Empowered to Lead
Christian Leadership Alliance President and CEO Tami Heim recently interviewed Rev. Dr. Nicole Martin, Senior Vice President of Ministry Impact for American Bible Society (ABS) on how we can empower others to lead with excellence. They explored this edition’s “Diversity” theme as well.
Dr. Martin joined ABS in 2016 as a City Mobilizer in Charlotte, NC. She later served as the Director of US Ministry, supporting Scripture Engagement efforts in cities across the United States, and as the Executive Director of Trauma Healing, extending Bible-based healing to churches around the world.
A former management consultant with Deloitte Consulting in Chicago, Dr. Martin previously served as an Executive Minister at a multi-site church in Charlotte, NC. She also teaches courses in Ministry and Leadership Development at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and is the author of two books: Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry (CBP, 2016) and Leaning In, Letting Go: A Lenten Devotional (Chalice Press, 2018).
As a nationally recognized speaker, Dr. Martin has been inducted into the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. She will serve as a main stage presenter for The Outcomes Conference in Louisville, KY, April 26-28, 2022.
Dr. Martin is a graduate of Vanderbilt University with a triple major in Human and Organizational Development, Educational Studies, and French. She earned her Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and her Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She serves on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals and is also a member of the Board of Trustees at Gordon College in New England.
Can you share insights from Made to Lead on empowering women to lead in the Christian nonprofit sector?
Thanks for asking, Tami! Made to Lead is about equipping women with the internal confidence and external tools necessary to strengthen them for God’s calling. So often, as women, we enter ministry with doubts about God’s ability to use us, insecurities about our weaknesses, and deficient models of leadership to help us to chart our own paths. This book is a reminder to every emerging and current leader that God equips those he calls. Being a woman in leadership is not something you have to compensate for; it’s a gift to be maximized for God’s glory and for the good of the organizations we serve.
In your own journey, what has empowered you to step into your calling as a leader?
I have been so blessed to have a great cloud of witnesses empowering and encouraging me since before I was born. I’ve come from a long legacy of praying and trailblazing women and men on both sides of my family, so following God was part of my DNA. When I faltered and wondered whether I could lead, I always had the support of my family, and especially my husband, to push me farther into faith. Now that I have two little girls, I feel even more empowered to step into greater levels of leadership, not only for myself, but also for the generations that will come after me.
Our edition theme is “Diversity.” What are some keys for creating diverse, mission-driven, teams in Christian organizations?
I love this question and it’s a very important one. First, I would suggest that organizations prioritize their mission as the primary aim. When the mission is clear and elevated, creating a diverse team becomes a necessary part of that mission.
All research demonstrates that culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse teams improve the bottom line. In Christian organizations, diverse teams enable us to achieve God-given missions with the richness of the kingdom in mind. We all succeed when there are voices at the table who can speak to the experiences, needs, and opportunities present across various cultural vantage points. When diversity is an aim in and of itself, without being connected to God’s design for flourishing ministry, it becomes less meaningful, less attractive to partners, and harder to sustain.
Another key to inviting diverse staff members and partners into Christian organizations is psychological safety created within community. This means that organizations must create mission-oriented communities where different perspectives are welcomed and not penalized, where different cultures are embraced and not marginalized, and where everyone is invited to speak into what the organization can be. Safe communities are important for every single person, regardless of one’s race or ethnicity. This type of psychological safety can be reflected in an organization’s diversity statement, in the formation of smaller affinity or support groups within the organization, with events and forums that make room for the diversity of voices amongst staff or volunteers, and with regular conversations in leadership about who is and is not presently at the table.
How does that diversity reflect God’s heart?
To reject differences and diversity is to reject the heart of God.
Diversity is at the core of what God desires. When God introduces creation in Genesis, everything is distinct, diverse and unified through the power of God’s Word. When Adam and Eve are created, God introduces one type of being in distinctly different forms. In short, we could say that God specializes in diversity because God is, himself, diverse! Our differences in language and culture, in food and preferences, in race and gender, make us unique reflections of God’s image, God’s heart and God’s hand. To reject differences and diversity is to reject the heart of God.
To be fair, organizations pursuing God’s heart in this way must prepare for a challenging but rewarding journey. Any organization that attempts to take on diversity as part of God’s heart and the organization’s mission will face many challenges. There will always be some people who think you’ve gone too far and others who believe you’ve not gone far enough. There will be some areas where change is fast and easy and other areas where changes will be deep and slow.
Regardless of how easy or difficult the journey may be, God’s Word reminds us that “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Our distinctions make us better, not worse, and I truly believe that the prize for those who persevere in this diverse kingdom will be beyond anything we could quantify on an annual report.
As you teach leadership development at Gordon-Conwell, what inspires you about the next generation of Christian leaders?
I have found that this next generation of Christian leaders is deeply passionate and courageous. They have great respect for what has been and inspiring visions of what is to come. This passionate pursuit of a new reality is what drives church planters, nonprofit leaders, and Christian business leaders to innovate in ways that both encourage and frighten us. It’s frightening because the next generation of leaders is often willing to go places that previous generations would have never gone. I’m talking about institutes for public engagement, parachurch organizations that minister in deadly situations, and churches that “contend for the faith” with deep conviction (Jude 3:3). It is truly amazing to see!
I am also inspired by two areas of growth: the rising number of women entering ministry and the growing number of collective partnerships for greater impact. Young women who may have never seen themselves in seminary are following God in courageous ways to strengthen the church. Church pastors, parachurch leaders, and business experts are coming together around collective impact alliances to affect significant change. If Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary is an example, I think we will all be challenged and encouraged by this next generation.
How are you seeing God at work at ABS today?
Let me tell you: God is moving in some powerful ways at American Bible Society (ABS)! For starters, I am watching as God allows us to persist along a consistent journey of 205 years of dedication to the mission of ensuring that all people have access to the life-changing power of God’s Word. This enduring legacy shows up today in our work with more than 400 translation projects around the world, supporting 65 Bible Societies to heal the wounds of trauma, strengthening thousands of military members and their families, distributing first Bibles to desperate populations globally, and by engaging America’s foundation through the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.
As we consider this great legacy, I am so humbled by the many ways I see God moving through our innovative strategies today. We’ve continued with 11 years of State of the Bible research and can now share those insights with others seeking to strengthen Bible engagement platforms. We’re developing new programs in the Armed Services and Trauma Healing ministries so that more hearts can be healed and more families engaged in Scripture right where they are. In our digital Bible world, we are constantly working with partners to provide access to Bible libraries that will facilitate the most difficult translation projects. I mean, there is literally so much happening that I don’t even have time to tell it all! As I look across the landscape of ABS, I see God’s faithfulness, from generation to generation. I’m just honored to be part of this story to shape it for more generations to come.
What encouragement would you share with other ministry leaders today?
I want to encourage ministry leaders to hold fast to God’s unchanging hand.
In a world where everything is changing all the time, where instability is the norm and obstacles seem to increase with every hour, I want to encourage ministry leaders to hold fast to God’s unchanging hand. There’s a song we used to sing in my church that reminded me of this. The last part of the chorus says “…build your hopes on things eternal; hold to God’s unchanging hand.” I truly believe that this simple message is most important for Christian leaders today.
We will all be tempted to put our hope in new strategies and to hold on to ideas that might increase funding or impact. But God’s Word reminds us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Our charge as leaders is to regularly release what is temporary and keep our eyes, hearts, and minds on what is eternal. When we do so, we will positively affect the organizations we serve and make meaningful impact, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14b).
To learn more, please visit americanbible.org.