Pursuing Partnership: 5 Needed Conversations

Together in Ministry: Women and Men in Flourishing Partnerships, IVP

An Interview with the author: Rob Dixon drrobdixon.com

By Rebecca Hopkins  www.rebeccahopkins.org

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Editor’s Note: The vision for men and women partnering together in ministry is an exciting, biblical one, but one that still needs conversation, training and intentionality in practice. That’s the main message of “Together in Ministry,” published in 2021. Author Rob Dixon now works with the InterVarsity Institute as a leader, trainer and coach for churches and ministries who want to learn more about this topic. This is part 1 of a six-part series of articles that lay out 5 crucial conversations that communities can have in pursuit of a ministry workplace marked by thriving partnerships between women and men – story, theology, culture, boundaries, and representation. I sat down with Rob to talk about his book.

The first time I was introduced to Women’s Development Track, it was at a Missio Nexus event. I distinctly remember your teaching there. It had an impact, so I’m excited to talk with you. Tell me a little bit more about how you started first caring about the issue of training in male-female partnerships.

During my ministry career, I’ve been blessed to partner in ministry with many women in various capacities, but it’s also true that no one has ever trained me on how to have flourishing ministry partnerships as women and men. At some point, I started to think that if we could equip women and men to partner well, God would use those partnerships to advance our mission in greater measure. So, I spent four years studying this topic in my doctoral program in order to create a model that we could use in training.

There are so many dynamics going on right now in the church and ministry, and in our society. This book speaks to what we have to lose by not fully engaging women. What would you say?

First and foremost, we are losing women out of our churches now. Women are the backbone of so many churches even if they don’t have the title and the agency that comes with the title. And losing women due to marginalization is really a tragedy for the church and for God’s mission.

A second one is that our witness as a church suffers when we don’t get this right. People from Gen Z are wired to be fundamentally inclusive. They want to be friends with everybody. When they come up against power structures and hierarchies that exclude, it’s a turn off for Gen Z. That’s a real concern for the church. Are we creating inclusive spaces? If we aren’t, our witness suffers.

Third, for men, it’s a loss when we’re not working together with women. Men carry so much as leaders in most churches, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think there is something to marvel at in watching women fully use those gifts. God created both women and men in the image of God. And so we want to bring that whole image of God to work to advance God’s mission.

What kind of suggestions are you making to organizations as you’re interacting with them these days?

For one thing, what’s your theology on women in leadership? What I’m finding is that people often have a theological position, but they haven’t really studied the biblical texts and their contexts. So, I encourage readers to roll up their sleeves and get in community under the leadership of the Spirit and really dig into the key passages.

Also, what’s your theology (or philosophy) of power? I like to recommend a power audit, one that asks “Who has power? Why do they have power the power they have? And then is how power is distributed in your church or organization the way you want it to be distributed? And if not, what can you do to reallocate power?”

And then I think organizations need to be on the lookout for what I call “adverse gender dynamics” in my book. These are subtle but potent dynamics that marginalize women in organizational life. Two colleagues have articulated 27 different examples of these dynamics, and an organization or church needs to develop a radar to see them. Because if they see them, they can then mitigate them.

If a woman in an organization or church ministry picks up your book, reads it and sees some huge gaps in practice, or maybe the theology is off, what does she do to bring these ideas to her organization?

I get that question a lot. Usually, it’s from an anguished woman who is in a room going, “I’m in a context that doesn’t allow me to fully use my ministry gifts. What do I do?”

I want to be careful not to prescribe a solution for everybody in every situation because it’s all contextual. But the first thing I would say to a woman in that situation is, “where’s your safe space to process your experience?” Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone you trust say, “you’re not crazy.”

From that point, though, there can be two pathways. One is for women to stay and prophetically call for change in the organization. The question for a woman in that situation is, “are you called to stay and be prophetic?” And if you are, as an ally my question then would be, “how can I support you? How can we keep you engaged and safe and healthy as you prophetically call for change?”

But sometimes trying to change the system feels like hitting your head against the wall. The other pathway is to say, “let’s find you a different place where you can go that will encourage you in your giftings and your callings.” And so in that case, as an ally my question is, “how can I support you as you try to find a new community where you can more fully use your gifts?”

Now that your book has been out in the world for a bit, is there anything you’ve learned since then, especially as you’re engaging people in the material?

I remember being terrified to send in the final draft to the publisher because I’m just so acutely aware that there’s much I don’t know yet. So the learning continues. One of the things I’m thinking about is that this stuff is worked out at a granular level. Like we need to be thinking about the day-in, day-out experience of women and men in our Christian workplaces and how can we improve those interactions.

Building flourishing ministry partnerships as women and men won’t be easy. If it were easy, we’d have figured it out by now. But what we have to gain is worththe effort. It’s going to take intentionality and courage to move forward, and so I’ll encourage readers in this way: be brave and purposeful!

Register now for the full MissioNexus ‘24’ Workshop on “Pursuing Partnership,” March 21-22, in Kansas City hosted at Avant Ministries.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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