Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Called Beyond the Comfort Zone

Written by: on November 29, 2023

Identifying the Scandal and Offering Prevention

JR Woodward, in his book, The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church, addresses the downfall of church leaders through their abuse of power. He addresses this problem by looking at the roots deep below power abuse, “naming the Powers of domination in order to unmask their subversive work.”[1] He believes leaders who do not deliberately set their sights on imitating Christ, will be drawn into the unhealthy, idolatrous desires of our culture and suggests that the only scandal worth pursuing is the scandalous leadership of Jesus.[2]

Woodward’s book is based on his PhD research in which his hypothesis was “that a robust theology of the Powers enables leaders to better imitate Christ and resist the temptations common to fallen leadership.”[3] He adds, “When we, as church leaders, succumb to domineering leadership, people get hurt, Christ is misrepresented, and the witness of the church is damaged.”[4] The Scandal of Leadership offers a thought-provoking, academic diagnosis of the domineering leadership style and the preventative measures leaders and followers can take to avoid leadership failures and also present abusers with healing.

An Important Issue for Me to Explore

In Woodward’s introduction to his book, he carefully laid out his scope of work and I want to respect the bounds to which he limited his research. In that vein, I am not criticizing him for not including more breadth in his research, I’m simply taking my thinking outside the bounds of his book.

In defining his scope, he openly communicated that his work comes from the perspective of his personal male context. He also pointed out that most abuses of power in the church are male abuses of power,  and he comments, “Sadly, the story of women’s leadership has not been documented in the same way as men’s.”[5] And, he added this important point, which gave me pause: “I’ve heard from female friends in leadership that the cautions I share about dominating leadership are not necessarily speaking to the temptations they often face – temptation to avoid power altogether.”[6] This peaked my interest and changed the way in which I saw this book. I found Woodward’s work interesting and valuable, but more interesting and valuable to me, became the area of exploring the strengths and weaknesses of women’s leadership style and the potential pitfalls we experience and navigate. Based on Woodward’s observation and feedback from women, and based on my personal experience, embodying “dominating leadership” may not be a woman’s biggest worry. To be fair, it may not be a worry for many men, either.[7]

Women in Leadership: Strengths and Temptations

I am curious as to what insights an in-depth study on “women in leadership: strengths and temptations” would produce. A quick search online revealed some interesting articles on the topic, specifically one put out by the American Association of University Women and another published by Forbes and co-written by fifteen women.[8] Also, I noticed there are plenty of books written on women in leadership, though it’s unclear how many of these would have valuable information. And finally, a perusal of my own bookshelf revealed useful resources by authors such as Tricia Hersey, Eve Poole, Natalia Kohn Rivera, Kristy Garza Robinson, Laila Tarraf, Noemi Vega Quinones, and Karen Walrond.[9]

My brief research session showed that resources are available, most likely good research still needs to be done, I need to build my library on this topic, and perhaps I would be interested in studying this area further. Because I have limited space in this blog, I have footnoted the above articles and books for further study and will focus here on my own experience.

Personal Experience

Mandy Smith, in her book Unfettered, as noted by Woodward, says:

“When childlike faith leads us to follow, childishness will bind us in our inadequacy. Rather than leading to childlike dependency, our childish sense of limitation can lead to shame, despair, and passivity. We see this temptation in every Bible character who says, ‘Who am I?’ as a way to avoid God’s call… It feels Christlike because it doesn’t grasp for power…[but for Jesus] “his childlike reliance led to obedience which expressed itself in surprising authority. He was childlike and adult-like – free to be powerless and free to be powerful.”[10]

