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August 31, 2010

The Books that Shape Us

Last week (on August 26) Women’s Equality Day—a day commemorating the contributions of the women’s suffrage movement—got a lot of news coverage. In our modern age with numerous nationally recognized female political figures, we may find it difficult to remember that less than 100 years ago, women could not even vote in the U.S. And yet, while we have made progress in attaining measures of equality in some areas such as the right to vote, at the same time women lag behind in many other areas.

Take, for example, the recent list that was propagated all over the Internet, entitled “Top Books Every Young Influencer/Leader Should Read?”. The question was posed by marketing consultants Daniel Decker and Jason Young, who sent it largely via Twitter to their followers and to other key influencers they knew, resulting in more than 200 responses from people who picked their top 5 choices.

As I scanned the list, I saw the typical business-management-leadership books that tend to top these kinds of surveys, such as Jim Collins’ Good to Great, as well as the names of prominent Christian leaders and thinkers such as Bill Hybels, John Maxwell, and C.S. Lewis. Newer books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers made the list, as well as those considered time-management classics (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey.) I internally nodded at the choices, tweeted the list to others, and moved on with my day.

My more astute sisters in Christ, however, picked up on the fact that of the top 33 books that made the list, none were written by women.

While women authors write about leadership and management, they certainly don’t as extensively as men do—particularly not Christian women authors.

But I also think a big reason the list skewed largely male in terms of authorship is because the survey respondents were also likely male. I am guessing that if the same question were posed to a group of female Christian leaders, the responses would be different.

So, I want to put the same exact question out to you, the readers of the Gifted for Leadership blog: What are the books that have had significant impact on you and your leadership style? You can also think of question in this way: “Which books have had the most impact and influence in my own life as a female Christian leader?”

These books do not have to be leadership books per se; they do not have to be just non-fiction, or by Christian authors or even by female authors.

Please let your friends know about this survey, and let's see if we can get at least 200 responses ourselves. I’m fascinated to see what will emerge.

We look forward to your responses!


When Life and Belief Collide, by Carolyn Custis James.

Men and Women in the Church, by Sarah Sumner

Here's my list: Hannah Whitall Smith's, "The Christian Secret of a Happy Life,"; Elisabeth Elliot's "Passion and Purity," Elizabeth George's "A Woman After God's Own Heart," Madeleine L'Engle's "Walking on Water," and, believe it or not, reading the female mystics from centuries past. All of these writers deepened my intimacy with Jesus and sent me into leadership positions with a sublime understanding of the mystery and beauty of God. I read so many more women theologians, but I return again and again to these books in particular. Recently, it's Alicia Brit Chole's "Anonymous" that has me thinking.

There were many "textbooks" that I carried under my arm after my life change that occurred during the Pensacola Outpouring (1995-200). My study of the Bible increased 300%, going from occasionally to 2-3 hours every day. I went from a Believer to a Disciple and a Leader.
"For God's Sake Grow Up!: A Call to Spiritual Maturity" by David Ravenhill (ISBN#1560432993) and "Wanted: Extreme Christians" by Stephen Hill (ISBN# 0830729119)
When I look at any situation in the Church, I consider the needs of 'baby' Christians and remember that I am now a 'grown-up'. I look at Jesus' example that it is not all about me but about "going and making disciples, teaching..." Jesus' ways, not only with my words but with my very life.

You Gotta Keep Dancin' by Tim Hansel

Silent September by Joyce Landorf

Improving Your Serve by Charles Swindoll
(because leadership is servanthood)

Passion and Purity by Ellisabeth Elliot

Experiencing God by Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King.

Biographies (because real life examples of people living out their beliefs rather than merely articulating them inspires me):
Abandoned to God -The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest by David McCasland

Point Me to the Skies: The Amazing Story of Joan Wales by Ronald Clements

Leading with a Limp - Dan Allender
When Life and Beliefs Collide - Carolyn Custis James
Knowing God - J. I. Packer

"The Feminine Soul" by Janet Davis
"When Life and Beliefs Collide", and "Lost Women of the Bible" by Carolyn Custis James
"Fool-proofing Your Life" by Jan Silvious

The Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer, Knowing God by Packer, Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock, The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture Mary Kassian,Conviction Without Compromise Ron Rhodes, Tough Faith: Trusting God in Troubled Times, The Light in The City: Why Christians Must Advance and Not Retreat both by Janet Parshall.

I am loving the responses so far, and the diversity of the books listed! Please keep letting others know about the survey. We will compile our version of these top books once we reach enough responses. Thanks so much!

As for me: I, too, love Tozer's The Pursuit of God. Madame Guyon's Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ was significant to help me developing a deeper connection to God--pivotal for any Christian leader! I think that Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand Me is key for women in leadership to understand how our communication styles offer differ so much from men's styles. Having recently read Carolyn Custis James' Lost Women of the Bible and loving what she said about women being ezers (warriors!) alongside the men in their lives, I will add that book to the list as well.

