Word-Filled Women's Ministry and The Pastor's Wife: a two-book review

What I love about Gloria Furman is her clear writing and her confident commitment to the Word. A cross-cultural pastor's wife and mother of four, Gloria gets life. And she happily invites her readers to do life alongside her. My heart resonates with hers, and my own experiences often echo the personal stories she shares.


Most recently, I read her book The Pastor's Wife: Strengthened by Grace for a Life of Love. Now I know that I am not formally the wife of a vocational minister. At the same time, I do anticipate a day when Alan will step into that calling, and I sense a need in my own spirit to be prepared for that day. 

Even right now, though, I sense the need to be "strengthened by grace for a life of love." As a husband and father, Alan is a shepherd, even if primarily to his own little flock: me and the kids. And largely, I believe, the title of this book could put the word pastor's in parentheses, for though it certainly has some applications specific to those whose husbands serve as a pastor in a church, it has so many more applications that are helpful to all of us who stand alongside a man as his wife.

This book is broken into three parts: Loving the Chief Shepherd, Loving an Under-Shepherd, and Loving the Bride of Christ. And each of these, depending on how you define under-shepherd, applies to each of us. 

Under the heading of "Loving the Chief Shepherd," there are truths about the importance of finding our identity in Christ: 
* "Whenever we speak of our identity as being a woman, a wife, or a pastor's wife, let us have in our minds the primary reference point of being 'found in him' (Phil. 3:9). Every hat we wear or role we play must be viewed through this perspective" (28).  
* "When you hear of the expectations that others have of you, you are free to consider them in light of God's truth. ... There is no need for defensiveness, fear, anxiety, or insecurity but only for gracious rest because of our security in Christ" (31-32).
* And I read this portion after having been called out of a morning worship service for an unruly toddler: "Would it still be 'well with my soul' if we let the church leaders know that we need their prayer and support, for whatever reason? Do you need to enjoy the approval of the leaders in your church in order to enjoy life? Do you feel burdened to represent your husband and family as a public relations manager would? ... Isn't it a grace to us, then, when we are passed over for whatever reason, and when our opinion is ignored or marginalized in that women's ministry meeting, and when our child throws a fit in the middle of Communion?" (47).
* "Amid all the expectations that come from others (and from yourself), expect that God's grace will always be sufficient for you all (2 Cor. 12:9). ... Grace carries us all the way through" (51, 54). 

Under "Loving an Under-Shepherd," we learn the definition and joy of being a "helper" and are reminded that God Himself is our Helper
* "In the midst of all the requests and pressures, there is but one man whom we are called to serve and serve alongside, and there is one God-man who serves us all" (75). 
* Each family has unique needs that require specific help and support, and by God's grace he gives us everything we need to facilitate this help" (78).

Finally, under "Loving the Bride of Christ," Gloria discusses the doctrine of the Church and urges us to "enjoy the privilege of being part of a gathered people" (118). 
* "We need God's grace to steward our gifts and opportunities well" (123). 
* "Our weaknesses are not in the way" (135ff) because "our potential to minister to others is not measured by our gifts but by our God" (138). 

The Pastor's Wife by Gloria Furman is a thoughtful working through for all of us. Maybe in their next round of publishing, they'll go ahead and artfully put parenthesis so that the title reads The (Pastor's) Wife. It certainly deserves wider readership than its current title invites. And as for those parts that do specifically apply to those married to a vocational pastor, they're good for the rest of us to read and understand and make sure we, like the women in Gloria's church, "support [our pastor's wife's] efforts to be a learner alongside [us]" (92), that we pray for her, include her, and love her well as our sister in Christ. 

An earlier book, and one I read this summer, is a composite work edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen B. Nielson of The Gospel Coalition. It is Word-Filled Women's Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church. And again, this book is not just for those engaged in leadership of women's ministry, but for all of us women ministering side by side for the sake of the Gospel. 

