This month in the church that I currently attend we have been focusing on the word ‘legacy’. So far there have been two great sermons by my senior pastors that have given me lots of food for thought. It turns out the word legacy carries more connotation and weight than we first understood. Most dictionaries define legacy in financial terms – ‘an amount of money or property left to someone in a will’ but dictionary.com adds that it could be ‘anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor’. That puts a whole different spin on the word legacy.
It’s a sad fact that a lot of us don’t think very long term. We get so caught up in the here and now that our decisions are made based on the present, and the farthest we can look ahead is a few years.
In his book ‘The Circle Maker’, Mark Batterson tells the story of a letter the Swedish Navy received in 1980 telling them they had a shipment of lumber awaiting collection. No one could remember having placed an order for lumber. After some research it transpired that the Swedish Parliament, recognising that it takes 150 years for an oak tree to mature, had ordered the planting of 20,000 oak trees on a Swedish island in 1929, anticipating there would be a shortage of lumber by the 21st century. That’s looking ahead! Those parliamentarians knew they would not be alive by the time the timber was needed, but it didn’t stop them.
What does this have to do with women in leadership? A lot, I believe.
For eleven years I belonged to a church that reserved the highest leadership positions (eldership) for men only. In every other aspect we were doing great work, and I served along some of the most dedicated and God-loving men and women. But the longer I stayed and the more involved I was with senior leadership, the more I realised this was not an environment where I, as a woman called to leadership, could flourish and grow.
There were several debates with the leadership as I sought to fnd a way forward that would not involve leaving the church. The last thing I wanted was to rock the proverbial boat. In the end, one of the things that made me decide that rocking the boat was my only option was the knowledge that if I stayed and kept my mouth shut, my then seventeen year old daughter would not have the opportunity to learn that gender should never disqualify her from senior leadership in church if that was what she was called to.
Whether we like it or not, our actions have just as much, if not more impact on our children than our words do. Leaders are meant to lead by example, not just with words. When we consider the effect our actions or lack of them could have on the next generation, and the generation after that, instead of just how it affects us, we will be more intentional about what we do. Granted, we won’t always be comfortable and there aren’t any guarantees that we’ll stick around long enough to see the fruit of our labour, but that’s no excuse not to lead well? We continue to reap the benefits of the cross two thousand years after the event. Jesus left a legacy that should be an example to us of what legacy is all about, spurring us on to consider the inheritance we are leaving for others through our daily actions.
I learned about justice and equality from my parents long before I became a Christian, long before I discovered that those things were important to God as well. I learned not just from the words they spoke but also from the sacrifices they were willing to make to take a stand (my Dad ended up in prison because he was fighting for his country’s independence).
Through experiencing this, somewhere inside my little heart a warrior was born. Becoming a Christian cemented what had already been put there by my parents – a fight for equality. Admittedly sometimes I get weary of the fight, and I wonder if my little contribution is doing any good, if my voice is even being heard by the people I want to hear it. And then I hear sermons like the ones about legacy in these last few weeks, or I see something in my daughter that she tells me she gets it, or someone I have mentored rises courageously to a new position of leadership. And I am reminded that I am making a difference. That what I do today does have an impact on many tomorrows, even though I may not be around to see what that impact will be.
As leaders we have the awesome privilege of influencing. It’s a huge responsibility and many shy away for that reason. What a difference it would make if we led from a perspective of leaving a legacy that would continue to impact followers long after we are gone.
My plea today is, even if you would not do it for yourself, do it for the next generation. Take a stand for women in leadership so that the next generation will not have to fight the same fight you did, instead having the opportunity to move on to other exploits. Speak up, so the next generation can be inspired by the echoes of your cheerleading. Run the race set before you with peserverance and determination, so the next generation will reap the fruits of your labour.
And when you get weary, as you inevitably will, draw encouragement and strength from others around you who are feeling strong when you are weak.
I know it is a big ask. When you invest your money in something there is no guarantee of a good return. You may lose everything you have invested. Someone else may reap where you have sowed so tirelessly.
When you invest your life in a cause – in people – there are no guarantees either. There may be hurt, burnout, pain and abandonment anywhere along the journey. But if we call ourselves true followers of Jesus, can we do any less? And if like me, you look forward eagerly to the day you will hear the words ‘well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of My father’, then surely it will be alright in the end, will it not?
Oge Austin-Chukwu has been involved in women’s ministry for more than a decade. She developed and co-led the women’s ministry in her local church for six years. She is a Bible teacher and speaker who is committed to helping people live out the word of God in their daily lives and so fulfill their God-given purpose.
A part time General Practitioner, Oge is also a Leadership /Executive Coach and founder/owner of Reach Corporate Coaching and Training (www.reach-coaching.com) – a Coaching Business that provides coaching for leaders in the business and corporate sectors. Founder of Equip Women (www.equipwomen.com) – a ministry that equips women for their journey as Christians – Oge hosts a non-denominational Bible Study and provides online resources that teach, encourage and challenge women of all ages.
Oge is married to Austin, has two teenage children and loves writing, traveling and fashion – not necessarily in that order!
Picture by Morten Rand-Hendriksen