A friend of mine is a vicar who has just started a new job. Last month, she asked to meet with a local Baptist minister to find out more about his church and to talk about ways in which they could work together. He said that he couldn’t meet her on her own in principle, because she is a woman, and insisted that his wife was at the meeting as well. Were his actions wise? Overcautious? Insulting? Extreme? I think he needs to read a copy of this book, which challenges the church to tackle the issue of men and women in ministry, going beyond fear and suspicion to find constructive ways of working together.
The central premise is that we should treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, recognising that we are part of the same family. They say, ‘Healthy faith families, just like biological families, need both men’s and women’s ideas, gifts and perspectives in order to thrive. Single parents will testify that it’s tough being both mum and dad. But many ministries today are like single parent families’, arguing that it’s not healthy for either men or women to minister on their own. They quote John Ortberg who says, ‘I think too often churches avoid the topic or settle for an unbiblical ‘strategy of isolation’ where men deliberately separate themselves from women as a means of temptation avoidance. This leads to a loss of biblical community, lost opportunities for the development of leadership gifts and doesn’t even help in avoiding sin.’
The authors draw on their many years of experience as well as the views and practice of others to provide wise and practical advice. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter reflect their belief that it’s difficult to make universal rules and that each person needs to be honest about their own situation. I like their emphasis on the need for both men and women to be emotionally healthy and mature. The book covers gender stereotypes and the dangers of playing gender games, the reality of sexual attraction and how to deal with it, the way that Jesus related to women in his ministry, how leaders can create an ethos that values the contributions of both men and women, creating sensible boundaries that allow cooperation and the problem of pornography.
The book deliberately skirts the issue of the roles of men and women in the church and what each is allowed to do, arguing that whatever your view it doesn’t negate the command to treat each other as brother and sister. They say, ‘Theological matters are sometimes used as smoke screens to hide the real issues that lie within our hearts and mind.’ It’s clear, however, that they believe the primary place for women to serve in the church is in ministry to other women, not a view that I share. But there's enough encouragement for readers to apply what's being said to their own context for its message to apply whatever your theology on the roles of men and women.
Quotes throughout the book provide insight from others and examples of good practice. If you sense any unease in your colleagues about men and women working together, then I would highly recommend this book as an excellent starting point for a discussion that needs to happen.If you want a taster, you can find Mixed Ministry on Google Books.
Jenny Baker is a writer and co-founder of the Sophia Network.