September 4, 2010

Complementarity and Team Partnerships (pt4)

This is now the 4th post in my series ‘Complementarity and Partnership’ (the first three can be found here, here and here). This series follows a sequence of proposals aimed at exploring how our theology of complementarity may be expressed in teams, with men and women in relationship together in servant ministry.

Here is proposal 3….
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Proposal 3: Partnership means recognising what needs to be different and what doesn’t.

One of the unfortunate by-products of the way the complementarian position has at times been perceived is the misperception that it’s merely concerned with ‘roles’ and ‘functions’. That at it’s core lies a chauvinistic obsession with prescribing lists of rules aimed at constraining and restricting what women can and can’t do in the church.

Though nothing could be further from the truth, I think it’s true that at times we may have unwittingly presented a flat, one dimensional, picture of complementarianism, potentially diminishing its practice into simple lists of ‘he’/she’, ‘can do’ ‘can’t do’.

The danger of being overly reductionist or simplistic in our thinking is that, not only does the complementarian position risk being misinterpreted and misunderstood, but we can lose something of the richness of its theology for male/female relationships and therefore lose something of its application and practise as well.

Part of what I’ve attempted to work through in this series of blogs is to begin to flesh out something of the broader textures and nuances of the male/female complementary relationship; particularly as it plays out in our understanding and practice of men and women, brothers and sisters, in ministry partnership together.

And partners we are, in God’s great scheme of things he has foreordained and designed men and women to be the perfect and appropriate complements in both life and ministry. By his wisdom we are complements and partners in 'sameness', and complements and partners in 'difference'

Complements in life and ministry:

Partners in sameness:

The scriptures make it clear that the goal and purpose of all ministry, whether conducted by men or by women will be exactly the same. As servants of the gospel we’re to preach Christ crucified with the aim of presenting both men and women mature in Christ, and to his glory (2Cor 4:1-5, Eph 4:11-15).

Likewise the methodological tools men and women may utilise to preach Christ and mature the saints will not be unique to gender. Men and women alike will evangelise, disciple, teach, train, pastor and mentor others in achievement of that goal.

Equally, men and women without distinction will face hardship, hostility and persecution for their Christian commitment (Jn 15:20, 2Tim 3:12). Together they will also share in the same call to suffer for the sake of the gospel and to embrace the same self-sacrificial commitment to fellow partners in the gospel (2Tim 1:8, Phil 2:10, Rom 16:4).

Though not desirable, like Euodia and Syntyche and Paul and Barnabas before them, both men and women may well also share similar moments of conflict, strain and tension with one another even as they labour alongside each other in the cause of the gospel (Phil 4:3, Acts 16:36-40).

Interestingly, in the instance of Euodia and Syntyche, Paul calls upon the men and women in the Philippian congregation to demonstrate both their common ‘partnership’ with him as loyal ‘yoke-fellows’, as well as their common partnership with one another in the gospel, by assisting their sisters to bring some resolution to their dispute (v3, cf 1:4)*.

As mentioned previously , as equal members of the body of Christ, the scriptures call both men and women to the same spiritual obligations and spiritual responsibilities towards one another.

To this end all believers, male and female, are instructed to…

* Pray for each other (Eph 6:18)
* Love one another (Jn 13:34)
* Confess their sins to each other (Jas 5:16)
* Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
* Forgive each other (Eph 4:32)
* Spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24)
* To not bite & devour one another (Gal 5:15)
* But to-encourage one another & build one another up in Christ (1Thess 5:11)
        …to name but a few.

Both men and women are also instructed to be teachers of God’s Word.
Interestingly, in line with all the other ‘one-another’ commands, Colossians instructs all believers, both men and women, to engage in “teaching and admonishing one another with all spiritual wisdom” (3:16). 

But we also know from passages such as Titus 2 and 1Tim 5:1-2 that part of spiritual wisdom will also be discerning the appropriateness of the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ we may go about teaching or admonishing in any given context.

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In this regard, women are explicitly given the mandate to take up responsibility for training younger women” in Titus 2:3-4. 

