If you are anything like me, you’ve been on more Zoom calls in the past two weeks than in the previous two years. COVID-19 and the social distancing we are all living through has changed the way we work with each other. It has been quite a learning curve for me as I figure out how to keep my staff team of nine people connected, motivated, and encouraged in their work in this season.
About John Murchison
John is the Managing Director of The Austin Stone Institute. He loves spending time with his wife and four daughters playing board games, watching movies, or out exploring the great city of Austin. He also enjoys reading, writing, and learning.
Many leaders, myself included, aspire to follow the philosophy to “work hard and rest well.” Most of us have no problem following the “word hard” part of that statement. Unfortunately, we often find it much harder to “rest well.”
But the holiday season is when work rhythms typically slow down, giving us an opportunity for rest and restoration. In these seasons it is wise to resist filling that time with work and investing it in some downtime.
In our most recent ASI Seminar, Kindred Allies, we heard from Jen Wilkin how men and women are designed by God to work together for the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom. She encouraged us to think more about how men and women are similar, both being made in the image of God, than to think about how we are different. She also challenged us to grow in acting like the family of God, treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We were not able to get to all of the submitted questions during our Q&A time, so we compiled a few of the most popular questions into this post. Todd Engstrom, elder and Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, and members of our Austin Stone Institute staff team worked together to provide brief answers below. If you attend The Austin Stone and would like to know more, I encourage you to speak to your congregation staff and elder team, or to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to talk to you more about this important subject.
1. What wisdom or guidance would you give a male believer who, in the corporate workplace, encounters many non-believing women who subscribe more to female empowerment to the detriment of the biblical vision of deep mutual male-female respect? For example, when encountering ideas like only women can lead, toxic masculinity, it’s women’s time now, the future is female, etc.
A helpful place to start is to remember that your worldview as a believer is likely going to be different from a non-believer’s worldview. Your authority and framework for honoring male-female relationships will naturally be different,
Approach this situation the way you would any other – remember that Jesus is our model for interaction. We see many examples in Scripture of Jesus actively seeking to employ empathy in trying to understand others and speak life into their stories. If you believe female coworkers are striving for control, power, or recognition, consider that perhaps it’s because they have a history of not feeling valued, heard, or recognized. Though they may be striving through means different than what you think is best, you can be a powerful example of how Jesus would listen and speak value into them. They don’t know Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, advocating for His children, but you can be their advocate and encourager. You can speak light into darkness and healing into wounds. You can model the fullness and joy of the family of God, and by His grace, maybe one day they will become your sisters in God’s Kingdom.
2. When it comes to women teaching and/or leading men, what do you believe, and how do you discern what is appropriate biblically?
This is an extraordinarily difficult topic to handle within a short paragraph. Theologians have debated this topic for a very long time, and our elders have also wrestled with this very question since the earliest days of our church. And we are still wrestling with it!
Biblically, we should consider that the Spirit of God has poured out gifts on all saints, and both men and women receive those gifts (Joel 2:28-29, 1 Corinthians 12:7). We also must consider that Paul prohibits the exercise of those gifts and authority through teaching or speaking in the church (1 Timothy 2:12-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). So, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include leadership and teaching, being given to women, but a constraint on how those gifts function in the church from the apostle Paul. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation, distinction, and confusion!
At The Austin Stone, we do not have a formal position with respect to how this would play out, and instead, allow for discernment through our plurality of elders on how to navigate this within each congregation. In this discernment, we would specifically be asking “does this expression of female teaching or leadership contradict a clear text of Scripture?” This will help us discern and understand the question of whether or not something is permissible. The next question would be, “For what people might this be a beneficial expression of the gifts?” This will help us move forward in expressing the gifts the Spirit gave to our church.
In practice, we know that it is biblically right for women to teach women (Titus 2:3-5), and therefore love it when our spiritually gifted women impart grace through their gift to other women. In mixed environments, we consider the conscience of those who might be in attendance, factor in the cultural perception of authority and use wisdom and discernment as to when this might be appropriate.
3. Are our elders open to meeting with a woman one-on-one to discuss spiritual issues with women? Is this a policy for our church, or could this vary from elder to elder?
In the broader evangelical culture, this is often referred to as the “Billy Graham rule”, and has been a guiding principle for many men in ministry due to Graham’s tremendous influence. There are at least three predominant motivations for adhering to this rule:
- Preventing temptation towards inappropriate emotional connections
- Honoring the desires of a spouse who may not feel comfortable with this kind of interaction
- A desire to ensure the comfort of the person with whom you are meeting
Our elders do not have a formal policy on this matter but instead allow for the freedom of conscience of each individual elder. While some elders will meet with a woman one-on-one in an appropriate setting, others on our elder team do not feel the same.