One of the treats of this book is getting to read the collective work of various women who are serving our Lord in a vast array of ministries all around the globe. Contributing authors include Keri Folmar, Kristi Anyabwile, Nancy Guthrie, and Gloria Furman.

My biggest take away was the importance of the Word energizing us individually as well as energizing our interactions with other women. 

"The foundational truth [is] that the Bible is God speaking to us" (21). As editor and contributing author, Kathleen Nielson frequently returned to Isaiah 55:10,11, to exhort us to see "the Scriptures as central" (20). "This picture shows us something originating from far outside ourselves--like precipitation from the skky, something we desperately need but don't have in ourselves--so that we're called not to look / inward to receive it but to look outward, to look up and hold out our hands" (21-22). 

I loved Carrie Sandom's chapter "The Word Passed On" where she writes: "Yes, the gospel needs to be proclaimed to unbelievers, but we also need continually to teach it to ourselves, that we might be fully established in our faith and rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ" (75). Her teaching through 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 was especially helpful to me. And her perspective on the importance of in-depth biblical training, that "no biblical training is wasted in God's economy" and that it is both a "delight" and a "necessity ... so that one generation will with full voice keep declaring God's grace in Jesus Christ to the next" (86), was really an encouragement.

I very much appreciated Cindy Cochrum's insight that "creating a balanced and beautiful local church community grows out of our shared commitment to God's Word and to one another" (102). 

In Gloria's chapter, she shares her personal testimony in which a Bible study was pivotal to her coming to saving faith in Christ (114, 131). But she also points out that Bible study is needed by all of us, not just those who need to meet Christ but also by those of us who would be healthy ambassadors for him. In her conclusion of this chapter, she writes something that has stuck with me: "As far as we are able, we must take God's Word as seriously as it takes itself" (132).

I could point out more, but let me just conclude with the passage that Nancy Guthrie concludes the entire book with: "It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:9-11)" (244).  

The more-and-more growth of the Christian life hangs largely on our intimacy with the Word of Truth.

To Gloria and to each of these other contributing authors, THANK YOU for your heart for women and for your consistent investment in developing resources that encourage us to put our confidence in the Word and to then compassionately live out that Word in our everyday lives. 

Readers, I hope you'll take advantage of these two resources. And more, I pray that you will commit yourself to continually learning the Word and living it out in your own home and in your community. 

May "the Word of the Lord run swiftly and be triumphantly celebrated and glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1 AMP). Amen.  

writing a middle grade adventure novel (that happens to also be historical fiction)

Each time as I've neared the completion of a writing project, God has seemed to kindle an interest in a specific topic or portion of Scripture. And I have a ridiculous number of concept ideas. But when there's an unquenchable burning to answer a question, to figure out, to understand - that's where I invest my efforts. And writing is just my way of working things out.

After writing The Girl in the Mirror and No Matter What, both devotional workbooks for teens/young adults, God led me to 2 Kings. 

No Matter What was my struggle through a difficult season. For two years I gazed into the tide pool of Psalm 104, watching the ripples, unearthing the mysteries, finding the joy. 

And then God gave us our second son, our healing in the midst of muddy waters, and we named him Jordan. And God fixed my attention on the story of Naaman. 

I needed to understand the biblical backgrounds, the literal lay of the Land, the characters, the big picture and the minute details.

It was important for me to get the history right. I plotted a timeline of 2 Kings 2-8, piecing in the facts in a plausible order. I cross-referenced other portions from the biblical history books to make sure I had my Northern and Southern kingdoms' kings (who seem to use identical names in some of the versions). I borrowed other people's research to check my own. I drew maps. I poured through Manners and Customs of Bible Lands

Pretty early on I knew this book wasn't going to be a devotional. Instead it would be a middle grade adventure novel grounded in the reality of the biblical story. 

Guy Vanderhaege writes, "History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt."

So I kept rereading the passages with inquisition and imagination. 

I knew from the beginning I needed to tell the story of the little maid (I called her Cassia). I needed to see through her eyes, to experience her life. At one point I even limited my own Bible reading to only what Cassia would have had available to her.

