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Why millions of today’s most committed church members may be ready to bolt—and what to do about it
In talking with women around the country, Jim Henderson has come to believe that an epidemic of quiet, even sad resignation is developing among dedicated Christian women who feel overworked and undervalued in the church. As a result, many women are discouraged. Some, particularly young women, respond by leaving the organized church . . . or ...
Why millions of today’s most committed church members may be ready to bolt—and what to do about it
In talking with women around the country, Jim Henderson has come to believe that an epidemic of quiet, even sad resignation is developing among dedicated Christian women who feel overworked and undervalued in the church. As a result, many women are discouraged. Some, particularly young women, respond by leaving the organized church . . . or walking away from the faith altogether.
The Resignation of Eve is a field report on what women have to say about how they’ve been affected—both positively and negatively—by their experiences within the church. Listening to their stories is crucially important because, across the board, the research shows that women are driving changes in the church. What will happen if many of them resign?
It’s time to pay attention before it’s too late—time to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who went out of his way to honor, elevate, and work through women wherever he went.
Containing personal interviews with women and surprising research from George Barna, The Resignation of Eve is a game-changing, conversation-starting book for women who have been engaged in the Christian church, as well as for their pastors and ministry leaders. Tyndale House Publishers
Resignation is one of those fascinating words that can be used appropriately under opposite sets of circumstances.
It is used to express both resistance and acquiescence.
It can be used to express either outrage or submission.
When someone resigns from a job, it's the functional equivalent of saying "I quit."
When someone resigns herself to a job, it is the functional equivalent of saying "I accept."
Moreover, if I say, "I resigned from that job last March," I'm describing an action, but if I say, "I'm resigned to staying in the job one more year," I'm describing an attitude.
In the first scenario, I'm in charge; in the second, someone else is. If I quit, my circumstances are being shaped by me, but if I accept, I'm being shaped by my circumstances. Certainly, it's normal to do both things at different times. We have to. No one gets to do what he or she wants to do 100 percent of the time.
When we don't possess the freedom to change our work situation, we become resigned to it. Sometimes this doesn't even bother us, and we continue on, seemingly unaffected. Often, however, we "go through the motions" and appear to be present but in fact are not. We do the minimum needed to get by (and get paid) but do our most creative work somewhere else (often for no pay).
When we're dissatisfied at our workplace, we might quit or fire ourselves before we get fired. Or, on the other hand, instead of walking away, we might choose to remain engaged and work for change from within.
How does this relate to what I learned about how women are negotiating the church? All the women profiled in this book fit into one of the following categories:
Some of the women have resigned themselves to their churches' positions on women;
others have resigned from their churches because of those churches' positions on women;
and, finally, some women have "re-signed"; that is, they've reengaged in their churches or in other churches, leading and influencing despite opposition.
So that you can get the most from these stories, let me offer a few more distinctives of each group.
In this book you will read the stories of women who have come to terms with the fact that they are not "allowed" to exercise all the gifts and abilities they're capable of contributing in the church setting. Some say they are perfectly fine with this reality. They've accepted the idea that the same people who deny them the right to lead their churches would go door to door on their behalf if they ran for president.
Other women love their churches and their people, but they know they aren't being given the opportunity to think, strategize, innovate, and create new ways of doing church that both men and women find appealing. Often when they have expressed their desire for more influence, they were blocked, stonewalled, or stalled. These women have acquiesced to the powers-that-be who are more than willing to allow them to run the operation but not lead it. As a result, many have lost the desire to be creative.
How would you feel if you were capable of leading, thinking, guiding, shaping, and forming a spiritual community but were denied the opportunity to do so? This experience leads some women to walk away from the church, Christianity, and in some cases God. That is the experience of the women profiled in this section. At one time these women were very dedicated Christians, churchgoers, and Bible study leaders, but they have since opted for other beliefs or no beliefs. Some maintain deeply spiritual, fulfilling lives but in a context that is separate from the churches they left.
Which is worse in your mind, actually resigning or being resigned to not being able to quit?
We will look at one more type of resignation in this book—the re-sign. This is the decision some women make, knowing the limitations, knowing the risks, and knowing that things are not likely to change. Women who "re-sign" don't quit or accept things as they are; they engage, lead, and influence. They make waves and stay connected. They're engaged but not owned, integrated within the church but knowledgeable about its inherent limitations and dangers.
They're like those of us with extended family whom we would prefer to avoid but with whom we choose to stay connected. We do this for a variety of reasons—perhaps because they're all we've got. To Outsiders it may appear that we've "sold out," especially since they're the ones we often complain to about our unusual families. They can't figure out why we keep going back for more abuse each Christmas.
