By Jen Gillan
Last week I was waiting for the train when I bumped into a childhood friend. It was crazy. We have known each other from tots to teenagers through church. Growing up together, we spoke Spanglish together and tried to figure out life and God and our parent’s culture.
We exchanged stories of our past and talked about our current seasons of life. When I told him that I am starting a new position as a lead pastor in March, his jaw practically hit the floor.
He asked me, “Are you nervous?”
I felt a little thrown off by that question, because that’s not what I would ask someone who shared with me the joy and excitement around a new job. I recalled the leadership models from our childhood church years: male, charismatic personality, often tall or large, and within a culture of machismo.
I am petite, soft-spoken, female, and Latina.
I responded to him that I was actually more excited about being a pastor, but that I also carry with me a sense of the gravity that being a pastor comes with. Perhaps one could call it a “holy trepidation.” I told him that I believe pastors have power – the power to harm or to heal with words and actions – and that I don’t take that lightly.
A few days later, I shared my news with two other men that I had just met. I kid you not when I say the first thing they asked me was, “Are you nervous?”
As I’ve thought about these encounters, I’ve been wondering if men ever receive that same reaction. I would imagine that some do, but my sense is that most men don’t have to answer that question as often as women do.
Much of how we view leadership is through the lens of culture and our upbringing. What my childhood friend learned about church leadership is this: pastors = mostly overly-confident (Latino) men.
I believe in the importance of confidence as a leader. But I also believe that culture can distort a good thing like confidence. I treasure so many aspects about growing up in a Central American church, but I lament that the ultimate model of leadership was a glorified view of charisma embodied in a confident male. And I grieve the damage that a model like that does to the psyche of people, especially of women who are leaders themselves.
As I step into this lead pastor role that I’m first and foremost EXCITED about, I also bring a holy trepidation or humility that I consider good and right to this calling. And as I carry this excitement and holy trepidation with me, I become even more excited for the privilege of being a part of changing perceptions about leadership. And what takes my excitement to the next level is imagining that one day, perhaps even in this next generation, the most natural reaction to petite, soft-spoken, female, Latina Pastor Jen wouldn’t be “are you nervous?” but instead, “You must be excited!”