Complementarianism and Campus Ministry: An interview with Carl Matthei and Alison Napier

What does complementarian ministry look like in practice in a parachurch setting? To explore just that, we chat to Carl Matthai and Alison Napier who are part of the team at Campus Bible Study (CBS) at the University of New South Wales. Carl heads up the ministry and Alison joined the team in 2015 to especially help with ministry among overseas students.

Questions for Alison

Alison, what does your role involve? 

As well as evangelising the students at UNSW, a key aspect of the CBS ministry is training the next generation of gospel workers, and so a big part of my role is to train female apprentices. I also serve among the international students with the FOCUS ministry

What benefits have you seen from having men and women working together on your staff team?

It’s a joy to serve together as a fairly large team of men and women! As we get together at staff meetings we share our different perspectives and approaches as we make decisions together. It’s really helpful to have our brothers there to keep us on track with the broader vision, but the women’s perspective keeps the relational dynamic in view with regards to both ministry structures and events. Of course, that’s a generalisation, but to a great degree there is truth in it as well, and the same dynamic comes into play in our day to day work. 

Ultimately, as we serve the students on the ground together week by week, it’s helpful for them to have the various role models of godly men and women who they can look to as they work out how to live faithful Christian lives now and into their futures.

What do you see as the strengths of a complementarian approach to ministry on campus? What are potential difficulties?

The strength is that it really does work! Isn’t that always the case when we trust God enough to do things his way? Of course, to make it work requires effort in clear communication and trust, but putting in the effort does reap the benefits. The potential difficulties come from not putting in this effort. 

As a woman who has grown up in a world shaped by feminism, it’s hard sometimes not to feel insecure and unappreciated as I operate in a system where I’m not often in a particular role of prominence, with all the worldly recognition that comes with that. In many ways the issue here is remembering that it’s all about Jesus anyway, but in moments of wondering if my often ‘behind the scenes’ labours are appreciated, it’s encouraging when co-workers take the time to give me feedback and encouragement in my service. 

What have you particularly appreciated about working with Carl? 

Carl is very consultative, valuing others’ input in decision making. He also promotes the ministry of the various women on team, making sure that in our combined services, Q&A panels and various conferences there’s always a complementarian model of men and women serving together. It’s clear to me that he values women’s ministry and is keen to encourage and support it as much as possible. 

Questions for Carl

When Alison came on board, were you looking to employ a woman in particular? If so, why?

Yes and no. 

At CBS, we always need more staff than we can afford to employ, and so we always have need for additional male and female staff for various positions. However, the reason I employed Alison was because Alison was available. I much prefer to employ the right person and then work out how to deploy that person in our staff team. This is partly why Alison presently serves in our international student ministry (FOCUS). Most of our FOCUS staff have some kind of international heritage. Alison is about as Australian as people come but she is a great minister of the gospel, a quick learner and very adaptable. For these reasons she has made a great minister to international students. 

What benefits have you seen from having men and women working together on your staff team? 

Despite what our world keeps trying to tell us, men and women are different. We rejoice in those differences and seek to minister together with our differences. It’s not just that we want women to disciple women (which, of course, we do want) but even more, we also want women sharing their wisdom in staff team discussions, church ministry decisions and so on. 

Alison brings an important perspective to our international student ministry team with her commitment to discipling and training women in ministry. One concrete example of this is when we talk about students and grads who should consider the possibility of serving in full-time ministry. Alison knows the females in this category better than her male co-workers and thus gives us a better idea of who we should be encouraging in this direction. 

Have there been instances when you’ve particularly appreciated having Alison on board? 

There are so many times when I appreciate having Alison in our staff team. Alison is particularly easy going, flexible and willing to serve in ways that might wear others out. Alison’s singleness means she is willing to travel each summer with students and grads to international mission opportunities in Singapore and Malaysia. None of our married staff are able to keep up with Alison in this capacity. 

I also appreciate having Alison in strategic conversations with Joshua who leads the FOCUS ministry. Joshua and I have met to talk strategy for an hour a month during my ten years in this role. As Alison has joined us in these conversations in the past couple of years, the different perspective that she has brought to these conversations has been a great help to Joshua and me.  

What do you see as the strengths of a complementarian approach to ministry? What are potential difficulties? 

Complementarian ministry is not just about having men and women on the ministry team. Complementarian ministry is about men and women working together in ministry, uniting their unique differences in combined service of the gospel. I was challenged a few years ago that if we really believe in complementarian ministry then our staff teams should reflect that. So I am committed to having both male and female staff members in our team. 

This doesn’t mean, however, that we need to have equal representation of males and females. The way we break up staff responsibilities means we need more male staff members because they are regularly required to put 10-15 hours a week into sermon preparation and thus have less available hours for discipling, training and raising up future gospel workers. Our female staff, who have fewer preaching responsibilities, have more time to put into discipling, training and raising up future gospel workers. 

At CBS it’s not about male and female representation. We rejoice in our differences and the different ministry requirements, and recognise together the particular needs and opportunities for males and females on our staff team. It is a joy to serve a team that is not fighting for representation but happily working together, valuing our differences and making the most of the gifts of all members of the team.