This aligns with my personal fear and courage. I desperately want to follow Jesus into the world and to be part of His work of healing, hope, and new life for others and myself, but often I doubt my abilities to be effective. Truthfully, my biggest fear is being rejected or told that what I have to offer isn’t needed or wanted. Consequently, I choose not to step forward to use my power for God and, instead, stand back, letting others or no one move into that space. That’s just outright wrong. My decision is based on myself and not on Jesus. Just as overexerting and abusing power is a focus on oneself, so is hanging back and refusing to step into the work of God when prompted. The key is to follow Jesus, stepping forward and back with our power, as he asks.[11] Simon Walker offers wisdom on this topic, saying “Undefended leaders, secure in their identity as a result of a healthy relationship with God, can move forward unhindered by fear and doubt, to lead “with nothing to lose.”[12]

Over the last fifteen years, I have improved in this area, but I still struggle with the temptation to “avoid power.” Some things that have helped me to improve include learning tangible leadership skills on the job and in the classroom, simply remembering that God loves me, and my “lacrosse attitude,” which I developed about ten years ago and of which I will write in another blog.

Conclusion: Called Beyond Comfort Zone

Woodward’s book launched me into a future research project and a personal leadership challenge. I end with excerpts from a prayer by Walter Brueggemann, entitled “Called Beyond Comfort Zone.”

“We are among your called.

We have heard and answered your summons…

In responsive obedience we testify, as we are able, to your truth as it concerns our common life.

We thank you for the call,

for the burden of that call, for the risk that goes with it, for the joy of words given us by your growing spirit, and for the newness that sometimes comes from your word…

But we are, as well, filled with rich imaginations of our own,

And our imagination is sometimes matched and overmatched

by our cowardice,

by our readiness to please,

by our quest for well-being.

We are, on most days, a hard mix of true prophet and wayward voice,

a mix of your call to justice and our hope for shalom.

Here we are, as we are,

mixed but faithful,

compromised but committed,

anxious but devoted to you…”[13]







[1] JR Woodward, The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church (Cody, WY: 100 Movements Publishing, 2023), xxv, 289, 291.

[2] JR Woodward, The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church (Cody, WY: 100 Movements Publishing, 2023), xxv, xxxv, 289, 291.

[3] Woodward, xxv.

[4] Woodward, xxv.

[5] Woodward, xxxvii.

[6] Woodward, xxxvii-xxxviii.

[7] As a note, I do think the abuse of power is a concern for everyone, as long as it exists in our churches and ministries. It negatively affects everyone, especially those who are direct victims of the abuser.

[8] American Association of University Women

https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/barrier-bias/, and Forbes


[9] Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: Free Yourself from Grind Culture and Reclaim Your Life; Eve Poole, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership; Natalia Kohn Rivera, Noemi Vega Quinones, Kristy Garza Robinson, Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing our Influence; Laila Tarraf, Strong Like Water: How I Found the Courage to Lead with Love in Business and in Life, Karen Walrond, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy.

[10] Mandy Smith in Woodward, xxxviii.

[11] Mark 8:34, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

[12] Walker, ix, 145, 6.

[13] Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 127-128.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

13 responses to “Called Beyond the Comfort Zone”

  1. Michael O'Neill says:

    Outstanding post, Dr. Steinbrenner! Great analysis of the book and perspective from female leadership. Your vulnerability about your leadership gives me great motivation and hope. I share many of your thoughts and often hide behind things like school, the dislike for social media, or a thousand other excuses. I feel the Spirit calling me and realize I’m basically out of time in my pursuit to escape it. Thank your honest thoughts. I look forward to reading a future book or journal article on this subject in the future authored by you.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hello Dr. O’Neill and thank you for your comments and thoughts. It is so hard to always respond to the Spirit’s prompts with courage, confidence, and motivation, isn’t it? This would be such an interesting topic to explore further, for both men and women. Appreciate your encouragement. Maybe Laura and I can get that book or article written in the next couple years!

  2. Jenny – This post was amazing. I had a similar reaction about Woodward’s words on female leadership and would love to partner with you in exploring that in greater detail. Particularly in the ministry context. You are a bold woman of God and I know He is preparing you to impact the world in significant ways. Thank you for the poem. I am going to print it and hang it on my wall!

