Why Men Need to Mentor Women. I’m Looking at You, Pastors!

I spent most of my twenties in a state of mind-numbing, hair-pulling, pacing-tiger frustration. I was a smart, God-obsessed young woman who was passionate about ministry and theology, but had no idea what to do with myself. If the Christian blogosphere had existed in its current state, I probably would have taken up permanent residence behind my computer screen, soaking up knowledge from resources I didn't have access to in Central Minnesota. I'm still not sure whether my internet-less-ness was a good or bad thing.

Here were my problems:

-Despite the fact that I grew up in a ministry family, and was clearly called to ministry, I didn't see ministry as a career option, unless I wanted to move overseas and work with children. I solved this problem by marrying a man who was going into ministry and hanging onto his coattails for dear life. It kinda worked and kinda didn't. But mostly didn't.

-I was starving for theological knowledge, but had no idea how to get it. Sermons seldom taught anything I didn't already know, and the women's Bible studies I attended often had more to do with homemaking than, well, the Bible. I knew that books could help me grow, but I had no idea what books to read, or where to start.

-I struggled to find a female mentor who could challenge me not just spiritually, but intellectually and vocationally. I appreciated the mentors who spoke into different areas of my life, but I was hungry to learn more about God and the Bible, to stretch and grow with the assistance of someone who knew more and was further down the path than I was. I am sure there were women who could have helped me with this, but like good books, I had no idea who they were or where to find them.

This all sounds a bit critical, but it isn't meant to be. I was surrounded by wonderful people who knew and loved the Bible and taught it faithfully. But the point I am trying to make is that for women who are passionate about ministry and theology, that may not be enough. And while promising young men often get taken under the wing of a local pastor or ministry leader, promising young women often get left out in the cold.

I understand why this happens. People in ministry have it hammered into their head that they need to be extremely careful in their interactions with the other gender. Many won't even meet with a person of the opposite gender alone. I understand and respect these cautions, but oh, pastors, do you have any idea how much we women need you? Do you have any idea how much we need you to teach us, to challenge us, to advocate for us, to stretch us, to encourage us? To pastor us?

And do you know what else we need? We need you to stop being afraid of us. We need you to view us as human beings, not potential sources of sexual temptation, to treat us like sisters, as Paul instructed Timothy, not Jezebels, as some of your mentors may have implied. We need you to quit acting like we have cooties. I'm not saying to throw caution to the wind or be unwise in your interactions. I'm saying we need you, and if you want the women in your congregations to thrive, you're going to have to figure out some strategies to work with them or else just get over your awkwardness.

For me, the turning point came in my early thirties. (I'd say I just couldn't take it anymore, and I snapped, but that has negative implications, and this was a good snap.) I enrolled in a ministry degree at Northwestern College, which required a local mentor with a theological education. My pastor, Darrell Nelson, agreed to mentor me, and continues to do so. He has been an incredible mentor, helping me process the things I was learning, helping me find the resources I needed for the next stage of my growth, and encouraging me (and even giving the occasional gentle push) when my knees got wobbly and I wasn't sure whether I had the courage to continue down the whole “woman in ministry” path.

So now, pastors, here's my gentle push for you. The women in your congregation, especially that breed of women who are leading Bible studies, posting edgy articles on Facebook, and coming up to you after your sermon to ask a question or voice disagreement (read: she wants to engage in spiritual and theological discussion with you), need you to invest in them. Please, find a way. Meet in a group, or teach a woman much older than you who will teach the younger women, or hire a female pastor to shepherd the women in your congregation, or just get over it. Please. I think you will be glad you did.

30 Responses to Why Men Need to Mentor Women. I’m Looking at You, Pastors!

  1. Bronwyn Lea January 4, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Jenny, you are so right, and your article makes me realize that I have taken for granted the pastors who mentored me. What they did was much more counter-cultural and significant than I realized at the time, and your appeal here is so needed. Sharing this!

  2. Glen McGraw January 4, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    You are right on the money. Sad thing is this change may take time. But men and women alike deserve the attention and development of their pastor.

    If you are a woman who needs assistance in theological growth from a pastor search. And don’t stop looking until you find one of us who is willing to guide you!

  3. Tim January 4, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Good point, Jen. Gender should not be a disqualifier when it comes to mentoring relationships. I wonder if younger men can also be mentored by older women. Thoughts?


    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 4, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Oh, absolutely. And in an ideal world there would be plenty of theologically educated women to mentor anyone who needed it as well. I’m just saying that in the current reality, it is extra important for men, who are still far more likely to have a theological education, to step up to the plate and invest in people who are being overlooked because of their gender. And probably even moreso in rural areas, where people may not have access to the people and resources clustered in urban settings.

