Can Men and Women Really Lead Together?
I frequently get asked, “What it’s like to be a woman leader?” Frankly I loathe the question. As if being a woman is like having a third eye or some other science fiction abnormality.
I am a leader who happens to be a woman. That’s all. My gender shouldn’t define my opportunities or my limitations. It shouldn’t dictate whether I’m a good leader or a bad one. It shouldn’t be the thing that holds me back from leading nor should it be an excuse for me to be given opportunities that I haven’t earned.
But for as much as I wish gender wasn’t an issue, it is – especially in ministry leadership. We get clumsy, fearful, and inhibited when we lead among the opposite sex. In fact many of our church cultures dictate that men should lead men and women should lead women. Nice clean tidy, controllable lines. But is that God’s best? Did he really intend for us to be segregated? Did he mean for our spiritual gifts to only impact half of the population? Are we limiting God’s work through us because of our fear of the gender he assigned us?
I really believe we can create environments where men and women can lead effectively together and in doing so accomplish great work for God’s glory. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it.
But how do we do it?
Here are three questions I believe we need to wrestle with if we hope to create a culture where genders can lead well together:
1) The Theological Question
I know. I know. Some of you were getting twitchy with the subject as soon as you read the title. There’s a legitimate theological conversation to be had about what the Bible has to say about gender roles. If you’ve never explored it, I encourage you to do so. Seeking to understand scripture for yourself in this area is incredibly important. Many of us have formed our views about women and leadership by osmosis. We’ve simply absorbed the beliefs of denominations, our leaders, our parents, and our mentors without asking the questions and studying the issue for ourselves.
2 Timothy 2:15 reminds us to study God’s word so that we can do the work he’s called us to with confidence. For those of us called to lead men and women in the church, it’s essential that we study the scripture and prayerfully consider how we’ll lead through the gender issue in ministry.
2) The Sexuality Question
Our over-sexed society has done us a disservice when it comes to understanding what it means to develop healthy relationships with the opposite sex. There is ideally one individual among the seven billion people in the world with whom you’ll have a sexual relationship. Do you think God really intended for you to avoid half of the population for fear of sexual attraction?
Your temptation is not another human being. Your temptation resides in your heart. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our heart is deceitful. We too must plead as the psalmist did, “search me, oh God, and know my heart.” Rather than avoid others for fear of sexual sin, we must search our hearts and seek God’s healing and restoration.
3) The Community & Unity Question
What does Biblical community look like and what is the purpose of unity in that equation? What message do we send to a watching world when they see men and women in the church segregated, divided and isolated? In their book, Mixed Ministry, Sue Edwards, Kelley Matthews and Henry J. Rogers share, “God did not create us male and female so we could tease or limit one another, but so that we could join together, two images of God combined to make a whole, and glorify him through our unity.”
I believe our goal as believers is to reflect a picture of beautiful biblical community. Psalm 133 says it this way, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
What would unity between men and women in your church or ministry look like? What clarity might asking these three questions bring to you and your team?
Time and time again, I have seen God do great work through teams who have been willing to engage the conversation rather than avoid the issue.
Men: I would plead with you to take the lead on this conversation with your teams and your churches. Your willingness to engage the conversation is a gift to the women who feel alienated as well as to the men who feel the tension and uncertainty within your culture.
Women: I encourage you to be patient and prayerful about the limitations you may feel. Be faithful to steward well the influence you’ve been given. Don’t allow bitterness or resentment to derail you from being faithful. For those of you who do have positions of influence and leadership, be intentional to pass it on and create opportunities for other women in your organization.
Can men and women really lead well together? I believe the answer is yes. When we’re willing to ask difficult questions, wrestle through our uncertainties and fears and seek a community of unity, I believe we create a culture where everyone – men and women – can thrive as they use their gifts for God’s greater purpose.