Tag Archives: Women

The True Measure of Success for Women

It's no surprise that far more verses in the portrait of the Proverbs 31 woman are about productivity and financial management than relationships. In the biblical narrative, work is a co-labor of love, tasks done in partnership with a gracious God who uses our labors to bless others. In response to criticism that he healed a sick man on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). His work was to glorify his Father and help others. Ours is the same. That is the definition of our productivity.

Should women work? Absolutely! Women should work and work hard every day. As Christ-following women, the Bible calls us to work for the glory of God. But the location of where we work is neither the definition nor the measure of our success.

If you open my new book expecting a template for a successful life, you won't find it. What you will find, though, is an overview of women's work throughout many eras, an exploration of what it means to be made a woman in the image of God who is to be fruitful at home and work, and some ideas about how to apply these concepts in various stages of life. But no templates for professional or personal success. That's because the true measure of success isn't based on any human standard.

Our culture creates identity out of productivity and rewards what it perceives to be more important or of greater status. Jesus did not make this mistake. He modeled servanthood for us so that we could understand the hierarchy of his kingdom. As he told his disciples:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them. But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life—a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45 HCSB)

Our culture believes that we are self-made people and that we can achieve whatever we want to do. But the Bible emphasizes over and over again that we are merely recipients of grace. All that we have is a gift from God. As the apostle Paul says:

For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn't receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn't received it? (1 Cor. 4:7)

How then should we measure success? We should think as recipients who will one day give an account for how we managed what we were given. We are stewards of all that we have received, including our relationships. It is God who gives us the relationships, children, time, talents, interests, opportunities, and tasks that fill our days and years.

We may be wives or mothers, but as important as these roles are, they end in this life. We continue on into eternity as children of God and sisters to those who have been rescued by Christ.

We may work in highly esteemed professions or we may not be paid for our daily labors. Those roles are not our identities, either. They are merely opportunities to be invested for the glory of God. Those things God gives us in terms of relationships and opportunities, he wants multiplied for the sake of his kingdom.

That's the true measure of success.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Carolyn McCulley's new book The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home (B&H). Register to hear her in a panel discussion on women in the workplace at our 2014 National Women's Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando.

When Women Lust

We all know that men struggle with lust. But what about women? While it's becoming more common to hear of women's struggles with pornography use, many women still perceive that they have the moral high ground over men. Such comparisons don't help because men and women often struggle in different ways.

renee_bouche

When a beautiful woman walks in the room or flashes on a screen or billboard, all eyes are transfixed. While men might be thinking about sex, a woman might be thinking, I wonder what it would be like to have such a body? Men want the body, women want the body. They want the body that attracts everyone. Lust can be either a strong feeling of sexual desire, or a strong desire for something.

We know when a man has sinned as he takes the body he wants through indulging in pornography or visiting a prostitute. But what does it look like for a woman to act out on her lust? She cannot take the body she desires to have, so what does she do? For the most part, her sin remains hidden. Still, there are some tell-tale signs of her sin, which I will describe in the first person because I struggle with this too.

Signs of Struggle

Self-Pity

The first feeling lust produces in a woman is dissatisfaction with her own body. We have compared our body with someone else's and fallen short. We imagine the other woman is sexier, more confident in herself, and overall better off. This leads us to self-pity.

Insecurity

Feeling sorry for ourselves makes us feel insecure. We feel threatened in our own femininity and start worrying about our husband or fiancé or boyfriend finding a new woman more attractive. We transpose this subjective fear into reality. Because I am struggling with lust, I assume my man must be, so I fear our relationship is threatened anew with every new attractive woman we encounter.

Criticism

We feel the need to put down other women. We rationalize our struggle by leveling the playing field in our own minds. The thinking goes like this: "Well, she may be very sexy, but she probably isn't very intelligent," or, "Her hair is perfect, but I'm sure glad I don't have those legs." We would never say anything cruel, but we think it to make ourselves feel better.

Activism

If none of this makes us feel better, we embark on a never-ending cycle of self-improvement. We feel the need to regain ground because our place at the top has been threatened. This is a form of works-righteousness in which we attempt to prove to ourselves, the world around us, and ultimately even to God that we can change ourselves into our own image, the perfect one we've created, one we so desperately want to attain. We make new dietary resolutions, new and better workout plans, and buy new clothes and cosmetics so we can look sexier.

