An automated transcript of this conversation can be found below.
January 13, 11a (ET) 2022

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Larry Doornbos:

Today, Elaine May, who is with the Women's Leadership of the CRC is leading our conversation. So Elaine, I'm going to pass it off to you.

Elaine May:

Thanks Larry. Hey everyone. I'm really honored to be with you today and to introduce you to Rob Dixon. Just a little bit of about him before we get started, Rob's got his doctorate in intercultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, and he's an associate regional ministry director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He serves as a senior fellow for gender partnership within the InterVarsity Institute. And in addition to that, he's an adjunct professor at both Fresno Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. He also provides training and consultation on flourishing mixed gender partnerships for numerous organizations around the country.

Elaine May:

So in addition to authoring his recently published book, Together in Ministry, Rob partnered with the RCA in developing a Bible study entitled Building God's Church Together. Liz Testa from Women's Transformation and Leadership in the RCA is with us today. And she's going to introduce and invite you to join us on a learning journey using that resource, Building God's Church Together. You'll hear a little bit more about that later in the webinar.

Elaine May:

Now it's our mutual desire to provide you with resources to welcome the gifts of all people in the church. Now that's going to look different from ministry to ministry. Our contexts are different, but we share a calling and a commitment to participate in God's mission. Men and women flourishing in ministry partnerships is fundamentally about the mission of the church. And it's about leveraging our combined gifts and contributions for gospel witness and advancing God's kingdom together. So wherever you are on the journey, and hey, we are just thrilled you're here. We trust that you're going to contextualize what you're going to hear today so that brothers and sisters in Christ can serve together in healthy and meaningful ways.

Elaine May:

Rob's going to spend the first portion of the webinar presenting a model that he's created for mixed gender ministry partnerships. And as he does, like Larry said, drop your questions. We're going to have some time to have a conversation in the second half of the webinar. And with that, I'm going to pass it off to Rob. So Rob, thanks so much for joining us today. Really glad you're here sharing what you've learned.

Rob Dixon:

You bet. Elaine, thanks, Larry, thanks for having me. It's a joy to be with you all and thanks to you all for investing an hour in this topic. Really grateful to have the crew. I put a file in the chat and if you have access to that, that would be great. It would help you follow along and track with what's going to be a lot of information in a short amount of time. It has been a joy. Let me say one more thing. It has been a joy to get to know Reverend Liz and the RCA. And I'm so happy that's spilled over now to the CRC. And so I feel like I'm making the rounds. It's been fun to learn your acronyms, your culture, your vocabulary, all of that. So it's been wonderful to enter in and everybody's been so hospitable. So grateful for this opportunity today.

Rob Dixon:

I'm Zooming from Central California. In addition to everything Elaine said about what I do, the thing you should know about me is I'm a dad and a husband, my wife, Amy, and our four kids, we live here in Fresno, California. I don't know what your perceptions are of Californians. Maybe you think of surfing and the beach. That's not us here in Fresno. So we are in the Central Valley of California. We're the place where your fruits and vegetables come from. And I'm two and a half hours from a beach, although I do wear flip flops from time to time. So maybe that helps the California picture a bit.

Rob Dixon:

Our topic for this morning's webinar is near and dear to my heart. It's increasingly a passion, a burden that I carry and am eager to jump in. Over my 25 plus years in ministry with InterVarsity, I spent a lot of time working in a mixed gender. And that's the terminology I'll use, a mixed gender kind of space. So what I mean by that is women and men working alongside one another to advance God's mission. So in my experience, I've had women supervising me, I've had women that I've supervised, I've had women as peers, long term partnerships, short term partnerships, all of the above. That's been my lived experience. And over time, that started to become something that I was curious about, how can we help these partnerships be places of flourishing? And so that led me to study at Fuller, like Elaine said. And here we are today. And I'll say more about that as we go along.

Rob Dixon:

So I'm fully invested in the project of helping partnerships between women and men and God's church become all that God wants them to be in whatever context I find myself. As we enter into the webinar, I think it would be helpful for you all to have two things in mind. So I want to guide you to have a little bit of reflection before we jump into the model. Number one, where do women and men work together in your ministry context? So think about your ministry space, your church, your organization, workplace, where do women and men work alongside one another in your context? Where are they partnering in ministry?

Rob Dixon:

Depending on your community's theological position, like Elaine said, the particular context may look different. So for some of you, women and men may work together at the highest levels of leaderships. So on the executive leadership team or on the elder board. For others, and I think actually for every congregation represented on this call, women and men work together every day at the lay levels. So they work together on with worship teams or the hospitality teams, or they work together on Sunday school teaching teams. So be thinking about that, where in your context are women and men working together in your ministry? That's the first thing.

Rob Dixon:

The second thing that would be helpful to have in mind as we enter into the webinar is I'd encourage you to remember, to remember a mixed gender partnership, ministry partnership, that has been a gift to you. Maybe it's one that you were in years ago, maybe it's one you're in right now, but it's one where you're working with someone of the opposite gender. And it's just a blessing to you. It's life giving, it's a joy. Remember that, bring that to mind, recall that to mind. And I think it will be helpful to have that in your mind as we enter into the model.

