Working Alongside Men
By Sarah Sumner, Ph.D.
How do you work alongside men in ministry?
Working with men means working with brothers in the Lord. Some of my brothers are welcoming and affirming, while others are more focused on establishing themselves, but God has used them all to shape my character.
Because these men are my brothers, there is a closeness that we share. In fact, several are among my best friends. About 12 years ago, I asked four different men to stand up in my wedding – on the bride’s side! Only one of those men is my biological brother; the others were my co-ministry friends.
Years ago, I was leading a group of all men. None of them had ever directly been led by a woman. At least one of them found it insulting to be required to submit to a woman. His resistance to my leadership was evident both in body language and speech. During meetings, he would stretch out his arms and legs instead of sitting up in his chair. He also looked away any time I was talking.
So how did I respond? I looked past his behavior. I acted like there wasn’t any problem. I didn’t confront him because he would have been defensive. On the contrary, I complemented him whenever I found the opportunity instead of trying to “convert” him into my follower.
A more positive story has to do with my colleagues in The School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University. Because we’re all invested in the work, there is tremendous overlap in our interests.
Though I’m usually the only woman, I have spent countless hours with male colleagues discussing procedural matters and talking about life in general. Every one of these men holds to a theology that says God calls women into ministry leadership. What’s interesting is that most of these men are also very active fathers. I believe their fatherhood is connected to their theology.
In Luke 1:17, the angel said to Zacharias that John the Baptist would go as a forerunner before the Messiah and “turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children” so as to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” When men’s hearts are turned toward children (even adult children), their hearts also turn toward women – because women are the mothers of those children – and that prepares the way for the Lord.
Of course, some men who are loving fathers believe that men are higher than women. Still, it’s interesting that when a loving father has a daughter gifted to do vocational ministry, his love for her compels him to rethink the idea of women’s participation in the church. It’s a statistical truth that when a Christian man has a positive relationship with a woman leader, his view of women in general goes up.