Those of you who've written in to Church & Culture over the years to comment on the blog know me as the person behind the email. For those who don't know me, allow me to say, "Hello." I've had the privilege of working with Dr. White for nearly 10 years—both with his writing at Church & Culture as well as at Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) where he serves as senior pastor.
Dr. White recently wrote a blog titled, "Build the Fence!" in response to the latest string of headlines involving church leaders who have found themselves resigning over, or being accused of, sexual misconduct.
One of our blog readers responded to that posting with very kind words about the message of the blog, agreeing with the importance of building sexual fences with members of the opposite sex in our lives. Then, she raised an interesting question as follow-up. She asked:
"What do positive, healthy and close relationships between men and women look like in the church? How are we called to walk in friendship and unity?"
After all, Jesus modeled this in His own life and ministry where you find Mary and Martha very much a part of His inner circle. So much so, that it was Mary who Jesus first appeared to following His resurrection, and who He called upon to be His eyewitness to the disciples.
This relational dynamic is such a normal part of life and ministry here at Meck that it got me thinking, "How do we do it?"
I realized that we have things in place within the culture of our church (and staff in particular) that really have made all the difference.
First and foremost, we build fences. At least once a year (if not more), our senior pastor walks us through how to "do staff"—things like protecting your family, maintaining spiritual vitality and, of course, building sexual fences. He does this because, as a growing church, we are constantly adding new staff members to the team who need to hear this treasure trove of wisdom. And frankly, vision leaks. So even those of us like me who've been on staff for a decade or more need to hear the message again.
This is so critical because what this leads to are faith and trust. When you have faith and trust that your teammates are working to build these fences for themselves, it opens the door to have those healthy friendships.
Second, we have fun together. For those of you who've read Dr. White's book, What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary, there is a chapter on hiring based on the "5 Cs" – character, competence, catalytic, chemistry and calling. The "chemistry" part of that chapter references something we jokingly call the "beer test." While having nothing to do with the actual beverage, it simply asks this question: "At the end of a long, hard, grueling day of work together, would you like to go out and have a drink with this person? If the answer is yes, they pass." As a church staff we genuinely enjoy being together. We'll have periodic staff outings to develop team building and staff unity. We purposefully choose to spend time together even outside of working hours. But within all this we exercise common sense—always in groups, often with spouses, never just 1:1 with someone of the opposite sex.
Lastly, at Meck women are respected and challenged to lead. I have talked with women on staff at other churches where there exists a spirit of a "good old boys' club;" one that makes it difficult for women to feel as though they have a voice or their ideas will be heard. Thankfully, that's never been the case here. There are incredible women on our staff leading major ministries within the church. And we work alongside the men as a team. Mutual brotherly and sisterly love and respect for one another go a long way towards developing friendship and unity.
All of this allows us to do so much as a staff to advance the mission of our church—to reach those who are far from Christ and help them see what a difference a relationship with Him can make. The people on staff at Mecklenburg Community Church are like my family. And I am so grateful to call them my friends—the men and the women.
James Emery White, What They Didn't Teach You in Seminary.