Should Men Mentor Women Even After #MeToo?

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Unintended Consequences of the #MeToo Movement

Recently a friend told me something that concerned me. He said since the #metoo campaign, which has gained incredible traction over the last months, some men have become wary of mentoring women. Their concern is not that they will get caught doing the wrong thing, but fear over whether false accusations or misinterpretations will occur, leaving them with damaged reputations.

I can understand this concern, to some extent. The #metoo movement has been an incredible force that has swept over the world and given opportunity for women to voice their grievances about men who have treated them unfairly, and even abused them. This has impacted our social, political, and economic spheres. The outcome of this movement is still being decided and yet to be fully seen.

The impact has been good in that it has given voice to many suffering women, hopefully bringing about opportunity for change.

An unintended consequence, however, is that some men are feeling tentative in their interaction with women. They are concerned about being misrepresented—despite the fact that they might not have done anything wrong. As a result, some men may feel overly cautious, even hesitant in these times, about connecting with women. But putting up unnecessary barriers towards working with and relating to women will simply put women at a disadvantage once again.

This is no reason to abandon the #metoo movement. What the #metoo movement has done so well is spotlight the unhealthy and damaging ways that men have interacted with women.

But when men avoid relationships with women altogether, for fear of what others may misconstrue, this also undercuts God’s design for gender-related reconciliation and mutuality in leadership. More than ever, men and women need to be working together—in work, in social spaces, and in the Church—in order to contribute to the growth of God’s reign.

When men avoid relationships with women altogether, for fear of what others may misconstrue, this undercuts God’s design for gender-related reconciliation and mutuality in leadership. Click To Tweet

Particularly when it comes to the Church, if we want to empower women for ministry, this will require men who are willing to mentor, come alongside of, and befriend women. So in this article, I’d like to focus on ways men can mentor women. Let’s acknowledge that it can indeed feel tricky to know how to navigate cross-gender relationships. Here are some things I can offer that I’ve learned along the way.

5 Essentials for Men Effectively Mentoring Women

I have been mentored by a male leader for several years now—and my experience has been a positive one. So for those who are skeptical about this and prefer, for example, to hold to the Billy Graham Rule, where mentoring the opposite gender is almost impossible, I want to say this: being mentored by a male is possible, and it can help women to develop into the leaders that God wants them to be.

In a recent study on gender differences in leadership style, it showed that women have the capacity to be senior leaders. There are certain barriers, however.

Thus, women have the styles to thrive as senior leaders, yet they hardly succeed into higher positions. If it is not the ability that causes differences in leadership positions, other barriers must exist that are keeping women from advancement.

The barriers listed were lack of confidence, gender biases, leadership identity in that usually people with more masculine characteristics are seen as “leadership material,” not enough female role models, and also a lack of access to networking, as this is seen often to be a male space.

Men who champion and empower women is one (of many) things needed right now for women to be welcomed as full partners in God’s mission. Men have access to the networks that are needed for women to enter into the leadership arena. In the diversity they bring into a mentoring relationship, men can also be good role models for women leaders. (Of course, this does not mean that we do not need good female leader role models also. Both are needed).

When men mentor women, both parties benefit. Men begin to understand the struggles that women have, and grow a larger capacity for seeing from a different perspective. This experience also better equips men to confront and challenge sexism among their peers. Conversely, when men become mentors, sponsors, and encouragers of women, it can lead to an increase of confidence in women. Additionally, men can invite women into the resources and networks afforded to male leaders by our culture.

The issue is: how do we do this well? After all, it is possible for a male to mentor a female badly and in a counter-productive manner. Here are 5 guidelines that I think can help men be positive mentors to women.