But we do go back—except we don't go back blindly or perhaps as often as we went at first. We are measured; we are in control. We're not going to get sucked completely back into the system that could suck the life right out of us. We don't expect these family members to provide our meaning, and we aren't surprised when they disappoint us.
Women who have re-signed either remain active in their own churches even though they disagree with the churches' stances on women, or they intentionally plug into other churches that provide them with the opportunities they seek.
Women who have re-signed realize that life is a series of trade-offs. You don't always (or even often) get what you want or need, but you get something that provides enough meaning to make it worth the trade.
Women who have re-signed are realists and even optimists. They are willing to nudge the ball of change down the field. They're not world changers, but they're contributors. They belong to a long line of sisters and brothers in arms who are committed to seeing women be given equal opportunities to express, create, lead, and influence change inside and outside the church.
Women who have re-signed defend women who have quit and challenge women who have acquiesced. They advocate for both groups. They associate with both groups. They do not see themselves as having arrived and are never sure they are doing the right thing all of the time. They walk by faith, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who radically advocated for women in his time.
In those churches where women either acquiesce or leave, it can be easy to not even consider whether women are being given the opportunities God intends them to have. But if you want women to bring the best of their gifts and talents to your church, you need to know what they're thinking and saying behind closed doors. Here are the top four issues that emerged as I interviewed women for this book.
There's a lot of confusion among both men and women about what the Bible does or does not say about the role of women in the church. Women struggle (often in private) trying to determine whether their churches' positions on women's roles are genuinely God's ideal or simply a reflection of dogmatic conditioning and cultural bias. The most ardent students of the Bible on both sides tend to be the ones who are most certain their view of the biblical role of women is the correct one.
Given the polarization, I am dismayed at how uninterested Christians seem to be in trying to understand why their brothers and sisters can read the same biblical passages and come to opposite conclusions. We need to learn how to stay in the room with differences and not "break up" over every biblical disagreement. Frankly, I think this attitude needs to begin with pastors.
Many women are discouraged. And while some of them, particularly young women, leave the organized church only, others walk away from the faith altogether. In fact, in 2010 The Barna Group found that 26 percent of Americans have changed faiths or adopted a significantly different faith view during their lifetimes. Barna released its study just after the author Anne Rice famously renounced Christianity on her Facebook page. According to Barna, Rice "shares a spiritual profile with nearly 60 million other adults nationwide," most of whom, the research found, are women. Since breaking with the Catholic church, Rice has publicly reaffirmed her commitment to Christ several times; however, Barna's report notes, "The most common type of spiritual shift was from those who were Christian, Protestant or Catholic in childhood to those who currently report being atheist, agnostic or some other faith. In total, this group represents about one out of every eight adults (12%), a category that might be described as ex-Christians." Disillusionment with their church and religion was cited as one of the top reasons people gave for leaving their faith.
But for many women (particularly wives and mothers), leaving doesn't mean walking away; more often it means showing up without being present. Women often do this because they want their husbands and children to grow spiritually. They participate at the minimal levels and give just enough to ensure their families are included, even if the women themselves are not growing. They seem to be masters at finding ways to feed themselves without requiring as much from the place they call church.
It's been my experience that unless someone they love is directly affected, few Christians even consider whether the systems we've created in our churches reflect the same commitment to women that Jesus showed the women of his day. Our denial that this issue even exists reflects the church's confusion. Many pastors (both conservative and liberal) say one thing in public (or more precisely at denominational meetings) and do something different in their own churches.
In later chapters you will read the stories of people who believe a woman can be the president of the United States but not the pastor of a church. You will also read about denominations that ordain women but still find ways to stop them from expanding their influence at the highest levels. If nothing else, these interviews will help you see that we Christians are one contradictory bunch. Hopefully the stories will provide you with insights as to how you might correct that habit in your own church.
Spiritual Brain Drain
Potentially the most serious loss the church faces because of this confusion is the spiritual brain drain of women. As you read these stories, you'll discover that when it comes to the spiritual development of themselves and their churches, women simply "outcare" most men. Some people seem to scold women for this, as if they need to cut back so as not to discourage men from taking their rightful place of leadership in the church. A few of the women I spoke with hear this as blaming the victim.
Certainly the pastor of the world's largest church, whom you'll read more about later, would agree. Pastor Cho of South Korea grew his church to close to 850,000 members by encouraging women to have as much influence as God gifted them with, and he did this in a culture that, unlike America's, has historically assumed women are subservient to men. Christian history may record that Pastor Cho's decision to open the doors of influence to women in his church was a primary contributing factor in his country's transformation from a predominantly Buddhist country to a Christian one.
