I was sent this book by New Growth Press, and very much enjoyed this one of their latest offerings.
Barbara Bancroft is a ministry wife in the US, who with her husband Josiah has been involved in parish ministry, church planting and mission work. So in writing this book for women in ministry, you know she understands the joys and challenges that face wives and women in a variety of ministry situations.
Subtitled The Gospel for Women in Ministry, Bancroft brings her reader back again and again to the gospel, emphasising that this good news is one we also need to hear repeatedly; and while we are often tempted to rely on our abilities (or despair at our lack of them), in fact we must keep relying on the work of Christ for us and the Spirit working in us.
She does not want us to shy away from the role or position we have, whether paid or alongside our husband, in fact alerting us to the reality that “those in ministry are in a unique position to deeply affect the life of the church” (p65), yet “being in ministry places us in a battle for our faith and faith of others... All who work in the church...live in harm’s way and feel the effects of the battle. The difficulties of ministry are real and many have fallen. We all know stories of adultery and secret sins, children who have left the faith, and burn-out, just to name a few.” (p58)
I found myself resonating with many issues Bancroft raised. In truth many of them would be relevant to all Christians and to Christian women generally, but they do hold a power over many women in ministry. Some of the issues she dealt with in detail were:
- How women in ministry and ministry wives are viewed differently from the rest of the congregation. This includes people’s expectations and stereotypes, and expectations you place on yourself. This also affects friendships and how honest you can be with people about your own life and various situations.
- Some of the unique dynamics missionaries face, including raising support and people’s view that you are somehow spiritually superior
- The ways our culture affects us and our ministry, and the need to be able to see the culture we are in and be able to critique it.
- The trap of feeling entitled to more or envious of those around us - be it money, skills, support, or appreciation.
Yet amongst all these issues, which are very real, Bancroft keeps bringing us back to the cross and the message of the gospel. We are reminded of our very real sin, our great need for a Saviour, the need to forgive for we have been forgiven and the joy it is to serve our Lord.
I wrote many notes on each chapter and could easily have given you a whole list of great quotes. I found myself often smiling in wry acknowledgement and nodding in agreement as I read along. It should be noted that it is written with a strong North American emphasis, but mostly can be easily converted to our Australian situation. She also assumes a complementarian view of ministry and I loved how she addressed even some issues women can face here: “In the church, humbling ourselves under the leadership of men may be one of the hardest things women do, particularly if we are competent leaders ourselves.” (p108)
Bancroft has also structured each chapter very helpfully. She sets up the issues, clearly identifying it and how we find ourselves in it, then asks some diagnostic questions for our own personal assessment and honesty; then she delves into a bible passage to help re-orient our thinking. I felt many issues were dealt with well and at length and not just glossed over.
In the end, the overwhelming positive emphasis of this book is that she keeps bringing women back to the gospel, encouraging heart change, confession and a desire to let Christ do his good work in us through the Spirit.
A very helpful book.