  1. Talk about any boundaries that will help make the mentoring relationship healthy. It’s unhelpful to say that when women and men mentor each other, it’s not necessary to clarify boundaries. Instead, it is better to talk about what boundaries are needed that will help each person feel comfortable to continue in the mentoring relationship. This is different for everyone, depending on the two people. For some, a public space may actually be what feels hospitable for them. The Billy Graham rule tends to operate according to fear, but talking openly about what each person feels comfortable with and what space will help foster the kind of relationship that is intended does not have to be about fear. It is about wisdom and love. [To read about how one male pastor allows “hospitality” to guide him in his relationships with women, rather than fear, read How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Billy Graham Rule and Start Loving Like Jesus].
  2. Let others know that you are comfortable with mentoring women. As more men begin to mentor women, this will hopefully normalize the practice, as opposed to seeing it as an unusual occurrence. It’s important to share about your experience of mentoring women in order to help pave the way for others.
  3. Help her to gain access to any resources and networks that will help her succeed. One issue that women struggle with is that they cannot enter the networks that men have access to. Codes of behaviors that are masculine in these contexts—and a resistance to networking by some women— mean that women may miss out on opportunities that could help them use all the gifts that have. For instance, often when inviting people to speak at events, our immediate thought is to invite those who we know and trust. If women are not known by those within their networking contexts, they are not considered for these kinds of opportunities—regardless of how competent they might be. Make a point to welcome and introduce the women you mentor into your networks.
  4. Check your own gender bias. This means being aware of any tendencies that you might have to stereotype women. Placing women into more submissive categories and roles is an example. Perceiving them as always caring, friendly, and relational is a stereotype. These qualities are not bad—they are admirable—but women are usually stereotyped in this way. As a result, they are not associated with words typically associated with good leadership, such as decisive, assertive, and bold, even though there are many women who hold these qualities. Checking your own gender bias ensures you are not patronizing the women you are mentoring, but are indeed empowering and enabling them to freely grow into a Godly leader. Mentoring women is not about practicing paternalism. It is about helping women to identify and be confident in their abilities.
  5. Check your own sense of security. Sometimes men feel insecure around women who are competent and emerging as leaders. Are you confident enough to mentor a woman who may be more gifted and clever than you, for example? Can you be honest with yourself about whatever insecurities may arise in you, and simply submit them to Jesus?

More men need to be mentoring women. This can help with women feeling more emboldened about their gifts and give women access into the networks that are needed for them to develop into the leader God wants them to be. We can’t let fear overtake us in these times when the topic of gender seems to be increasingly polarized. If we are going to live the values of the reign of God, then we must model mutuality, sacrifice, kenosis, and service in a world that is broken and looking for hope today.

For God's sake and the good of the kingdom, more men need to be mentoring women. Here's 5 ways to help make sure you do it well! Click To Tweet
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38 responses to “We’re Asking For a Different Kind of Leadership

  1. I think this is a good start, David. It's what I have *tried* to do with varying degrees of success. Usually the failures stem from my slipping into two other molds of congregational leadership – One is to lead from the front/CEO/My way or the highway etc. The other is to sit back and to wait for lay leadership to tell me what to do. Neither is particularly satisfying. Neither works any longer if they ever really did.

  2. Yeah, essentially you're saying we need a leader who leads like Christ led; in humility, touching those who are rejected by society; compelling people to follow Him like the woman at the well who was filled with shame and Christ apparently interacted with her in such a powerful, gracious, loving way, AND seeing all the sin in her life simultaneously that she ran and shouted to others to come and meet the Christ!! His knowledge of her liberated her instead of condemning her in that short encounter.

  3. In a community of believers, where does the leadership ultimately come from? The Leader you are describing is Jesus Himself. And He can lead through anyone within the community at any given time, if everyone in the community is taking seriously the responsibility to participate. Leadership does not have to fall to one human person, but to all persons in the group as the Lord leads. I wouldn't have believed this myself a few years ago, but I see now that it can actually happen.

    1. Mark, I agree. The work here of course is that we often have to teach people about Jesus and understand what such "success" means. We're trained to succeed. This is part of our problem. By many worldly measurements, the ministry of Jesus was a total flop.

    1. For the record Dan, I believe people like Drucker and Greenleaf borrowed leadership ideas from the church (or more specifically Jesus) and instrumentalized it for American business which in essence changed it. The telos changed the character and virtue therein. I therefore urge one exercise caution trying to learn leadership from these gurus … as good intentioned as they might be…

      1. I find using these guys really helpful in my context because people are so distrustful of Jesus and church. The liberal main line needs the help of other voices. Jesus is too hard at first.