Putting God on the Dock

Lusting after some other woman's body is a symptom of deep dissatisfaction with the way we look. It's a matter of pride. We feel we deserve better. When I was a teenager struggling to accept my body and all of its changes, my mother once said to me, "Complaining about you figure is like slapping God in the face!" That really caught my attention. My dissatisfaction with my body was shouting out to God, "You made me wrong!" But as my maker, did he not have the right to make me as he pleased? Does not God look over his creation and pronounce it good? Who was I to contradict him?

Our bodies are important to God, so we need to care for them as good stewards. We need to eat right, exercise regularly, and sleep enough. Nevertheless, the fall affects our bodies so that they age, wrinkle, sag, and eventually die. God knows this process and in his mercy, he sent Jesus to die on the cross to reverse the deadly effects of the fall.

Through the resurrection, God has assured us that he is capable and in the process of making all things new. But interestingly, God is in the business of renewing us from the inside out, not the outside in. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV). He starts with our hearts because that is where the core problem resides. He sees into the recesses of our hearts, where those dark, lustful, self-destructive thoughts lie, and he chose to plunge into that cavern to shine his light. When we start seeing our hearts through his redemptive purposes, we will see where the Spirit is initiating change, bringing us to repentance and giving us new longings. The rest of the effects of the fall will be overcome on the final day, and then we will also receive perfect bodies to go along with our perfected hearts.

Maybe that is why he constantly frustrates us in our striving to renew ourselves from the outside in. He wants us to realize that we are made for something more. To be a self-made woman based on the ideals put forth in women's magazines or comparing ourselves with other women we admire is not God's goal for us. It's far too small! In fact, those magazines can be just as bad for our souls as pornography is for men.

Rather, God changes us into the image of his son, Jesus, the perfect man. He wants us to experience joy in how he intended us to be. He fulfills all his purposes in us. Let's not waste precious time trying to be someone else. Being satisfied in God alone will make you and me an irresistibly attractive women, inside and out, because his love will shine through us for the world to see.

Rich Resources: Women Dig In

I just keep meeting them. I keep meeting women intent on digging into Scripture together and living it out with seriousness and joy. Most recently in Fullerton, California . . . Belfast, Northern Ireland . . . Colorado Springs . . . Jakarta, Indonesia . . . I just keep meeting amazing groups of women young and old who are getting on with the work of becoming women of the Word. Yes, we can rue together the trends that have pointed women in the direction of froth and froufrou rather than substantive growth—and yet the tone I'm finding is one not of looking back or around but of looking ahead. And the resources for moving ahead are rich.

wbe-kinelson13Christian women are finding and using a myriad of resources to help in their digging and growing. Of course we start where we live, with the local church and the leaders and teachers God provides there to guide his people. An increasing number of women are attending seminary or taking seminary courses—but many cannot or would not choose that route. We're drawn these days to the virtual world, where admittedly we're tempted to spend more time sending out our own words than taking in wise ones. But wise words are there for us in abundance.

Resources Abounding

Part of TGC's women's initiatives involves letting women know about the rich resources just on this website, all freely available. Not just every conference plenary and workshop session but a whole treasury of writings and sermons are right there for all the people of the church. We know many women have used the recorded sessions from TGC's 2012 National Women's Conference in various ways; we're glad to be offering the workshops for the 2014 National Women's Conference in themed tracks, so that they will be even more useful and accessible. The women I recently met at a convention in Belfast were so delighted to discover and discuss all these resources, and some of them had resources to share with me. We're rich indeed, these days.

Another noteworthy resource comes from The Charles Simeon Trust, a ministry dedicated to expositional Bible preaching and teaching within the church. I serve on this ministry's board of directors and have been thrilled to see the growth of their workshops around the country. But it's their online offering I'd like to highlight here—The Simeon Course on Biblical Exposition—which is growing by leaps and bounds since its launch in 2009, with overwhelmingly positive feedbackThis online course is dedicated to helping preachers, elders, lay leaders, Bible study leaders, interns, seminarians, or the interested layperson get better at studying and teaching God's Word.

All Simeon Trust curricula are available to both men and women, but there is a track specifically designed for women (including women teachers on video) for the course in literary genre. A great place to start, this track aims to give students the tools and confidence for studying and teaching from any biblical genre: OT narrative, epistles, Hebrew wisdom/poetry, prophetic literature, apocalyptic literature, and Gospel/Acts. In each of the six units, students are guided in textual work, prepared to offer and interact around their own presentations, and provided with study sheets to accompany online videos (some instructions and some model expositions).

