In Philippians 4:3, Paul mentions a couple of women at the church in Philippi who he says have “contended at my side for the sake of the gospel.” In Acts 16:40, we learn that Paul and Silas went straight to their friend Lydia’s house after leaving prison. In Romans 16:17, Paul asks the readers to greet his friend Junia, who he said had been in prison with him, calling her “outstanding among the apostles.” A few verses earlier, he sent greetings to Priscilla along with her husband Aquila, who he called his co-workers in Christ Jesus.
Throughout the epistles, Paul made it clear that women were instrumental in advancing the Gospel. Paul’s calling to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Rom 15:20) was a team effort. He writes to several of the churches about their help in funding the mission. He calls out individuals who have toiled alongside him in getting the good news out. And he was unapologetic in calling out the women who were in the trenches with him.
Somehow, in the modern evangelical church, men and women serving alongside each other for the sake of the gospel has been eclipsed by caution, threats of scandal, and fear. We have seen organizations humiliated when their leadership made poor choices, and have decided that, in order to safeguard our works from the same, we must exercise caution to the point of complete dissociation.
While caution is warranted, and it’s right for us to be people of outstanding character, the price we pay can be too high. Young women, called to the ministry, are often locked out of ministry mentorships out of a desire to be ‘above reproach.’ After all, transformational conversation doesn’t always happen within the bounds of the church office. It happens on the golf course, on long drives, around the altar, or catching a cup of coffee. Beyond mentorship, deep strategy sessions require not only an abundance of time spent together, but a mutual trust that allows for an exchange of ideas.
This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about pooling all of our resources to see the Gospel advanced around the world. It’s about getting all of the players on the field, and allowing people’s gifts to be developed and commissioned.
This is all well and good, but the reality is we still live in a fallen world with fallen people. We still have our convictions and our sensitivities. And for some people, changing their mindset on this requires a lot of new ways of thinking. So if you’re like me, and you like to have the ‘why’ followed by a ‘how’, here are a few things for you to consider in moving forward in this work.
Reconsider how you do mentorship
If you are a male leader, it’s simply easier to mentor young men than young women. And while we don’t want to be overly sensitive to appearances, this is one that, in our current culture, has to be considered. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and previous vice president of global online sales and operations for Google, offers several potential solutions in her book, “Lean In.”
“At Goldman Sachs in the late 1990’s, management committee partner Bob Steel recognized this perception problem and came up with an admirable solution. The father of three daughters, Steel told a training class that he had a ‘breakfast or lunch only policy’ with employees because he felt uncomfortable going out to dinner with female employees and wanted to make access equal.”
Sandberg follows this up by saying, “Anything that evens out the opportunities for men and women is the right practice.”
Maybe this particular example isn’t the right one for you, but the point stands – make it so that young men and young women who want access to you have the same opportunity.
2. Make it your problem.
When I was single and was itinerating as a missionary, I had pastors who wouldn’t meet with me because I was a woman traveling alone. Had I been traveling with a husband, this would not have been a problem. Thus, my male friends who were missionaries had an easier time getting meetings than I did. Many pastors wanted to make sure their wife or another individual could attend with them, which made scheduling burdensome for all of us.
My solution to this was to travel with an intern whenever possible, which automatically gave me a third party for meetings. However, I wish these pastors would have thought through what to do in situations like these.
If you, as a pastor or ministry leader, have a personal conviction not to meet with people of the opposite sex, make it your problem to figure out – not theirs.
3. Expand your worldview.
We all have our favorite preachers and authors. I’ve certainly got a few authors that I pre-order from as soon as they Tweet out the Amazon link. However, if we are to grow and allow ourselves to enjoy the richness of the body of Christ, we have to expand the voices we listen to.
Take a look at the last few books you read, or the books you read over the last year. Is the demographic diverse? Are you allowing yourself to learn from people who are different than you?
When we allow the Spirit to speak to us through diverse voices, it begins to open up new possibilities for us. When we learn from people who are different than us, we begin to consider their perspectives, and we see a dissolving of the ‘us and them’ that so often dictates our actions.
4. Be intentional about including people.
We had a running joke at the church I pastored in Paris that I would invite the men on our team to preach sometimes so that people would know that men can also preach. Jokes aside, there were times when our leadership started to skew too far in one direction and we were intentional about pulling it back. Why? Because the more diverse the voices at the table, the further your reach. I had people around me who could course correct us when we started going too far in one direction, who could give me honest feedback when an illustration fell short, and who could let me know when we missed it on a cultural issue. The many different voices we welcomed to our leadership teams allowed our blind spots to be exposed, and for our ministry to be that much more effective.
I believe so strongly that one of the works of restoration God does in this fallen world is to allow men and women to work together to see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. When we enter into Kingdom partnership, amazing things happen. It will take all of us working together to see the ends of the earth reached. May we be an example of the words David writes in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!…
…For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.”