Rob Dixon:

To get you somewhat at least active and engaged, let me encourage you, put in the chat, if you would, what about that particular partnership that I'm asking you to remember? What about that partnership was life giving? So what about it was joyful for you? What about it was a gift and is a gift to you as you think about it? So go ahead and put that in the chat if you'd like. So here's what's ahead. I'm going to attempt, mutual respect, that's great. I'm going to attempt to present four years worth of qualitative research in 20 minutes. Do you hear that? Four years worth of qualitative research in 20 minutes. Pastoral word to you, it's going to be a lot. Okay. It's going to be a lot.

Rob Dixon:

So to help you process, let me give you a couple of things. So one, handout. I think having that on your screen, if you're able to print it, that'd be fine too. But having that in front of you will be useful. These are great notes in the chat, by the way. So I think the handout will be useful for you. The other thing would be I'm going to use a PowerPoint at points to just highlight some of the things I'm talking about. And then let me give you a word of advice that comes from past webinars.

Rob Dixon:

So one of the things that's worked for groups in the past is when I run through my 10 attributes for what make partnerships flourish, people have given themselves a really quick letter grade. So I don't want to take you back to high school or something or college, but like an A, B, C, D, plus or minus is okay, but it's just a way to synthesize quickly where you or where your community is at on each of those attributes. And then you can go back later and try to understand what was going on for you with that grade. So that's just a tip. You feel free to use that or not, but that's one way that's been helpful in the past. Okay. That's my preamble, a little bit of backdrop and now we'll jump in.

Rob Dixon:

So as it says on the handout, there's a question at the very top on the top left, when I walked into my program at Fuller, I was wondering what attributes make up healthy or flourishing partnerships between women and men in the context of ministry with InterVarsity, my context? So I was looking to deconstruct, I'd had a bunch of really wonderful relationships, partnerships, but what about those things made them work? And if we could figure out the building blocks, then we can train on those building blocks and help people across the organization build flourishing partnerships. So that was my mindset and the question I brought into my research.

Rob Dixon:

Ultimately, I sat down with more than 60 different InterVarsity staff and asked them a litany of questions. I also did, if you're, I don't know if anyone on this call is a qualitative research person, but I did three methodologies. One would be semi-structured interviews. Another one would be focus groups. And then the third one, which maybe was the funnest was participant observation, where you sit in a room and you observe what's happening. And so I would go to meetings and watch the gender dynamics in play. So 60 different staff workers inform this. And ultimately, what came out of that is what's on your handout. So a Venn diagram, which Venn diagrams, their strength is that they capture the interconnectedness of various attributes and that's true in the model. And so that's what you have there in front of you.

Rob Dixon:

Now quick orientation to that, this is more this 10,000 foot view, and I'll get into the weeds. In the model, there's three domains with attributes included within those domains and the target, the sweet spot is right in the middle. With all Venn diagrams, you're looking for the overlap, right? And that sweet spot in the middle is the place where women and men are flourishing in ministry partnership. That word flourishing is a bit of a buzzword in a lot of circles and so let me describe what I mean when I say flourishing. For me, there are two axes of flourishing, and actually I'm going to screen share so you can see what I mean when I say that. Okay. Oh, can you see that? So I'm going to give me a thumbs up. Okay. Great.

Rob Dixon:

So this is what I mean when I say flourishing. So first of all, that partnership between women and men is personally satisfying. That's the first axis of flourishing. In other words, more often than not people go home at the end of a work day, happy to have worked together, right? It's a joyful experience, it's life giving, it's a partnership that is encouraging, mutually satisfying partnership. That's one axis of flourishing. The other one is it's missionally effective. In other words, the product is more effective, whatever the product is because of the working partnership. And I think in our context, that would be more people coming to know Jesus, more people joining our churches, more evangelism happening. All of the things that you long to see are catalyze and expand because of the partnerships. So those two axes of flourishing. And a two-by-two matrix like this helps us think about what's happening when stuff is there or not.

Rob Dixon:

So when personal satisfaction and missional effectiveness are low, I just put the word why in the box. Why would you want to be a part of a working partnership where it's not personally satisfying and nothing's happening because of it? When personal satisfaction is high and missional effectiveness is low, then your friends, not a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that we need more friendships between women and men in our ministry workplaces, but it's also not all it could be because the missional effective is low.

Rob Dixon:

If you go to the lower right box, when missional effectiveness is high and personal satisfaction is low, then your coworkers, again, not a bad thing, we would argue that women and men need to become better coworkers across the board, but it's not all it could be because there's not the high personal satisfaction. And so the place of flourishing is that upper right quadrant where there's high personal satisfaction, I'm glad we work together, and where there's high missional effectiveness, because we work together, the mission of God expands. So we're looking for those kinds of partnerships. When I say flourishing, what I mean is partnerships that are at once personally satisfying and missionally effective.

