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!
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:
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:
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.
Want to know what happens in a dissertation defense?!? I’m your guy. Here’s a summary of what I experienced last Thursday in my defense.
First, here’s what happened. We met in a glass-walled conference room in the Fuller Library. Two of my cohort-mates were there in person with another three there on video. Three members of my family were there, my parents and Amy. And then two professors were present, and together they constituted my dissertation committee.
At the outset, I was given 10ish minutes to give those gathered a sense of what my journey thorough the program has been like. I chose to testify about how God has met Amy and I in terms of time, finances, passion, and product. Next, my most recent peer reviewers got to give feedback or ask questions, before members of my committee did the same. Then, when all was said and done, we cleared the room so that the committee could decide what they wanted to do with my work. After maybe 10 minutes out of the room, we came back in and they issued the verdict.
Now, five reflections on the time:
First, I found it to be an odd combination of defending my work and gladly receiving input. I mean, the whole experience is framed as a defense; in other words, my task was to justify my findings and conclusions. At points, this required me to answer pointed questions and clarify misconceptions. On the other hand, my reviewers had some helpful input for me, and I was glad to receive it. I don’t know if navigating the tension is normal for dissertation defenses, but I spent my 90 minutes sitting in the middle of this interesting dichotomy of defending and receiving.
Second, I came away with some subtle but helpful ways to strengthen my work. Because of this, I’m not technically done yet, so hold of on your “Dr. Rob” commentary for now. From here, the plan is to do my revisions in the next couple of weeks, run them by my committee, and then send it for copy editing, which is a mandatory step before publication. Once it’s published, have at it with the doctoring (or don’t!).
Third, I certainly felt the presence of my community. I was the one defending on Thursday, but I had scores of friends and family rooting me on from afar. And I felt it palpably. So, a big THANK YOU to everyone who prayed, texted, tweeted, facebooked, and called me.
Fourth, I left the defense incredibly encouraged. Simply put, people were super generous with their comments, both inside and outside the room. Perhaps my favorites were the women in my world that affirmed that the research I had done was congruent with their experience of me. One of my deepest aspirations in life is to have my words and actions be integrated, so these comments were a gift to me.
Fifth, as we walked out of the library and out onto the Fuller mall, I actually felt a twinge of sadness. I’ve been a Fuller student for the last seven years in a focused way, and for the last 17 years (!!!) in a more “meandering” way. To be honest, I’m going to miss the coursework, the cohort experiences, and I’ll miss the ways that Fuller has trained and equipped me for my ministry with InterVarsity.
What was the best part of the experience? That’s easy.
Hearing my mentor professor say, “congratulations, you are passed with distinction.”
Thanks be to God.
My journey through the DMiss program has been a long, winding, and wonderful road. To be honest, I can’t quite believe I’m at (or very near) the end. More than once lately, I’ve been feeling nostalgic; when it’s over, I think I’m going to actually be sad, in addition to like 75 other emotions.
What’s ahead? The defense. Sounds sort of ominous, right? When I think of defending something, it doesn’t take long before the imagery gets life or death. And while I trust that my upcoming dissertation defense won’t be some sort of missiological Alamo, it is in fact a big deal, one worth preparing for. Here’s what I’m doing to get ready.
First, I’m reading. I’ve spent the last two days reading peer dissertations, but today and tomorrow I’m going to read my own. I want to be as familiar as possible with my project before a bunch of scholars ask me incisive questions about it! To celebrate the occasion, I even printed it out, the first time I’ve done so since I started writing.
Second, I’m critiquing. What’s that cliche? “The best defense is a good offense?” I’m going to try that out, and so as I’m reading, I’m critiquing. I’m going to create a list of the toughest questions I can muster, and then try to answer them. Then, for fun, I’ll see how many of my questions actually get asked during the defense.
Third, I’m gathering. In one sense, I’ll be the one standing up at the podium defending this dissertation. But in another sense, I see myself as a part of a community of folks who are interested in my research, who have participated in my research, and who give a rip about the topic of flourishing male/female ministry partnerships. So I’m plotting email updates and Facebook posts all week. Also, it’s going to be great to have advocates in the room with me; thanks in advance to Amy, my folks, and to my cohort for your support.
Finally, I’m praying. Sure, this has been an academic program, but for me the DMiss has also been a deeply spiritual endeavor for me. The other day I was reflecting on how God has met me over the last four years, and I made quite a list. I’ll be sharing a portion of that list as a part of my defense intro.