It is encouraging to see The Charles Simeon Trust's aim to help train men and women. Joel Miles, director of training, says the reason for the creation of the women's track is simple:

We want to see women teach the Bible to one another; we want to help women lead expositional Bible studies; we want to see women who can handle God's Word well. Many would agree with us concerning the Bible's teaching of complementarian leadership, but in light of that conviction are asking, "Now what?" Too often women have been tasked with leading and teaching roles but not offered training to lead and teach well. We want to help change that.

These courses are reasonably priced; many churches have helped various groups within their congregations follow a course together. The goal is to help build up the church through aiding pastors' and church members' ability to study and speak the Word. I recently heard from someone who works with women's ministries in her church and who is leading a group through Simeon Trust's women's track in literary genre. She originally invited 10 women to study with her, and each of those women brought others along . . . ending with a group of 30, divided into four small groups. These are busy women, so they're taking the course at their own pace, meeting every other week—and having a great time growing together:

We happen to be finishing up Old Testament narrative right now, learning from excellent instruction to see all the little stories as part of the big story of God's purpose to bring all things together in Christ. As we've begun to dig into what we previously would have considered very familiar Bible stories (Samuel's birth, Naaman's healing, Esther's appeal to King Xerxes), we are beginning to see the amazing shape and depth in these biblical accounts. The stories themselves are dramatic, but the way they are woven together to form part of a bigger story makes the author and main character of that bigger story all the more glorious in my eyes. It makes me want to know him more and help others do the same. . . . Taking a course like this involves work, but it is definitely the most joyful and rewarding hard work I have ever done! (Valori Maresco, Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland)

Starting with our local church leaders and stretching virtually across the globe, rich resources are there for us all; I've focused on only a few. Many women are involved in all kinds of digging in to the Bible—perhaps joining the growing number of Christians doing one-to-one Bible reading with searching friends or new believers, using the clear and helpful materials available as guides. (For example, see One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm.) Our main resource, of course, is the Bible itself, which we must read and learn to read. Out of the fellowship of such reading and digging grows deep and personal ministry of all kinds.

Larger Picture

As women pursue such Word work, not only do they grow individually, but the growth they encourage in each other becomes centered and increasingly grounded in the biblical gospel. A strong context of encouragement develops where women are teaching one another the Word and helping each other see what it looks like to follow that Word in the various pathways of life. That encouragement spreads, as Word-centered women are increasingly equipped to spur on those around them profitably and biblically—and to participate wisely in their different contexts of fellowship and study and family and work and witness. The aim is not just the good of women; the aim is the gospel-centered health and growth of the church.

Such Word-based ministry keeps on growing in many places worldwide. Wherever we are, we believing women should encourage such growth, indeed not just for our own well-being but ultimately for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We're rich in resources to use and share. We live at a time when the gospel is spreading fast among the nations. Let's grow together in the Word with the aim of spreading the glory of Jesus right around us in our churches and all around us in our communities and in the church as it grows across the globe.

Pastors Need Women Teachers (and Vice Versa)

I teach women the Bible, and I hope to see in my lifetime many qualified women teachers raised up in the church to advance Bible literacy. But this hope needs pastoral help to become a reality. I know this help is possible because I have been its recipient, the beneficiary of lavish pastoral input and encouragement.

There is little disagreement among Christians that women can and should teach women. But if the gift of teaching has been given to women, how might a pastor properly value, cultivate, and employ the gifting of women teachers?

woman with bible

Pastor, I believe you will do exactly that if you carefully weigh two truths.

You Need Her

You may be the best preacher on the planet, but God wouldn't have gifted women to teach unless their teaching were absolutely necessary to the spiritual well-being of the women in your church. You need her help. Here are four ways a woman teacher can lighten your load.

  1. She is an example you cannot be. When a woman sees someone who looks like her and sounds like her teaching the Bible with passion and intelligence, she begins to recognize that she, too, can love God with her mind—perhaps beyond what she'd thought necessary or possible. Women who only hear men handle the Bible well sometimes forget to consider themselves capable of doing the same. Women benefit from seeing a smart, diligent woman set an example of what it means to open the Word with reverence and skill.
  2. She brings a perspective you cannot bring. When men teach, they naturally draw on examples that resonate with men. This means women who exclusively hear male teaching will be offered a fair number of testosterone-laden illustrations from action movies and sports. And that's fine. But a woman teacher might also speak the language of Jane Austen novels and HGTV. And she'll probably draw a few different observations from the text than a man might. This is not to say she will feminize a text, but that she will likely emphasize those elements of the text that highlight the role of women in redemptive history, or that speak to sin issues women commonly face.
  3. She holds an authority you cannot hold. A woman can tell other women to stop making idols of their careers or families in a way you can't. A woman can address other women on vanity, pride, submission, and contentment in a way you can't. She holds empathetic authority over her female students—the ability to say, "I understand the besetting sins and fears of womanhood, and I commend to you the sufficient counsel of Scripture." She can lighten your load by confronting sins women might resent you addressing at all. She can say things like "PMS is not an excuse for homicide" and not get a single nasty e-mail the following day.
  4. She sees needs you do not see (and that your wife probably doesn't see, either). In the week-to-week arena of her ministry, a woman teacher will gain a feel for the pulse of the women in your church that a staff wife might not. Women have a tendency to present their best selves to ministry wives, but not to female ministry leaders. Pastor, if your own wife is a mystery to you, consider that you might need some help decoding the needs of the female half of your congregation. A woman teacher can give you insight at the ground level.