  4. Katie January 4, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    Jenny, thanks for this article! I have been struggling to find good godly mentoring, praying for that in 2013! (I use a lot of exclamation points, always positive!) but just to give a little push-back, I’m not a proponent of men mentoring women. Unless it’s my husband. I take the biblical encouragement to submit to my husband very seriously. He is my mentor. He is who guides me and pushes me. It is often mutual, but he is my leader. He, my husband, is in submission to my pastor (we have multiple but for this purpose I’ll say he submits to any of the pastors at our church). My husband meets regularly with these men and is mentored by them and then I learn from my husband what he learns, how he’s challenged, etc just by doing life together. Our sermons are extremely challenging to me, weekly is too much as I don’t have time to really study and apply the teaching each week! Ha! But I hear what you’re saying, and what I’m saying is that I am “mentored” by our pastors as they shepherd the flock, I’m a part of that. Thanks again!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 4, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks Katie! I do have a bit of a different understanding of spiritual authority than you expressed (I think the New Testament teaches that the concept we refer to as “spiritual authority” is having the power to do the things God calls us to do, rather than a secular understanding of authority as power over other humans–I’m going to write on that someday!), but I do understand where you’re coming from. Even in that paradigm, however, I think there is room for men to mentor women. When Mary of Bethany “sat at Jesus’ feet,” the wording implies that she was sitting at his feet as the disciple of a rabbi, which is what made her sister so uncomfortable. Women weren’t allowed to do that in that culture. Paul refers regularly to female co-workers in ministry, who I believe it is safe to say he mentored. And flipping things around, Priscilla taught Apollos, one of the early church’s most influential evangelists! Her husband was there as well, but the fact that Priscilla’s name is typically mentioned first implies that she was the one most directly involved in teaching and ministry.

      But all that said, I certainly understand the preference for a female mentor. I hope you find a wonderful, godly mentor!!!

      • Tim January 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

        I go along with your thinking more than Katie’s, although I do see her point for those who hold her doctrine.

        Still, I wonder how that would play out for unmarried women (no husband to look to for mentoring), for women married to immature believers (a husband who is not up to mentoring anyone, let alone his wife), or for women married to unbelievers (a husband who is spiritually dead).

  5. Aleah January 4, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    My heart beat faster reading this! I have had a very similar experience on my own journey digging deeper. I think it can also be challenging to women to seek out mentoring if it does not appear to be freely offered for fear of rejection. I know that was a hurtle for me. Thank you for offering such a well balanced perspective that does not seek to criticize but to encourage.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 4, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      I think that’s very true, Aleah–it can be scary for women to reach out for mentoring as well, whether the mentor they’re seeking is male or female.

  6. fiddlrts January 4, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    “We need you to stop being afraid of us. We need you to view us as human beings, not potential sources of sexual temptation, to treat us like sisters, as Paul instructed Timothy, not Jezebels, as some of your mentors may have implied. We need you to quit acting like we have cooties.”

    This is so true – and not just in the context of church. One of the most disheartening things about the trend in gender theology in Evangelical Christianity is the idea that men and women cannot interact except in the context of sex within marriage. (My wife was considered that Jezebel during her teens because she wasn’t really interested it talking about homemaking and babies, but wanted to discuss intellectual topics – and cars.) I really believe this damages the future relationships of both genders.

    If anything, we need to encourage our children to form friendships with both boys and girls, and to see the opposite sex not as objects for future gratification but as fully human. Fully equal. Fully capable of a wide variety of relationships. If they happen to find a best friend to marry, then great! It worked for me. But I also have female friends, personal and professional, that I can enjoy without any sexual element. As you put it, they don’t have cooties.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong January 4, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      So true! It’s interesting–cross-gender friendships were completely natural and accepted in my circles up through college age, but once people hit adulthood, that began to change. There’s so much fear about maintaining appropriate boundaries. It’s understandable but can still cause issues. Men and women need to find healthy ways of having appropriate relationships.

  7. Diana Trautwein January 4, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Preach it, sister! The ONLY things that made it possible for men to consider ‘mentoring’ me were the fact that a.) I was older, and b.) I am overweight, making me no threat in the sexual attraction department. The senior pastor in my home church truly did mentor me – again, I was younger than he! – and I am deeply grateful for his input into my formational years in ministry. But after that? Nope. I did find a spiritual director who was a charismatic Benedictine Abbot, and met with him monthly for 3 years, and that was life-changing, especially as I transitioned into retirement. He died two years ago and I still miss him terribly. But I haven’t had a mentor, as such, since I was in seminary. I have done a little mentoring and am willing to consider doing it online, via skype or email.

  8. Laura January 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    I so relate to this post Jenny. While the details are a bit different, I too in my twenties longed for more theologically but had no idea what to read, where to start, etc. It is frustrating to be patronized when reaching out to go deeper.Thanks for your passionate pleas in this post.

  9. Beth January 4, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Jenny, thanks for your post. I’m writing my dissertation on clergy gender equity right now, and one of the key points I’m making is the need for men to sponsor promising women. This involves both mentoring them AND opening the doors they need opened in order to get practical experience in ministry. I am thankful to have had several men invite me to the leadership table.

    One of my colleagues recently reminded me that a mentoring relationship and a confessional one are different. By separating the two, the line between personal and professional remains a bit less blurred. This can help with some of the concerns about impropriety.

