I gather on a monthly basis with all the managers in the division that I lead for a time of training. A few months ago I asked Faith Whatley, our director of adult ministry, to train and offer insights on men and women serving alongside one another. Faith has been serving at LifeWay for 20+ years and is well respected as a godly woman and an extremely effective leader.
I heard Faith give a similar talk when both she and I were speaking at a group/discipleship gathering. After she shared, there were lots of questions from those in attendance, so much so that an impromptu panel discussion emerged. So I thought it would be helpful to interview Faith. Here are six questions with Faith Whatley:
You challenged our team to view themselves as “sacred siblings.” Why should men and women who serve alongside one another in ministry view themselves that way?
Jen Wilkin described this type of relationship well in her blog post on February 12th, 2015. After working with many men for many years at LifeWay, I know how being brothers and sisters in Christ is modeled. I have many sacred siblings in Christ at LifeWay, these are men I have cried, laughed, and disagreed with over many years. I think we should act and react as if our co-workers of the opposite gender are our sacred siblings and treat them like the family of faith that God intended.
What are common mistakes you see men making when serving alongside women?
Not honoring women for who they are and how God wired them. For some men it is just simply their understanding of women. I think for men to realize what really frustrates women will help them navigate their working relationships.
- Women don’t respond well to extreme joking. The way men joke with other men should not be the way they joke with women. Women like to laugh and have fun but not at the expense of being embarrassed or inappropriate.
- Women do not respond well to men talking down to them, acting like they are children or helpless.
- Men like women to get the point in workplace discussions, but sometimes women need to ask questions to fully understand decisions. When men are patient in answering these questions, the woman can get on board quicker.
- Women really like to be acknowledged for their accomplishments. They are not seeking public praise or affirmation; they just like to know the men noticed they did a good job, are capable of the role, and took the time to appreciate them.
- When men address inappropriate attire with women. I am of the opinion that women should police women. If you have a female on your team who is dressing inappropriately, it really is best for you as the male leader to find another female that you trust and ask her to talk with the person.
What are common mistakes you see women making when serving alongside men?
It’s so similar to the previous question; when women do not respect and honor men for how God wired them, it can paralyze progress in the work. Women must understand how God wired men and what can be frustrating to them as well.
- Women need to understand that men really like for you to get the point, so give them the answer up front, not all the facts that got you to the answer. If they need to know more they will probe with questions. They really don’t like long wordy answers when they just want to know the end result.
- Women need to refrain from overreacting and this may mean practicing your game face. I remember having to practice this with my teenagers hundreds of times. When I overreacted, the reaction became a stumbling block for resolution. Practice being calm with your family and it will become natural with the men in the workplace. It is important for all leaders to be calm, no matter the gender.
- Men really do not respond well when women can’t “let it go.” There is a lot of wisdom in the song that every preschooler is singing these days. When women continue to bring things up that have already been decided or something they didn’t necessarily agree with, it could lead to men disregarding their concerns in the future.
What should I, as a man, do as I serve alongside women in ministry?
As a man, you should respect the women who you work alongside and…
- Value her intuition. It could save you from making mistakes along the way. I am not suggesting you should take her lead on the decision, but her view will allow you to be more informed as you make the decision.
- Always ask female leaders what they think about a certain discussion or decision. Many women, until they completely trust the room (especially with many men around the table) may not give their opinions. If you sense a female leader is being too quiet, stop and ask her view on the topic at hand. I am sure she will have something to say that will add value.
- Respect the fact that if she is married or has children, that she is trying to balance many things other than work. Women tend to be the ones who keep families connected and plan family gatherings, vacations, and milestone events. Single women do this as well with their extended families.
What should you, Faith, as a woman, do as you serve alongside men in ministry?
As a woman, I should always respect the men I work alongside and…
- Value their view and their leadership. I have worked alongside hundreds of men in my 20+ years at LifeWay and I have learned something significant from each and every one of them. I look to them for leadership even if I have worked for them, served alongside them, or have supervised them.
- Prevent discussions that corner or embarrass a male. There are three magic words that one of my female mentors shared with me that have been invaluable, “help me understand.” As I have worked with men, if I don’t agree with the decision (this will happen if you are in leadership) or their view, I will simply ask them to help me understand. It really does reduce the risk of the conversation becoming confrontational. Plus I may not have all the facts in how the decision was made and this could help me see the bigger picture.
- Address sensitive issues in private especially with male leaders.
We spend a lot of time with folks we work/serve alongside. How should one honor his/her spouse while working alongside others?
This may be one of the most important questions.
- It is so important to make sure your spouse has met or has a relationship with any team member of the opposite gender, especially if you work closely together. I am not suggesting you become best friends at all, but it makes for healthy working relationships when you mention a person you work with and your spouse knows them.
- Follow and honor any policies set for your church or ministry organization that protects you as men and women. At LifeWay, the most common one is, no man and woman can go to lunch together or travel together alone. This has been an important policy and one that initially, when I was younger, felt old-fashioned, but it has been God’s protection in many ways.
- I also think if you lead men or women, it is important to recognize their spouse’s support. Many spouses really do sacrifice for their spouse to serve in a role. Write them a note to thank them, send them a small gift or a gift card to thank them and let them know they are as much a part of the ministry as their spouse who works on your team.
- Be careful when texting team members of the opposite gender. It is important to finish sentences like “call me” or “are you here yet?” so that nothing is questionable if their spouse saw the text. So it’s wise to spend a little more time on the text “call me, I need to talk to you about the X” or “if you are here, I need to talk to you about X,” just finish the sentence so nothing could be misinterpreted.
- When you pray for your team members, remember their spouses and families in prayer.