We limit women to our own detriment, 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. While not all women serving in our churches consider themselves leaders, many of them offer outstanding skill and vision and are energized by leading. While some of these women have either embraced leadership roles in their churches or prefer not to lead in church because they are so worn out from leading elsewhere, a significant number are frustrated because they can't lead at all or are not allowed to lead within their areas of giftedness.
And the Survey Says
As part of my due diligence for this project, I not only interviewed women, I also commissioned The Barna Group to survey a nationally representative sample of more than 600 women about all sorts of issues that affect them as churchgoers.
When asked to consider their churches' positions on women in leadership, the majority of the women voiced support for their churches' positions. Well over three-quarters said their churches' perspectives on women in ministry are either almost identical or similar to their own. Almost the same percentage said the senior pastors in their churches are somewhat, highly, or completely supportive of women leading in their churches. Nearly two-thirds said that all leadership roles in their churches are open to them.
What gives? If women in the church are as satisfied as they say they are, why are so many of them willingly considering bolting or switching churches? And why are more and more women, who as we noted earlier are the functional backbone of the church, staying away?
I found many of the survey results surprising, so I decided to prerelease a few of the statistics to the public to see how they would respond. The reactions were all over the place. Some women felt the stats were very accurate and questioned why I would want to analyze them further. They saw my attempt to drill into these statistics as another expression of the rejection of traditional roles for women.
Many other women, however, said the views shown in the survey once matched their own, but they have since reached different conclusions about women's roles in the church. Others went so far as to suggest that the statistics proved that women are afraid to tell the truth about their real feelings, not wanting to cast the church in a negative light.
Scattered throughout the book you will find pages called "Fast Facts." These highlight the survey statistics we pre-released, followed by some of the responses we received. It will become apparent that there is no consensus on these issues, but there are lots of opinions and much pain.
As you read the comments and the stories, I hope you'll spend more time pondering how you arrived at your beliefs about women's role in the church than you spend defending them.
Dual Data or Data Duel
This book, then, is the result of a unique data "mash up" of quantitative (statistical) and qualitative (story-based) research. In the world of research there's currently a battle going on between these two approaches. Think of it as mind share versus heart share.
In other words, the modern era gave us statistics and quantitative measurement. It also gave us the Internet, Google, and Wikipedia. As cultural sociologist Daniel Pink writes, "When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." Pink is suggesting that when humans get information overload, they revert to stories. Interestingly, we modernists have been trained to value stats, but Jesus was more inclined to use stories.
Besides lacking the geek gene required to do the serious work of quantitative analysis, I am drawn to qualitative research by Jesus' example. As I see it, stories are the new statistics. Without question, there are limits to qualitative research. It's subjective, anecdotal, and at times difficult to verify. But quantitative research comes with its own baggage as well. It's overwhelming, sterile, and can often leave us trying to guess the agenda of the researcher.
Being the troublemaker that I am, I thought it would be interesting to combine the quantitative with the qualitative and let you draw your own conclusions from the picture that emerges. This is why my organization asked The Barna Group to partner with us.
One of the mantras public speakers recite to themselves as they take the stage is, It's not what you say but what they hear. The same could be said of statistical analysis. It's not what the research concludes but how you interpret it. Statistical veracity lies in the eye of the beholder.
Excerpted from the resignation of eve by jim henderson Copyright © 2012 by Jim Henderson. Excerpted by permission of BARNA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword Lynne Hybels ix
Preface George Barna xiii
Author's Note xvii
Chapter 1 The Three Faces of Resignation 1
Chapter 2 Why It Matters 15
Resigned To: Problem? What Problem? 25
Chapter 3 Submitted 27
The Rose Claxton Story
Chapter 4 Tall Men Don't, But I Do 37
The Leigh Gray Story
Chapter 5 Your Life Will Never Be the Same 47
The Nancy Murphy Story
Resigned To: I've Never Really Thought about It 65
Chapter 6 Satisfied with the Status Quo 67
The Lee Merrill Story
Chapter 7 I Wonder What Would Have Happened 77
The Kathy MacKintosh Story
Resigned To: Making Trade-offs
Chapter 8 Holding Back to Avoid Pushback 95
The Sandi Horine Story
Chapter 9 You Don't Always Get What You Want 105
The Amy Snow Story
Resigned From: Leaving the Church 115
Chapter 10 Eating into the Principal 117
The Laura O'Neill Story
Chapter 11 She Left the Homeschool Church 127
The Kathleen Felmey Story
Resigned From: Leaving the Faith 139
Chapter 12 Whose Jesus Should I Follow? 141
The Helen Mildenhall Story
Chapter 13 Change a Metaphor, Change a Life 161
The Susan Hall Story
Re-Signed: They Wouldn't Take No for an Answer 175
Chapter 14 You Don't Need Permission 177
The Kelly Bean Story
Chapter 15 A Pragmatic Woman 187
The Sadell Bradley Story
Re-Signed: They Won't Take No for an Answer 199
Chapter 16 Sandwich Lady Meets Men of God 201
The Denie Tackett Story
Chapter 17 Deep Resilience 211
The Jennifer Roach Story
Chapter 18 The Blue Dot Bloggers 225
Keep It Real, but Keep It to Yourself
Chapter 19 President, Sure! Pastor, Shhh! 237
Chapter 20 When Only a Woman Will Do 255
Selected Barna Group Survey Data on Women and the Church 275
Posted March 7, 2012
This is a one of a kind, truly powerful book. In "The Resignation of Eve", Jim Henderson goes where nobody has dared to go and asked questions that resulted in answers that until now, the Church as a whole was not ready to hear. Being a former pastor myself, I could barely put this book down the first night, as I was captivated by the interviews that the author gave to various women who were all a part of the Church.
