The Great Commission mandate is not gender-specific; but rather, men and women are co-laborers on mission. Our current culture has manifested a heightened awareness of diversity and gender issues which gives the church an opportunity to demonstrate and model clear and sacred responses amid the clashing secular voices. One area where the church’s beauty is displayed is in God’s design for men and women to be partnered in ministry to advance the Gospel and make disciples. As men and women weave their giftedness together to embrace our collective mission, the church is exponentially empowered to impact the lostness of the world. Here are a few things to help cultivate healthy and effective synergy as men and women co-labor in the Kingdom mission:
Stay focused and faithful. The complexities of women and men working together are not unique to the church. We recognize in the marketplace, in the church, and just in life – that men and women are created differently. Weaving together giftedness in the church can be challenging and even frustrating at times as we navigate the nuances of culture, theology, personalities, and worldviews. Relationships are messy and complicated. But, the fruit of working through differences to find unity in Christ is priceless and more impactful upon a lost world than anything that we could accomplish with segmented or siloed pieces of the church. Don’t get distracted or tossed by the winds of cultural philosophies or the twitter-feed of the day; stay focused and faithful to Christ and the Kingdom mission he has invited us to be a part.
Forge a synergetic culture. Be purposeful and repetitious in demonstrating through words and action the value of the women leaders, (including singles), in your church. Look for creative ways to incorporate women into the various facets of the church mission by expanding opportunities and pathways to serve. Highlight the power of the body of Christ working together in synergy. Women are uniquely positioned in strategic areas of the neighborhood and marketplace to influence others for the cause of Christ. Use their platforms and relational webs for the advancement of the Kingdom and celebrate the beauty of diversity of the body of Christ. For the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God, how can we work toward normalizing female giftedness and leadership, not as the exception or rare case, but as part of God’s design for the church to be on mission together? Let us strive to forge a more dynamic synergetic culture.
Gracious accountability. Accountability is important for all of us as we strive to live holy lives; it is also important to consider how the disciplines and processes we establish for accountability affect others. If the way in which accountability is put into place causes another person to feel alienated or like a temptation to be avoided, then the process is at the expense of our sacred sibling. And we have missed the mark. Consider how policies and practices may communicate unintended meaning. “It’s good to have accountability. Have people in your life who will ask you tough questions. Put protective software on your electronic devices. Avoid shows and songs that stir up wrong desires. Be careful, though, that you don’t communicate to women that they are the problem.”1
Since the ministry field leadership is male-dominated, women are often the ones who take the brunt of the accountability efforts and policies. Women leaders often miss out on being included or invited because of the potential of sin or even the mere appearance of impropriety. Some have a practice of “always copying someone else on email correspondence with women. While you may be trying to communicate ‘I’m above reproach,’ it often communicates ‘You are dangerous.’ If emailing women is a stumbling block, you may want to reconsider your ministry calling.”2 And, this would apply to women emailing men as well. One more natural way to cultivate accountability, without cc’ing an unrelated person, is to send team-based emails. When praising others, it is good for other team members to celebrate and be a part of the praise, too. Cultivating the team or family dynamic gives us the benefit of sharing life together and knowing one another more deeply within a safe context. Strive for gracious accountability that extends thoughtful care and concern for your brother or sister in Christ – even in the way we practice disciplines and strive for holiness.
Focus on more than one theological thread. The continual theological debate about what women can, or cannot do, inadvertently absorbs all the attention about women in leadership. What sadly falls to the wayside are the vital discussions about how we can encourage, develop, and equip gifted women to flourish and thrive in their God-given gifting for the fulfillment and maturity of the church. Wherever one falls on the theological spectrum regarding the role of women in the church, we can all agree that God desires for women to belong and matter to the church. Women are essential and indispensable for fruitfulness and multiplication.
“This concern over women in the pulpit draws our attention because we regard the role of pastor highly, as we should (1 Tim. 3:1). But we must be careful that our high regard doesn’t morph into idolatry. The blogosphere overflows with articles addressed specifically to pastors: how to study more effectively, how to counsel, how to mentor, how to balance work and rest, how to lead. More often than not I wonder why the author limited his audience to pastors. Why not speak to the priesthood of all believers? Much of this counsel applies equally to the roles of teacher, counselor, minister, lay leader—roles that can be filled by both men and women. Roles that, if we focused on equipping, could make lighter work for the role of pastor in a way that is, well, biblical (Eph. 4:12).”4 Let us foster more conversations about how to tangibly demonstrate the same value, development, advocacy, and care for women that our brothers receive.