4. How do we take actionable steps to model this [kindred allies] in our church today?
Jen’s framework of emphasizing the similarity between the genders and focusing on agency and vulnerability as mutually beneficial distinctions is a great place to start. For the men in our church, asking the question, “How might I use my agency to serve my sisters in Christ?” would be a great starting point. For the women in our church, asking the question, “How might I foster vulnerability in my brothers in Christ?” is a good place to begin.
One way to start would be to intentionally interact with the opposite gender in our missional community family meals and gatherings. Asking simple questions like, “How are you?” and, “How can I pray for you?” are great, simple action steps to start living intentionally.
5. As a woman gifted with leadership abilities, how do I cultivate my gifts and serve appropriately? How do I seek mentorship? How do I promote health and healing between the genders?
This posture of humbly wanting to serve and grow is so encouraging! Your congregation leaders and elders want to know you and help you figure out how to cultivate your gifts and use them for the flourishing of the church. I would reach out to any leader at your campus and ask them to help you identify your gifts and how those can be used in your community or at that congregation. You are needed by the church, and we want to help you walk in obedience and joy through using your gifts.
As for mentorship, the best and often easiest thing to do is to identify a woman you admire and who is spiritually “farther down the field” and just ask if you can learn from her. Or if you’re desiring to invest in someone, ask them if you can walk alongside them and help them grow. It may seem scary to put yourself out there, but I’ve heard many stories of wonderful mentor relationships that happened because one of the parties was brave enough to ask the other if they could spend intentional time together growing in Christ.
It’s difficult to answer this last question in a couple sentences, but a great place to start in helping promote health and healing between the genders is to form friendships with people in your congregation and start to tackle these questions together. “What would it look like for the men in our community to help all the women flourish? For the women to help all the men to flourish? What are some things our community is missing when men and women aren’t acting like the full family of God we see in Scripture? What would these interactions communicate to the nonbelievers around us that wouldn’t be true in male/female relationships apart from Christ?”
6. How do you help people create appropriate boundaries while also stepping into better brother-sister relationships?
The first step in having healthy brother-sister relationships is having close community with a few people of the same gender. This close community can offer insight, accountability, and wisdom as you navigate how to work with your brothers or sisters in Christ to advance God’s kingdom. There is no “one size fits all” approach into what is appropriate for each person. Inviting others in your community to help you define what is wise and above reproach for you is an invaluable part of the process.
In addition, those who are married should also involve their spouses in this discussion and consider their input above that of their community.
7. If I grew up in a male dominated family/church, how do I start reframing my viewpoint? Some of these ideas/viewpoints are very challenging to hear.
It can be difficult to begin to shift our viewpoints from what was historically true for us or from what we experienced growing up in the church. Jen offered a lens through which to view this situation when she proposed that the church is experiencing a “diminished understanding of the concept of family.” As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a truer and better family than those in our own family units. And in addition to focusing on and nurturing our familial relationships within the body of Christ, Jen encouraged us to see that “there is more that we have in common than what separates us” and that when it comes to men and women in the Creation story, “the Bible starts with sameness.” God created man and woman so that there would be “completeness.” The truth is that we need each other, and the mission of the church cannot go forward without the complete body of Christ working together. Rather than a church functioning as a single-parent home, Jen encouraged us to “strive to make the church look like what we dream of in a nuclear family.” Jesus commands us to be the family of God. In light of this, we should each search our own hearts and ask, “Do we truly see each other as those with whom we partner to bring forward His good news?”
Innumerable resources are available to leaders wanting to invest in their personal development. Many books have been written for leaders, from classic books, such as Blanchard’s One Minute Manager and Drucker’s The Effective Executive, to newer works such as Brown’s Daring Greatly and Scott’s Radical Candor. Commutes to and from work and appointments can be turned into leadership seminars by listening to TED talks or podcasts from leaders like Micheal Hyatt and Carey Nieuwhof. Even web surfing can be redeemed for personal development by pointing the address bar to Seth Godin’s blog or Harvard Business Review.
All of these resources help a leader grow. Christan leaders, however, should take care not to be so inundated with leadership books, podcasts, and blogs that they fail to focus on two important ways they can grow in leadership: the study of Christian doctrine and the practice of spiritual disciplines.
Most leaders have, at one point or another, experienced the fear of failure. Ed Catmull, the recently-retired president of Pixar and Disney Animation, says that we should have an even greater fear of being a leader who avoids failure at all costs. In his wonderful book on creative leadership, titled Creativity, Inc., Catmull states that “mistakes are an inevitable consequence of doing something new.”
Avoiding failure inevitably results in stagnation. We do the same old thing over and over again because it has proven to work. But innovation and growth require a degree of risk. The most successful leaders experience and learn from failure on a regular basis. To quote Catmull again, “If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: you are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy … dooms you to fail.”