Denise George‘s ‘What Women Wish Pastors Knew‘ is a collection of responses to a survey sent to women in the US about how they feel about church. While books like ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church‘ have picked up on why there’s been a decrease in male attendance at church, George argues that women are the backbone of the church who have been taken for granted and are feeling unheard and disenfranchised. They may stay at church out of duty or responsibility, but often, they also stay out of guilt. So this book book is aimed at helping pastors to hear women’s voices that they might ‘help them contribute fully, freely and joyously’.
Like any woman, this book is full of contradictions. For example, the chapter of the tiredness of women reminds pastors that women need time to retreat, relax and refresh, not be constantly bombarded with more Bible studies, seminars, etc. But then there’s a whole chapter about how women want more than ‘spiritual fluff’ and they want hardcore Bible teaching.
Another contradiction is that women need to be released from the demands of extra ministries and involvements while suggesting that women’s ministries, retreats, counselling and mentoring be set up. So too the pastor is the focus of this book and he is seen as a key minister to each woman in the church, while the importance of having women minister to women is emphasised.
There are great complexities in ministry to women and the ministry of women. One woman says: Know that men and women think differently… but not all women think alike either. This book brings out the diversity of women’s voices, but its goal is to have them heard – it offers little in terms of helping pastors to hold these together coherently.
That said, one of the best things this book does is to give voice to those who are often silent because of the mess of their lives: women who are infertile, divorced, survivors of childhood abuse, victims of spousal abuse, mothers of wayward children, etc. No pastor can read this book without hearing their cry.
A book like this points the pastor to seeing women as people, not as a stereotyped group. The danger of it for the pastor is that he’ll want to solve the problem rather than listen to the voices. George provides a few points at the end of most chapters about what a pastor can do, but by and large they’re not overly practical. But this book is the start of a conversation that is worth having.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.