Last month I attempted to wade through the potential controversy surrounding the idea of men pouring into their female staff. If you missed last month’s post, you can read it here. I left off by saying that part two would consist of the practical, real life side of things: how can we actually do this and do it well? I wholeheartedly believe that men can lead and develop their female staff well and all without a shred of moral compromise. And while we’re on the subject, the reverse is also true. As a woman in youth ministry, I’ve had to navigate the leading, developing and mentoring of my male staff and volunteers. To be completely honest, I haven’t found it to be that difficult.
1. Identify Your Fear & Set Reasonable Boundaries
In preparing for this piece, I had a great conversation with a man who is doing this really well. He is the high school pastor at my church. Over the years I’ve seen the way he treats his female students, staff, volunteers, and our paid staff team. This “challenge” of leading women seems to be a non-issue for him. I’ve noticed and admired the way he interacts with females. The bottom line is that he doesn’t make it weird. He doesn’t allow imagined scenarios and horror stories of those who have fallen to scare him off from doing his job well. It’s much like the way you would never stop using a computer to get your work done because you might be tempted to visit sketchy websites. You would simply put boundaries in place that allow you to continue to do your job well, without getting into trouble.
The first question I asked him was, “What would you say to a pastor who decides not to meet with females one-on-one”? He responded to this with his own question; “I guess I’d have to ask them, what exactly are they afraid of? That might help identify the problem.” When we refuse to meet with someone simply because of their gender, we are cultivating and perpetuating a culture of mistrust. In an attempt to protect ourselves, we create unnecessary tension as we avoid a problem that hasn’t arisen yet. So, start there. Find out exactly what you’re afraid of. Caution and fear are two different things. With caution, we proceed knowing potential pitfalls but use common sense as protection. But fear stops us, making us believe it’s just better to not even go there in the first place. Fear can come from a lot of places. Maybe you work in a church that has a culture of suspicion when it comes to men and women working together. Maybe you’ve heard too many stories of men losing everything because of an inappropriate work relationship. Perhaps the opposite gender just makes you uncomfortable, or maybe you mistakenly believe that Jesus is against this kind of thing.
2. Use Common Sense & Know What Integrity Is and Isn’t
He also told me that he has no problem meeting with his female interns, but he uses good old-fashioned common sense when doing so. He meets with them during office hours, in our conference room, which has lots of windows. If the conversation is confrontational or sensitive in nature, he can shut the door, but if not he leaves it open. He said that he views the females he leads as staff first, female second. He strives to use professionalism and common sense in every meeting and interaction. They are his staff, so he treats them as such. He doesn’t fear them; he doesn’t have to. He puts boundaries in place and uses common sense if something were to ever not seem right. He doesn’t know how he would be able to rightly do his job and not meet with his female staff. In his mind, that would be the moral compromise. A better solution would be to only hire men and to only have male volunteers. There is something disjointed and incomplete about hiring women but then keeping them at an arm’s length in the name of integrity. If integrity is never having a one-on-one conversation with a woman, then best not to have them on your team. He readily admits that there are a lot of things he does with his male staff that he won’t do with his female staff: work out at the gym, play video games until 2:00 a.m., ride alone together to an event, go out to lunch with or coffee one-on-one. He realizes that he doesn’t have to have a buddy-buddy relationship with them to do his job well.
Maybe the idea of all this is so foreign to you that you don’t even know where to start. The high school pastor I talked to admits that he has a lot of practice under his belt, and now meeting with women comes very easily and naturally to him. He and I share an office and talk all the time, and men are actually outnumbered by women on our paid staff. Having one-on-one conversations with women has become a way of life for him at our church, and it’s hard for him to imagine anything different. He attributes this to his ability to pour into his female staff and volunteers. Maybe you just need more practice in doing this because it’s never been modeled to you in a healthy way.
A great way to start is by doing evaluations with your staff and volunteers. I like to ask one of my volunteers to come 30 minutes before our program starts and sit down with them to talk about where they’re at in ministry. I ask them how their small group is going, if there are any specific challenges they’re having, how I can help, and how we can set some personal ministry goals for the next season. I don’t lump all my male volunteers and interns together. I give them their own time with me to talk. And in 13 years of youth ministry, I’ve never had one issue with anything inappropriate, not even close. I set the tone and boundaries for my relationships with my male staff from the get-go, and I’m responsible for keeping us on track. I can’t help but think they’d be slightly insulted if I told them they had to meet with my husband or our high school pastor because they were male. I’m the pastor, so they meet with me. I need to stay accessible to my entire staff and not marginalize them or my own leadership by operating out of fear.
4. Learn From Jesus
If integrity means that men should not have one-on-one conversations with women, then I guess Jesus didn’t get the memo. If it’s considered inappropriate to mentor and lead our female staff, then Jesus got it wrong. The way Jesus treated women and interacted with them is pretty mind-blowing. He went out of his way to minister to the woman at the well. He sought her out for a one-on-one and challenged her lifestyle and her spiritual life. And after his resurrection, Jesus waited until Simon Peter and John left the empty tomb to tell the other disciples what had happened, and He appeared to Mary Magdalene alone. She was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. He could have appeared to anyone, anywhere. He could have appeared with Simon Peter and John still there, but He didn’t. I don’t know why, but I do know that He and Mary had a very special relationship. He gave a one-on-one moment, and it wasn’t weird!
We are called to be leaders. Leaders don’t let fear limit them or others. Leaders set the tone, and leaders serve. I cannot find anywhere in the Bible where Jesus tells us to fear interactions with the opposite gender. He gives us boundaries and warnings but never prohibitions. He modeled how to do it well, and with practice and intentionality I’m confident that we can do it well too.
About The Author: Kristen Lascola
Kristen is the middle school pastor at North Coast Church in SoCal. She’s been married to the funniest man she knows since 2011 and together they eat all the sushi they can, watch “Arrested Development”, and chase after their 3 year old daughter. She has a concerning obsession with wiener dogs and goes to wiener dog events and conventions in her free time. Her passion in ministry is creating space for students to use their gifts, helping students make connections to God and each other, and developing and launching new leaders."