Editor’s Note: A year ago, just as he was wrapping up his Doctor of Intercultural Studies degree at Fuller Theological Seminary, we did an interview with Dr. Rob Dixon. One year later, we thought we would check in to see what he’s up to.
Challenging Tertullian: Since our last interview, you have started a new ministry venture, yes?
Rob Dixon: Yep, that’s true. I’ve become a traveling teacher/trainer. Want to think about the caliber of your mixed gender ministry partnerships? Pick me!
CT: OK, that’s quite a phrase, “mixed gender ministry partnerships.” Can you unpack that for us?
RD: I know it’s a mouthful, and I’ve tried out like 3 other ways of putting it. If anyone has a better way to frame it, I’m all ears! My degree was focused on flourishing working partnerships within the ministry context between women and men. In an article in the New York Times the other day, columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote, “we should all be adult enough to maneuver through the middle ground between leering at a colleague and avoiding [them].” I think that’s right, and I’m here to offer a way through that tension.
CT: It must be gratifying to be putting your degree to work?
RD: Indeed. My worst fear was that my dissertation would sit up on the shelf gathering dust. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve been given to present on my research model. The last 8 months or so have been wonderful!
CT: Talk about where you are doing these trainings.
RD: There are two main categories. I’ve been doing some training over video, with individuals and groups. While I appreciate the luxury of not having to travel, the video conferencing medium has some disadvantages as well. For sure it’s tougher for me to connect with people. So I like being physically present as much as possible. For instance, I’m doing this interview on my flight back from Iowa, where I was training a group of pastors and lay leaders in Ames.
CT: Great. Well, can you tell us what you actually do in trainings like the one you did in Iowa?
RD: It can vary, but often there will be some sort of foundational presentation on what the Bible has to say about women and men in partnership (spoiler alert—the Bible is FOR such partnerships), and then I’ll train off of my dissertation model. At the event in Ames, I spent 2 hours or so guiding the group through 10 attributes of flourishing partnerships, including topics like having a learner’s posture, communication, sharing power, attentiveness to negative dynamics, etc. We cover it all!
CT: What kind of response are you getting? What are you learning as you make the rounds?
RD: By far the biggest thing I am experiencing is that people are uniformly grateful for the content. I find that most communities, churches, and organizations are silent on topics at the intersection of faith and gender, and so people are hungry for this conversation. That’s particularly true in this cultural moment of #metoo and #churchtoo. My goal each time I train is to send people home with practical things they can do immediately to make their mixed gender ministry partnerships more satisfying and effective. Almost across the board, the reviews on the trainings I’ve done have been positive.
CT: That all sounds great. Do you ever get pushback?
RD: Of course I do, and after 8 months of doing this, I can usually guess where the pushback will come from. For instance, one of the attributes in my model is authentic friendships. Thriving partners share more than a cubicle; they share a friendship! Often, this attribute brings pushback, particularly with an older crowd, because it challenges the enshrined paradigm of the Billy Graham rule, with its six decades of teaching that male leaders should never be alone with a woman who is not their wife. So, that’s a common landmine, and pushback is not uncommon.
CT: Interesting. So what’s your reply to that?
RD: I can’t give everything away! Come to a training to find out!
CT: Fair enough. Do you do other types of trainings?
RD: I do. My main thing right now is the mixed gender ministry partnership content, but last week I helped a community in downtown Fresno consider the Bible’s message of equality between the genders, and I’ve been known to speak on topics like male privilege (Challenging Tertullian shout-out!) and gender reconciliation as well. What I told the group in Ames was that whenever and wherever a faith community is having a conversation about faith and gender, I want to be a part of it.
CT: What would you say is your vision for these trainings you’re doing? In the big picture, what are you hoping to accomplish?
RD: I’ll use the language of calling here to describe my passion for this new ministry. I feel called to challenge the people of God to embrace a theology and practice of gender equality, and I see everything I’m doing right now as furthering that end. At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, I’m desperate to help others imagine a church where women and men can flourish in equal measure.
CT: Lastly, if folks read this and want to find out more information, do you have a website?
RD: I do have a website, and I’d love it if folks would stop by. I have posted some resources there along with a description of what I do. If people are interested in having me coach or train, they can reach out. My email is on the site.
CT: Thanks Rob. We appreciate it.
RD: You bet. Talk to you next year!
The dissertation is done, and I’m clearly not posting much in this space, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! Thanks to the good folks over at InterVarsity’s blog for recently posting two of my pieces.