She Needs You

You might assume that women teachers naturally find places to develop and exercise their gifts. Nine times out of ten you'd be wrong. Here are three things a woman teacher under your pastoral oversight desperately needs from you.

  1. She needs you to affirm her. Speaking from experience, I would have never had the courage to teach if my pastors had not taken me seriously. Hearing their encouragement and knowing I had their enthusiastic support spurred me to begin exercising my gift despite my own fears and insecurities. She needs you to say, "You can do this."
  2. She needs you to sharpen her. A woman teacher tends to have fewer opportunities to develop her gifting under sound leadership because of the constraints of work or family. She needs you to meet her more than halfway. She needs you to shape her theology, to point her to good commentaries and podcasts, to gently critique her, to help her with difficult texts, to be available for questions. And she needs you to offer to do these things before she asks. Don't assume her teaching gift will flourish on its own. Pastor her into becoming a teacher who contributes meaningfully to the health of the body of believers.
  3. She needs you to cover her. If you wouldn't let just any man teach your men, don't let just any woman teach women. Vet her and vet her teaching materials, just as you would a male teacher. Once you've determined that she and her teaching are sound and valuable, cheerlead for her. Stick up for her if she faces unfair criticism. Vouch for her publicly. Celebrate her efforts and their results.

A Few Good Men. And Women.

None of these points implies (or requires) disordering the husband-wife relationship, hers or yours. Obviously, common sense applies to your interactions. We should certainly be wise about collaboration, but we must not be phobic. We must find ways to work together for the common good of the church.

The Bible charges both men and women to be combatants, teaching and defending the truths of the Christian faith. Women teachers provide an indispensable layer of defense that men cannot through our example, perspective, and empathetic authority over women. We possess intel and weapons that men do not, and our contributions are needful. To put it in distinctly masculine terms, "You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall."

But women teachers need the help of their male leadership. As those uniquely designed to speak truth to others of our gender, we need you to commit to help us "handle the truth" with the seriousness and skill it deserves. In doing so, you follow the example of the greatest Teacher who walked the earth. Help us help you. Give us a place to be equipped for the battle we are both called to fight, to be armed for the watchtower we are both called to defend.

The Feminine Mystique at 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. Friedan, a freelance writer for women's magazines and a suburban housewife, wrote for a generation of post-World War II women she claimed had bought into the image of the "feminine mystique" and, as a result, suffered from the "problem that has no name." This mystique, reinforced by magazines, advertisements, and popular culture, was "the suburban housewife—the dream image of the young American woman . . . healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home." Friedan argued that this image promised true feminine fulfillment.

Although the context of a white, suburban, middle-class housewife is somewhat distant from mine—I'm a millennial (born between the 1980s and 2004), second-generation Korean American female born in Flushing, New York—I can see why Friedan's work produced such gut-wrenching, polarizing responses. I suppose it also helps that I recently read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and could hardly put it down since I felt she was speaking into my situation as a struggling working woman today. Her personal anecdotes of injustices at work for women only brought back my own memories of the prejudice I've experienced being a woman in ministry. After reading Sandberg's book I finally "got" what made The Feminine Mystique the seminal work in igniting the modern feminist movement in America.

Identity Crisis

It was 1957 when Friedan sent a survey to 200 of her former Smith College classmates prior to their 15th-anniversary reunion. She realized there was a discrepancy between the reality of their lives and the feminine mystique image to which they tried to conform. This discrepancy boiled down to one question for the American, middle-class, suburban housewife: Is this all?

Although Friedan titled the issue American women were experiencing "the problem that had no name," she did, in fact, name it (though it's quite easy to overlook since you have to comb through personal anecdotes, interviews, and analyses of media, social scientists, and education). "The problem that has no name" is actually the problem of identity. "It is my thesis," Friedan wrote, "that the core of the problem for women today is not sexual but a problem of identity—a stunting or evasion of growth that is perpetuated by the feminine mystique."

