is important but we cannot truly become grateful for the good things if we are unwilling to feel the hard parts. So practice emotional honesty. If this day sucks, feel that. Without trying to “fix” the feelings you have. Know that feeling all the feels doesn’t mean that you’re dramatic or ungrateful. It means that you’re a human navigating a lot of toxicity and patriarchy in the world and on most days that requires a release of emotions.
And being honest with your emotions is the starting place for real gratitude. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, even if it’s only that this very bad no good day will not go on forever. But you won’t see it if you’re pretending the day wasn’t hard. So acknowledge all the feels, and then orient yourself with something that you are truly grateful for.
8. Love your body now, not when it looks like you think it should
Yup-Body image is tied to your ability to be a good leader. Not how your body looks, but your perception of how it looks and what value you place on your body. Patriarchal culture and gender bias tells us that our self-worth is tied to how our bodies look. A lot of times we live that out, and we need to stop doing that. It’s time to get over our hang-ups about how we look and stop using them as excuses to hurt ourselves, push others away, and hide from God. Care for yourself now out of love. Don’t punish your body for its response to life’s demands and events. You’ll be a better leader if you care for yourself generously.
9. Slow down and play the long game
Leadership isn’t a sprint. That hustle, hustle, hustle vibe is a cultural thing, not a God thing. Focus on doing it well within the context of a healthy life. If you rush through every day trying to pack more in, you’re going to step on people, including yourself. Our urgency, in non-urgent situations, usually stems from scarcity or a lack of trust in God or ourselves. You can’t outrun those fears. Allowing a crisis to manifest when there isn’t one is a sure fire way to make poor decisions and burn yourself out. Slow down and find the pace that’s right for you in this season and flex that trust muscle.
10. Be willing to be led.
You cannot become a Jesus-centered leader if you’re hard-hearted, prideful, and isolated. Find a few trustworthy people to mentor and teach you, and stick with them as long as God says to. Be humble and teachable and learn from other people. Set healthy boundaries and choose people who AREN’T going to perpetuate systems of misogyny and abuse. Toxic religious culture teaches that being a good follower means never questioning leadership but we know that’s just not true. Find leaders who are willing to listen to your questions without getting defensive or personally attacking you for asking. You have to be willing to be led, but that doesn’t mean you should follow just anyone. Pick and choose your leaders wisely.
If you’re feeling the weight of your fight against toxic religious culture, misogyny, and racism today, you’re in the right place. I wrote this post for you and it’s my prayer that these tips will keep you going on the hard days.
Be sure to hop over to my Facebook page and let me know what your favorite tips for #smashingthepatriarchy are!
Angela J Herrington, MA, LSCC is a Faith Deconstruction Coach for Christian Women at AngelaJHerrington.com who empowers women to break free from toxic religious culture by deconstructing their faith and helps them recover from #churchhurt.
Angela is a spunky Gen Xer who creates sacred spaces for vulnerable exploration. Her specialty is helping Christian women untangle themselves from limiting beliefs, toxic religious culture, and all the ways the enemy tries to keep them small. She holds a BA from Indiana Wesleyan and a Masters in Leadership from Wesley Seminary. Her graduate research project focused on leadership development and opportunities for Gen X women in the US church.
Angela and her unique online ministry were featured in Lyz Lenz’s 2019 book God Land: Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America. She also has been published in Hope for Women and HOPE is Now magazines.
Angela is also a Lark’s Song Certified Life Coach who reaches hundreds of thousands of women in 40+ countries each month on Facebook, IG, Twitter, Pinterest, and two blogs. She is Director of Communications for Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy, a women-led organization dedicated to engaging, empowering, and equipping women to lead in the church.
Angela is also a wife, mom to 6, and proud resident of Marion, Indiana with her family when they’re not traveling the US in their RV.