There’s this one, about 3 gaps we’ll need to overcome if we’re going to partner together as women and men:
And there’s this one, with 6 reflections on men empowering women in the ministry context:
Thanks again to the InterVarsity blog for hosting me!
So there I was, minding my own business in the Bass Pro Shops candy section, trying to decide whether to buy a bag of cherry slices or toffee peanuts, when our two youngest daughters came running at me down the aisle.
“Dad, come see this! You have to see this! It’s an outrage!”
Now, let the reader understand that sometimes my children can be, well, a bit melodramatic. But when I glanced over their shoulder and saw my wife Amy nodding at me, I knew I had to follow them.
So they marched me over to the toy section, to a revolving kiosk full of miniature tin sheriff badges. Like those license plates you can buy at curio shops, these badges had a variety of names printed on them.
Now, can you guess what sparked the outrage? I’ll let the girls tell you:
Grace: “DAD, THESE ARE ALL BOYS NAMES!”
Lily: “YEAH, GIRLS CAN BE SHERIFFS TOO!”
Both: “THIS IS SO DUMB!”
Have I mentioned that I’m raising feminists?!? Now it wasn’t strictly true that there were no girls names on the license plates. We found two:
“Princess” and “#1 Cowgirl.”
Needless to say, our girls were not impressed:
There are several moments that I could pick as critical markers on my journey to this doctoral degree, but this picture captures my favorite one.
Here I am, being spiritually commissioned to carry forward the fruit of my research to the church in order to reach the world. And what a joy to be launched on my way by Dr. Betsy Glanville, my dissertation mentor.
May God use this research, and may God use me, to help our faith communities discern ways to form flourishing male/female ministry partnerships in greater measure!
Some days, I despair at what feels like the overwhelming challenge of raising confident, empowered, and flourishing young women.
Other days, I get to see stuff like this:
Editor’s Note: We sat down recently with Rob Dixon, a newly minted Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, to talk to Rob about his program, what he learned, and what’s up next for him.
Challenging Tertullian: Welcome, Rob. So you’ve just finished your doctorate. You’re big time now, right?
Rob Dixon: Thanks for having me, but I don’t know about “big time.” After all, let’s not miss the fact that I’m currently interviewing myself on my own blog…
CT: Well, can we call you Dr. Dixon now?
RD: You can. Fuller’s policy is that a student can use the honorific once their dissertation is published to the online dissertation library, and I accomplished that on Friday, January 26th. Here’s a fun fact: I’m actually the second Dr. Dixon to graduate from Fuller; my uncle Jim Dixon graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree in 1976.
CT: Wonderful! And how does it feel to be done?
RD: A mix of feelings for sure. I feel a lot of relief that it’s over and the dissertation is done. I also feel a ton of excitement at introducing the world to what I’ve learned. And a part of me is even sad; I’m going to miss the learning process. It’s a curious mix of emotions.
CT: So you’re moving forward as Dr. Dixon. Really, what are your thoughts on that title?
RD: To be honest, my first inclination is to deflect. I just saw someone using “Dr. Dixon” the other day (here), and it was kind of crazy. If you know me, you know that I’m a pretty informal person. So by temperament, I’m instinctively reluctant to embrace this idea that I’m an expert in something. On top of that, the more I learn and the deeper I dig into topics like the one on this blog, the more aware I become of how much I don’t know. So, I think there’s some inner spiritual work for me to do as I step into my leadership and authority as someone with a doctorate. It’s going to take some getting used to.
CT: But are you open to people calling you Dr. Dixon?
RD: They can call me whatever they want to, lol. Or, perhaps we should pick a day a year when I can only be called Dr. Dixon? We could go with January 26?
CT: Your degree is a Doctor of Intercultural Studies. Is that a Ph.D?
RD: It’s not a Ph.D, but I get that a lot. Sometimes I correct people, sometimes I don’t. The D.I.S., and its cousin, the Doctor of Missiology degree, is a four-year, primarily online program with a wonderful blend of theory and praxis. I’ve loved my program. Folks can find more information here.
CT: Can people read your dissertation?
RD: I heartily recommend it if they are having trouble sleeping! A lot of friends and family have asked if they can read my dissertation, and it’s flattering. But a dissertation is not an easy thing to read, particularly if you are not in the academy. It’s pretty technical at points, it’s written in an academic style, and, at more than 170 pages, it’s a bit of a beast to digest. So when people tell me they want to read it, I usually tell them to wait a bit and I’ll send them a 10 page summary. I’m working on that right now and will have that ready soon.
