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Recovering the Blessed Alliance

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"It's awkward and uncomfortable - like a three-legged race. I'll have to learn to walk all over again."

I nearly fell out of my chair! Frank managed an uneasy smile. We were drinking coffee with a young friend who, in an unguarded moment, was talking with disturbing pessimism about his impending marriage. Neither Frank nor I thought of marriage as a three-legged race. For us it was more like a sprint. Astonishment turned to sadness over this young man's dismally low expectations of what a male/female relationship might promise.

Happily, not every prospective groom shares this gloomy perspective. However, his attitude points to a reality that not only characterizes a lot of Christian marriages, it spills over into working relationships between women and men in other venues. Even in Christian circles - even on ministry leadership teams - we joke uneasily about the "battle of the sexes" because, truth be told, even here relationships between the sexes can be as awkward and cumbersome as a three-legged race - or worse.

Whatever happened to the sure-footed alliance the Bible envisions?

In the days before Synergy, I was dumbfounded by the number of successful women in leadership who confided to me the difficulties they were experiencing in working relationships with men they respected on their ministry teams. More often than not, they were enjoying opportunities other women only dream about. And the men with whom they struggled were sometimes the very ones who had opened doors for them.

Still, something was wrong.

One woman discovered to her dismay that she was the only church staff member excluded from a private male-only staff meeting to develop strategies for the ministry, including her department. Another ministry leader found her female voice didn't carry the same weight as the men around the table. Her ideas were largely ignored unless a man repeated them.

And here is the real kicker. Difficulties were surfacing in both conservative and progressive contexts. Remarkably, it didn't seem to matter what the formal stance was on the role of women in ministry. Even the most progressive ministries still found themselves struggling to find the right balance for women and men to work effectively together. The real problem is not primarily about how far a woman can advance in a given organization, but is bound up in something deeper that is impacting everyone.

If, like the pessimistic groom, the best we can hope for is to adjust to the three-legged nature of our relationships, have we set our sights too low? Doesn't the Gospel take male/female relationships to a completely different level?

September16, 2008 at 12:42 PM

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