Work, family, leadership: Can women have it all? Pastor Naomi Dowdy shares her views

As all who work rest on Labour Day, Salt&Light looks at how women can fulfil their calling from God, whether in the marketplace, church or at home.

by Theresa Tan // April 29, 2024, 5:09 pm

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Women labour at home and at work - can they do it all? Pastor Naomi Dowdy says it depends on their calling and support system. Photo from TCA College Facebook page.

May 1 is Labour Day, a day to celebrate the achievement of workers. 

For women in the workforce, this recognition of their contribution to the workplace – the marketplace or the church — is often tempered by how well she manages her other roles.

Can women have it all: Work, family, children, recognition, leadership?

Rev Dr Naomi Dowdy’s answer is “a big yes, and no.”

Always go back to who God has called you to be and what He has called you to do.

Her answer may surprise women who may have the idea that the Proverbs 31 woman – who appears to run a business, take care of the household and be the perfect wife and mother – is the standard.

“It depends on the support system you have,” said the former senior pastor of Trinity Christian Centre and founder of Network for Christian Women, a ministry that seeks to empower and equip women for their God-given calling and destiny.

In her ministry of mentoring women leaders, Pastor Dowdy sees this struggle often.

“Some women, as they climb the corporate ladder, find that the weight of responsibility may interfere with their home life. 

Pastor Dowdy (seated, in maroon jacket) mentors both men and women leaders from all around the world. Pictured here are Christian leaders from the UK, US, Bulgaria and Singapore. Photo courtesy of Ps Naomi Dowdy.

“They feel like they are neglecting their family, so this is where many women pull out totally, or forfeit promotions that may demand more of their time.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to have a perfect balance of work and life all the time. There are peaks and lulls.”

But that does not mean that women need to give up their career, or God-given gifts or ministry.

Every woman has different seasons and every family is different, she said. Every woman has to find her own rhythm at that point in their lives.

“I don’t use the words ‘work-life balance’ because I don’t think it’s possible to have a perfect balance of everything all the time.

“It’s a rhythm; sometimes there are seasons of high demand. There are peaks and lulls.”

It also depends on what a woman’s calling is, said Ps Dowdy to Salt&Light. “Always go back to your calling and identity in God—who God has called you to be and what He has called you to do.”

“When God calls us and gives us a divine assignment, along with His calling comes an extra measure of grace.”

She added, “Yes, we may have rough patches to navigate, but His grace will enable us to fulfil His call upon our lives.”

Breaking the invisible lid

Ps Dowdy highlights the importance of women and men serving alongside one another.

She explained, “The Bible says God created a helper for man. Only twice in Scripture does the word ‘ezer‘ refer to woman. 

Fathers can influence their daughters to trust God, to believe they can do what God calls them to.

“The other times, it refers to God Himself as the Helper. Therefore, women are not inferior to men. 

“God is talking about a helper who is there to strengthen, encourage and do battle with you, not a subservient helper carrying the bags.”

Ps Dowdy grew up with a grandfather who was a Baptist deacon, riding an open horse wagon on Sundays to open up the church. On hindsight, he was her first mentor.

She related how she helped him plough the farm. “He would put the plough in the ground and the two handles came up, so they were above my head.

“I had to control the mules pulling the plough, keep the plough in the ground, and keep it straight, all at the same time. I was so small!”

Ps Dowdy as a child with her cousins in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of Ps Naomi Dowdy.

“I don’t know if that laid the foundation, but Grandad never said I could not do something because I was a girl. He said I could do anything.

“Therefore, I did not grow up with any lids placed on me. I grew up not knowing that lids existed for girls.”

God created men and women equally to steward everything God has given to us. 

She added, “Many women have given testimonies like, ‘My father always said I could do anything’, ‘He let me try everything’, ‘He supported me’.

“Now that’s the kind of environment we want to create for women.

“Therefore, we need all men, particularly Christian men, to become more supportive of women, beginning in the home with their daughters.

“Fathers can use their influence to empower their daughters to grow up trusting God. This will enable them to believe that they can do anything God calls them to.

”Fathers and spiritual leaders today can encourage women to be holy and godly and to be high achievers as they speak biblical truth into their lives.

“This will enable women to break off, not just the glass ceiling, but that invisible lid: The psychological, spiritual lids that we inadvertently place on ourselves or allow others to place on us.”

Ps Dowdy (left) has a ministry mentoring women in the marketplace and the church, and she sees the struggle between work and family often. A woman’s certainty about her calling is very important. Photo courtesy of Rev Toyomi Sanga.

