Showing posts with label men. Show all posts
Showing posts with label men. Show all posts

29 April 2013

Men, women and children

Prompted as I wrote a reply to a blog post, I felt I needed to write at greater length on some principles of leading and following. Men, women and children all have a place in leading us in following Jesus. But is it men, women or children who do the best job of leading?

The simplicity of a young child
Felicity Dale, writing recently about women as leaders, asks, 'What is God about to do?' (It takes both men and women, Simply Church).

As I began to write a reply to her post, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me along a track I'd not considered before.

I'd had hints of this from time to time over the years but I hadn't put it all together in my mind.

Here's my response to Felicity's post.

If we define kingdom as the realm in which the King is obeyed, then wherever men, women and children are following Jesus - that is the kingdom.

But let's remember the children in all this. Believing children have some wonderful advantages over us adult believers. Everybody agrees that men can lead, a growing number agree that women can lead too, but who has considered that children can lead? Sometimes they do so in the most natural and unselfconscious way. And sometimes, as men and women, we just need to swallow our pride and follow them!

What is Father about to do?

I have a strong hunch that he is beginning to show us that all should lead and all should follow. What I mean by that is that we don't need to recognise particular people as leaders and others as followers. Instead we will be recognising leaders in the moment. Who is leading right now? Who is leading by their words, by their actions, by their love, by their compassion, by their joy, by their wisdom, by their humility? If Christ is revealing himself through a particular person right now, follow that person!

I'd like to develop this a little more.

Leaders - What do we mean when we think of leaders and leadership? A leader is clearly a person who leads, someone who goes in front. Leadership extends the idea to suggest someone whose role is to lead, someone who is skilled at leading and is expected to lead often, even always.

But I'd like to ask the question, 'Which way is a person facing when they lead?' There are three possibilities.

Looking forwards - Someone who is looking forwards is looking away from the people who are following. Such a person is looking at Jesus and following him. If I follow such a person I will also be following Jesus. Jesus goes where he chooses to go, the person who is looking towards him follows where he goes. I follow the follower so I go where the follower goes - so I go where Jesus goes. This is good, this is safe, this is what someone who leads should always do.

Looking sideways - I think we often do this. Such people are not looking at Jesus but nor are they looking at those who follow them. They're going off at a tangent. Follow them at your peril!

Looking backwards - Is this what we sometimes mean when we talk about leaders and leadership? Is the focus on the listeners and followers, not on Jesus?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking here about someone speaking to a group of people. You can do that with your eyes firmly focussed on the King. I'm talking about someone who is focussed on the listeners and followers, someone who cares more about being followed than about following Jesus.

Another name for people who do this is 'false shepherd' (or 'bad shepherd'). These people want to feed on the sheep rather than lead the sheep to good pasture. Jesus shows us what a good shepherd is like. He is the Good Shepherd. He told Peter, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'.

Perhaps most of us, most of the time, look in all three directions. We gaze partly at Jesus, we glance away to the side, and we look to see who's following us.

Men, women and children - Remember, we're talking about believers here. So now ask yourself, can a man play the part of any of these three kinds of human leader? Yes, he can.

Can a woman play any of these parts? Yes, she can.

Can a child play any of these three parts? Well, perhaps. But in my experience believing children tend to look forward towards Jesus. Young children, in particular, tend to be much too naive to look sideways or backwards. So what does that tell you about the right kind of person to follow?

Jesus wasn't kidding when he told us that unless we come like little children we won't even see the kingdom of heaven.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who lead looking forwards, sideways or backwards?
  • Would you trust a child to lead you?
  • Depending on your answer to the previous question, why? or why not?

See also:


07 February 2013

Best of both

We take a look at the risks and likely benefits of platonic friendships between men and women. How acceptable is it for believers to have close friends of the opposite sex? And even if it's acceptable, how useful is it? Perhaps the benefits outweigh the difficulties, at least sometimes.

Childhood friends
This post is part of the February Synchroblog 'Cross Gender Friendships'. Links to all the contributions are listed at the end of this post.

Cross-gender relationships of any kind (except for romantic love and marriage) have long been regarded as 'dodgy' in church circles. There is, of course, the potential for inappropriate romantic feelings to develop and that's something to be aware of, but is that risk a valid reason to avoid such friendships altogether? I think not.

Platonic friendships have long been regarded as not only possible, but potentially valuable. If we avoid them out of fear or anxiety are we missing an important aspect of human social interaction?