  4. I'd add one more:
    We need a leader who has eternity in mind and sees people for what they will become rather than what they are and is willing to walk with them for decades. NOT A LEADER WHO IS JUST LOOKING TO FILL A CLASS OR A SEAT FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS (OR BEFORE THE NEXT BUDGET CYCLE HITS).

  5. I post this comment made to me via e-mail … I agree with it wholeheartedly DF
    I think this kind of leadership also can transform an established church that is full of tired busy people. I am in a 49 year old church and as I try to lead following what was just described. Its hard, its challenging but to have people who you've walked with changed through a relationship with Jesus after spending their life 'in the church' versus in relationship. Is worth all the tears and sleepless nights.

  6. I don't mean to pick on Lisa–others have come up with similar statements–but are we (or should we) be looking to Jesus as a model of leadership? Is that what he came to earth to do–be a leader servant or otherwise?

  7. Anyone… I was wondering…Where are you with the word “leader” for a “Disciple of Christ?” 😉

    Jesus always took and recommended the *low place.* Yes?
    The word “leader” seems like a “high place.” Yes?

    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leaders” for *His Body.* “ONE”

    As man… Jesus humbled Himself, made himself of NO reputation,
    and took on the form of a **Servant.** Php 2:7-8. 😉

    How do “you” reconcile the use of the word “leader”
    when “Jesus” told **His disciples** NOT to be called “leader?”

    Jesus, in Mat 23:10 KJV, told **His disciples** “NOT” to call themselves
    “Master/Leaders,” for you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” “The Christ.”

    King James Version –
    Neither be ye called masters:
    for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible –
    Nor be called leaders,
    for “ONE” is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English –
    you must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only “ONE” leader, Christ.

    Today's English Version –
    nor should you be called leader.
    your “ONE” and only leader is the Messiah.

    Jesus told *His Disciples* NOT to be called *leaders* and NONE did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
    None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders”
    and someone calls them self a “leader” or thinks they are a “leader;”

    Are they a "Disciple of Christ?"

    Or, are they NO?LONGER a "Disciple of Christ?" Oy Vey!!! 😉
    Or, are they just a **disobedient** "Disciple of Christ?" 😉

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One leader.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    1. @ A. Amos Love I like everything you said. How would you deal with this then?"And we have different gifts 8 according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. 12:7 If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; 12:8 if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence;…" (Rom. 12:6-8)

  8. Totally with you, Dave.
    Back before I was a Virtual Abbess or an MT 'Gator, I was a student of organizational leadership. I was a voice of caution in the '80s, when church boards were looking to business for effective models of leadership … knowing that when you bring in models that effectively make people tools, you end up using them. Using people is NOT the way to treat God's Eikons!

    But I have become convinced over the past two decades that one model holds the promise of being what we can really use: Situational Leadership (… ). When I studied this theory in the early '90s, I was struck with this thought: This works because this is exactly how God leads.

    God leads us according to our readiness to follow. And our readiness level can cover the entire spectrum, depending on the task and our faith!

    I've talked about at my blog (… ) … and really believe that this is an elegant way of understanding cHesed — faithful covenant keeping.

    Until we are willing to trust God's love and power to do in and through us things we could never imagine, we will be challenged to be ready. And if we do not understand the challenges we have following God (as Father, Son & Spirit), we will be less than effective in leading others on the path of following God.

    The biggest obstacles to following, IMO, are our blind spots. Unless and until we are ready to humble ourselves before God and those sent to equip and encourage us, those blind spots will continue to mess with us….

    Blessings to each of us as we seek to be willing so that God can make us able.

  9. Jennifer … have you ever agreed with anything I've said or written…? just once ? … just for fun? even you don't agree … just to throw me off and think an earthquake happened or something … 🙂

  10. …and about "leader" … I believe, again, that cHesed is an important context for leadership. When "leader" means "being in charge" … then we have totally missed the point and fallen in with James & John looking to "lord it over" the other disciples.
    While this foundational Hebrew concept doesn't translate easily into English, there are some important words — three pairs that are like facets of one gem — that are used to try and help us understand what is intended: love/submit, grace/serve, mercy/lead.

    Implied with the concept of mercy that leads is initiating what the covenant partner needs in order to remain faithful. I think that it is this initiative that is the point of "servant leadership" in the Body of Christ. The farther we can get from leading as coercive power over the better.