CT: Can you put your topic into a paragraph or so?
RD: Your question reminds of what we do with college students at the end of a short-term missions trip, when we coach them to tell their story in 30 minute, 5 minute and 1 minute versions. The short version is this: I’ve just spent four years understanding what flourishing male/female ministry partnerships look like in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In that process, I’ve created a training model that groups 10 distinct attributes into 3 domains which, taken together, form mixed gender partnerships that are personally satisfying and missionally effective. There you go. Just two sentences!
CT: Now that you have your doctorate, are you planning to teach?
RD: I actually have turned in my application to do adjunct work at a campus near me, but I don’t have any plans to teach full time. While I think I would enjoy teaching, I’m not ready to be full-time in a classroom yet. I’ve been in ministry for a long time, more than 20 years. I’m a practitioner who is still learning, and I’m not yet ready to give that up. In fact, I’m eager to take what I’ve learned in my program out for a test drive in my ministry!
CT: Are there people you want to thank, now that you’re at the end of the doctoral road?
RD: Indeed there are. As was true when I finished my MAGL, it’s taken a village to get this degree done. In the dissertation, I got to write a dedication page and an acknowledgements section. Those were holy moments for me, because it’s true to say that without my friends and family, there would be no Dr. Dixon. I appreciate my research subjects, my staff team, friends who helped in various ways, our extended family, and, of course, Amy and the kids. Everyone has been so supportive, and I’m grateful.
CT: Last question. What are your next steps? Now that you’ve finished your dissertation, what will you work on next?
RD: My dissertation advisor told our cohort several times that the finish line is also a starting line. And as I said earlier, I’m eager to shepherd what I’ve learned into the world, both in InterVarsity and beyond. I’m convinced that my model can help a church that I think is frankly foundering in the era of #metoo and #churchtoo. So I have a few things brewing. I’m working on a website, I’m plotting some writing projects, and I’ll be speaking on flourishing male/female ministry partnerships several times in 2018. I’m pretty excited for everything that is to come this year!
CT: Well, thanks for being with us. We’re excited to see where all of this goes for you. Just please don’t neglect this blog!
RD: Thanks and I’ll try not to!
At about 4pm on Friday, January 26, 2018, I uploaded a PDF of my finalized dissertation to ProQuest, the online repository of academic writing, thus completing my doctor of intercultural studies program.
There was much rejoicing.
Last weekend, I got the opportunity to sign my name to statement calling for “an end to harassment, abuse, and sexual violence against women and girls.”
Though I’ve signed online petitions and statements before, I’d never been invited to put my name on one before it was published.
In this case, I was proud to sign, for at least three reasons. First, I’m fully invested in the cause, and I want my voice to be heard. Next, I think this is a well-crafted statement. Third, I am blessed to be partners in mission with the groups behind the statement, the Women’s Transformation & Leadership and Local Missional Engagement leadership teams from the Reformed Church in America.
These are pivotal times. May the church seize the moment to listen, and to speak.
From the earliest story of our faith, God has painted a picture of a reality in which women and men together reflect the image of God. In Genesis 1:26-27, God establishes a vision—a vision God calls very good—of a world where men and women alike are treated with dignity, respect, and love as people created in God’s image.
And yet, not long after that vision was cast, an insidious narrative took its place. For far too long, women and girls have been victims of harassment, abuse, and sexual violence rather than being treated with the dignity God intended for them. Women have shared their stories of pain, only to have those stories fall on ears that did not wish to hear. Many women who dared to speak have been mocked and vilified.
A culture of shame and secrecy has stifled the voices of countless others (men and boys included). These people have not felt safe to share their stories because of the very real fear that their lives would be destroyed by those in positions of power. This culture has begun to shift in recent days and weeks, and we in the church are obligated to listen and respond.
We find ourselves in a pivotal moment. Social movements like the women’s march or the hashtags #timesup and #metoo show that people are grappling with how to respond to these stories of pain. Each story of #metoo has reverberated in hearts, in lives, in communities, and throughout the world. These stories have even come from within the church, which we see with the hashtag #churchtoo.
We believe the church must find its voice and speak.
To read the rest of the statement, click here. And, if you’re so inclined, I’d love to have your signature alongside mine.
It’s always an honor to be hosted by my friends at The Junia Project. Recently, I’ve been doing some reflecting on how we interpret 1 Timothy 2:8-15. My conclusion? You’d never want to attend a church that literally lives out that passage. Here’s the first couple of paragraphs. To read on, click the link below!