Rob Dixon:

So having articulated the research question and jumped in on my research, I generated 10 different attributes. There was a lot of sifting involved, a stack of interview transcripts, all of that. And at the end of the process, I emerged with 10 attributes of flourishing partnerships, and they found their way ultimately into this Venn diagram. And there's three circles on the Venn diagram as you can see as you look at your handout. And those would be the three domains of flourishing. So the first one is the inner life. The inner life domain represents who someone is or is becoming. And that makes sense, right? Who you are matters when it comes to how you engage with your environment. Many of writers have done that work. I think of Pete Scazzero or Ruth Haley Barton, who have done this work of how you are internally impacts how you will engage externally. And so who we are and who we are becoming will go a long way toward determining whether or not we're going to be a part of a partnership where there's flourishing. That makes sense.

Rob Dixon:

So inner life is the first domain. The second domain is the community culture. So the context in which a partnership is situated will go a long way toward determining whether or not that partnership will be able to flourish. If you have a community context that is thumbs up to men and women working together, it's going to be more likely to flourish. If you have one that's resistant, then it's going to be difficult. Again, that makes sense. And then third domain would be intentional practices. These are the things that people do in order to build flourishing partnerships. So it's those three domains and there's 10 attributes nested within those three domains. There won't be a test later on this, but I hope you're tracking with that overall frame of the model.

Rob Dixon:

One of the things I love about the Venn diagram is that it captures the interconnectedness of it all. And so if you take one of those domains away, then the model collapses. So for example, if you take the inner life domain away, you get lots of action but without the inner momentum or motivation behind it. Get a lot of action, but without the momentum behind it, and that goes only so far. I think without that inner drive to see partnerships flourish, you're going to run out of energy at some point, if you take the community culture circle away. In other words, if the community culture is not open to men and women working together in this way, then you get people with conviction and some skills, but it's like hitting your head against a wall. They're unable to express their convictions, they're unable to put their skills to work because the culture won't allow it.

Rob Dixon:

And then if you take the practices domain away, then you're in trouble because you have people that want to build partnerships, a community that's open to it, but no one knows what they're doing. And so then you've got a problem that way. So there's your 10,000 foot overview of the model. And I hope that's useful as we jump in. Again, I'm going to throw a ton at you. So hang with me, I'm going to walk through these 10 things. Like Larry said earlier, there's going to be questions at the end. You can put those in the chat if you'd like now, and I'll happily stay on and answer those when I'm done. But I'm going to cruise through each one, probably a couple of minutes for each thing. So not too long.

Rob Dixon:

10 attributes. So the first one is a consistent learner's posture, consistent learner's posture. This one came up really often in my qualitative research. And when you do research on the front end, you can guess, I wonder which attributes are going, oh, what's going to come up as I do this research? This one was not on my radar at all, but in hindsight, it should have been, because if you know how to walk in another person's shoes, if you know how to explore their world, if you know how to ask good questions and listen to answers and to enter into their world, then that makes sense that you're going to be more likely to find yourself in a flourishing partnership.

Rob Dixon:

I love how one person described this in the research. They said, the goal is the ability of both men and women to be able to describe the other person's reality. Did you hear that? The goal is to be able, for both men and women, to be able to describe each other's reality. And I love that picture because it sets a really high bar for this. If my inner world is motivated to understand another person's experience, I'm going to do the things that will allow me to fully understand the other person's reality.

Rob Dixon:

So there's barriers to walking in other people's shoes. We're too busy, I think, sometimes to do that effectively, maybe we're apprehensive of what we might discover. Maybe we're reluctant to reciprocate. I think if you walk in another person's shoes, you should be willing to let them walk in yours. I think that can be a bit of a barrier. But there's also benefits. Trust goes through the roof. I think there's greater empathy. A friend of mine said one time, I care about the things I know about. I think that's true. The more we understand someone's experience, the more we're going to care for them, the bigger our heart gets for that person. And then I think there's the benefit of walking in another person's shoes, learner's posture is an antidote to the scourge of loneliness, which I think too many ministry leaders feel.

Rob Dixon:

So a couple of thoughts, as you think about being adopting a learner's posture with the men or the women in your life. The first thing is I think you want to ask thoughtful questions. We want to become excellent question askers. And the first question you should ask is, is it okay if I ask you these questions? You should get permission, I think, to walk in another person's shoes, they're still their shoes. So you ask thoughtful questions and then you choose to listen, which I don't know about you all, but my mind is always going nine different places at once. And so the challenge for me and the invitation I think is to be fully present to the person I'm with. Can you be fully present with your ministry partner? I hope so. But that takes discipline I think.

Rob Dixon:

And then the third thing would be to reflect on what you hear, to really listen and reflect on what you hear. I have one of the staff that I lead, a woman we've been working together for two years or so, and she's been telling me what it's like to be in her world. And I've been so grateful for her openness and her candor. And I've listened and I choose to make space to reflect, like I go after we're done meeting and I sit and listen and pray based on what I heard. And not too long ago, I circled back around about two weeks later, maybe I came back, how is that going? Simple question on my end, but it was such a gift for her. Why? Because it communicated to her that she had been heard and seen and received. So that's the first attribute, a consistent learner's posture. We take on this learner's posture as we relate to our ministry partners.

Rob Dixon:

The second one, I'm going to keep rolling again, and it's killing me a little bit not to pause for questions, but we'll do that at the end. The second one is a theological conviction around gender equality, a shared theological conviction around gender equality. So three findings came out in the research around theology, and I don't need to tell you all, theology really matters, right? Theology done right is a lens through which we interpret and view our world. Theology matters. And three findings came out in my research. Number one, women and men, if they're going to be in a flourishing partnership, need to be on the same page theologically. That makes sense. It'd be hard to partner with someone that had a different perspective on women and leadership.

