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Who Is Pulling Your Strings? Wisdom for Women Clergy and Leaders

by Michelle D. Williams | February 02, 2022

There is something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.

– Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman is one of the most beloved theologians of our time. As an African-American educator, civil rights activist, minister, and author, he had an impressive list of “firsts.” He was the first African-American Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. In fact, he was the first black dean of any predominantly white institution’s chapel. He also partnered with a fellow minister, Alfred Fisk, to co-pastor one of the first interracial, interdenominational congregations in 1944.

His words above echo his pioneering spirit.

As women clergy and leaders, we understand the pressure to perform. The pressure to conform. The pressure to please. There is always someone in our ear, requesting this, looking for that, demanding change, suggesting alternatives.

If we are not careful, we can find ourselves being pulled in hundreds of different directions without accomplishing anything. That is why it is so important to stay grounded. What is your purpose? What is your motivation? Having a defined life vision and mission statement can help you avoid being pulled by others’ agendas.

What a shame it would be to get to the end of your life and realize that you’ve spent it chasing other people’s dreams. Everyone has a dream for how and what they want the church to do. As the senior leader of that church, you can’t allow the deacon board or the congregant who pays the highest tithes each month to become your puppet master.

Or worse yet, imagine investing all your time and energy into a ministry or organization and realizing that bitterness and resentment have been pulling your strings. You’ve been trying to “outperform” and “prove” something to the one who told you you’d never make it because of your gender, race, age, or all of the above. In the end, you just walk away bitter, angry, and tired. Even if you have accomplished great things.

Leading with No Strings

God gave Habakkuk very clear instructions, designed to help keep the vision prominent. "Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it." (Hab. 2:2 CEB).

Perhaps like me, you spend January in consecration, seeking God’s direction for the year. This has been a practice that has helped me stay grounded and on mission. If your church or the organization where you lead has a vision or mission statement, it is helpful to remind yourself of that as you embark on any new project or a new year.

Writing down the vision not only reminds you, but it helps others know so that they can hold you accountable, help you accomplish the vision, and not try to co-op and insert their own agendas into what God is doing.

Ensuring that God is the one who is pulling your strings takes faithful listening to the Spirit. Taking time and space to quiet others’ voices is critical. Seeking healing from the words and voices that oppress and negate your calling and self-worth is also critical. Guarding your heart against bitterness and resentment caused by trauma is part of faithful stewardship. We cannot lead from a place of brokenness and expect that we won’t bleed out onto others. Seeking healing can come in a variety of forms. Therapy, pastoral counseling, and accountability, spiritual deliverance, or a combination of all of the above.

Let us strive toward whatever it takes to ensure that we are not marionettes dancing to the beat of someone (or something) else’s drum. My sisters, let us examine our hearts and our lives so that our strings are being pulled by the one who created us and knows our end from our beginning (Isa. 46:10).

Photo by Nick Owuor (astro.nic.visuals) on Unsplash.


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