When I discovered differentiation of self was in the book, People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership, I was more than curious to see what the author had to say about what it means for pastors.
But if you know me, I was keenly interested to know how the author was going to address male-female friendship through the lens of differentiation of self. There is nothing like differentiated friendship between men and women in broad daylight that either exposes chronic patriarchal anxiety or provokes acute anxiety among evangelical pastors and churches.
I have been studying the rich connection between differentiation of self and cross-gender friendship for years. To admit differentiation of self is not a silver bullet, nor a psychological theory that trumps all others, is not to say that this theory lacks dynamic and abundant riches for men and women living in the twenty-first century.
Since I started to blog on cross-gender friendship almost ten years ago, I’ve seen Christian authors/thinkers apply it to healthy living and loving, for deeply knowing others in rich community, for marriage, and again on marriage, for leadership, and again on leadership, and spiritual maturity/shalom. Many others embrace this rich, rich theory for spiritual well-being, maturing intimacy, friendship, and leadership.
I was interested to see if Stone (with a glowing foreword by Ed Stetzer) was going to take differentiation deep into the roots of patriarchal anxiety. In a certain sense, there is nothing like the breadth and depth of differentiation as a path toward the abundant life Jesus promised for men and women.
Remember the heart and soul of differentiation of self. Differentiation has the enormous power through the Holy Spirit to liberate men and women from patriarchal anxiety and usher them into unprecedented closeness in togetherness. Remember that differentiation is the practice and ability to be fully present as your self in the close or intimate proximity of important others in your life. Remember that differentiation knows there is a responsible, “I” when others are insisting, “we.”
Remember that differentiation is not anti-togetherness, but the ability to define your self precisely in closest and most important relationships where others are demanding conformity. As it relates to spiritual maturity and a new kind of togetherness it is not about insisting to get one’s own way, nor about a my way or the highway, nor is it about self-aggrandizement.
Part of the extraordinary depth of differentiation on Christian terms regarding embodied relationships between men and women is that it infuses holiness and spiritual maturity with deep spiritual-emotional relational meaning.
Remember when I said that there is nothing like differentiated friendship to provoke patriarchal anxiety? Observe how your Ed Stetzer-trained church planters or pastors (for a clear example) squirm and get all uptight and defensive when you talk about unprecedented closeness, unprecedented togetherness in male-female friendship. In so much of my experience around evangelicals, the “we” demands that the “I” conform to the patriarchal herd, to old stereotypes, to old rules, to old boundaries—in other words a holiness with a list of dos and don’ts, and external rules
To explore differentiated friendship among evangelicals triggers patriarchal anxiety among pastors and evangelicals that provokes them into herding. When you are stuck in the herd mentality, leaders conform to people-pleasing—the anxious pressure of the crowds (whether the number is six, six hundred, or six thousand) to shape a stuck togetherness. When we herd we anxiously cling to all kinds of anxiety-driven conformity to a list of rules.
Even in 2016 at this hour under the herd mentality, there are pastors (be they female or male) who still encounter anxiety-driven rules like they can’t meet alone with someone of the opposite-sex, or they can’t nurture a close relationship with a cross-gender friend unless there is a herd (group or chaperone) in their immediate presence.
Differentiating holiness changes all this. In differentiation, we go back to a strong biblical reality that God looks not at the outward appearance but looks at the heart. In differentiation it is not about external rules but defining what is your responsibility in close relationships and what is not your responsibility.
Go ahead. Test it out. Initiate a conversation with an evangelical where herding has been the norm. There are all these external rules for conformity when you talk about sexuality, unprecedented closeness, and friendship. One of the big reasons why I like differentiation of self is that by getting to the heart of patriarchal anxiety, the conversation about the meaning of “healthy” and “boundaries” radically changes. Evangelical leaders/pastors unfamiliar with differentiation of self have no relational understanding that “healthy” and “boundaries” are at the center of unprecedented closeness in differentiated friendship.
It’s like you are speaking a foreign language to them because the meanings of “boundaries” and “healthy” have meant a “togetherness” that conforms everybody into believing romantic togetherness cannot flourish with deep cross-gender closeness. For example, the perceived deep closeness between a married man and a single woman out in the open provokes this relationship anxiety into the anxious need for herding.
So, in this herd mentality, the people-pleasing thing (that is, the anxious response) is to view boundaries within cross-gender friends as an ongoing practice of emotional cut-off. In other words, no emotional-spiritual depth, no deep spiritual-emotional closeness permitted in cross-gender friendship.
You see how that works? Now within this theory of differentiation of self, emotional cut-off means you emotionally-spiritually distance yourself to stay away from emotionally close relationships. Emotional cut-off within the theory of differentiation is no small thing. In fact, a whole, in-depth book has been written about it. In many evangelical books, the meaning of boundaries is synonymous with spiritual-emotional distance and emotional cut-off.
When I first started to understand differentiation, it was like a lifesaver to me. And then, not just a lifesaver but a wide-open door from Jesus toward abundant life in cross-gender friendship. There is no gender line or boundary in the middle of differentiation. In other words, differentiation has the enormous power through the Holy Spirit to liberate men and women from patriarchal herding and into unprecedented closeness in togetherness.
There it is. Unprecedented togetherness. Unprecedented closeness.
I wanted to see if Stone was going to bring differentiation into the gendered challenge of a woman’s deep Yes! as leaders, pastors, friends, and wives. I wanted to see if he was going to address the evangelical people-pleasing anxiety that has not welcomed single women as pastors in evangelical churches. I was eager to if he was going to cover women who are persons of color as pastors (single or married) in evangelical communities. I was eager to see if he was going to highlight differentiation as the path toward unprecedented closeness and togetherness in abundant life and shalom.
As I saw that Ed Stetzer wrote the foreword, I wondered if Ed had suddenly changed in his orientation from patriarchal herding to differentiation or if somehow this was not going to be a full-blown book about pastors and differentiation of self.
So, I read the whole book.
On the one hand, Stone identifies some of the key concepts clustered around differentiation of self.
One the other hand, when I finished the book, I was so underwhelmed. Where were the stories well-differentiated female pastors becoming close with their co-pastor male partners and eschewing the Billy Graham rules? Nowhere to be found. Where were the stories of well-differentiated, non-anxious single female pastors nurturing deep closeness with a well-differentiated married male co-pastor in the presence of others who insisted on herding toward the immature members? Nowhere to be found. Where were the stories of a female pastor who is a person of color nurturing a strong self in the presence of other white leaders? Nowhere to be found.
Indeed, sexuality and gender were so absent that by the end it felt like a book on neutered leadership. There are a couple of good quotes from women sprinkled throughout the book but no strong female presence stories that go to the heart of patriarchal anxiety. In fact, he includes some in-depth insights of four "well-known ministry leaders" and guess what? Yes, They're all male.
The end of part one. Hope you come back for part two.