Having worked as a female in the pastorate, I understood all too well what each of these women were feeling and expressing, the mixed messages, confusion, identity and personal worth issues in relation to what they had been conditioned to think, the truth about God, and the differentiation between God, mans belief systems and Church.
I am so happy that Jim Henderson brought to light these very personal and spiritual issues that women have been facing in the Church for so many centuries. By bringing these issues to light it opens a door of change, but is the Church ready and willing to take a deeper look at the value of women in ministry? A mile begins with a single step.
During one of his interviews, Jim asked Amy what would happen "if all the women in the church decided to take a Sunday off"? She said the church would have to do without "A director of Christian education, custodial staff, printed programs, an organ player, Sunday school, child care, the kids (except for a few boys the dads might bring), most of the choir." During the interview, Amy went on to add, "I don't want to overcorrect, and alienate people we have relationship with, but I won't allow my daughter to grow up in an environment that demeans her or keeps her from becoming anything God has designed her to be. The trades are worth it for now."
One of the most mixed messages that he brought to light in his interviews was with a woman who married the man she loved and shortly after the wedding, her husband began hitting her. The abuse escalated but she refused to leave because she had been taught that divorce was unacceptable. Fortunately, this story had a victorious ending, but made me wonder about the messages that my daughter may have received growing up in the Church. I later had an in depth discussion with her about her feelings about herself in relationship with the Church, what she had been conditioned to believe about herself and attempted to dispel some of the negative messages that she had internalized.
This is a very important read for anyone involved in Church or interested in Church culture, and hopefully one of many of its kind to open the doors of change.
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Posted March 3, 2012
I think every church in the United States should read, study, and consider the timely message of Jim Henderson’s latest work, The Resignation of Eve.
I’d like to take a moment to personally thank Jim Henderson (and the Barna research group) for providing a platform to engage the topic of “women in the church” from the perspective of women. Thank you for sharing the stories of so many women who have struggled against, wrestled with, coasted under, or challenged the status quo. Most importantly, thank you for using your influence and position to promote egalitarian cooperation, affirmation and partnership within the church and among the body of Christ.
What you will not find in The Resignation of Eve: theological banter dissecting the pro’s or con’s surrounding the debate of the role(s) of women in the church or a biblical exegesis affirming or critiquing the role of women in the church. To my surprise, but the author’s credit, Henderson avoids that road. In doing so, the reader is able to focus on the stories of the many women interviewed by the author, allowing the reader a space to offer their undivided attention.
What you can expect to gain from The Resignation of Eve:
(1) A candid look at how traditional, conventional, complementarian views of women in the church harm women, stifle church growth, and damage the witness and effectiveness of the church body as a whole.
(2) The opportunity to engage and wrestle with the topic personally through thoughtful conversations (and a full study guide).
(3) A challenge to the Church to consider the emotional and psychological effects of the message(s) communicated to women, be it via direct discourse or non-verbal cues, regarding their perceived and actual place in church polity, leadership, pastorate, and staff.
Whether the church cares to admit to admit it or not, she is in crisis. Young people, ages 18-30 are leaving the church in staggering numbers. Second to this demographic, women are leaving the church in large numbers as well. According to Barna research, church avoidance by women rose from 18% to 30% in the period between 1991 and 2003. In 2005 the number of unchurched women jumped to 38%! (pg xix) What would your church look like if 38% of the church up and left?
