Twenty years ago, I served as the first woman chairperson of the Board of Trustees for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The president at that time was Stephen Hayner, who died of pancreatic cancer on January 31, 2015. He was 66 years old.
I remember when Steve asked me, after having been on the board for two terms, to serve a chair. My response was less than gracious.
“Frankly, Steve, that’s the last thing on earth I want to do.” I felt as though my personal trajectory had suffered due to the time I willingly gave to this worthy organization, and I needed to become involved in the writing life again. However, I promised to pray about the decision, and somewhere in the next week, heard that insistent, quiet inner voice say, You know, Karen, there’s artistry in creating a good board also.
Saying “yes” to Steve’s invitation was one of the better acts of obedience I exercised in my whole life. Some of the reason for that is the journey that Steve and I took hacking out what it looked like for the president of a well-known evangelical organization and a woman chair to work together to create a model infrequently (or never) employed that displayed the holy dynamic of how men and women of equal strengths could show forth the full nature of God. Meeting face-to-face once a month, in addition to a weekly phone call, gave us (man and woman) enough time to take a measure of one another’s character, disposition, response to stress and crisis, godliness in word and practice, vulnerability and authenticity.
Stephen was 44 at the time, working through early midlife issues, so our weekly discussions invited me into that dialogue. Fruitful growth and trust and mutuality developed over the two years we were in this relationship. I was often left breathless by Steve’s integrity and authenticity. Moreover, I’m not sure how many men in his position would have been so vulnerable with their board chairs.
On many important issue, Steve and I held to certain strongly formed common values. Our dual role as board chair and president of the organization allowed us to tandem and frame the function of the InterVarsity board in a mold different than what it had previously been.
We both believed that the business of the board was accomplished in positive and God-honoring ways when the relationships of the people of the board were ones based on holy affections, consideration and compassion. We established the precedent that all the committee meetings needed to begin with an hour of sharing what God was doing in our lives; this was necessary since we met only three times a year and were from disparate parts of the country. The love for one another as colleagues around the board table deepened so much that when one member’s term ended and he rotated off, he asked me, “I’m just wondering: Is there life after the InterVarsity board?”
Together, with others’ help, we “browned” the board. Since the student bodies in secular campuses across the country were multi-ethnic, and it was estimated that the white ethnicity would no longer be in a majority, it was important to us that the directors of an organization that worked among those colleges and universities reflect the kind of breadth and depth of thinking that multi-ethnicity demands.
Other women, those not afraid to speak out in a room full of powerful and sometimes opinionated men, were brought onto the board. A gender-equality was established. This again spoke volumes to a watching home office and field staff. Women were considered to be important, they were valued, and literally, room at the table was made for them.
Somewhere in the past, an edict had gone out that board members were not supposed to “talk with the staff”! We made a point to bridge what had become an awkward divide. Appropriate cautions were established: One board member was never allowed to speak for the whole board. Any staff complaints were to be directed to the appropriate supervisors. Due to this effort, a lovely co-inherence began to occur within the full human structure of the organization.
And we healed the divide between the national staff and the board. Up to this point, the IV senior staff sat in the board room, but since I felt they were the ones who knew the organization fully and completely better than anyone else in the room, they should be invited to sit at the table and speak out when they had something pertinent to contribute to whatever issue might be at hand.
After Stephen died, I pulled my InterVarsity board files. To my amazement, I had kept fairly extensive notes on our conversations. I could go on and give multiple accolades about this man—graduate of Whitman College, graduate school at Harvard University and Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and eventually a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland—our conversations were obviously erudite, stimulating and challenging.
Perhaps some lines from my notes convey as well as anything the quality of the man and the high regard in which he was held. An email reported, “On top of it all, three churches have called this week to ask whether I’m interested in moving, (Park Street Boston, Christ Memorial in Holland, Michigan and Christ Church of Oakbrook, IL). I’m not interested in pursuing these, but it was a nice break not to have anyone calling for a while.” Then in a parenthesis, an oh-by-the-way, (“I also got a call from a head-hunter asking whether I was interested in either the presidency of Seattle Pacific or Denver Seminary.”)
For those who have never had the opportunity to establish a similar cross-gender working relationship such as this, they have missed the rare and beautiful opportunity to step into a trusting and mutually affirming spiritual friendship. I personally believe in the sacramental quality of marriage; something holy is shown forth when a man and woman love one another and live with one another in this covenantal way. But there is also a need for Christian men and women to model a more complete nature of God—trust and mutual admiration and like mindedness with no cross-gender “ickiness”—just in their working relationships and friendships. This may say more to a watching world than many of our words.
Others will more aptly tell the other extraordinary qualities of this rare man, but I can affirm that Steve’s exercise of holiness in inviting me, an evangelical woman (who couldn’t read a financial statement—still can’t) to walk beside him and other InterVarsity leaders, was unparalleled in my life and healing to me on the deepest of levels.
Stephen always signed his correspondence, “Joyfully, Steve.” And that is how I will always think of him. Joyfully.
Award-winning author Karen Mains has long had an interest in spiritual formation and the obedient Christian walk. She has written about the God Hunt in her book by the same name, The God Hunt: The Delightful Chase and the Wonder of Being Found. A hardback copy can be ordered from Mainstay Ministries for $10.00 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be happy to autograph a copy for you.
Karen continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags, Africa bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. They are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and congregations at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.