Barna Group President David Kinnaman Interviews Lisa Whittle on Women in the Church

Part 8 in series: Women of Faith in Leadership

We fear being ‘outed’—that if our truth comes out, no one will love us or accept us and we will no longer be credible—when the truth is exactly the opposite.

Lisa Whittle

Having her whole world rocked—and in a very public way forced Lisa Whittle—author, speaker and Two Handed Warrior contributor–to honestly confront her own brokenness for the first time. That time of reckoning gave her a new appreciation for living in the open—and for the ways God can heal and use our weaknesses for his good.

In her new book, {w}hole, Whittle takes a look at Christian’s tendency to hide their weaknesses—from each other and from themselves. Based on her own personal and ministry experience and with research from the Barna Group, Whittle examines the stories we tell about ourselves versus the stories we are really living … and encourages Christian’s to embrace the truth about how God is using their lives—brokenness and all.

Here, David Kinnaman and Whittle discuss how women, in particular, struggle with the holes in their lives and a broken sense of identity—particularly when it comes to the roles they play.

 

Seven Questions with Lisa Whittle

by David Kinnaman, President of The Barna Group

Q: According to Barna Group research, a vast majority of Christian women say they are deeply spiritual (65%) and mature in their faith (75%). What is your first reaction to those numbers?
A: They don’t surprise me, but they do give me pause. Women have been giving the correct answers for a long time, particularly Christian women who are sensitized to a churchy response, so I wonder if that’s at play here. I wonder, too, if we answer this way sometimes simply to stop the conversation from diving in any deeper—I’d love to know what it means to be “deeply spiritual” to those who consider themselves this way. (And please sign me up for that deeply spiritual class because I feel like I still have a long way to go.) I’m not trying to be a cynic, but there’s a tinge of “I’ve got this Jesus thing down” in these high numbers and I push back on that a little.
We’ve got a bazillion Bible Studies and books to read and ministries that make us feel—at least for an hour a week—that we are close to God. But do I think that guarantees the depth of relationship with God is there? No. We believers are great at mixing the two of these up, and with the other issues women deal with on a daily basis, I would wonder if we are truly close to God or if we just do a lot of Jesus things that satisfy our spiritual side enough to answer this way.
Q: On the flip side, though women are satisfied with the state of their faith, they do not put a high priority on it. Or, at least, nowhere near the level of priority they place on their family. How can the church give the message to women that their faith (an intangible, hard-to-grasp thing most days) should come before their very-present children
A: I’ll be honest, that’s a tough one for us as women. And this statistic is part of the reason I believe there is compelling evidence that what we say about a “deeply spiritual” faith is a bit contrived. But I do think it’s both instinctual and a bit of a cultural message to put our kids/family first. So how does the church help us put faith above everything we care most about that sits right in front of us? I think it keeps speaking the message of God first in the most loving way. We have to help women understand there is a great richness in our roles as wives, moms, executives, ministers, etc., when we put our faith first. When that happens, we stop asking our families, friends and jobs to be our everything and start enjoying them as a relationship without the burden of defining us. To do it this way brings a new freedom.
Q: On an individual level, what will it take for women to place faith over family? To see it as you’ve said, that a rich family is, in fact, an outgrowth of a rich faith?
A: We have to get it in our heads and hearts that roles are beautiful and we should live them with every ounce we have … but it’s risky to put our greatest love and allegiance in them because life can take them away without our permission. It’s hard to hear that, but it’s true. God doesn’t cruelly snatch away our marriages, children or jobs, but sometimes life does. We have to know who we are outside of them—that who we are is not what we do. Our relationship with God was set up in such a way that we would need him most and would be able to count on him when other things went away or failed, even things we love most and try hardest to keep.
It’s not fatalistic to remember that life here is temporary and yes, so are our roles. But faith, God, our relationship with him is a thing of the eternal. Truly, he is the source of thriving people who work at jobs, walk through life married, single, with kids or without. And thriving people make the best wives, employees, parents and people. When we practice our faith first—put in the time with God—he helps us do the things we love, that are right in front of us—and he helps us do them better. Simple as it sounds, this has to become an everyday practice.
Q: What do you think it says about our culture—our American and Christian culture—that the top “sin” women admit to is disorganization  (over more traditional sins like envy, lust, greed, anger, etc.)?
A: It says some things we probably don’t want to hear, like we are lying to ourselves. This statistic was almost laughable to me, but then it just became sad. I truly hoped we were past the point where we were hiding our truth, even from ourselves, but this statistic reveals otherwise. I hear from brave women all the time who tell me they are addicted to porn, jealous of their girlfriend with a hot husband who makes tons of money, so insecure in the way they look that they stick their finger down their throat every night after dinner to throw up so they stay skinny. I don’t believe we have an epidemic of disorganized women. I believe it is the easiest thing to admit to so we can deflect from what is really going on inside our souls. Most of us would give anything for disorganization to be at the top of our problem list. Our struggles are about so much more, and we have to own them to get better.
Q: If a woman in your life told you the “media” has little to no influence on her life—as 70 percent of respondents claimed—what would you say to her?
A: I would say to look on her bathroom counter and tell me what sits on it and ask her if a commercial told her to buy it. I would ask her what kind of jeans she wears and if she knows the words to a Carrie Underwood song. I would ask her if she plays Words With Friends in the morning with her coffee and if she has a Facebook and how often she reads the status updates and looks at the posted pictures. It is a total crock to say media does not influence us. It does, more than we even know.
Q: What do you think is the danger of—and the reason behind—this seemingly overestimated sense of security, accomplishment and satisfaction present in the women surveyed?
A: I think there could be several reasons for it: 1) we aren’t challenging ourselves to step out and do anything hard or risky that breaks our daily routine or disrupts a life we see as safe; 2) we are continuing to spin our reality so we don’t have to face our truth; 3) we mistakenly believe if we can control everything, we can determine every outcome.
There is risk in all of these. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we eventually look for more to amp up our life and often in places that hurt us. When we aren’t honest about who we are, we eventually settle into a life with secrets, with silent hopes that are never realized. We live a half-way life that isn’t really real. When we believe we control everything, we fall hard when life lets us down and we discover we don’t.
Q: In your book, you emphasize the importance of acknowledging brokenness and holes—of allowing that those imperfections exist—as a significant factor in wholeness. So how do women get there? How do women get past shame and guilt and admit (even to anonymous researchers) that there’s brokenness in our lives?
A: I think gut level honesty comes when we understand the pay-off. It’s really getting women to take the first step, which involves staring down a lot of fear. If we truly knew what our lives could become by facing our truth, owning the holes and letting God be the filler, we would stand in line to acknowledge the brokenness within.
We fear being outed—that if our truth comes out, no one will love us or accept us and we will no longer be credible—when the truth is exactly the opposite. Women are tired of the idea of perfection and don’t relate to it. There is nothing more refreshing than an honest woman who is willing to share her crap first.
The motivation for change happens when we are so tired of living with holes we are willing to do whatever it takes—even facing hard truth—if we know in the end we will be better. We need more women who have experienced this for themselves to step up and show the power of God’s wholeness in their life so more women will step forward and join them. It’s what the church should be leading out in doing, but we have to get over ourselves first to do it.

Next Post in Series: Strategies for Women Leading Men, by Lisa Whittle

Read entire series: Women of Faith in Leadership