At this second AUS church planting network meeting, there were six women in the room of 40 or 50 men. At the first one, I was the sole woman. On one hand, since the movement looks like it’s shaping up to be complementarian (“a plurality of male leaders”) I can understand why the meetings have primarily focused on men (although, I’m going to assume that complementarity doesn’t mean ruling women out of leadership altogether, so I’m still not entirely comfortable with this). But a number of people at the meeting raised the issue of where wives in particular fit into this network. No surprises here, but I think this will be a key issue in the months ahead.
It seems that the appeal of Mark Driscoll to many is his focus on masculinity. And yet, there’s a question of how to do this in an Australian context. Al Stewart’s written a book about Christian masculinity and I’m no guy, but it seems to me that he had every guy at the meeting eating out of his hand. He was dressed reasonably casually; had some strong body language going on; he didn’t back down from controversy; his illustrations were about Mike Tyson, doing the haka and the difference between a soldier and a cowboy. I think that this was one of the strengths of the meeting. Guy Mason kept talking about “a band of brothers” and there seemed to be a real camaraderie there.
There was also a recognition that married men, in particular are not in this venture alone, that marrying the right girl is central to the ministry. Part of the assessment process for a church planter involves his wife. (There was some discussion about whether single men could be part of it. Apparently the likes of Driscoll don’t like that in their American context but Al and the other Australian leaders were happy with it, saying that they didn’t want to rule out men like the apostle Paul.)
They talked a lot about sacrifice and enduring hardship, and that, as much as you’re up for that, your wife has to be on board as well. After all, church planting is not just some other job. It affects where your kids go to school, security of income, stress on one or both partners, time investment, changing friendships, loneliness. This is a ministry where, if you’re married it must be a team ministry. And as others pointed out, if you both don’t have the same vision, you’ll be at loggerheads about the investment and sacrifices you’re willing to make and the ministry, your marriage and your family will all suffer as a result.
Side note: I recently heard that Student Life, another uni ministry group here in Melbourne requires that BOTH members of a married couple come onto staff, not just one. There’s some flexibility – sometimes the wife will only do 1 day a week on campus and spend the rest at home if they have small children (although she is paid full time I think). This may be too extreme – imagine telling your fiancee she has to leave her job to come and work for Student Life once you’re married! But I like the principle at work here. Here is a very deliberate attempt to uphold and protect the team element of ministry.
So if we’re going to say that wives are vital part of this church planting venture, I wonder how they can also be involved in the process – pre assessment. I wonder whether if we’re serious about it being a team thing, then wives also need to be part of the big picture ‘dream and scheme’ that’s going on at the moment. Some women may find it difficult, especially amidst their anxieties about schools, security and housing, or even unnecessary, since their husbands might fill them in at home. But I think that at least having the opportunity to see the big vision with others would help to own it and get on board with it.
Wives are now included on invitations to meetings but these have been during the day, which has made it difficult for wives who work or are at home with the children to make it along. There was talk of moving the time to make it possible for more people to attend. I don’t think this was specifically for the sake of wives, but if the network is serious about seeing church planting as a team ministry, that ought to be one factor. And I wonder how far this extends. Could a creche be offered during the meeting, for example?
I felt like an outsider at the first meeting and I think there were some who were surprised to see a woman there (I hadn’t known it was a men only event!). But I couldn’t think of anywhere I would rather be than with Arthur, getting excited about what was firing him up. So I think that extending the invitation to wives is a positive step. But if this is a key time of doing the haka and motivating people for this network and church planting, serious thought must be given not only to how to include wives but also how to empower them for their role in the ministry.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.