This passage is a clear reminder that the complementary equality of men and women will mean that there will be contexts where women should actually be taking more responsibility in their teaching and training, and likewise there will be contexts where men are called upon to do so (eg. Tit 2, 1Tim3).

And lastly the nature of our relationships together, as we partner on teams, will vary little between men and women, as reflected in this helpful comment by Bruce Hall in his recent #Briefing article:

I don’t think I have done anything essentially different for the women on my teams than I have done for the men…as with male members of the team, the Senior Minister must be in a discipling relationship with her-albeit with the care that men discipling women must always have”.

The importance and significance of this equal, shared partnership in God’s plans and purposes should never be overlooked, diminished, dismissed as irrelevant or treated with disdain. As men and women in Christ we share a common purpose, goal and fellowship in the task. In this respect, the celebration and affirmation of our common and equal partnership in life and ministry is as central to the teachings of complementarianism, as are the areas of difference.

Partners in difference:

The fact that we share so much together in common partnership does not mean there are no distinctions in the roles we’re given or the functions we perform, whether that’s in life or in ministry. In fact these differences are as much an affirmation of our complementary partnership as the things we share in common.

The scriptures teach that there’s to be an order and appropriateness not only in the functions we perform (for example congregational teaching and leadership) but also in the way we apply biblical truths, and the contexts in which we minister them (1Cor 11:3-16, 1Tim 2:8-15).

Interestingly, this is the case whether that order and appropriateness is between men and women, older and younger, parents and children, state and citizens, or masters and slaves (Gen 1-2, Eph 5:22-33, 1Pet 2:13-20, Col 3:18-24).

For example, we find Paul instructing Titus to vary the content, structure and manner in which he’s to exercise his teaching ministry in Titus 2, depending on whether that ministry is to slaves, older women, younger women, young men or older men. 

As Titus goes about the task of teaching ‘sound doctrine’ he’s instructed to do it in a way that takes into account the age, gender and differing life circumstance of each group he ministers to (v1-10).

Likewise in 1Tim 5:1 Paul calls upon Timothy to consider age and gender in the way he relates and ministers particular truths to those around him: “do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters…”

You’ll notice that this kind of recognition and respect for order and appropriateness in family relationships (and within the ‘spiritual family’ in particular) was a requirement already rooted in O.T law.

For example, the Israelites were instructed to-

“rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God…” (Lev 19:32, cf Eph 6:1).

We recognize that the paradigm of 'family' relationships we find in the scriptures is to be applied to our congregational life, to the household of God where there are to be appropriate differences in the way we relate and minister to each other (1Tim 3:1-15).

For men and women who may minister together in complementary partnership it will also mean recognising that our sameness does not negate our appropriate difference’, and our difference does not negate our equality’.

In other words, because men and women in God’s plans and purposes are given different roles in life and ministry, this does not nullify the complementary equality shared in Him, nor their common partnership in the gospel (Gen 1:26-28, 2:18-25, Col 3:10). Likewise because we share so much in life and ministry, does not mean that all differences are therefore now to be done away with.

The scriptures teach, that as men and women partner together in ministry the things they share in common should never be diminished, overlooked or under valued. Equally so, our God given differences should never be rejected, supplanted or set aside. 

Rather, the things we share in common and those that are different are to be understood and treasured as wonderful expressions of our complementarity as well as a celebration of it!

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* That is if we take ‘yoke-fellow’ here to mean the ‘church’ rather than a specific individual, in keeping with the ‘partnership’ theme in Phillipians. Either way, whether plural or singular, the thrust of the point remains the same.
# Bruce Hall-Some Reflections on Team Leadership’ The Briefing,  #381 (June 2010)

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H said...

Again a great blog. So refreshing to see 'complementarity' unpacked positively, rather than just being told 'what it means we can't do'.

J. said...

just wanted to let you know i've been reading your blog - dear sister thank you so much for your input and wisdom and the way in which you write. It's always a joy, encouragement and challenge to read!

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