Rob Dixon:

The second thing that came out in the research was this idea that women and men need to embrace a theology for there to be flourishing, to embrace a theology that welcomes the full participation of women in leadership. At least in my context, often that theology gets a label and the label is egalitarian theology. That may not be common language, but it's this idea that women and men are on equal footing and all offices in the church or the organization are open to women.

Rob Dixon:

The third piece that came out in the theological attribute was this idea of conviction, that women and men need to carry this as a conviction, not just like a belief or like in intellectual sense. Yeah, that's a good idea. But this idea of conviction marries or couples belief with action. Conviction says, I believe it and I'm going to do something about it. I was interviewing one woman and she said to me at the end, "Look, I can only partner with a guy if I know he is down with the cause." That was her colloquial way of capturing that. What she means is I am looking for someone to work with that has a conviction about this. It's not just something they believe and move on.

Rob Dixon:

So let me say this about the theology piece. When I do these webinars and training, I like to encourage everyone to keep pressing in to the theological exploration on this topic. I have yet to meet someone that is fully, fully, fully formed theologically. People have convictions, but that are done wrestling with the theology. In fact, I actually think that theological fluency on women in leadership is pretty low. I think there's room in all of the congregations you represent and others in the CRC and the RCA to keep pressing into this. And one way to do that would be some of the stuff that Liz is going to talk about at the end of the webinar.

Rob Dixon:

So let me just encourage, create safe, well curated spaces for your people to wrestle with the theology. Let me show you a quick picture here. A few years ago, I was tired of people having a great experience working with the other gender, but not having the theology to support their experience. And so I created a week-long seminar Women in the Bible. And this is a picture of a group of college students, my colleague, Tina and I led them for a week. We explored all the passages. Was it easy? Nope, not every day, but it was a joy for them to really dig into the text. What did Paul mean in 1 Timothy 2? How does Galatians 3 fit with everything. We explored all of that and we talked about implications. So let me just encourage you as you think about your situation, your context, your scenario, what could it look like to create space, safe space, well curated space for people to explore theologically? So that's my second attribute.

Rob Dixon:

My third one is an awareness of gender brokenness, awareness of gender brokenness. So this idea came out in the research again and again, that women and men both have brokenness inside of us and we need to work that through. And when women and men are working on their gender brokenness, I'll define that in a second, they're more likely to be a part of flourishing partnerships. Another way to put it is self-awareness matters.

Rob Dixon:

And so as I interviewed men, they talked a lot about the things you would suspect, right? So issues of lust or issues of pornography or this idea of objectifying women. Women talked about the other side of that often, the idea that it's really hard and painful to be consistently objectified and what is that meant for them over time. Both genders talked about this idea of bias, that they have these built-in biases as they think about the opposite gender. And so trying to work through that stuff. That's what I mean when I say gender brokenness.

Rob Dixon:

And a question that came out, I don't know, this is a different webinar I was leading a few years ago where we said, how could get at that? How can we get at that underlying brokenness inside of us to explore it and to try to find healing? And the question that came out, I'll put it in the chat. A question that I got, a bit of an examine question. One second. Bad typing. So glad you can't see this.

Rob Dixon:

Here's the question that came out. How is my gendered identity flawed and in need of redemption and how is my view of the other gender flawed and in need of redemption? And when people can reflect on that question and answer it with honesty and then bring perhaps their answers to people in their networks that trust them and that they trust and can walk alongside them, they're on the way toward wholeness and healing, and therefore, they're on their way towards a greater partnership with some of the opposite genders. So that's become a little bit of an examine question if you're familiar with that concept, this idea of like reflection. And if I can answer that question with honesty and integrity, I think I'm on my way to understanding the areas of brokenness in my life around this.

Rob Dixon:

So those are the three attributes that live within the inner life domain, authentic learner's posture, a shared theological conviction around gender equality, and then this last one, this awareness of gender brokenness. Let me move to the second domain. So this is the idea of the community culture. So how is the community configured? And there's four attributes within the community culture domain that I want to talk about. The first one is a vision for freely shared power. What's your community's theology of power? Do you think about power? Do you talk about power? I think as I make the rounds, more often than not, and this may not be true of your organization, I hope it's not, our Christian churches and organizations have just received the view of power that's on offer in the world, how the secular world thinks about power, and haven't examined what's happening with regard to power in their own context and within the scriptures. And so I'll encourage you to think about exploring power through the lens of scriptures.

Rob Dixon:

One of the things that came out again and again in my study was this idea that men and women freely share power, that power is something to be shared, to be entrusted to others, things like mutual empowerment, mutual advocacy, I think some of the things that mutual encouragement, things that came up in the chat above, all of that fits in here. Very memorably, I was interviewing a woman at one point and she said to me, "It's like this." And she held her hands out. She said, "This is how I think about power, open handed, as opposed to how the world tends to think about power, which is more like this, a closed fist, this idea that when you have power, you keep it. And if you get more, you add it to your pile."

