Can women disciple and mentor men, and vice versa?
We are all well aware of the dangers of emotional entanglements outside the marriage relationship. The moral failure of pastors, prophets and TV evangelists is a painful reminder of human vulnerability.
The purpose of this article is not to answer the question of why spiritual leaders fall, but to address the more immediate topic of men and women discipling and mentoring each other.
In one sense, it may appear to be a question with chauvinistic overtones, but it is a real question for those of us who are committed to godly relationships and equally committed to discipling emerging leaders, both men and women. We don’t want our good to be “evil spoken of”, nor do we marginalize emerging leaders just because they are the opposite sex.
The common rule in more conservative Christian traditions is for men to disciple men and women to disciple women. The shortfall in this approach, and the false assumption behind it, is that “leadership is male” and therefore women only have wisdom and input for other women.
Actually, there is no question that a woman can disciple and mentor a man if we use the Bible as our guide: the bible speaks of the vital and transformative role of mothers discipling their sons in the most formative years.
There are many examples in the Bible of God using women to mentor and instruct men, including Jesus, Paul, Timothy, and Apollos.
Since the nature of discipleship is intentional relationship, and since God is both male and female, we need each other as men and women. Men need what God has placed in women, and women need what God has made men to be.
I believe the chief way God intends for cross gender discipleship to take place is in the family, from our mothers and fathers, and in the marriage relationship, from our husbands and wives. Nothing can or should compete with those two primary spheres of relationship.
However, we also need the input of godly men and women outside our family and marriage. To the degree that we are godly in our relationships, we can and should receive from people of the opposite sex. God has placed spiritual gifts in men and women that are needed for spiritual formation and skills development. We should not limit leadership formation to be the sole domain of men. Leadership is not male; God has placed leadership gifts in both men and women; it is a wise leader who seeks the counsel and advise of both male and female leaders.
Because many conservative evangelicals view leadership governance as a male domain, the logical consequence is to assume that God does not give leadership gifts for the whole church to women. That is a doctrinal fallacy of grave proportions.
I believe there is great wisdom to be gained from sitting at the feet of a godly, mature men and women; we should not forbid receiving from one another simply because of gender. Billy Graham and Bill Bright were both mentored by Henrietta Mears; Loren Cunningham was profoundly impacted by the teaching of Joy Dawson; the Anglican charismatic renewal in England was guided in the early days by Jean Darnell, and the list goes on and on.
I have taken the position that men and women can disciple and mentor one another, but that it should be done according the following guidelines. I am both protective and proactive, so to speak. I acknowledge the contribution of both sexes, but recognize our fallen nature and our needed for accountability and wisdom.
Here are some of the guidelines I ask our staff and members in All Nations family to follow in their discipling and mentoring relationships. By abiding by these principles we have found it has protected us from both temptation and accusation, and unlocked the wisdom of godly men and women to each other:
1.Don’t meet alone or in an office behind a closed door or in a private place with a person of the opposite sex. That includes travel of all kinds.
2. Have your pastor/spiritual leaders blessing and approval for the discipling relationship.
3. Likewise, seek the approval and counsel of your spouse. If there is any hesitation, honor your partner’s wishes.
4. Certain topics are off limits: namely, sexual issues.
5. If you are in any way attracted to a person, acknowledge that and deal with it quickly and appropriately.
6. Stay accountable – do nothing that is not in the open and subject to the scrutiny of your fellow workers and friends. They are the first to notice if something is “off” in a mentoring or discipling relationship.
7. Young adults of the same age group should especially be cautious and accountable about getting emotionally involved through a “discipling relationship”. There is no hard and fast biblical principle that prevents such relationships, but wisdom tells us to be careful and accountable.