If someone asks me what my favorite genre of Scripture is, my first response is generally the New Testament letters. There is something so authentic and challenging each time I read the tenderness of a greeting, a scolding of sin, the encouragement during persecution, and the names of believers who were associated with the early church. I’m especially fond of Paul’s letters, knowing how much he cared for the churches he planted and his boldness to see the gospel spread to the furthest known regions of the earth.
Inside many of his letters, Paul included the names of women—women who were instrumental in ministry, partners in the gospel, and essential for the work. If you take one quick glance at Romans 16:1-16, Paul lists twenty-nine names of cohorts in the gospel—ten of them being women. Obviously, women were important in ministry then and are important in ministry today.
I don’t know details of how Paul ministered alongside women, but I’m sure that even in the first century, there were obvious and not-so-obvious differences in the way women and men related in ministry. At times I’m sure there were challenges, and it’s a good reminder that both then and now genders should have mutual respect and admiration for what each brings to the table.
In my personal experience, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside many wonderful male ministry leaders. They have encouraged me in my calling, challenged me to be a better leader, cheered me to pursue theological education, and have coached me through difficult ministry circumstances. I know some women don’t share my story. Some have endured abuse. Some have not been allowed to have a voice. If that is you, I’m so sorry this is your experience. It doesn’t have to be and I believe there are many things we can learn from our differences as well as our mutual calling to fulfill the Great Commission. No matter where you find yourself today as you work alongside men in ministry, I want to encourage you with some practical and biblical ways we can work beside each other.
First, whether you are acknowledged for your contribution or not, women are advantageous to the Gospel. One look at the morning of the resurrection reveals Jesus entrusted women with the news the tomb was empty. In a culture that often devalued women, Jesus purposely first appeared to women! I don’t know about you, but I am very encouraged by this. Women are not just valuable—they are invaluable to the work of Christ.
Second, as a woman, you bring unique and necessary perspectives to ministry situations. Because God has designed women differently—not just physically, but emotionally, you have the ability to view things through the lens of your own experiences and gender. Scientists may argue about gender, but rarely do they disagree that women tend to have the ability to focus on multiple things at one time and are generally more expressive with their emotions. Women tend to have more friendships and like to process situations more verbally than most men. Of course, these can be generalizations, but these are tendencies many do not debate.
In light of these things, how can you do a better job of working with other men in ministry? Here are just a few tips that have served me well over many years. I may not have them all mastered, but we are all a work in progress as we seek to work together.
1. Be focused regarding your communication. If you want the ear of a male counterpart, try to focus on one issue at a time. Come to a meeting with clarity and outline your ideas on paper or write lists in bullet form. Have everything in writing so you stay on task and they can follow your list in sequential order. One other tip—if you want to address a problem, come prepared with possible solutions. I learned this early in a secular career when my boss firmly told me, “I don’t want to hear about complaints and problems unless you’ve thought about solutions.” I’ve never forgotten those words.
2. Keep emotions in check. I will admit there have been a few meetings where my eyes have been moist with tears or I felt anger building inside. When those emotions have gotten out of control, I have quickly lost respect from my leader and the conversation has ended quickly. Emotions aren’t bad, but if you want to gain the respect of men that you work with, use self-control and bite your tongue when appropriate. Use your words wisely and consider that once your words are said, they are difficult to reverse.
3. Respect the men you work alongside. If they are in authority over you, respect their final decisions. Respect their families and respect the ministry they’ve been entrusted with. You may have no idea what burdens they are carrying or information they may not be able to share. Many men who lead in ministry hear difficult and hard things each day. Many times they are confidential. Respect what you do not know.
4. Understand that your relationship will look differently than relationships they have with other men on staff. It’s easy to have hurt feelings when you aren’t invited to their weekly golf game or invited to their private book club. Don’t be afraid to express your desire to be part of the community they are building with staff, but understand they may have a need for male friendship in the same way you need female friendships. Encourage your ministry leader to include you when there is a conference to attend as a staff or to have a weekly lunch with others who serve together. There is value in casual conversations and it might be as simple as bringing the omission to their attention.
5. Finally, but not of least importance, treat one another as siblings in Christ. The New Testament speaks often of brothers and sisters working together. We should not see each other as rivals but as partners with the goal of knowing Christ and making Christ known. Be aware of the stories you share or the jokes you tell. Are they edifying or causing division? Are you sensitive to personal needs? Many women in ministry are not only carrying the load of ministry, but they are often the ones raising children, managing household responsibilities, and caring for others. Learn how to pray for one another and learn the value of being a sacred sibling.
Together, men and women can be true partners together in the gospel. Let’s pursue cooperation and encourage one another just as Paul said of Phoebe in Romans 16:2: “So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also” (CSB).
Kelly D. King is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide for Leading Women in the Local Church. You can hear Kelly at Lifeway’s You Lead events that are held in several cities around the country or listen to her co-host the Marked Podcast with Elizabeth Hyndman.