I have a wide circle of male and female acquaintances of all ages as well as a smaller number of close friends, again both men and women. Some of my close friends live nearby and we meet more or less regularly. Some live far away and we meet very rarely.

Rather than try to analyse this topic I'm just going to share some personal experiences and observations. Read on and see what you think.

Relationship, energy and danger - I'll begin by telling you that I am a man (in case you haven't already worked that out). I generally find friendships with women go deeper than those with men. For one thing women tend to be more relational and less superficial. Let me point out right away that I'm generalising here - there are plenty of exceptions to what sounds like a general rule. It's no such thing. Don't be fooled for a moment!

I have something of a shepherd's heart and like to encourage and build up. So I get a lot of energy from conversations and relationships where I can listen and respond, but very little from talking about football or fishing. I find women are more likely to engage in ways I can relate to.

Turning to the dangers of relationships becoming more than platonic in nature, in my experience I can honestly say this has never been an issue. It seems to me that most women are quite unwilling to allow a friendship to develop unless and until they are sure it will not go in an inappropriate direction.

What I have valued most in cross-gender friendship has been the opportunity to learn and grow in understanding and mutual respect. I've had many rich conversations on a host of topics, the benefit of peaceful and thoughtful insight, shared appreciation of music and literature and the natural world, and a great deal of wisdom and sound advice.

A balanced life - I am blessed by good balance in my friends. Here's a diary of my current week; it's as good an example as any.

  • On Monday mornings I meet with Paul for coffee, a chat, and some Bible study. We are currently working through John's gospel together.
  • On Monday evenings I meet Sean at his house to chat, read the Bible, pray, and listen. We watched a DVD of Victor Choudhrie.
  • On Tuesday I meet my friend Chris for a coffee in town and we'll talk and pray about a house of prayer for St Neots and the area around. He is very keen on following up the Ffald-y-Brenin approach to local prayer and blessing.
  • Later on Tuesday I met Megan for coffee and a chat at Caffe Nero's.
  • In the evening Donna* and I joined her Open Door Small Group in a nearby village. We ate a meal together and spent time in prayer and praise and discussion.
  • On Wednesdays I usually meet with Roger, but not this week. We are working through 'Freedom in Christ' together. 
  • At lunchtime on Wednesday I visited Jody to catch up and hear news about the meetings she and Peter host at their home every week.
  • On Thursday evenings Jim, Sean and I usually meet to chat and pray.

That's a grand total of four men and two women (*Donna is my wife) that I have spent one on one time with this week. All of them are friends, all are valued, all bring something special and unique to my life. In addition there'll be others, men and women that I will meet singly or in groups, and others that I'll contact by email, text, phone or on Google+. They are all special and they all contribute something valuable and irreplaceable.

What I'd miss - I would miss any of these people if they were removed from my life. Without them I would not be me. Or at least I would be a different me, a poorer me. What would life be without the richness of community? Our communities are not islands, they overlap in significant ways. Important lines of communication go out joining communities into a single, huge, world-wide network.

I can hardly imagine what life would be like if I had only male friends. It would be greatly impoverished. My advice to anyone without cross-gender friends is to be wise and careful, but to certainly consider broadening your range of friends. A friend cannot be manufactured artificially. But as friendships develop naturally around shared interests and ideas, don't say 'No' merely on the basis of gender. Far more important is to hear what the Spirit of Christ is telling you. Pray about it and be guided by what he shows you.

Another observation that I can share is that, in friendship as in marriage, the different approaches of men and women to so many things in life are complementary and have a counterbalancing effect. We have to pay attention to one another to benefit from this; we have to listen and watch and learn. But friends are usually pretty good at doing that and do it very naturally.

Here's one final point. Amongst my closest friends have been two married couples. Perhaps this is where the greatest freedom in friendship may be found. In my experience there can be no closer togetherness than a group of four or six consisting of happily married couples. As in any kind of friendship there will sometimes be fallings out and misunderstandings, disappointments and confusions. But there's real joy in it too. If such a thing happens in your life it may turn out to be truly blessed, and very, very special.


Questions:

  • Have you limited your friendships due to a fear of disapproval by others?
  • Jesus related well with both men and women. Did he follow the social norms of his day?
  • Can you leave a comment to share your own experiences of cross-gender friendships?

See also:


Synchroblog links:

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