The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman has been on my mind a lot lately. And if you take a look at John 4, it’s pretty interesting to see what the different players in the story are thinking. The Samaritan woman is surprised that Jesus is talking to her because she is a Samaritan—on the wrong side of culture and ethnicity. Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, raise their eyebrows because she is a woman—on the wrong side of gender.
But watch what Jesus does. He totally ignores the supposed barriers of culture, religion, gender, and the opinion of others, and instead reaches out to this woman with respect, attention, and kindness. He treats her like a human being. And I love how, in this moment, Jesus models a cross-gender interaction that is marked not with fear or shame, but with truth and love.
Jesus models a cross-gender interaction that is marked not with fear or shame, but with truth and love.
And that strikes me as not only incredibly refreshing, but pretty important. Here’s why. For years, the common wisdom in much of the church has been something like, “don’t meet, travel, or eat with someone of the opposite gender so that you aren’t tempted into or accused of an affair.” It’s necessary to have good boundaries. But there are a few major problems with this “rule.” For one thing, because so many church leaders have traditionally been men, this policy can be a barrier to women getting good ministry training and opportunities, which just reinforces the gender imbalance in leadership in some churches. For another, it assumes that cross-gender relationships are inherently sexual, and reduces members of the opposite gender to sources of potential sin and temptation. What could be more dehumanizing and objectifying than that?
And finally, it’s just not what Jesus did, as we see in the story of the Samaritan woman, as well as many others. Jesus wasn’t afraid to be alone with women. You never see him pushing women (or anyone else, for that matter) away because they could cause him to be compromised. And if that’s how Jesus interacted with the opposite sex, I think that’s how we must, as well. We’re in the business of making disciples of Jesus and we have to be able to engage with other human beings the way he did.
I recently listened to Jamie and Michelle Wilson talk about this very thing in our webinar on raising up women leaders in our churches and church plants. The two of them co-lead the Coast Vineyard in San Diego, California beautifully, but they divide up their leadership along gifting, not gender lines. I love what Jamie says about working with women:
“My experience is that strong women leaders have great boundaries, actually. I also noticed that Starbucks, Google, and everybody else have this figured out. That across the corporate world men and women work together. I’m longing for the church to not be the caboose in this conversation, but rather the engine in raising up women leaders.” -Jamie Wilson
We have the opportunity to truly demonstrate the power and freedom of the Kingdom of God in the way we raise up women leaders and model appropriate male-female relationships. So let’s press in, and do it well.
If you want ideas on how to try cross-gender mentoring with appropriate boundaries, or you just want to know more about how to empower women leaders, you can listen to the full audio or watch the video of the Raising Up Women Leaders webinar here.