Treat One Another as Sacred Siblings. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God. Our relationship to one another is family, but often we treat one another as separate nuclear families who gather on Sundays rather than sacred siblings. If the posture toward a sibling is to avoid sin or temptation, then we are completely missing the depth and richness of what it means to be sacred siblings. Some may inadvertently withdraw from the opposite sex in the pursuit of purity, but then the God-given blessing of rich and healthy relationships is missed. “Withdrawing from women isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s part of the problem. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it’s not good for men to be without women in the church. Men need mothers, sisters, and daughters in the faith, just as women need fathers, brothers, and sons. We are a family, a beautiful body made up of many parts. We’re vitally connected to one another, and every part is essential for us to function properly. Avoidance isn’t the remedy. Drawing near to God is.”3 Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; we can draw near to God to grow in this discipline while we grow in love for one another as sacred siblings.
Intentional development and equipping of women. Cultivate a culture that is developmental for everyone – in discipleship, but also in gifting and calling. “Think of the problem this way: If a young man of obvious ministry ability and gifting showed up on the doorstep of your church, who would you put him in contact with? How would you help him find his place in ministry? What opportunities would you seek out for him to cultivate his gifts and gain ministry experience? What hopes would you have for him as a leader? Now, ask yourself the same questions for a woman. If the fact that she will never fill the pulpit means you cannot imagine a ministry trajectory for her, something is wrong. What ministry might she build and run? What place on your executive staff might she fill? What committee needs her leadership? What role in the Sunday gathering needs her voice and example? Where can her teaching gift be leveraged? What blind spot or planning dilemma can she speak into? What mission effort can she spearhead?”5
At the table.
Voices at the table. Make sure that there are voices from women at the table. Encourage them to be bold and dive into the conversations. Both men and women should advocate and intentionally pursue women to invite to the table, not just as an expression of inclusion but as a vital component of missional movement. Women provide wisdom and perspective that expands understanding to maximize our efforts. Women may have a fear of overstepping leadership bounds, taking over, or speaking up too much. It may be a huge faith step for most women to speak and share their thoughts. If women wait for the “magical moments”, then they will miss out on the daily routine of leadership rhythms and learning how to grow in wisdom, voice, and influence. Encourage women to walk in the Holy Spirit with their leadership voice. God designed for us to work together; the voice of women is crucial to the fundamental flourishing and growth of the church.
The table itself. Often women and men will naturally seat themselves at separate tables during meetings, meals, or holiday parties. One way to cultivate more synergy between men and women is to intentionally mix it up and sit together. This will include women in conversations about ministry and leadership that they would typically miss. In addition, communication and understanding are deepened with the intentional investment of time and fellowship. Another idea to create togetherness is to have one conversation at the table – everybody engages in one conversation together rather than several little conversations all around the same table.
Other Ideas to Cultivate Synergy:
- Commit to courageous conversations. Work hard at communication with one another. Facilitate open conversations about some of the challenges that your team faces as men and women work together and how you might overcome these challenges together.
- Cultivate and strengthen the aptitude to listen – and to hear one another.
- Actively pursue growth in emotional and relational intelligence; this is beneficial to both our personal and missional lives.
- Avoid coming from a posture of fear with guardrails; stand with a posture of wisdom. This is a healthier and more effective way to walk as sacred siblings.
- Discern if there is an underlying culture of “fear” with your team rather than a culture of family and sacred siblings that needs to be addressed. Fear stifles trust and innovation which affects our efforts and potential.
- Honor marriages and do what is excellent and praiseworthy towards spouses.
- Break up the band-of-brothers when needed. Bringing women into the team most definitely changes the dynamic. But are there places where this needs to happen for greater Kingdom purposes over the “closed-circle” of fraternal brotherhood? Or vice-versa with the sisterhood? There are definitely places for that dynamic, but examine where you might lay that aside for strategic purposes? Is there a place for you to give up the band-of-brother dynamic for a greater good – the thriving of a church movement?
- Men may not realize how much coaching, mentoring, and encouragement is naturally built into the culture for them. It is not difficult for men to find mentors or network with like-minded leaders. This is not the case for women in leadership, especially within the church. A woman may only find 1 or 2 other potential mentors or like-minded female leaders in their environment. How can your church or team fill that gap for your female leaders?
- Provide coaching for women as you would for men.
- Include examples of women in your leadership development experiences. If you are training your team, make sure to include examples of females in your stories, biblical examples, or historical references.
- Lean into the relational abilities and strengths of women. Many women have a higher aptitude and ability for communication and relational care. How can your team lean into these strengths?
1 Kruger, Melissa. “Women Are Not the Problem,” The Gospel Coalition, Feb 18, 2021. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/women-not-problem.
4 Wilkin, Jen. “More Pressing than Women Preachers,” The Gospel Coalition, May 19, 2015. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/more-pressing-than-women-preachers.
** Many of these ideas were provided by female leaders currently serving in ministry in a variety of roles within the parameters of the BFM 2000.