Competing Spectacles

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly bombarded by images. Hours of each day are spent scrolling through social media feeds, watching viral videos, streaming television shows, playing video games, or enjoying the latest memes. Yet few of us have stepped back to consider how being saturated by images is affecting us. Journalist Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You and Competing Spectacles, will join us to share the pitfalls and possibilities of living in our image-centric world.

After a keynote address, Tony will be available for a live Q&A.

This seminar will be held on Wednesday, March 24. We have not yet decided if it will be held in-person or through Zoom. Please check back closer to the seminar date for more information and to sign up.



Read Well to Lead Well

While most leaders agree that reading is a key element in their growth and development, too often Christian leaders fill our bookshelves exclusively with nonfiction, theology, or devotional books. While these works can be extremely helpful, there is much to be gained in reading widely from many genres. Spending our time reading literature or poetry in addition to nonfiction can help us grow in Christian virtue, in empathy and emotional intelligence, and in creativity.

In this seminar, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of On Reading Well and Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, will share her own experience of how reading has shaped her Christian work and leadership, as well as how reading can help you grow in the calling God has given you.

After a keynote address, Dr. Prior will be available for a live Q&A session.

This seminar will be held from 7:30pm-9:00pm on Zoom. The cost is $25 per Zoom account. We encourage you to gather with your small group, your friends, or your family to enjoy this seminar together.

Everyone who registers before October 31 will have the opportunity to pick up a “mystery box” full of surprises for the seminar and beyond.

Click here to register.



ASI Seminar Recap: Kindred Allies

The Austin Stone Institute’s (ASI) 2019 “Learning to Listen” seminar series is designed to encourage us to consider other people’s perspectives, to give us a theological foundation for speaking with grace and truth about topics such as gender, race, and politics, and to empower us to engage with people who are not like us.

Our first seminar “Kindred Allies” with author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin occurred on September 12 at our West campus. We were delighted by how many people came—we saw nearly 200 people gather in the auditorium.

Men and Women Are More Alike than Different

The seminar featured two teaching components and one Q&A panel. During the first teaching, Jen explored how men and women are more similar than different. She started by debunking the idea that men and women cannot be platonic friends. Jen undergirded her position with Genesis 1 and 2, saying that God did not provide Eve because Adam felt the lack of a sexual partner. Rather, God provided Eve because Adam was lonely and needed a companion who shared his language and abilities. God made them to “image” Him together, not separately. 

Jen then turned to the New Testament and discussed how Jesus redefines and expands the definition for “family.” She referenced Mark 3, which says: 

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

In the family of God, relationships between men and women are not based on husband and wife, but on brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. And, Jen continued, this family of brothers and sisters is told to “one another” over and over in the New Testament. Men and women are to love one another (1 John 4:7), serve one another (1 Peter 4:10), encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32), etc. Men and women are not to divide by gender, with men in the living room and women in the kitchen, but to pursue friendship and unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But that is not how life typically plays out in the church or the larger culture. Men and women fear each other—a natural state of affairs considering humanity’s sin and a hyper-sexualized culture. Relationships between genders become fraught with tension. And yet, some relationships transcend it: the bond between a father and daughter, for instance, or a brother and sister who defend each other no matter what. Such relationships give a glimpse of what friendships between men and women can look like. It is possible to be friends with the opposite sex without sexual temptation running rampant.

Men and Women Should Consider the Other’s Perspective

But for that possibility to become a reality, Jen suggested men and women needed to do some reconditioning in terms of not only how they saw each other but also how they recollected stories in the Bible. She addressed the former in the first session of the seminar and worked through the latter in the second. In it, Jen walked seminar attendees through the example of David and Bathsheba. 

Many readings (and commentaries) of the text depict Bathsheba as a “loose” woman delighted to capture King David’s attention. A close textual reading, though, offers something different. It displays an unequal and unbreachable power dynamic, with David having all the agency and Bathsheba all the vulnerability. Reading the text with that viewpoint can be uncomfortable but ultimately healthful; it teaches people to reconsider their assumptions about both the Bible and the opposite gender, to reexamine their understanding of situations, and in some cases, to initiate conversations with men and women about their experiences.  

Jen ended her teaching with a panel. Todd Engstrom, Executive Pastor of Ministry Strategies, John Murchison, Managing Director of The Austin Stone Institute, and Lindsay Funkhouser, Program Manager of ASI’s Writer Development Program, joined her. They answered questions from the audience regarding how men and women can be “kindred allies” and gave advice on how men and women can relate to and support one another. For example, Jen and Lindsay said men can open up opportunities to women, while women can remind men that emotions are not weaknesses. Men can also encourage women toward speaking up for themselves, and women offer insights into men’s communication styles.

God designed men and women complementary. Each gender has something the other lacks. By coming together as friends, they can discover how the qualities that seem to separate them enrich each other’s lives and unite them as one body in Christ. 

 

Join us for our upcoming seminar with Dr. Gregg Allison on October 25. He’ll be answering the question, “Are you your body?”



Seven Questions from the Kindred Allies Seminar

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 asi@austinstone.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?”