Every woman has a purpose and calling in God. Ps Dowdy gave three reminders:

“Believe what God says about you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Believe what God says, then do it.

“Secondly, don’t be afraid of failure. We are all human and we will all fail at times. Do not let failure define your future — if you never try, you’ll never know.

“Know that you are not second class. You are not inferior. God created men and women equally, thus we have equal responsibility to steward everything God has given to us. No excuses.”

Practical principles for women leaders

These principles are excerpted from Pastor Naomi Dowdy’s book, Destiny Calling.

1. Look for the gifts, not the gender. 

This is my guiding principle: A woman’s role should not be determined by her gender but by how God has gifted her, by His calling on her life. 

My approach to the gender issue is essentially to make gender a non-issue. 

John Wesley believed that a woman’s gifts would make way for her ministry. He was the first within his movement to authorise women to preach. 

He did not push women into ministry but affirmed that women could be in ministry, and it would be their gifts that would open the way to ministry. 

Likewise, I believe women must look to their calling. If the calling is there, if the anointing is there, it makes the way for the ministry. Let your work or ministry speak for itself. 

2. Know your identity and assignment. 

Here is a fact: To be a woman leader is to go against the grain. People are tougher on women leaders than they are on men. 

Therefore your perspective of who you are, and your certainty about your calling and your role, are very important. 

If you know your identity and assignment in God, criticism cannot throw you off.  

It is very important to maintain a right attitude. Our spirit must never be one of rebellion or arrogance, but one of determined dependence on God. I have often told God: “You asked me to do this; if You don’t bail me out, it’s not going to happen.”

3. You will come up against traditional stereotypes.

Traditional stereotypes of both men and women run deep. One of the challenges a woman leader will come up against is the long-held perception that women run and function on function on emotions rather than on rational, practical logic.

Hence, women leaders try to steel their emotions and, as a result, appear demanding and domineering. But you do not need to become a man to lead. A woman can be a strong, effective leader without becoming masculine. 

If women leaders persevere in what God has called them to do and demonstrate godly leadership, these naysayers will come to see them as God-called, God-anointed leaders – gender notwithstanding.

4. Learn to work with men.

Women leaders need to learn how to work with men. 

Many single women do not know how to comfortably relate to men in the ministry or workplace. As women, we need to appreciate the unique strengths of the men we work with. 

When both men and women have a healthy self-image and have no need to prove themselves, a healthy work partnership can be achieved.

5. Assign tasks according to giftedness, not gender.

Women often have their job scope defined for them. They are expected to do things like teaching other women, ministering to children or counselling, taking up a supporting role and not lead, preach or vision-cast. 

When assigning responsibilities, we need to recognise the spiritual gifts God has given to every member on the team, whether male or female. 

The men do not always need to stand in front of the ministry, and the women do not always have to be administrative and back room support.

6. Embrace every learning opportunity.

In my ministry, I have had times when men would “dump” on me the jobs and tasks that they did not want to do. We can choose our response to such situations. 

We can receive these things as rejection or a downgrade of our self-worth and allow them to become a root of bitterness in our spirit. 

There is a better way: we can choose to allow God’s grace to give us an attitude of learning and, thereby, add new skills to our resume and repertoire. 

It boils down to our spirit, attitude and posture.

7. Dare to dialogue

When we experience unreasonable policies in ministry, at work or in society, we should not fear raising these issues for reasonable dialogue. Rules are made, and rules can change. It is all right to question them and to engage in dialogue. 

Take, for example, the inheritance law in the Bible. The five daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses who was the lawmaker (Numbers 27:1-11). Moses in wisdom took their case to God in prayer. God told Moses to change the rules. 

Moses the spiritual leader heard from God and changed the rules – and changed history. We live in a changing world, and I believe that we should engage the issue of injustice or inadequate policies in the same way. 

8. Do not place limits on girls.

If more parents, teachers, and pastors would nurture and mentor girls according to their gifts and not their gender, girls would not grow up thinking that they have limitations in serving God just because they are female. 

When that happens, we will see more women in leadership and missions, simply because they can be who God has called them to be.

The mandate to rule the earth was given to both male and female (Genesis 1:27-28). When men and women rule and reign as equal partners in His Kingdom, together they will be able to arise to greater levels of anointing and effectiveness, and fulfil God’s mandate. 


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About the author

Theresa Tan

God gave Theresa one talent: the ability to write. Today, she uses that one gift to share His goodness as far and wide as she can. When she's not working with words, this mother of three is looking for TikTok baking trends to try, watching Korean drama and making fun of her cats.