    I have unpacked more of this concept here:–files/start

    This is a difficult conversation to have in person … it is much more difficult to have virtually.


  11. To A Amos above … did you notice at the end of the post I wrote I believe it is a recovery of the way Jesus speaks about leadership (did he use that word?). It was a nod to a post I wrote a while back "Is Leadership Biblical? 5 Reasons to say No"- which Intense Debate won't let me link to … but nonetheless easy to find out there DF

    1. But what if people NEED to be pushed or pulled along? What if people NEED the CEO, for example? How does that work in your theory? It's a question that was posited on my Facebook page, David, in response to this post. Interesting question.

  12. christopher
    Left “The Religious System” thru pain, tears and Spiritual Abuse.
    I struggled with these verses the way they were taught in
    “The Abusive Religious System.” Seemed when they said “leader”
    it meant: I’m the leader – you’re the follower. I’m the Boss – obey me,
    and don’t talk back, don’t touch the head of God’s anointed leader.

    There was not much room for discussion about anything. 🙁

    But now, knowing Jesus asked His disciples NOT to be called leader,
    Or teacher, and none did, and we’re all brethren. (Mat 23:8-10) And
    Jesus says “ONE” leader – Christ – it caused me to re-think “leader.”

    In the antiquated KJV Rom 12:8 reads …he that ruleth, with diligence;…
    “Ruleth” is mostly translated lead or leadership in modern versions.

    Ruleth in the Greek is Strongs # 4291 proisthmi (pro-is’-tay-mee) –
    from #4253 and #2476; In the KJV it’s – rule 5, maintain 2, be over 1; 8

    From Thayers Lexicon it means
    1) to set or place before 1a) to set over 1b) to be over, to superintend,

    And… It also means
    1c) to be a protector or guardian 1c1) to give aid
    1d) to care for, give attention to

    For me, this is a very different flavor then how I was taught “leader.”

    This so-called gift of “Leadership” you mention doesn’t sound like –
    I’m the leader – you’re the follower. I’m the Boss – obey me,
    and don’t talk back, don’t touch the head of God’s anointed leader.

    This gift of “proisthmi” is about protecting, guarding, giving aid,
    careing for, and giving attention, to those in your life, with diligence.

    “Proisthmi “ is also in Pauls qualifications for appointing
    elders who will oversee/superintend in 1 Tim 3:4-5…

    One that “ruleth” well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to “rule” his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

    Seems to me this “ruling well” in 1 Tim 3:4-5 has to do with
    this gift of “proisthmi” and is about protecting, guarding, giving aid,
    careing for, and giving attention, to your family, with diligence.

    For me, This “ruleth well” has nothing to do with… Telling your wife
    and kids – I’m the leader – you’re the follower. I’m the Boss – obey me,
    and don’t talk back, I’m the father, I’m the husband, and that’s that.

    Jesus warned us about “The Traditions of Men” voiding His Word.
    Mark 7:13
    KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition
    ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition
    NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition

    For me, the question became… If “Disciple” means learner, pupil…
    Do I want to be a “Leader?” With Power, Profit, Prestige, Reputation.
    Or… Do I want to be “His Disciple” learning directly from Jesus.

    I no longer believe one can be a “disciple of Christ” and a “Leader.”
    Choose ye this day who you will serve… Jesus – Or Man, and tradtion.

    Be blessed in your search for truth… Jesus… 🙂

  13. Excellent stuff, as usual. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs though – and I know you were addressing this to one person – but as I steal this and use it, do you mind if I change it to “We need leaderS who…” rather than “a leader”? I think “a leader” still leads many people to think there should be just one leader, rather than, you know, leaderSSSS. Just a thought.

  14. David Fitch
    I applaud your willingness to question and write about leaders.
    This is a sensitive and important subject for all believers.

    Who is your Leader? Your Teacher? A mere fallible human? Or Jesus?

    Seems those who are “led” by the Spirit are the sons of God. Rom 8:14
    Jesus taught “His Disciples”ALL shall be taught of God. John 6:45
    John the apostle said, And you need no man teach you. 1 John 2:27

    Seems most so-called leader/teachers make disciples after themselves.
    People who will follow them as leader and learn from them.

    Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and follow me.”
    And if we’re “Disciples of Christ” we will learn directly from Jesus.

    You mention the post – Is Leadership Biblical? A few reasons to say no.
    It’s dated – December 14th 2010

    Thought that was an excellent post. I did leave a few comments then.

    Also commented on the link to Bob Hyatts rebutal. I left a similar
    comment as my first here. Bob replied to the first comment but
    never allowed my response back to him to be posted.

    I might be wrong but – I think he banned me from his site. 🙂

    Hmmm? That often happens when those who *think they are leaders*
    don’t have answers, biblical answers, for hard questions.

    Jesus asked “His disciples” in Mark10:42, NOT to “exercise authority”
    like the gentiles.

    And in 1Pet 5:3 Neither as being “lords over God’s heritage,”

    In my experience…
    No matter how loving… eventually…
    No matter how humble… eventually…
    No matter how much a servant… eventually…

    “Pastor/Leader” = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One leader.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  15. I love your comments David, and your blog posts. This is such a great tool for the journey into the future together with Jesus.
    My friend introduced me to your blog and it is blessing me a ton, especially since I’m a “recovering” pastor seeking to follow Jesus into mission in ways that lie outside just about everything I’ve ever learned or been taught.

    In that light I want to add two more kinds of “leaders” we need:
    1. We need leaders who are learning to take John 5:19 RADICALLY seriously and who are learning to sustain an ever growing and profound initimacy with the Father such that they can give up control of their agendas and participate with Him in His on a daily and moment-by-moment basis.
    2. We need “leaders” who are always ready and eager for the Father to lovingly show them where and how they need to change and grow.

    Thanks for all you are doing.

  16. David – always love your writing – gets me thinking 🙂
    Another one I think I would put would be that we need leaders who know when to quit – quit is probably not the right word. But more leaders who know when something is not working – who know when to stop beating the horse, he’s already dead. Maybe I mean discernment (but it’s such a big, churchy word). Hope you know what I mean.


  17. […] regarding the importance of service over leadership. David Fitch also calls for a different kind of leadership within a more institutional missional church. Both raise good points, both portray the […]

  18. It is amazing how changing “we must” into “we need” hides similarity… names have been changed to project freshness. While there is constant need for evaluation and adjustment it is important to remember that new and improved, sometimes isn’t and the only reason the trend is so exciting is that it has not had the opportunity to be embarrassed by time. I can’t help but feel that many times we are promoting the spiritual equivalent of “New Coke” (possibly a forgotten product) where millions will be invested before we discover that our recipe is flawed and our dreams dashed.

  19. This post is such a breath of fresh air… I long to be, and/or to be “under”, this kind of leadership.
    I’m seeing glimmers of it happening in my context, but it’s slow and murky. And granted, it’s not happening within my normal church context, it’s happening outside of it, in a small/home group environment.

  20. David Price
    Is it really “your” church that’s growing?

    Or, is it a 501 (c) 3, non profit, tax deductible,
    Religious Corporation that’s growing?

    Isn’t it called “The Church of God, in the Bible?”
    Isn’t it Jesus, who will “build” and “add to” “His Church?”
    Isn’t it Jesus, who’s the head of the body, “The Church?”
    (The church. the ekklesia, the called out one’s, you and me.)
    Isn’t it Jesus, who shed “His Blood” to purchase “The Church of God?”

    But, you might be talking about – the church of man?
    You go to a secular government organization, IRS,
    and ask permission to be called “Church,”
    you fill out a form, called a 501 (c) 3.

    When you’re approved, you become a Gov’t approved, Gov’t inspected,
    501 (c) 3, non-profit, tax $ deductible, Religious $ Corporation.
    By law you now have hierarchy in a Corporation.

    Does that sound like “The Church” that we find in the Bible?

    NO! The Church in the Bible is People, God’s people, God’s sheep.
    All are ambassadors of Christ. All can be sons of God.
    All can be servants.of God. All can hear His voice and follow Jesus.
    All can be disciples of Christ learning directly from Jesus.

    I could be wrong But…
    I’m pretty sure they are NOT your people, your sheep, your church.

    Jer 50:6
    My people hath been “lost sheep:”
    “their shepherds” have caused them to go astray,

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice – One leader.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

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