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Laura, thank you so much for your encouraging comments. Yes, let’s explore this together! I would love that. I’m not sure to what extent this topic has been pursued, especially in the church, as you mentioned. I think it would be interesting and valuable to learn more!

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    As per usual, well-written and robustly thought-through post Jenny. Thank you for bringing up the perspective on female leadership. I am looking forward to reading the fruit of further exploration into this!

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      David, Thank you so much for your positive feedback! I always appreciate your thoughts, ideas, and comments. Perhaps Laura and I can dig into this topic further and send out some articles for peer review by you all.

  4. mm Daron George says:

    Reflecting on Walter Brueggemann’s prayer and the temptation to avoid power, how can leaders in the church foster an environment that encourages stepping into God-given authority with confidence, while avoiding the pitfalls of power abuse?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Daron, Thanks for your question! I wonder if leaders and leaders-to-be, meeting together to support each other and talk honestly, could be helpful in this area? In general, perhaps more honesty, vulnerability, and transparency, in general, from leaders? Great question and something I will continue to ponder.

  5. mm Becca Hald says:

    Jenny, thank you for digging into women and power. I remember reading that when a man applies for a job, he will inflate his ability and say he can do something even if he is only 60% sure he can, whereas a woman will diminish her abilities and not say she can do something unless she is 100% certain of her capability. (Full disclosure: not certain on the male percentage and I do not currently remember where I read this.) I know this holds true for me. It has only been recently where I have begun to step out and advocate for myself. As you said, it is uncomfortable. I, too, look forward to reading the book you will write on women in leadership.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Becca, Thank you so much for your thoughts. I remember reading that, as well, about the ways men and women, in these studies, communicate their confidence re their skills. That is so intriguing. It would be very interesting to have a frank discussion with men and women, in a safe environment, on whether or not this is really true. It feels like men and women both can get a bit of a bad rap in some of these studies. I wonder what the best way would be to go about studying the strengths, weaknesses, and temptations re men and women in leadership. Can we generalize? Also, I wonder how much of our reactions in leadership positions are due to cultural shaping and how much are due to our wiring as men and women. So interesting! Thank you for thinking this through with me. I may need to call on you again for your input if this study goes further. 🙂

  6. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post. I also found that quote in Woodward interesting. I thought, “do women not struggle with ambition and domination with power?” It’s possible, the study is just not there, as you pointed out.
    I appreciate that you were transparent with your leadership struggle. You state, ” Truthfully, my biggest fear is being rejected or told that what I have to offer isn’t needed or wanted.” I struggle with similar thoughts and have often acquiesced to others if they showed interest in a role or perspective. This makes me wonder if similar thoughts are not the root of leadership struggles for men and women. Perhaps, domination is rooted in many of the insecurities that we all have? The remedy for me is also similar to yours – I had to learn to value my own voice and perspective.
    Thank you for your leadership. Leading is not easy, particularity when you lead with compassion and thoughtfulness the way you do, but that is what makes you a leader worth following.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Chad, I so appreciate your thoughts and your kind words. Thank you! This would be such an interesting discussion to further explore, wouldn’t it? I like your question: “This makes me wonder if similar thoughts are not the root of leadership struggles for men and women. Perhaps, domination is rooted in many of the insecurities that we all have?” I wonder that, too, and the role that power plays for all of us! Hoping we can continue learning more about this in our own lives.

      See you tomorrow!

  7. Alana Hayes says:


    I cant wait for you and Laura to tackle this! Where do you start?

    “Sadly, the story of women’s leadership has not been documented in the same way as men’s.”

    This was a great except. I sat and thought a moment about women in leadership within the churches I have been apart of…. I cannot tell you one pastor, associate pastor, or youth leader that I can think of that has been a woman.

    What I can tell you is that in my small town the backbone of that church was the pastors wife. She really ran the show…and we all knew it!

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