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by Hilary Tompkins
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Men and women: co-laborers in ministry
Without knowing it, you may be disrespecting people you serve alongside. How should we relate to other image-bearers and co-laborers in ministry?
Have you ever walked in to serve on a Sunday and had no one greet or acknowledge you? Have you ever sat through a two-hour meeting in which no one even makes eye contact with you?
It’s more common than you might think. Over the past six months, I have spoken with several women experiencing this very thing. These are women who serve on Sundays and throughout the week as church staff and as volunteers.
I had a similar experience this year as I was sitting in a meeting with a male guest and my boss. When my boss asked me for input, the guest didn’t look at me while I was speaking. Instead, he only looked at my boss and would direct questions to my boss for me to answer.
In that moment, I knew how it feels to be ignored. I immediately felt invisible, unloved, and rejected—and I didn’t like it. No person with a heartbeat, male or female, would have liked it.
Forgetting our freedom
Sometimes we forget the freedom we have in Christ as we relate to others within the church. Women may think that if we say hello or initiate conversation, we’re being too forward or that others will get the wrong idea. These are lies that we impose on others and ourselves.
I immediately felt invisible, unloved, and rejected.
Those in ministry must use discernment in relating to the opposite sex, but we need to remember that we are all pursuing the same goal: God’s glory. So before Sunday or you next staff meeting, remember these things:
1. We are all made in the image of God.
Both men and women are made in God’s image. We each reflect his beauty, glory, and uniqueness. In Genesis we read, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26–27).
2. Give grace.
We aren’t going to love each other perfectly—that’s impossible. So if you walk in for worship practice and none of the men greet or acknowledge you, don’t become angry or immediately throw a pity party. Give grace. In those moments, remember your identity: image-bearer and child of God. Because of the grace we have received in Christ, we are also able to turn and give grace to others: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16–17)
3. Love your neighbor.
Scripture is clear that we are called to love God and love others. Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31).
We need to remember that we are all pursuing the same goal: God’s glory.
Women, instead of responding out of fear, respond in grace and love for the church. If you’ve experienced any of these things, discuss it with those you feel rejected or unloved by. The men we labor with are our brothers and our friends, and they aren’t going to know unless we communicate it to them. Love them as your brothers by bringing light to this.
Men, be leaders who care, be mindful of the men and women you are leading, and lead well. If you are uncertain how to relate to the women or men you are serving with, talk to a pastor or your wife.
Many churches are very intentional about being welcoming to outsiders, but we often neglect to care for those serving faithfully. When we don’t acknowledge someone’s presence, we are failing to love them and see their value.
Think about those you serve with in ministry. Is there anyone you need to lovingly confront? Is there anyone you’ve been ignoring? How can you better give grace and reflect love toward your co-laborers?