From Friedan's perspective, accepting the feminine mystique as one's identity and subsequently trying to live out of that identity caused a disparity between reality and conformity. Thus, her book ultimately functioned as a call to the American suburban housewife to radically shift her identity from housewife and mother to something more meaningful and purposeful. Her chapter titled "The Forfeited Self" provides "the cure" to this identity crisis: the existential worldview. To go from being dehumanized back to being human, Friedan argued that a woman must fulfill herself and become what she can be; in other words, a woman has to "transcend the present and act in light of the possible" in order to come to a point of self-actualization. Friedan argued the routineness and "dailyness" of being a housewife, living through husbands and children and only wanting to be loved and secure and accepted by others, was the roadblock to women becoming all they could be.

What exactly would it look like for women to self-actualize and be fully human? If not motherhood and marriage, where should they find their identity? Friedan writes, "Women, as well as men, can only find their identity in work that uses their full capacities" and contributes to society. Thus, she concludes, housework is not a career.

Image and Relationship

I think Friedan rightly assessed that women in her day had bought into an identity that couldn't fulfill them. It's not surprising that finding worth, value, and identity in a husband and children leave women empty and unfulfilled. Although that's part of what we were created for, we were first created in God's image, to have a relationship with him before venturing into relationships with anyone else.

The existential worldview isn't the answer to feeling fully human. Being created in the image of God is what makes one fully human. Nevertheless, in our state of fallenness apart from Christ, there is a dehumanizing tendency within each of us. I think of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4), who in his arrogance saw his kingdom built by his own power and for his own glory and refused to give credit to the Most High God. He was then driven from among men to eat grass like an ox and wander—his body wet with dew, his hair as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. This is clear imagery of dehumanization. Not until Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged the kingship of God was he restored to his humanity.

Understanding we are created in the image of God and renewed in our humanity through Christ's life, death, and resurrection has profound implications for our identity. We no longer have to look at our "roles" in life—what we do and how we perform—as the defining markers of our identity. We no longer need status, money, positions of power, or esteem from others to determine our worth and value. If we seek our identity in what we do, we'll always want more.

Ultimate Verdict

It's unfortunate many believed Friedan's solution. Shifting from the role of mother and housewife to another identity not found in Christ will inevitably put us in another courtroom where we will wait for a verdict that "we've made it" or "we're good enough." As Tim Keller writes in The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, "What Paul is looking for, what Madonna is looking for, what we are all looking for, is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable." In Christ, we receive the ultimate verdict and are taken out of the courtroom, never again needing to hear from others or ourselves that "we've made it."

Fifty years later, women have attained positions in their career that would have been unimaginable in Friedan's day. I imagine Sandberg's book wouldn't exist were it not for the groundwork laid by Friedan and others after her. I imagine I wouldn't have received my Master of Divinity at a conservative evangelical seminary, nor other countless opportunities I take for granted, had it not been for the questions Friedan's book raised. Yet the identity crisis persists in women today as it did back then: different circumstances, same problem. As I finished Sandberg's book, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit and a good mentor to take the anger I was feeling, which quickly could have turned to bitterness, and to repent before the Lord for holding onto memories that would be fuel for resentment and bitterness toward men.

Men are not the answer, but they're not the problem, either. My own brokenness, which keeps me from finding the fullness of my identity in who I am in Christ, is the real problem. In Christ, any role can be carried out with joy and neither anxiety on the one hand nor resentment on the other.

When Mentoring Exposes Your Idol of Being Needed

Sharing the gospel is inextricably tied to sharing other aspects of life with those we're mentoring. Consider what the apostle Paul says: "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Biblical mentoring requires engaging the whole person for more than just a scheduled time each week or month. It includes meeting for lunch or coffee, showing up for an important event in the life of the woman you're mentoring, inviting her to be part of your life or family, serving together, and even enjoying together the seemingly "frivolous" activities such as watching a movie or going shopping.

Life-on-life ministry comes quite naturally to many of us women as we love to care, nurture, and share emotional intimacy. Yet as in every other relationship, there is danger that I find my identity in mentoring another young woman and so become enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship. My definition of "unhealthy relationship" is a relationship where one of my idols takes the central place that belongs to Jesus. In mentoring, this can happen when my idol of being needed replaces Jesus as what I am worshiping and serving in our relationship.