If you’re the praying type, I’d love to have you onboard. I defend this coming Thursday morning, from 10:45-12:15, at Fuller.
One of my staff made me into a meme. This should give you a window into how they view me:
I like blogging, but there’s nothing like seeing something you created in print. In print!
Thanks to the good folks at Christians for Biblical Equality, I’m back in print in this quarter’s issue of Mutuality Magazine, where I reflected on five ways to be a father who promotes gender equality.
You can find the piece here on the Mutuality website, but, then again…
…if you join CBE, you can get it in print as well!
We have curious kids.
I mean, they are off-the-charts inquisitive. I have no idea if it’s normal or not for kids to be this curious, but I can testify that it’s wildly normal in our house. Woe to the parent to tries to communicate in hushed tones, only to be treated to a chorus of “what was that?”s.
The other day, I was running some errands with our 10 year old daughter Gracie as my copilot. And, at a stoplight, she stopped me short with this little zinger:
“Dad, why are you so passionate about men and women being equal?”
As I affirmed the heck out of her question, I considered my answer. And, truth be told, I could think of like 7 ways to respond to her question. There are lots of things that fuel my fire, many of which I’ve talked about on this blog over the years.
But instead of going through my laundry list, I told her this story:
When I was a young(er) campus minister, I was pastoring a large community of students at our alma mater, Cal Poly SLO. And one of the characteristics of our fellowship was that we were decidedly egalitarian. That is, our conviction was that men and women were both gifted and called to serve in the Kingdom in any and all capacities.
One year, my wife Amy was leading a small group with a male student, and it was a mentoring arrangement. The idea was to develop this student by having him apprentice with a staff worker, and Amy got the call to lead.
And she did a great job. Want proof? At the end of the year, as they debriefed their time together, this student said to Amy, “I’ve grown more this year under your leadership than any other year in my life as a Christian. Thank you.”
Pretty cool, yes?
Of course, you’re waiting for the “but,” and here it comes. The next fall, so maybe two months later, this student joined a group at a local church that advocated a strong complementarian theology. In other words, this student began to hear that the Bible restricts the leadership roles available to women to more supportive functions.
Over some time, this student came to embrace and own this more conservative theological perspective. And when that happened, he naturally began to feel dissonant being a leader in a community that affirmed women preaching, discipling men, leading teams, etc, etc.
And that dissonance eventually resulted in a meeting with me, the campus director. Over the course of an hour, we talked about his new-found approach to the Scriptures, and we talked about the impossibility of him holding that theology with integrity, while serving within a community whose practice communicated the opposite conviction.
Finally, I popped the question I’d been holding since the meeting began. Here’s what I asked him:
“So I know what you told Amy at the end of last year, that you had grown more under her leadership than ever before in your life as a Christian. In light of how you are holding the Scriptures now, how are you thinking about that statement?
Here’s what he said:
“That was God using Amy in spite of her disobedience.”
……..and so I punched him in the face.
(but I really wanted to)
What fuels my fire? Lots of things. I honestly believe that fidelity to Scripture calls us to gender equality. Personally, I have benefitted from the leadership of women time and again. And I genuinely believe that the mission of God will advance more effectively if we can figure out a way for women and men to function as equal and reconciled partners in mission. And I could go on.
But here’s another reason:
My wife is a gifted minister of the Gospel, and how dare anyone call her disobedient for obeying God’s call in her life?!?
So what fuels me? The drive to do everything I can to create a church where all women, including today’s curious little girls and their mothers, are invited to use their all of their gifts to advance the Kingdom of God.
For the last several years, as I’ve waded into the world of gender equality through this blog and in other contexts, I’ve been inspired by the ministry of a group called Christians for Biblical Equality. The good folks at CBE published my gender reconciliation article last year, and I had the joy of attending the 2015 CBE Conference in Los Angeles.
And so it’s with a great deal of affection and gratitude that I can share that I’ll be participating in the 2017 CBE Conference in Orlando…as a presenter!
I’m honored to contribute to the conference theme, “Mutual By Design: Building God’s Church Together” by leading a workshop entitled “The Blessed Alliance at Work: Women and Men Partnering Together to Advance the Mission of God.”
Sounds good, yes? I’ll be sharing the model I have been developing over the last three years in my doctoral program, and we’ll think together about how to develop flourishing partnerships in greater measure in our contexts. I’m eager to take my research out for a spin with this great group of folks.
So, here’s the question…who’s coming to Orlando with me?!?