Last week I attended a women in leadership conference called, The Ezer Collective. It was founded by Jo Saxton which she leads with her team. It was a great time to just get away a few days, meet others in leadership, learn, and recharge.
I remember seeing Jo speak for the first time, over eight years ago at a church planter’s conference. I was intrigued by the fact that there was a woman, not to mention a strong woman of color, up on the stage addressing thousands of leaders. It was something I had never seen before and secretly wished possible.
After that conference, my husband connected with the leaders of 3DM ministries, Mike and Sally Breen. Jo Saxton had been affiliated and mentored by them for years. The principles we learned from their ministry changed our church’s trajectory. Through joining their learning community, it helped us reassess our approach to discipleship and spiritual formation.
I love that Jo is an entrepreneur that empowers women. She helps people, myself included, to discover who they truly are by seeing themselves the way God sees them. Through Jo’s books, More than Enchanting: Breaking Through Barriers to Influence Your World and The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For (see links below) I realized that I had put myself in a box. The box was what I thought I needed to be as a woman in leadership. I had created in my mind, this idea of the perfect female leader.
I would read about the Proverbs 31 woman and compare myself and always fall short. She was Wonder Woman! After reading Jo’s books, I felt freed to be who God created me to be just the way I was. We are all wired and given distinct abilities with which we are enabled to be and do exactly what He wants us to be and do. Proverbs 31 describes many facets of many women. I realized I had diminished my voice in order to fit into some impossible mold that I had created in my own mind.
At the Ezer Collective, Jo shared about why your voice matters. How it’s very powerful and how words are creative. How injustice goes unchecked when we allow our voices to be silenced. She gave us examples of four women in the Bible and I love each and every one of their stories!
Esther - She was a young jewess that was taken into captivity to be groomed to possibly become the next queen. It had to be a traumatic experience; being taken for the palace to be put through a rigorous regimen and training, preparing her for the reigning, foreign king then having to fight for her life and the life of her people. It had to have taken grit and resilience to have gone through what she did. It took time for her to grow into the woman she would become by the end of her story. When first asked by her uncle Mordecai to take a stand and approach the king to save the future of her people, she appeared hesitant at first. Fear may have been her initial response because Mordecai said, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” She had to choose to take a stand and not remain hidden in her safe place.
Deborah - In Judges 4, Deborah is the reigning judge which was equal to the greatest of leaders of Israel. No other judge was also called a prophet and as a prophetess she had an unshakable faith in God, which gave her strength to lead her people. As women were created by God to be an ezer kenegdu, (Gen. 2:18) or strong warriors to come alongside those to help and aid, Deborah fully embodied this description. In Judges 5, Deborah’s song celebrates a victory God has given His people through the agency of two women: the judge Deborah and Jael. These ancient cultures valued masculine strength, aggression, and war-prowess; they didn’t value female ingenuity and courage. God took ordinary people with their gifts, strengths, and weaknesses—and brought military victory through the unexpectedly strong hands of women. Deborah’s Song was one where she declared what great feats she was able to do, as God’s chosen agent.
Lydia - In Acts 16:14, we are given some information about her, that she was a dealer in purple cloth, that she was originally from the city of Thyatira, and that she was a “God-worshipper.” Luke describes her during Paul’s missionary journeys where he meets her and the information Luke uses to describe her is as a woman of prominence. Women in the first-century Roman world, like Lydia, were entering into business as entrepreneurs and they impacted the early church in these roles. She became the foundational member of the Philippian Church. She used what she had, finances and prominence in the community, to help build out the new and growing body of Christ.
Achsah - a young woman named in Joshua 15 and Judges 1 as the daughter of Caleb, one of the spies that entered the Promised Land with Joshua. Right after conquering Hebron, Caleb wanted to take the city of Debir as well. Caleb wanted to provide for his daughter with a strong husband and land. So he promised Achsah in marriage to whomever took the city. Othniel, son of Kenaz took on the challenge, succeeded and subsequently married Achsah. Achsah’s dowry came with a certain amount of land in the Negev. This desert land was known for its dry, arid temperatures. Achsah approached her father and asked him for the upper and lower springs. It would have been extremely difficult to cultivate her land without them. She was confident enough in her father’s love to ask for the springs in addition to the wedding gift of the land. She had stepped out in faith and claimed an additional blessing for her family and future generations. She was bold and confident in her father's love to ask for more, which she received.
Each of these women used their God-given voices for His purposes. They were all significant female leaders in a time when women did not normally represent these roles. Jo asked the question: Can you identify with any of these women? Are you an Esther where you may have hidden your abilities and influence? Are you a Deborah where you may need to allow your achievements to shine? Are you a Lydia where you may be able to use what you have as leverage in empowering others? Or are you an Achsah where you may need to use your position in a big ask?
I knew as I sat there thinking, I had remained silent and hesitant in my leadership as Esther did and I would remain silent no longer. I would claim the gifts God had placed in me for the furthering of His Kingdom.
Whichever woman you may identify with, it is well worth discovering because it may just free you to do and become everything God has for you to do and become. Don’t allow fear, identity issues or others to block you from becoming who you are meant to be as His daughter. Pray and ask Him to reveal these things and confide in someone you trust to help walk alongside you to become who you are meant to be. Be fully you with no fear. Do great things for Him.