If you read the book The Resignation of Eve, you will be changed.
I read it, and am troubled on many levels.
First, personally. About 8 years ago, I found myself surrounded by women who were about 10 years older than me. The one thing many of these woman had in common, besides a call to ministry, was a deep anger at the system. They felt isolated and disrespected. Why? Because there was (and remains) no clear career path for women in ministry. I vowed to never be one of these women – to trust God and be what He had called me to be.
Then I lost my advocate.
Which brings me to this book. I think I identified with every woman in this book. The ones who firmly believed in male hierarchy? I spent years trying to make my husband act out my giftings so that I could have permission to lead. Perhaps the most healthy thing that ever happened to my marriage was when a man stepped up to be my advocate, giving me the ability to lead in the areas God gifted me in. He gave me a place at the table. He corrected me a lot, but he also lifted the lid for me so that I could grow as a leader. (For those of you who don’t know the phrase, John Maxwell talks about lid lifters – those that come alongside leaders and find out what is keeping them down and remove it – it can be internal to the person or external to the situation.)
Then there are those women who have walked away from the church. Ouch! It is so painful to be on the outside looking in. I find I have a lot in common with those ladies I never wanted to be like. It is easy to feel sidelined and choose to disengage, or better yet, hold anger to explain why I am in this painful place. Worse is that every path leads someplace, and when your path leads away from church, eventually it leads away from the One at the head of the church.
Last, there are those women who are doing ministry as they go. This is the root of the person I have been all along.
However, reading this book, I have some growing concerns corporately.
1. I see a dichotomy in Jim’s speech, as in some places he calls for women to be welcomed into church leadership, in some places he speaks against mega churches, and in still others he talks about women’s senior pastor opportunities being limited to country churches. I picked up on this because I was once told that a woman will never lead a congregation of larger than 70 people. Soon thereafter, the same person opened doors for me to lead hundreds in a larger congregation. Since my gifting is a corporate one, I see things in large numbers. I believe in the economy of large churches – where you have a large group of people who are focused and led well, you have the time, energy and fiscal resources to make a real difference.
2. This brings me to my biggest concern. The examples in this book were terrific. The women who are ministering aren’t leading huge things, they are making a difference in small spaces. I think this shows the root of what I have balked against – if women don’t have lid lifters, they will lead, but they will leave the church to do so.
What happens when women find ways to minister outside the church?
a. They show up on Sunday, but don’t engage beyond what is required.
b. They make a real difference in the world, but since they aren’t engaged in church, they continue to invite people to community – just not the church. So, we end up with small communities holding each other together and helping one another survive and stay focused on God.
c. The church loses its corporate economy or ability to make a systemic difference.
d. When we decentralize, we end up with more of a personal view. Leaders replicate themselves. When they aren’t given an opportunity to lead corporately, they begin to lead personally. Individual efforts take more work, and therefore a whole life focus, which means that we have to make money along the way. When we replicate, our view of God is much more personal and therefore lacking the corporate dimension. Service becomes a way to make money. (Whereas pastors, who get paid, can organize efforts corporately so that the passions of people work together as a whole, creating a lot of results with volunteer efforts.)
Now that I’ve said a hunk of negative, I have to also speak for other possibilities. If God is changing the way things are, and decentralizing the church, then our whole perception of relationship will change. We know that we have seen the end of the industrial age and the modern era. This new time is the information age, and the post-modern era. A part of me wonders if the women who are taking their leadership outside the church are on the front wave of this new way of life.
Women started leaving the church to create their own institutions a long time ago. Bible Study Fellowship started in 1959, right when women were realizing they had time and energy. Before that, it was women’s suffrage. Is this a trend to individual bible study and personal growth, or is it the destruction of the church? One of the things that rose up during the dark ages was the pious individual – the person dedicated to knowing God and therefore shining His light in terrible darkness.
Recent changes in worship have also included the rise of house churches. Many years ago I read about a house church in Seattle whose focus was to make a difference in their neighborhood. Church? yes. Effective? yes. Reaching people? probably. Orchestrating change by being Jesus’ representation on earth? yes. More than 30 people? no.
So I wonder where I fit in all this. I still have a corporate view. Does that mean I am a dinosaur, or that I see things the way God wants them to be? I wonder what would happen if someone were able to help all these women who are reaching out to their own sphere connect and see themselves as part of a larger picture.