Interpreting the Bible can be a tricky proposition.
But don’t take my word for it. Take God’s word for it.
Reflecting on his contemporary Paul’s theological writings, the apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:15-16:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
There it is: “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”
And God’s people said, AMEN. Of course, we’re not certain which Pauline teachings Peter had in mind, but it seems like there’s a good chance he was talking about passages like 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
Want to read more? Here!
It won’t surprise you when I say that I am a sucker for any new book on gender and faith. I mean, I’m really an easy sell. And so I picked up Emboldened, by First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena’s Senior Pastor Tara Beth Leach, with eager anticipation.
As it turns out, that anticipation was well-founded. There’s much to affirm about Emboldened. For instance, because of its relentless and heartfelt affirmation of women in leadership, I’m going to give a copy to each of the women on my staff team. And I love how Leach chooses to frame the conversation about women in leadership around mission, with justice as a part of that larger concept. And for me the final 2 chapters, with their compelling vision for an emboldened church releasing women and men to use their gifts in pursuit of God’s mission, is worth the price of the whole book.
These things noted, I read Emboldened with Tertullian in mind. That is, my question was what Emboldened have to say to men like me. I think Leach has at least 5 challenges for today’s male ecclesiastical gatekeepers.
Challenge #1: Listen and learn. Part 1 of Emboldened is written for women, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a goldmine of learning for Kingdom brothers like me. There are lots of things that need changing about how we are doing church in terms of gender equality, but it must start with listening and learning. It’s a privilege to be trusted with the all-too-common difficult stories of women in today’s church; we would do well to read Emboldened with reverence, care, and with a heart eager to learn.
Challenge #2: Embrace some new faith heroines. Growing up, the vast majority of my faith heroes were male. You know, King David, the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, etc., etc. Over the years, I’ve been able to diversify my biblical and extra-biblical mentors, to include women and people of color. Need a similar experience? Leach has you covered. Read chapter 1 to get to know Mary Magdalene, Marcella, Teresa of Ávila, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Patricia Gundry, and Tara Beth Leach herself.
Challenge #3: You can’t do it all. In my leadership, I aspire to intentionally mentor and empower women into leadership. Leach definitely affirms male mentorship, but she simultaneously notes that it’s not enough. That is, up-and-coming women need female mentors in their lives as well. Why? Because men like me “will never fully understand the bumps, setbacks, and pushbacks women in ministry face (pg. 90).” You know what? That’s true. And it’s OK. And for men like me who want to fix everything, preferably in the next 10 minutes or less, it’s good to be reminded that we can’t do it all. One of my application points is to ask the women that I’m leading if they have female mentors in their lives.
Challenge #4: Teach the Bible. Leach is clear that Emboldened is not a theological defense of women in leadership. And while I might wish that we’d had a chance to hear her exposit some of the so-called “problem texts” (maybe in the next book?!?), there is a clear call for pastors to proactively teach egalitarian theology in their contexts. Here’s Leach: “men who embolden women don’t wait before it’s too late to paint the kingdom vision for women in the church; they do it as if it’s second nature. Men who embolden women paint the kingdom vision for women in the church with such vigor, color, and beauty that women in the pews imagine a world in which they are invited to the table to use their gifts and soar with great freedom. (pg. 167)” Amen, and this motivates me to continue to press into the discipline of study, in order to know the Scriptures better, and it challenges me to continue to plan teaching slots in my yearly calendar.
Challenge #5: Take risks. In the forward, Scot McKnight, one of Leach’s mentors, writes: “males on the platform (ie. in church leadership) need to slide over and give women a place (pg. 2).” Long-time readers of Challenging Tertullian won’t be surprised to know that I highlighted the heck out of that snippet. Indeed, men, we are called to take risks to advance women into greater leadership in the church, and that could well mean stepping to the side. For a benediction, here’s Leach’s charge:
“Brothers in Christ, it can be risky to embolden your sister in Christ. You might be ridiculed. You might cause uproar. You might see people leave your church. You might see pastors leave your denomination. You might lose some of your biggest givers. How much longer will you be a slave to fear? When will you start bringing women before your congregations and faithfully proclaim that the bride of Christ will continue to limp along until we embolden gifted, called, and anointed women in our midst (pgs. 161-2)?”
Men, do yourself, and your sisters, a favor. Pick up and read a copy of Emboldened.