Rob Dixon:

One of the quotes that resonates for me in the research was a person was telling me a story. And he said, "The spirit of this idea is that I am in for you succeeding. I am in for you succeeding." And if you have that posture towards your ministry partner, that's going to go a long way. I am more interested in your success than I am even in my own.

Rob Dixon:

Let me tell you a quick story. So a friend of mine, we invited her to be on our leadership team. I invited her to be on my leadership team to be more specific. And she was a great fit on paper. It looked great. The job was perfect for her, we had a lot of trust and friendship, a lot of history together. It was going to be a great fit, but she had this internal reluctance and we explored that. I said, "Why? It feels right, why would you be so reluctant to join this team?" And she answered, "It's because of power." She had lived her whole life as a Latina woman on the margins outside of power. And she had experienced what it's like to be powerless.

Rob Dixon:

And so the idea of joining a team that held the majority of power in our context was really hard for her. So here's what she did. She spent, I think, six months or so, reading the gospels, looking only at how Jesus handles power. And it turned the whole thing around for her. It revolutionized her view of power. It allowed her to say, "Okay, I still have questions, I still have some fears, but I'm in to be a part of this team." And she went on to have a wonderful experience with us and then has gone on to blossom in her career with InterVarsity.

Rob Dixon:

So again, I'll come back to where I started, what's your theology of power? I think we need to be talking more about power and not less about power. Let me give you a couple of quick resources to help with that. The first one, I think my favorite book, at least. Yeah, my favorite book on this one is Andy Crouch called Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. I love that. The second one is this one, it's brand new, last year, Subversive Witness by Dominique Gilliard. This one will rattle your cage in a good way, I think, about power. So I recommend that vision for freely shared power.

Rob Dixon:

The next attribute within the community culture domain is that difference is valued for the sake of mission. Differences are valued for the sake of mission. I won't go too deep into this one, but I think this one raises the question, how are people wired in our context? I think often we look at men as being this and women as being this, but it's never quite that clean, right? And you know that from your experience, not all men are like X and not all women are like Y. And so the question I think this attribute raises is do we have a grid to understand how someone is uniquely wired, how God has uniquely wired each person? And I always like to say, use all the tools you have, use your Myers-Briggs tool, your StrengthFinders, I don't know if anyone does the Enneagram. Use all those tools, figure out who people are and how they're wired, and then figure out how to put them to work to advance God's mission.

Rob Dixon:

I was interviewing a staff, a woman, who I'd worked with for many years, she was leaving staff and I did her exit interview. And I asked her if she had any regrets about her time with InterVarsity. And she looked at me and she said, "I regret spending so long trying to lead like a man." That hurt to hear that. So if we can create a community culture where everyone is free to lead out of who God has made them uniquely to be, that would be a huge win. And that was one attribute that came out in the research. So differences for the sake of mission.

Rob Dixon:

A third attribute within the community culture domain is this value for friendship. So this idea that ministry partnerships are also friendships. And that goes back to my, the two axes of flourishing, right? But there's personal satisfaction. This one sometimes I get push back on because there's a lot of literature out there about the importance of work-life balance. And please hear me, I'm not saying we all need to be workaholics and have no lines between work and life. I do think we need that, but what came out in the research again and again was we're friends, we're not just colleagues, we're friends.

Rob Dixon:

So here's a great quote for you that captures this for me. Someone said to me, I care about what's happening in my ministry partner's full life. And he cares about what's happening in my full life. And it's that full, that word full that really is what stands out to me because it's not just what he produced last week when he gave that talk or that sermon, it's his full life, his life with God, his family, his hobbies, I care about what's happening in his full life and he cares about what's happening in my full life.

Rob Dixon:

One interviewee told me a story about how he had been recently asked to be a godfather to his ministry partner's child. And he was like, "This is the best. I'm so excited." He had all this vision for how to be with that child for the years to come. And that reflects this idea of friendship. So what does it look like in your culture and your context to really be friends? This is a place where I'll go back to the scriptures. In the New Testament, there is this idea that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. And I think we would do well to reclaim that language and to talk about what that means for us and to really press into that in terms of how we operate in our context. I could say a lot more about that, but let me keep going. So that's friendships.

Rob Dixon:

The last one within the community culture domain is this idea that communities have a radar for observing and seeing under the surface subtle but powerful, negative gender dynamics that marginalize women. So the reality is, and I think you'll know this when I say this, the reality is there are dynamics going on in our context every day, small things, subtle things, but potent things that push women to the margins. Maybe you've heard the term mansplaining being thrown around sometime. That would be an example of what I'm talking about. A colleague of mine has done some research and identified 27 different negative dynamics. And maybe I can find the link to that, put that in the chat, but they're out there.

Rob Dixon:

Let me give you a couple of examples from the research that capture how people have mitigated these dynamics, because that's the key. If you have a radar to see them, then you can work to mitigate them. So I went to a staff meeting one point and I sat and I watched the training and there was a mom that brought her baby for the very first time to the meeting. And she had told me beforehand how anxious she was about this, would the baby cry? Would she be able to engage? Over the course of the eight hours this team was together, I watched every single staff in the room take turns holding that baby. Now I know when the baby started to cry or fuss or certainly when there was a diaper, the baby went back to mom quickly. But you get my point. What that communicated to this woman was, we're glad you're here. You're welcome here. Not only that, we're glad your child's here, your baby's here.