If the Church doesn’t take note and begin partnering with women in ways that validate, affirm, integrate and appoint women into all levels of church life, women will continue to leave the church. Jim Henderson’s book, The Resignation of Eve, is an essential tool to help any church begin the process of implementing genuine dialogue, egalitarian partnership, and biblical reconciliation.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., in exchange for an honest review.
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Posted July 20, 2012
When I picked up this book, I thought the premise would be that men need to step up in the Church. However, the author proceeds to show that we should encourage and promote women being leaders and pastors and teachers in our churches. This flies in the face of all that I read and understand in Scripture and I did not enjoy the book. Granted, it was written in a way that I still finished the whole book, hoping to find a representative of those with my belief system, those who take God's Word literally and trust Him when He says that man is the head of the woman just as Christ is the head of the Church. And also, I'm not sure why women would want to take these roles of leadership away from men, as we're told in Scripture that "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1)
I really didn't enjoy the liberal bent of the book, but if you're in that camp, maybe you will...
Posted July 9, 2012
What if Adam's Rib is no longer willing to be the church's backbone? From the introduction we learn the purpose of this book. I believe it is something like not to take women for granted or limit them using their gifts. It imagines what a church would be like if all the women just didn't show up one Sunday. There is Barna Group research polling results and a section called "My Take" at the end of every chapter. Each chapter is an interview with women and the history they have had with churches that they have visited and been a part of. There is an appendix on selected Barna group survey data that was conducted in 2010 from 603 women in 48 states.
Of particular interest is a statement on page 265 that states: "What if we provided rules that leveled the playing field and made it easier for women to pursue influence and leadership wherever their talent takes them?"
I Corinthians 14:34-35 are the verses that prompts such a question.
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
How are we to apply this? In my particular church women are encouraged to use all of their gifts in serving, teaching and ministry. The only exception being not in leadership over a men's ministry or preaching in a worship service. If you spoke to most of the women in this large church, I do believe very few would think they are limited in using their gifts.
Although I do not agree with the author on his views, I do believe all of us, male and female, should be encouraged to use our God-given talents for advancement of His kingdom.
Posted June 27, 2012
In talking to women, Jim Henderson draws conclusions about the shifting view of women's roles in the body of Christ. I loved the personal stories, but I believe Mr. Henderson added too much of his own opinion rather than true scientific observation to make this book a sound study of what woman want and think. We do not need a man to translate our voice for us. Mr. Henderson should have let the stories stand as is and let the reader draw the conclusions.
It was clear 'what side of the fence' Mr. Henderson wanted readers to move to. I was particularly annoyed with the 'would you vote for Sarah Palin' question, Mr. Henderson continued to ask. This question was loaded and did not help women explore their views within the realms of politics or leadership. A voter's reasons to choose a particular nominee are not based on a voter's understanding of women's roles within the church.
On a positive note, I enjoyed Mr. Henderson's conclusion at the end of the book, looking at the end times and the heart of God. As a reader, I heard my voice, feelings, and opinions among the vingettes. The longer I live, the more I believe God's calling matches God's equippings and opportunities within the body of Christ. It is Satan's scheme to cause division in such matters. This issue is a distraction from the essentials of faith; Satan attacks the body from the inside. The stories within the book's pages gave my experience value. There are times I wanted to walk away. However, God reveled in my heart where his calling for my life moved. For myself, I found my calling not within an organized church setting but in a para-church organization that nurtured my talents.
I have read and reviewed Why Men Hate Church. It is important to acknowledge how woman's leadership may be shifting worship in a way that dismisses the depths of a man's heart. The Resignation of Eve is not the last word on this matter.
Posted June 11, 2012
As I began reading the book, I got angry. I disagreed with the premise to the book. However, as I continued to read, I was challenged. The author asked the reader to ponder how you got to your beliefs about the role of women in the church instead of trying to defend these beliefs. So I continued to read and was challenged.
I'm not sure I understand the argument that women are not allowed to lead in church. In a Barna survey quoted on page 136, 81% of women agree that their church provides women with the same degree of leadership opportunities that Jesus would give them. So the majority women believe that the church does reflect the teachings of Jesus in regard to the roles women play in the church.
Another theme that Henderson repeats throughout the book is that pastors are threatened by women with the gift of leadership and often prevent women from using that gift in a leadership role. I wonder how many of these pastors would be threatened by men in the church trying to exert their gift of leadership in a way that challenges the pastor's authority. A pastor, as the shepherd to a flock, has to be protective and careful with anyone who wants to challenge authority.
The premise is flawed that "women today are not given access to day to as much influence as they're capable of in the church" (p. xx). Women are given access to every level within the church. So I am left to wonder, are women really leaving the church in large numbers as the book purports?
Tyndale House has provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for this review which I freely give.