Warning Signs

What does this idolatry look like, and how can you establish healthy biblical boundaries? First, identify the idolatry. You may be serving your idol of being needed more than Jesus if you notice the following in your mentoring relationship:

  • Reluctance or refusal to speak the truth in love to her when needed out of fear of losing her approval or the relationship.
  • Rearranging your schedule, neglecting other priorities and responsibilities (such as family and work) in order to spend time with her.
  • Tending to give her advice immediately when she asks for your counsel without asking questions to help her think through the issue for herself.
  • Avoiding sharing your own weaknesses and struggles, presenting yourself as strong and seemingly invincible.
  • Always being available to her regardless of what time she calls or what you are doing.
  • Expressing disapproval of decisions she makes on her own, perhaps even explicitly encouraging her to talk to you first before making any decision.
  • Discouraging her from other influential relationships outside your mentoring relationship or neglecting to connect her to others within your church community.

Second, repent of seeking life outside of Christ, humbly acknowledging that your need to be needed has become an idol in your heart. Repent of allowing this idol to cause you to unintentionally mentor women into people-worship instead of God-worship. Rejoice that you have a God who mentors you (and her) perfectly and even now is restoring you back to himself through Jesus. He is jealous for full-hearted worshipers, and he lovingly redeems you and me from all of our false worship.

Finally, realize that repentance will include setting healthy boundaries in your mentoring relationships. The purpose of setting boundaries is not for your ease and comfort but out of love for God and the woman you're mentoring. Healthy boundaries flow out of the foundational belief that you both need Jesus more than you need one another. Your goal in mentoring is to help this woman to grow more fully into the unique person God has created her to be in his image, not to recreate her in your image.

Practical Boundaries

Keeping that foundation in mind, practical boundaries might include:

  • Involve others in your relationship. Connect her with other women in the church, serve together with others in the community, invite her over to dinner with your family or roommates, and so on.
  • Appropriately share your own weaknesses and struggles. This is a tangible way of showing that you also need Jesus Christ and that you are not her savior.
  • Ask questions that help her think through dilemmas and decisions she presents to you and support biblical decisions she makes, even if it's different than what you would have done.
  • Communicate when you are and aren't available. For example, if she tends to call you later than when you're normally up, let her know that it's best for her to call you before your bedtime (or family time).
  • Know your limits. If she is struggling with an issue beyond your ability, time commitment, or experience to handle alone, recommend she talk to a pastor or counselor. Help her find this person and go with her to a few sessions if she's open to that assistance.
  • Lovingly confront her when necessary, in humility. This is a way of pointing her to Jesus as her Redeemer and together finding grace at the foot of the cross. Remember that you are ultimately serving Christ, not seeking to win her approval (Galatians 1:10).
  • Stay accountable to someone else. Ask a close friend or family member to give you input if you're unsure of whether you're fostering an unhealthy relationship with a woman you're mentoring.
  • Point her to Jesus! This is the obvious point, of course, but it is foundational to a healthy Christ-centered mentoring relationship. Pray together with her when you're trying to sort through a tough issue. If she calls you at a time when you're not available for a long discussion, suggest that she spend time praying about the issue and reading Scripture. Verbally remind her (and yourself) that you want to help her to seek Jesus and become dependent on him, not on you. She needs Jesus more than she needs you.

As you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, prayerfully seeking wisdom as you mentor other women, he will give you grace in the moment as you need it. The danger of boundaries for boundaries' sake is that I would use them to protect my own comfort and selfishness. But biblical Christ-centered boundaries foster increased dependence on Christ for you both.

As you abide in Jesus, he will give you wisdom to know when you should drop what you're doing to lovingly sacrifice your time or agenda and allow yourself to be interrupted by her needs. He will also give you grace to trust him when you're not able to be there for her in a difficult moment of need. And most importantly, as you find your security and identity in Christ your Redeemer, you will be able to mentor her into finding the same for herself.

Chasing Comfort in All the Wrong Places

Where do you turn for relief, for assurance, for security, for calm?

In this new video, Gloria Furman, Nancy Guthrie, and Lauren Chandler consider various places we're tempted to look for comfort amid a chaotic and uncomfortable world.

"I often want a defined role that provides the comfort of knowing my identity," Chandler shares. We're also tempted to search for comfort in the deadly comparison game, Furman adds. Few thoughts are more enticing to ponder than "I do this better than her" or "She thinks I do this wonderfully."

The advent of social media, Guthrie observes, has unleashed a new array of options when it comes to seeking comfort. As Furman suggests, "Distractions available on the Internet are often geared for women looking for comfort." If we're not careful, our "online lives" can easily become pacifiers to dull our pain, relieve our boredom, and fill our emptiness.