    Another colleague brought up the idea that the church needs to do a better job of labeling and dealing with lust. Rather than women being the problem — Jezebels, as you stated — the problem is the sexualization of women.

    Just a few thoughts from where I sit. Blessings to you as you pursue God’s calling on your life.

    • Les January 8, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      Fun to find your comment here. Way to weigh-in here, eh?
      Hope your dissertation progress is enough to keep you moving forward.
      A CMC sister in our congregation passed this blog on to me.

  10. Bev Murrill January 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Jenny, I so know your frustration.

    When we first began in ministry with Rick being the pastor and me being the ‘pastor’s wife’… (as if that was a job description.. ugghhhh) I clearly had a teaching ministry and we both mentored and raised up the young leaders. It wasn’t for a long time that someone made it clear that if it looks like a pastor and acts like a pastor.. it IS a pastor and I was given room and recognition for my role.

    We used to have a (very) complementarian overseer visit us in those days (I thought complementarian was THE biblical view… we lived egalitarian but espoused complementarian as our theology). He would sit with Rick and i discussing things to do with theology and leading the church. Because of my teaching bent, I would often ask him questions that he clearly felt Rick should be asking – but Rick’s mind didn’t work like that, so he never would have. He would wait patiently till I finished my question, politely looking at me while I asked, and when I finished my question, he would turn to Rick and give the answer, as though it had been Rick who asked!

    Thank God that He helped me nevertheless and because of the experiences of those early years, I have dedicated myself and my ministry ethos, to making sure that I bring other leaders, and specifically women, along with me as I move into the new things that God has called me to.

    In the end, I never did have a guy to mentor me but God enabled me and the result is that I have mentored and trained lots of women AND men to mentor others into ministry… one way or another, God will have His way, and thanks to Him for making a way where there seems to be no way.

  11. Peggy January 5, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Love this! Your early story is so like mine … but I was too — whatever — and couldn’t even get connected to the coat tails of a minister! My path has been different, but I so resonate with your story. Thanks for sharing it. I hope some with take the “push” seriously.

    Be blessed….

  12. Ryan Thomas Neace January 5, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Great article, Jenny Rae. It’s great to hear about this from your perspective and I appreciate your candor. I’m glad you were persistent as well, and able to finally find the mentorship you needed. I wrote about this, or at least why ministers struggle in this area, awhile back for HuffPo Religion – here’s the copy from my site: Consecrated Sexual Attraction

    Best to you!

  13. Paul Clutterbuck January 6, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    I’m not a pastor, just a mature layperson. As a Christian eunuch in my early 40s, I’m beginning to have the opportunity to mentor younger women. A little over a year ago, I was asked by a fiery young woman I’d met at a lecture series on St Paul to explore some of the deeper questions about Christian faith with her. I made the mistake of thinking she, a single person, was after a relationship. Unfortunately, after some mixed messages, it all came to an end about 5 months later. It did teach me some valuable lessons, though, particularly about interpreting the finer nuances in these kinds of situations. It was also at this time that I discovered Dan Brennan’s beautiful exploration of cross-gender friendships, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, which is an invaluable treatment of this sometimes delicate subject.

    Recently, a student pastor from a Bible college in another city began interning at our church. She and I shared a similar journey out of spiritual abuse in totalitarian cults, but we had both journeyed far enough that we were comfortable sharing our journey together. She is in her mid-twenties. Since she is married, I’m under no illusions this time, which is actually quite freeing! Transference can be an issue, but it’s quite manageable. I’m under professional supervision from a leading (male) psychiatrist in the church, too, which is immeasurably valuable. It can be done, with appropriate care and accountability on both sides.

  14. Vic Christian January 6, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Interesting article. However – the pastor is to teach others to mentor. No Christian is more important than any other – if everyone expected only certain people to mentor them we would have a bigger issue than we do now. Swallow your pride and let the Lord lead.

  15. Kasey February 5, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    You have no idea how many times I have heard, “If you were only a man…”. Well, I’m not. And the women that I have approached have all said no. So, I’m left alone. Again.

  16. Aaron March 20, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    Hey Jenny, your story matches my wife’s story pretty closely. I think it’s hard to be let down in a difficult-to-articulate way by people who are generally good, yet quite blind to the hurtful systems that are in place. I stumbled on your blog as I was Googling, trying to find an article (by Christianity Today maybe?) published in the last year or two that dealt with the impact of hedges on cross-gender mentoring. I think hedges are important, but they’re not an excuse to avoid mentoring, they’re just one more real factor to account for. Any chance you read or remember this article and could help me find it? Sorry I can’t be more specific. Thanks for your thoughts.

  17. SIerra June 22, 2015 at 7:31 am #

    I would say I used to agree 100%. But the fact is that anyone in ministry has a giant enemy target right on their back. Male (and female!) Pastors are wise to exercise caution. Very recently a family member of mine was pretty devastated when the Pastor of her thriving church was caught in adultery with a married woman (a church member). He lost everything. Very sad. That is why I believe, in almost all cases, women should only be mentored by women. There is just too much at stake.


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