Rob Dixon:

One other quick story. A person told me about in Urbana Missions Conference. Maybe you've heard of that. InterVarsity runs these Urbana Missions Conference that we have for years. And at the end of a particularly successful conference, InterVarsity decided to get a present, a gift for every staff in our organization. Do you know what they bought? Neckties. There's a woman on this team and I'm interviewing her, this is probably 40 years later, and she tells me the story where her supervisor got a box of neckties from our national office and was like, "Okay, most of the people on this team are going to be okay with this, but I have this woman on my team, what am I going to do?" She tells me that he went to every department store in his town looking for a scarf that approximated the pattern and the color of the ties. And he found one. And so when they went around, he passed out the ties, great job with the conference, and he gave this scarf to this woman and she looks at me 40 years later and she says, "I still have that scarf."

Rob Dixon:

So when we can look ahead and see the negative dynamics coming, then we can do something about it, we can mitigate them. And that's this fourth attribute within the community culture domain. Okay. Last domain. So hang with me. This is the intentional practices one. There's three attributes here. The first one is communication. So I referenced earlier, when you start research, you ask yourself, what do I think is going to be in the final product? This would be one I would've guessed. This is probably as close to being a deal-breaker as any in my model. If you can't communicate well abundantly, then you're going to have a tough time building a partnership across the gender line. And so people talked about quantity of communication and quality of community. So quantity was we're talking from the very beginning to the very end of our partnership. And we do frequent debrief. Quality is we deal with conflict, we deal with things that are awkward, we talk about topics that are challenging, often considered taboo.

Rob Dixon:

Here's something I've realized in working with 20 something leaders. I used to assume that when they came into our ministry, folks knew how to communicate. I think that's a bad assumption anymore. Today, people communicate using this, right? And so we need to teach our people how to do the basic building blocks of communication, how to have eye contact, how to paraphrase for understanding, how to ask a good question and listen well to the answer, non-verbal engagement in terms of communication. I think we need to be more proactive about teaching our people how to do that. And if we do that, I think there's more likely that women and men will be able to partner well together.

Rob Dixon:

And I think one other thing on this communication, we have to push through the awkwardness. I think women and men, we haven't trained people how to communicate well. And usually starts early on in churches. And so you have to push through the awkwardness. The good news is as we learn how to communicate as women and men, I think it will get easier over time, we will normalize this idea of communicating. Okay. So that's one domain within the intentional practices.

Rob Dixon:

Another skill is this idea of boundaries. So I don't have time to do a whole unpacking of the Billy Graham rule. We can talk about that if you'd like in Q&A, but the Billy Graham rule basically has governed how men and women operate in the church. Billy Graham had a rule that he would never be alone with a woman that wasn't his wife. And that's basically how we've operated.

Rob Dixon:

There are some unintended negative consequences to the Billy Graham rule. And that's what came out in the research. It deprives women of agency, it relies on this narrative that men and women can't control themselves. There's a few other negative consequences. And so folks said, in light of how damaging a strict adherence to the Billy Graham rule can be, is there another workaround? And what they came up with in the research was contextualized boundaries. So what works for each one of us in our unique partnership given who we are, and this is where it's going to be to challenging, have a conversation about that, push through the awkwardness to have a conversation about boundaries, and then live those boundaries out with accountability. That's the remedy to work into this. So boundaries themselves aren't bad. The question is, can we have boundaries that are tailored or contextualized for each ministry partnership? You may have questions about this and you want to ask me, so do that when we get to Q&A.

Rob Dixon:

The last one within intentional practices is public affirmation and modeling. Time and again in the research, people said to me, when there's a public dimension to this, it's more likely to happen, which I think makes sense if you've been in ministry, you know that when things are public, it gives permission for people. So for example, two people I met with told me stories about two or three other partnerships above them on the org chart that they could point to. People are doing this partnership work. And I can see that and I can learn from that. And it gives me permission to try it out at my level, or people talked about the importance of this sort of public declaration, this is how we operate, men and women work together. In our context, people talk about sermon series or other venues where pastors were talking about this value.

Rob Dixon:

I'll close with a quick story on this one. One interviewee told me a story about how he was co-preaching with a woman. And when he was done with his, they went back and forth, when he was done with his section, he told me he stood to the side, turned and faced the woman. And I found that intriguing because when I've co-taught with women, or with anyone actually, when it's not my turn to speak, I'm hastily I'm going through my notes, I'm trying to remember what I want to say next. Do you feel me on that? So his choice to sit and listen was intriguing to me. And what he told me was that choice reflects my commitment to sit under the leadership authority of a woman. I want to model for the community what that looks like to listen and to listen well. And I thought that was just a beautiful picture of the power of public affirmation and modeling.