Soul Feast - Marjorie Thompson
Gifted to Lead - Nancy Beach
Churches that Make a Difference - Ronald Sider, Philip Olson, Heidi Rolland UnRuh
Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller

And a couple of novels that have actually had an impact on me have been:
Leaving Ruin - Jeff Berryman
The Damnation of Theron Ware - Harold Frederic

Great question! I'm still thinking this one over. Honestly the first one that came to mind is one written by a woman, but the character who I model is a man. I'm referring to Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' Inspires me every time to seek justice even if there are obstacles, or even if failure seems inevitable.

I'll keep thinking! :)

I remembered another one - Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer, and I am just starting Mad Church Disease by Anne Jackson and I can already tell it is a keeper.

'10 Lies the Church Tells Women' by J. Lee Grady has influenced the way I look at my own leadership skills from a faith perspective.

And, yes I'm biased because the author is my grandmother, but 'Women as Risk-Takers for God' by Lorry Lutz is a wonderful book about leading wherever God places us. It tells the stories of women all over the world doing great things.

In college, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning) totally changed how I viewed the grace of Jesus. Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster) and An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (ed. by John R. Tyson) both opened me up to a possibility of prayer and contemplative life I’d never known existed before.

Also, Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems helped me fall in love with contemporary poetry. I also read A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) in college, which left me crying for days. Same with The River Why (David James Duncan).

In adulthood, Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk, Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God, and Mary Karr's Lit have all been important in my life.

Hey Helen, thanks for the mention and link back to the survey we conducted. Just to clarify, our survey was shared by and to a number of people on Twitter including men and women. There was no targeting. We feel that the exposure was fairly equal to both men and women however more men did appear to respond than women. Why? Not sure but a guess is that perhaps more men (in the general population) are interested in the topic of leadership or influence as leadership. I'm not making that as a statement, just an assumption based on the responses.

Of the women who did respond to the survey, they shared mostly books written by men as well.

I'd love for more women to chime in and share books written by women that they feel are great leadership resources. Women are powerful and add a lot to the leadership conversation, just wish there were more of them.

OK. I'll chime in with these picks: Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner; Something Beautiful for God, by Mother Teresa/Malcolm Muggeridge; Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor; Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin; all the women mystics of the Middle Ages, especially St. Teresa of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Sienna, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kemp. Phoebe Palmer and Catherine Booth also come to mind from the 19th century.

Generous Orthodoxy, A New Kind of Christian - 1, 2 and 3, My God and I, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Leading With a Limp...Dan Allender, Gifted to Lead...Nancy Beach. Looking for God...Nancy Ortberg. Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James revived my confidence that women can lead in the church.

I just paged through my journal where I've listed every book I've read the past 18 years. I can't believe how few were written by women!

What a huge void that is begging to be filled ... and what a fascinating opportunity lies in front of us!

No wonder so many of us are blogging ...

These are the Christian women authors whose writings have shaped and influenced my life, ministry, and leadership:

*** Ruth Haley Barton ***

Nancy Beach

Connolly Gilliam

Staci Eldredge

Shannon Ethridge

Lauren Winner

Daniel--thanks for that clarification; apologies for my inaccurate assumption that most of your survey respondents were male. (That was my guess based on the responses, so I stand corrected!) It is interesting to see in contrast the diversity of the responses here, although we did set broader parameters for the books from the start by saying they did not need to be leadership/management books per se. So, we're not trying to exactly replicate the good work you did with your survey; just to ask a similar question to this audience of female Christian leaders and see what kinds of responses we'd get. I appreciate your visiting this entry and participating in the conversation!

P.S. to the previous post, I meant to write "most of your survey recipients", not "respondents"! Hard to post accurate comments with kids begging for lunch and naps. =)

Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (indomitable human spirit)
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (integrity & conquering love)
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (horror of slavery)
A Prayer for Owen Meany, Irving (duplicity of the human heart)
The Rest of God, Buckman (importance of Sabbath)
Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (life can be simpler)
Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis (the enemy seeks to destroy us)
Into the Wild, Krakauer (extremism in the human psyche)
The Making of a Leader, Clinton (God's sovereign hand)
Passion & Purity (keeping God's commandments)

Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience by Vera Brittan (shattered my mental glass-ceiling before I ever heard the term)

very recently, Madame Secretary by Madeleine Albright (because she was 43 before she had her first paid job, so it really never is too late.)

Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living Water - Richard Foster

What's Right with Feminism - Elaine Storkey - helped me put feminism and Christianity together in a way that makes sense to me.

Many of the above and adding, Lillian Calles Barger she has written two books, "Chasing Sophia" & "Eve's Revenge". Thoughtful and challenging in regard to women.

Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

I hope this does not seem trite but I believe some of the most influential books where those I read as a young girl/teen. Little Women, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Diary of Anne Frank were all stories of women who had a purpose, a mission, and were strong and confident. Believe it or not as a teen I was drawn to Left Behind as a book which made me ask real questions about what the Bible really said or not. Dwight Moody wrote a little book called "Weighed in the Balance" (I think) about the ten commandments. Dallas Willard the Divine Conspirancy. For the last 4 years I have read a little book that divides Saint Benedict's rule in to daily readings-reading the rule 3 times in one year-an unbelieveable call to discipline, love, and care. Brian Mclaren's Generous Orthodoxy should be a required reading of anyone in church leadership to be able to fully embrace the body of Jesus Christ.

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