When we're scared or sad, it can be "so much easier to turn to people rather than to God," Guthrie observes. Make no mistake: the Devil will do everything he can to make his enemy's Word appear dull, boring, and irrelevant.

Reflecting on the extremely uncomfortable experience of walking alongside her husband, Matt, during his battle with cancer, Chandler remarks how she learned the importance of "finding comfort in the Lord while realizing that wasn't going to make all the uncomfortable around me go away."

Watch the full seven-minute video to see these women discuss the appeal of pseudo-comforts, why close friendships can be dangerous, and more. And consider attending The Gospel Coalition 2014 National Women's Conference, where Guthrie will address with her husband, David, the topic "Getting Through Grief Together: Finding Healing Grace as a Couple." Related workshops include Jani Ortlund's "How Could They? Practicing Forgiveness in a World Filled with Failures" and Lydia Brownback's "Content in All Circumstances . . . Really?" See the full list of talks planned for June 2014 in Orlando.

Chasing Comfort in All the Wrong Places from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Registration Opens Today for TGCW14: Come On In!

Registration for TGCW14 is open! Come on in to the conference website and browse a bit. You'll find not only the plenary schedule, with talks expounding the whole book of Nehemiah. You'll find also the workshops—with a wide range of speakers ready to talk about what it means to live out God's Word as women committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We're thrilled about the breadth and depth of the people and the topics this conference brings together.

The workshops are organized in 12 themed tracks. As you register, feel free to follow one track or select from several. You'll see that we heard your feedback from the last conference, asking for everything from basic Bible instruction, to in-depth teaching on theology, to increased attention to issues like work, medical ethics, adoption, evangelism . . . and more. (We even heard your requests for easier access to coffee!)

If you're looking for that basic instruction in studying the Scriptures, check out the track called "Basic Bible Competency"—Carrie Sandom and Paige Brown will set you in the right direction with the right tools. If you want to delve directly into theology, don't miss the track offered by Don Carson and Mary Willson. (We're taking full advantage this time of the three TGC leaders joining us to teach—and we're glad they're willing!)

Along with topics related to Bible study comes a wide variety of Word-based topics. There's a track, for example, called "Biblical Light on Sexuality," which addresses head-on some of these contested, deeply personal issues. You might have read Rosaria Butterfield's book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert; we're delighted that Rosaria will come and help us think about "Homosexuality and the Christian Faith"—and, in another workshop, about reading and trusting the Bible.

The list goes on . . . Blair Linne presenting her Spoken Word poetry . . . Noël Piper and her daughter talking about adoption . . . focus on missions, and ministry to Muslims . . . panels on work, and hospitality, and teaching children about Jesus. The speakers represent a beautiful blend of younger and older women who love Jesus Christ, love to read and share his Word, and love to serve the church.

Come grow with us in all these loves. The conference plenary sessions will be full of great teaching through the book of Nehemiah. The workshops will be full of stimulating instruction and discussion. Here's a well-tested idea: bring some friends, divide up to attend different workshops, and then come back together to share what you've learned. Plan to arrive a bit early for the pre-conference, titled "Male and Female He Created Them." And don't forget: along with all the spoken words, Keith and Kristyn Getty will help us sing! Women, we hope you can join us in June 2014.

Crossway and The Gospel Coalition Expand Partnership

Having worked closely together for the last six years, Crossway and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are pleased to announce the formalization and significant expansion of their ongoing publishing partnership.

In the new partnership, Crossway will continue to publish TGC resources dedicated to the centrality of the gospel and the Scripture-based reformation of ministry. In addition to publishing conference volumes presently published by Crossway, TGC and Crossway will work closely together to develop a series of books written specifically by women addressing cultural issues, as well as other unique resources focused on faith and work.

"There are only a handful of organizations whose leadership is committed to producing gospel-centered resources at a level that we trust," says Ben Peays, executive director of TGC. "Crossway has been a close partner of ours since our inception in 2007. We are pleased to deepen our publishing partnership with them going forward."

Since 2009, Crossway and The Gospel Coalition have produced 18 publications, including Don't Call It a Comeback, edited by Kevin DeYoung; The Scriptures Testify about Me, edited by D. A. Carson, and The Gospel as Centeran anthology expounding TGC's foundational documents, edited by D. A. Carson and Timothy Keller.

"The Gospel Coalition is one of the most important and influential organizations in today's evangelicalism, serving churches with resources for reformation and renewal," says Justin Taylor, Crossway's publisher for books. "It is an enormous privilege for Crossway to strengthen this publishing partnership with TGC, and we look forward to producing many unique books together that will create new conversations and provide direction on the things that matter most."