As I began to tell the story, I realized that I couldn't tell all of it from the character's perspective. I knew I didn't want to write from an omniscient viewpoint, and as I started working through the passages, I came to the realization that I could tell the whole story (from 2 Kings 2 through 8) with just three POV characters: 

Cassia, the little maid from Israel, 
Marcus, an attendant to Captain Naaman,
and Gehazi, servant to the prophet Elisha. 

With three years of full-time resource teaching and two more children added to our family along the way, the journey of this novel has been a ten-year trek that I cannot wait to share with you. I learned so much along the way! 

One of my early readers, an elementary librarian friend of mine, shared: "Just finished it!! Could hardly put it down. Absolutely AMAZING read. Thank you so much for sharing it with me. ... Loved the way you weaved the Bible history together." And later she wrote again saying: "Just so you know, my mind has replayed this story many times since I've read it. Looking forward to buying several of the finished copies." 

I've had a bit of a pause in my writing since completing this novel, and I'm ready to see it in print too! Ready to see the illustrations and cover art that Justin Gerard comes up with! Ready to hear from you about how this story has kindled a desire in your heart to read Scripture with your imagination engaged. Because that is the whole point - to spark into flame a passion for knowing and understanding the Word. 

And even as I move on to my next project (writing a women's devotional through the book of Philippians), my heartbeat remains: 

That the Word would fuel my writing ...
and that my writing would fuel your pursuit of the Word.

Multiplied grace and peace,


the importance of accuracy in creative narrative, and a recommendation for isobel kuhn's whom God has joined

In my last post, I shared the book Telling True Stories and discussed the craft of narrative journalism, or creative nonfiction. 

As I read that book, one of the really important themes that emerged was the importance of accuracy in writing. 
  • In his article "The Line Between Fact and Fiction," Roy Peter Clark writes of "two cornerstone principles: Do not add. Do not deceive" (166). 
  • Katherine Boo places "the moral imperative ... with the writer" in her article "Truth and Consequences" (177).
  • And Melissa Fay Greene, in her article "Adventures in History," points out, "When we choose to write nonfiction, our first commitment is not to be readable or to educate or to curry favor with our readers. It is to be as accurate as possible" (89).

As I reread Isobel Kuhn's Whom God Has Joined about John's and her early years of marriage and ministry in China, a scene she shared reinforced and fleshed out this theme. 

Creative writer that she was, Isobel took on the writing of their missionary report letters. And conscientious editor that he was, John took on the marking up and nit-picking of her every word.

Isobel had a way of painting a picture with her words. And John, well, let's just say he wanted to make sure her painting wasn't too impressionistic. 

It was quite a contention between them for a while. But as good marriage partners do, John and Isobel each learned to appreciate the gifts and personality of the other. 

John learned that when Isobel wrote the letters, God used her words to move readers' hearts to prayer and giving. He eventually saw her creative skills as an incredible gift and was able to encourage her in it. 

As for Isobel, she came to see the importance of accuracy in her writing and was able to graciously accept her husband's stricter conscience and accountability. As God moved in her heart later in life to write nine books, Isobel was truly grateful for John's early emphasis on accuracy, knowing that the honest telling of the historical details made her books that much better. 

To this day, Isobel Kuhn is among my favorite missionary authors. Her voice is authentic, her transparent honesty and humor both endearing. 

And I would have quoted her telling of these events, if I could only find my copy of that book. I write from memory here, so I hope I'm getting it right as that would be tragically ironic to write on the importance of accuracy and then not get the details right. I'm still hoping it will turn up. But if not, I will purchase another copy from OMF

I highly recommend Isobel's books, my two favorites being By Searching (Isobel's story of losing her faith and finding it again) and Whom God Has Joined (one of my favorite wedding gifts for couples heading into ministry).

May your writing be honest and your reading stir your soul. 

Multiplied grace and peace,