Riding Alone in Cars with Men
If you’ve ever scrambled for an approved co-ed carpool or eaten lunch alone because a male colleague can’t grab a burrito with you, or tried to find a church-approved ride from the airport to a ministry conference, you might be a woman in youth ministry. I totally remember sitting alone in my office eating my Cup o’ Noodles (I wrote a lot about this in my book, A Woman in Youth Ministry) as the boy pastors went to lunch (alone) together. What do you do when you can’t grab a burger or drive alone with male coworkers? The whole separate but equal thing can be difficult to graciously navigate as a girl working in a field dominated by guys.
I was often not invited to executive level gatherings or to exclusive professional development weekends because it would mean traveling alone with my male colleague. A lot of men who work in ministry are forced to limit their interactions with women because of some policy designed to protect them and their marriage. I want to respect my brothers in Christ, well-meaning churches, and the boundaries they’ve established, but honestly? It’s still so hard to be on the other side of it. Especially if you are an ENFP on the Myers Brigg like I am. ENFP’s love to be included, share our ideas and hate the idea of missing out on things. For many women, these kinds of staff policies limit their growth as ministry leaders and foster bad communication between male and female staff.
Hey guys. Your interactions with female staff can be so much healthier when you are not driving in separate cars, taking separate flights and constantly avoiding shared experiences together. Boundaries that keep women at arm’s length deny women the same opportunities available to you. When women miss out on the lunches, trips, networking, staff engagement, mentoring, and the social camaraderie available to you, the result is an unhealthy and unequal workplace. Oh, YOU get to be golf buddies with the executive mega-church pastor? Why? because you are a guy? YES. Because he isn’t going to invite the girl youth pastor.sidenote: Because guys are never into guys, right? Our weird rules never seem to acknowledge same-sex attraction either (Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, etc.)
Healthy Boundaries or Lack of Trust?
A staff culture demanding strong boundaries to be placed between male and female colleagues create a culture that present women as a threat, a liability and a possible temptation. When men and women are not allowed to ride in the same car to travel to the same lunch meeting, what’s communicated is “We don’t trust you, we don’t honor you, and we don’t force you take responsibility for your own crap.” We make a rule out of fear for what could happen. Or fear because someone somewhere did something stupid. Fear. And I am pretty sure the Bible has a lot to say about fear.
Does every male and female staff relationship need to be seen as a sexual liability? I don’t think so.
I am not a sexual liability. The women you work with are not a sexual liability. I am your sister in Christ. I am your colleague. I am my own person with my own love life, that you (the churches with the funky staff policies) are not valuing as whole and healthy. If you are struggling with your own marriage, your own sexual addiction, that’s your crap, not mine. I don’t need to have my admin assistant tag along to every meeting, just because there might be the tiniest possibility that we are totally into each other. Seriously people. I have a “type” I am very attracted to. And I married him. You are not it. You don’t float my boat. It’s degrading to both men and women to assume that every Starbucks meeting or carpool is an opportunity for sin to creep in. Seriously people. How is that living into my identity as a redeemed Child of God? My fellow male and female youth workers and I are not attracted to every stinking person on the planet, so consider ending rules that make it seem that way.
Are These Boundaries Helpful or Harmful?
Could these so called “healthy boundaries” and discriminatory staff policies lead to the very situations they are meant to prevent? When church sex scandal makes the news and trend on twitter, it’s more often than not in churches with all the “Thou shall not ride in a car alone with a woman” type of policies (Josh Duggar anyone? And Duggar church leader Doug Phillips). Do you wonder if there is a possible correlation between a male pastor inappropriately making an advance on a female staff member when church policy has been teaching him for years that women are sexual liabilities?
Whether you are a fan of strict boundaries between ministry colleagues or not, think about this: It’s not unhealthy boundaries that foster bad decisions, it’s unhealthy souls. When we talk more often about policies in the workplace, than our own spiritual and emotional health, we are given the opportunity to hide our darkest selves. How often is unsavory behavior hidden under the cloak of right appearances? Try Googling sex scandals in the church for proof this is often true. Are we perhaps creating a culture of liars who avoid riding together in the same car, but whose secrets stay hidden in darkness, because we get good at appearances and bad at transparency?
We can have more conversations about carpools or we can have more conversations about our walk with Christ.
How is your soul? Who are you transparent and honest with so you are protected and healthy with or without the “rules?” Because we can hide a lot of sin behind a lot of rules. Or we can live openly and honestly and journey towards healthy relationships and respectful workplaces. When we tend to our walk with Jesus and live in the light of Christ, grabbing a burger with a male colleague is simply that. Getting lunch.
GINA ABBAS, the author of A WOMAN IN YOUTH MINISTRY, has been hanging out with middle schoolers since the year Mulan hit movie theaters. Gina recently joined the pastoral staff of the Meeting House in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. When she’s not leading small groups, she can be found shooting foam finger rockets at her children and roaming Gettysburg with her history-loving husband.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.