Review: “Developing Female Leaders” by Kadi Cole

Intelligent, Practical, Grace-Filled

When I first agreed to read Developing Female Leaders as a part of the launch team (the publisher graciously provided me with a copy of the book to review), I had some reservations. In my past experience, the ideas of “women’s leadership” and “women’s ministry” are interchangeable, and I’ve never felt at home in women’s ministry. I related so closely with the tension many female leaders have with women’s ministry that Kadi Cole shared in her “Best Practice #4: Integrate Spiritual Formation And Leadership Development”:

  • “I’m just not a girly-girl.”
  • “Most of the time I just felt like I didn’t fit. I didn’t dress right. I didn’t care about the right things. I was struggling with the wrong things.”
  • “I’m more comfortable talking with men about leading than I am talking with women about the latest ‘whatever’ on social media.”
  • “I often worry that I’m too much for these other women. I’m not sure if it’s intimidation, because I certainly don’t feel intimidating. I just know that I can’t be fully who I am.”

I read these responses and cried. It was as if I had finally been seen. I knew that, at the very least, this book was going to allow me to feel less invisible in the Church. Less alone. There are others out there like me, and we aren’t mistakes to be fixed. We are image-bearers of God with gifts to be used.

I may have started reading hesitantly, but I ended up devouring this book. It is chock full of useful information and practical applications. And every page is infused with humility and grace. For example, in “Best Practice 2: Clearly Define What You Believe,” Kadi Cole provides a concise but thorough summary of the seven most common cultural practices regarding women in leadership (Extreme Feminism/ Matriarchal, Strong Egalitarian/ Evangelical Feminism, Mild Egalitarian, Complementarian. Egalitarian Crossover, Mild Complementarian, Strong Complementarian, and Patriarchal).  Why does she bother defining these different practices? Because Ms. Cole’s only agenda in writing this book is to teach the Church how to best develop the female leaders in their congregations. She does not want churches to act in opposition to their theological identities. If one congregation identifies as strong egalitarian and allows women to fill roles from the nursery staff to the development team to the pastorate, their strategy for developing female leaders is going to look different from that of a congregation that identifies as strong complementarian where men fill most of the leadership roles and women fill predominantly service roles. And this is okay. Ms. Cole’s goal is NOT to transform the strong egalitarian church into a strong complementarian church or vise versa. Her goal is to help churches identify who they are, communicate that identity to their congregations and staffs, and find and develop women in their churches to serve and lead in their churches. Ms. Cole goes out of her way to express this again and again and again. Such humility and grace are often lacking in discussions of leadership, but it is obvious that these are characteristics with which Ms. Cole has been gifted and I am thankful that she has infused her teaching with them.

Following her detailed discussions of her eight Best Practices, Kadi Cole concludes the book with lots of practical material to get churches started in assessing their current atmospheres for cultivating female leaders and putting effective development structures into practice. Ms. Cole includes the chapters “Next Steps” and “Team Discussion Questions” for church leadership teams, her target audience, to work through and help them implement the principles discussed throughout the book, but she also includes a long chapter at the end directed specifically at the women called to church leadership, “Best Practices For Female Leaders.” Here she shares “some of the incredible thoughts and advice… full of godliness, wisdom, wit, intelligence, reality, humor, and love for others called to travel the same path” from the women who contributed to her research for this book. It is a fitting and encouraging conclusion to an intelligent, practical, and grace-filled exploration of developing female leaders for the church.

Buy this book. Read this book. Share this book. Implement this book. The body of Christ will be better for it.

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