TGC editorial director Collin Hansen will oversee this effort alongside three other editors. Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman will edit the book series written specifically by women.

  • Kathleen Nielson serves as director of women's initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She holds MA and PhD degrees in literature from Vanderbilt University and a BA from Wheaton College. Author of the Living Word Bible Studies, she speaks often at women's conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible.

Bethany Jenkins will direct the faith and work initiative.

  • Bethany Jenkins is the founder of The Park Forum, a nonprofit that seeks to plant urban Christians in the Bible daily. She is writing her first book, Having All That Matters, which is a faith-based contribution to the Lean In discussion. Previously, Bethany worked at the New York Stock Exchange, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Congress. She received her JD from Columbia Law School. Bethany lives in Manhattan and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where she was a Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.

When a Church Loves a Woman

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it's a farewell to someone or something you love dearly. In my case, it was a whole church. For nearly two years, a body of 300 people, including two dedicated pastors and their wives, had loved me when I was broken, lonely, and not at all sure where God was leading me. 

When I started attending, the church was only a couple of years old. It was growing rapidly, and I knew the reasons why after my first visit. The pastor was heartfelt and engaging with the good news about Jesus Christ; the congregation was warm and welcoming; the music was lively and full of the Lord's presence. But the thing I noticed most could not be seen. This church didn't have its own building or even the comforts you take for granted in many other churches. But this place had a heart I could feel from the moment I walked through the door.

The heart of the church comes through in its mission: "we are passionate about coming together to meet a Jesus who is radically committed to loving broken people, and who then equips us to share in the privilege of mending our broken world with him."

A privilege? Growing up in a different kind of church, I never thought of worshiping or serving as a privilege. But here, that's exactly what it was—a responsibility they took very seriously.

The Privilege of Truth

No one comes into church perfect and polished, deserving of God's love. Indeed, I was far from it. I was in a sinful relationship, my work was my idol, and I frequently put myself and my comforts above others.

The church saw my discretions, and neither did they ignore them or punish me for them. Instead, they loved me well until I saw the error of my ways. They invited me in. They gave me resources. They spoke truth when I needed to hear it. They were there to help pick up the pieces when I had to deal with the consequences of my actions.

Essentially, they loved me in ways the world doesn't know how to love. Love can be costly when we put ourselves on the line to speak truth to one another. But love does the right thing even if it may offend. I celebrate the power of God in loving me through the body of Christ, with a love full of grace when I needed it most. 

The Privilege of Pursuit

I was also granted the privilege of being pursued to serve other women in the church. I saw in action what Jen Wilkin commended in her recent article "The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued." She writes, "The challenge for any pastor would be to consider whether he is crafting a church culture that permits women to serve or one that pursues women to serve. Because a culture of permission will not ensure complementarity functions as it should."

In a healthy church, women feel comfortable stepping up to fill the inevitable gaps. By being asked to start a women's ministry group and being encouraged to start a small group for women in transition, I was, in turn, able to pursue the women of the church in meaningful ways.

The Privilege of Community

As Paul writes, in Romans 12:5, "So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." This church was a model of this verse in action. From the welcome card that gives the option to have coffee with the pastor, to the annual family retreat, community was built into the church's DNA. 

It emanated from the staff—from the pastors and their wives. They made an effort to get to know everyone in the church personally, even as it grew. Meals and events at their homes are among my fondest memories of church community.

Letting Go

While I certainly didn't want to leave the best church I had ever known, the Lord had a different path for me. I struggled with the thought of finding a new church home. After all, experiencing something so wonderful is both a blessing and also a curse when it's hard to replace.

My church family kept loving me well as I prepared for the next phase of my life. While my small group family gathered around me in prayer at my farewell gathering, one of the pastors shared a piece of advice I will not soon forget: "Don't look for a church that's exactly like this one because you won't find it. Instead, bring this church wherever you go."

He knew something I need to remember if I will ever be content with a new church experience. Instead of looking for what the church could offer me, I need to look for a church I could serve in the ways of love I learned through my last church. 

While I will miss a lot of things—the coffee breaks during service to connect with friends, the personal communion messages delivered by the pastors to each person in the congregation, my small group and fellowship with women I had grown to love—I will forever cherish this experience and seek to bring that gift to others wherever I'm going next.

Thank you, All Souls Community Church in Rockland County, New York, for loving me as Jesus commands. May many more souls like mine—broken and in need of God's grace—find your doorstep so that they may experience love in Christ beyond anything they can imagine.