Women in the church is a serious topic. Women are increasingly disgruntled and feeling unfulfilled in their church experience. In the last decade, there has been a 20 percent decrease in the percentage of adult women attending church services, and a 31 percent decrease in the number of women who volunteer at church during the week. (xv)
Henderson wanted to find out how women were faring in church and Christianity, given the current ferment about women's roles. So Henderson commissioned The Barna Group to conduct a nationwide survey. He also talked to women across the nation. What he found out is recorded in this book. It contains both quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (story-based) research. He has both observation and question.
His observation: “Jesus actively promoted women as spiritual influencers, yet women today are not given access to as much influence as they're capable of in the church.” (xx)
His question: “How, then, do women perceive their role in the church, what are they doing about it, and what are the consequences for the church as a whole?” (xx)
Some women have resigned themselves to the fact that they are not “allowed” to exercise all their gifts and capabilities in church. Some women just resign and walk away from the church (often leaving in heart before physically walking out). Some women have taken the risk and re-signed their role, engaging, leading, influencing.
“We limit women to our own detriment,” Henderson writes, “because they are not just good at caregiving and connecting, they're also good at strategizing, seeing patterns, and understanding what the long-term needs and objectives are.” (9)
Henderson admits his bias: He thinks women should have as much influence as they're capable of exercising in the church.
One argument he heard many times was, “more men will come if men are leading.” If women lead, men won't come. “But wait,” he writes, “- churches are led by men and yet women make up the majority of virtually every church in America.” (81)
I like what he calls the “background singers” phenomenon. “Background singers have access to the stage as long as they stay out of the spotlight. In a similar way, many pastors have learned how to use women's leadership gifts while simultaneously refusing them the title of leader.” (183) Henderson calls this getting stuck in a “dishonest dance.” “They depend upon women's spiritual insights to help the church grow while reserving the right to refuse them access to the main stage.” (183)
A woman who was feeding the homeless: “Can you imagine Jesus telling a woman that in order to qualify as someone who could feed homeless people bologna sandwiches, she first needed to find a man to submit her ministry to?” (210)
After describing Pastor Cho's huge church and his major use of women in leadership positions, Henderson asks, “What is the church of Jesus followed Pastor Cho's example and stopped conforming itself to the world's way of treating women?” (252)
Henderson suggests we need to start a new conversation about women and church. He wants us to think deeply about how we came to hold the opinions we do. He wants us to think most deeply about the things we disagree with. Noting Jesus' interaction with women, Henderson says, “It is not hard to imagine that if Jesus were transported into American culture today and behaved accordingly, he undoubtedly would be accused of being a radical feminist by the religionists of our day.” (253) Should the paradigm be pre-Fall, men and women equally express the image of God, or post-Fall, where Eve is under Adam? (257)
Henderson is convinced the core issue is power. (262) “Those who have it (men) don't want to give it up to those who lack it (women).” (242) Is it really a sum zero situation (power for women is at the expense of men)? Or is it a Jesus situation (giving power to those who don't have it)? (263)
This book is not about the Scripture involved. This is a book about women, how they feel and what they have done with their involvement, or lack of it, in the church.
There is an online discussion guide available at www.bookclubhub.net.
Barna, 288 pages.