Rob Dixon:

Last thing I'll say and then I'll do questions. People ask me sometimes, are there any themes that run through all 10 attributes in the model? And I think for me, the two themes that do that, one is intentionality. None of this stuff will happen by accident. If it was going to happen, it would've already happened by accident. None of it does. But intentionality is one, takes intentionality to do all of the above. And then courage is the second one. The reality is we're going to need courage to communicate across lines, we're going to need courage to step into another person's world, things like that. So intentional, courage. Okay. Elaine, I know I went over, my apologies.

Elaine May:

Yeah. You're good.

Rob Dixon:

Go ahead with questions, folks.

Elaine May:

So good. Thank you, Rob. I want to press into the fear factor and I love what you said about creating safe space and the intentionality, but how do you respond to a male colleague who says it just isn't worth putting myself at risk for being falsely accused of sexual misconduct? Or this isn't just men, right? So women who are also afraid of mixed gender ministry partnerships because they've experienced harm in the past.

Rob Dixon:

Great questions. I'd say both fears are legitimate. So I'll start there. I think I've heard those stories from both men and women as I've made the rounds. I also will say, the other thing I'll say in common is Jesus has something to say about fear. He contrasts fear with faith. So I don't say this lightly, but I think I would encourage people to push through those fears and to step into hopefully a new reality.

Rob Dixon:

So for men in particular, Elaine, I think the good news is false accusations are rare, statistically rare. And so part of the thinking on that then is when we get an accusation, we should treat it seriously. But the reality is false accusations are rare. My encouragement to men is to, all this public affirmation and modeling piece at the end, do it visibly. So I'm working with women in my context, here's why, here's how you all can participate in that. Let's create a culture that affirms this model and talk about it a lot.

Rob Dixon:

One of the things that I say often in my book is I think silence hasn't served us around this. We have an inclination, I think, towards silence around some of these topics, but that hasn't served us. I think our perception is if we talk about it, it's going to make things worse. In most cases, I think it's actually made it... Sorry. Yeah, it's gone the other way. So not talking about it has made it [inaudible 00:44:52]. And the reality is, and I work with college students and I know this, if churches are not talking about these things, people will go somewhere that is talking about these things. And so one encouragement I'll have for everybody, especially the guys, create space to talk about this stuff. I think you'll see benefits there.

Rob Dixon:

So I think that's one thing for men is to. For women, Elaine, my word would be, I'm so sorry for whatever experiences cause you to be slow to enter into this. And my pastoral word would be take your time. There's no, I'm not presenting this thinking, everybody needs to jump into a full partnership tomorrow. If there's a healing and recovery journey that people need to take, then do that and find help along that.

Elaine May:

I appreciate how you talked about the difference between conviction and belief. What's one thing that participants on the webinar can do to move closer to action in this area? So be intentional talking about it, where do I start?

Rob Dixon:

Yeah, sure. Well, one thing in their own lives people can do, Elaine, is do something about it. So if you're working with a woman, if you're a man working with a woman in your context or vice versa, ask a question to get into their world, right? Just try, just a little step into the water. And I think as you do that, you'll find this isn't so bad. So for example, I have a colleague who wanted to walk in and shoot and he was like, "I don't know how to do that." And so we brainstormed questions and he was like, "Okay, I've got five questions I can take into my next appointment." That felt really kind of like, well, this feels odd to script questions ahead of time, but it was a gift to him. And he walked into that and it started a ball rolling. And their partnership is so much more healthy and flourishing now because he took a baby step. So on any of these 10 things, I think there's a baby step you can take. And that'd be my encouragement to folks, try it out.

Elaine May:

Okay. So I, when I got your book and read it and we have IVP is going to offer 40% off if you order the book and Daniel's going to put into the chat the link that you can go to to order the book and the coupon code you need. And guess what? Anything you put in your cart is 40% off if you use the coupon code.

Rob Dixon:

All the books. Yep.

Elaine May:

Yep. All the books. But when I read your book, I was looking for that chapter on boundaries, like, what's he going to say about the Billy Graham rule? What's he going to say about Harry Met Sally and men and women can't just be friends, that whole belief? But you don't talk about it until chapter nine. And I found that very interesting. And I'm curious, why did it end up there in the flow of the book?

Rob Dixon:

Yeah, I see the attributes as largely interconnected and versatile. So it could have been chapter one, Elaine, but it ended where it did. And I think that it's good that it's there because oftentimes this conversation starts and ends with the Billy Graham rule conversation or with the topic of boundaries. Boundaries are important, but so is self-awareness. And actually I see those two things going hand in hand. So if we're going to talk about boundaries, and we should, I don't think that should be everything we talk about. We should be talking about how are people growing and developing and becoming more whole as they relate to the opposite gender and that those two conversations are linked for me actually. And so when I say to a guy, let's talk about boundaries, I first want to say, let's talk about brokenness and how those two things relate to each other. So that's where the interconnection comes in for me with the model. Yeah.

Elaine May:

Yeah. Yeah. So good. I really appreciate you also talking about power. We have a mental model that power is limited to position, right? And when we have that mental model, then it's something that we have to hold or it's not shareable because there are limited positions of authority in the church. So can you say a little bit more about your belief on how each individual has power and agency?

Rob Dixon:

Yeah. Well, certainly that's true that every everybody's got power and agency, that's part of what it means to be created in the image of God. And I think, again, this is where discipleship comes in for me as you think about your churches, are you discipling people to understand that and to know how to express that? So power is, I think, an untalked about resource in our community. So doing more of that would be great.

