I am a woman, and am serious about seeing my sisters empowered to use their gifts in whatever capacity they can to serve the Church. I also deeply value the contribution of men. I’m married to a pretty great one. I’ve also learned from some very wise and gifted men in the churches I’ve served in, irrespective of their beliefs about the role of women in ministry. More importantly, I love Jesus, and His Bride, the Church.
I long to see the Church reflecting an accurate image of who God is by how we relate with one another as men and women. Given the sensitivity of the topic in our culture today, it can be a challenge navigating how to relate as men and women in healthy ways.
Consider these ten tips as a springboard for additional conversation in your own context about how your church can promote healthier relationships among men and women.
1. Language shapes culture. Gender stereotyping—both from up front and in informal conversations—only serves to reinforce inaccurate perceptions of men and women. All men are not ____; all women are not _____. So think twice about how you tell that illustration or crack that joke about the women’s retreat or men and housework.
2. Affirm women for their intellect and contribution, not their physical appearance. The pastor referencing his “smoking hot wife” from the pulpit may think he’s being affirming to women. In reality, he’s actually reducing her personhood and contribution in the church to that of eye candy and trophy wife. Just don’t do it.
3. Put competent women in leadership at the highest possible levels. Regardless of where that line is in your church—look for the gifted women of character and take a chance on them, even if it takes some convincing. Emphasis on the competent My rule of thumb: no woman is better than an incompetent woman. Your intention of promoting women in leadership will have the opposite effect if she’s just not very good.
4. Use common sense in establishing appropriate boundaries between men and women working together. This can’t be legislated, and it’s different for each unique context. Still, some basic good judgment goes a long way. Meet in offices or public spaces, not private rooms. Keep the conversation focused on the professional, not the deeply personal. And aren’t there other ways of showing care and respect for one another than by hugging each other?
5. Cultivate gifted female leaders in your midst. Sure, none of us wants to be put in a situation where we might be falsely accused. But as long as we are practicing basic common sense, we must not keep women on the periphery of the inner circle. Most women aren’t trying to seduce you; they’re simply trying to learn from you and learn how to serve Christ’s Church better. Don’t squander that gift out of fear. Find ways to mentor and develop female leaders while practicing common sense.
6. Women need for men to find their voice. Most men are afraid to say anything about this subject now. In truth, we need your voice, too. We need you to use your voice—your influence, networks, leadership roles, and other opportunities and to share them with women in your midst whom you trust. How can you give up some of the power you have to empower the women around you? That will require courage, humility, and selflessness, but isn’t that at the very essence of who we are called to be?
7. Matthew 18 is intended as a general principle; not the protocol for cases of abuse.
I love Matthew 18 and seek to practice it. It really is best to talk with someone you are in conflict with rather than about them. But not in cases of abuse or harassment. And especially not when a superior is involved. Leaders must be held accountable for their behavior. Seek an outside party to help.
8. Personal integrity is foundational. Bottom line: there is simply no substitute for character. When churches prioritize giftedness over character—both in the hiring and supervising process—they are vulnerable. For without a deep commitment to integrity by all, it doesn’t matter what other guidelines are in place. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us character surpasses charisma. It’s not that competence isn’t required; but let’s put the accent on the right part of that equation: competence + character.
9. Cultivate relationships with others who know you well and will speak truth to you.
The more revered you are in your congregation, the harder it is to surround yourself with people who know the real you. You start believing your own press. Spending time with people who know us well helps us stay rooted in reality. Carve out time to talk honestly with and pray with those people so they can ask the hard questions and hold you accountable. Without honest feedback from people who know us and love us, we’re all too easily deluded.
10. Freedom to be sinners, and freedom to become saints. We will never get this right, this side of heaven. That doesn’t mean we don’t try and it doesn’t mean we don’t help one another get better when we fail by speaking the truth in love. Maybe your brother or sister needs to understand why that comment is so hurtful, even if it wasn’t intended that way. But we must also be a community of grace, where forgiveness is extended. A place where we can let some things slide when we know real effort is being made to grow in healthy ways. For isn’t that exactly how our God has accepted us?
Amy Rowell currently serves as the Community Life Pastor at City Church in Minneapolis. She holds a B.A. from Taylor University in Christian Educational Ministries and Psychology and an MDiv from Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. She has served in a variety of roles in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty years.