Rob Dixon:

Again, I would love to see if I had my magic wand and can change how the church operates, it would be who are you? So who's Elaine? How has God designed Elaine? How has God wired Elaine? What's her Myers-Briggs? What's her Enneagram? What's her spiritual gifts? And then asking and discerning the question in community with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how can we put Elaine to work to best maximize her kingdom impact? That's the vision I would have, and it's less tied to position and it's more tied to who you are and how you're wired and how you're gifted and how you're called. And so I think that, again, magic wand, that's my dream. No one's going to [inaudible 00:50:25] magic wand. That's fine.

Elaine May:

I appreciate that too, because then that's where you see the direct effect on mission and missional impact through the church, like let's just release the gifts that God has given and mobilize the army that's sitting in the pews. So that seems like a really good place to bring this conversation to a temporary close anyway. I want to just share with you a couple things that we've got going on. So IVP, 40% off anything you order, but particularly get that working Together in Ministry book in the cart. In the book, Rob details, there's a whole chapter on each of the 10 components. So highly recommended.

Elaine May:

Also, Women's Leadership is hosting the 25th anniversary of women using their gifts in the church without barrier. And at Inspire, which is a conference that we host in Chicago this year, we're bringing Rob in as well as Ruth Haley Barton. So Ruth Haley Barton's going to, she wrote the introduction in the book. It's so much fun to get you guys together. She's coming the Wednesday evening. We're going to have a banquet of celebration and remembering. And then on Thursday morning, we have a half day workshop with Rob and we're going to give him a lot more time to unpack all that he's learned and strategize for the future, what does it look to be intentional and to live out of a place of conviction? So we're excited about that. And then I'm going to throw it over to Liz Testa, my counterpart, and just say, hey Liz, tell us about and invite folks to join us on this Lenten journey that we've got planned.

Liz Testa:

Yes. Thank you so much, Elaine and Rob, my dear brother, friend. It's so wonderful to hear you sharing and expounding and just to watch all the little different folks on the screens taking notes and listening because friends just know that in the Reformed Church in America through my office, Women's Transformation and Leadership, also now Equity-Based Hospitality, we've been really intentionally thinking about this notion of men and women working together since 2016 into 2017.

Liz Testa:

And it was in July, 2017 at a Christians for Biblical Equality Conference in Orlando, Florida, where I first laid eyes on Dr., the newly minted, Dr. Rob Dixon. And that Venn diagram I knew was our ticket to ride to be able to create a godly gracious structure, which we call Building God's Church Together, which would be able to help all of our churches no matter what the context, no matter how they view women and men in leadership, to be able to come together and create healthy ministry environments where gifts can flourish. And just as one of my guiding coalition gentlemen members says, "Why would we want to do mission in the world with one arm tied behind our back?" We want everybody freed up to be able to share their gifts and live into their calling and also for men and women to be in right relationship as part of that flourishing.

Liz Testa:

So to that end, we have been creating, which Rob is very much part of, he's the co-author along with Reverend April Fiet of this study. And we've had many voices feeding into this online course that we've created called Building God's Church Together. And then we now are adding in, that's asynchronous. So it's a self-guided course in seven sessions. And then we have this wonderful opportunity now as a next step from this webinar today. And for those who feel so called from other areas of our churches, of our denominations and be beyond, to come together in Lent and do this six session synchronous, which means it's live together interactive, virtual study together, it's a Lenten journey. So we warmly invite you to participate.

Liz Testa:

I know we've got the link for you to go ahead and check it out. It's the opportunity to just enrich your learning of the self-guided course and know that what Rob has talked about today is embedded into that learning. And we're also hoping that he will come and be with us live to talk more about all of this as we're going through it. So we hope that you'll join us. There was a discount code there. I'm sure Daniel will drop this into the chat so you can see it as well. But there is a discount for attending this course, it's $20 for the course, we're offering a $5 discount. So use that discount code to get enrolled in the course for only $15. You then have access to all of the course material.

Liz Testa:

And as a free component, we're offering this six weeks for this virtual Lenten study group that we'll be doing together. Elaine and I will be leading that together and we'll have guest practitioners come and lots of opportunity for you to just dive deep into this content and really grapple with what does it mean for yourselves as leaders and also how to create ripple effects to bring it back to your context. We know this is not easy. We've done lots of workshops and retreats already with different congregations and regions. So we hope to bring those practices to you to help you as you're figuring out how to bring this back to your local context. So we look forward to hopefully seeing you in Lent. And thanks so much Elaine for the invitation to be here today. And of course, to Larry and Vibrant Congregations. So excited to partner together. And Rob will see you soon. God bless you.

Elaine May:

Yeah, Liz and I are really excited about taking this journey together. And come on, you get to hang out with Liz and I, it's going to be great. Hey, we're going to wrap it up today for our church now conversation. Want to make you aware, next month, Todd Billings is coming. He's written a new book called The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Sets Us Free to Truly Live. It's going to be another really great conversation. We hope you'll come back next month and join us for that. You'll find information on the Vibrant Congregations website. Thanks everyone. Bless you.