Ministry & Leadership

A review of Barbara Bancroft’s “Running on Empty”

April 19, 2016

With a title like the Gospel for Women in Ministry, you are probably thinking to yourself; “I already know what this book is about.”

Well, you thought wrong. It’s not (just) a book for the women leading your Bible study.

It’s always bothered me a little that Christians cling to such a narrow use of the word “ministry”. In general, Christians define ministry as “work done by someone employed by a church.” It sends a subtle message that pastors and church staffers do ministry, and the rest of the Christians on the planet do something else, I guess. But the reality is, all of Christ’s followers are called to ministry, regardless of what they put down as their profession on tax returns.

Including stay-at-home-moms who minister to others through hospitality.

Including single women who minister to kids in Sunday School.

Including empty nest retirees who minister to couples with their years of marital wisdom.

Including…you see where I’m going with this. Christ tells all of his followers that they have a job in ministry.   That means YOU.

Running on Empty; The Gospel for Women in Ministry is the first book I’ve ever reviewed for this blog. I chose it for three reasons.

  1. Because my executive pastor gave it to me, which I am guessing means he intended for me to read it.
  2. I am completely unfamiliar with the author (Barbara Bancroft). I thought I could give a more honest review by choosing an author I hadn’t already spent time fangirling over.
  3. After reading the first chapter, I realized that despite the hazy “ministry” title, it was truly a book for women in any context. Which made it seem like an obvious choice for this blog.

Bancroft wrote this book from the perspective of a church-planting missionary wife, but I found the book helpful  even as the wife of an accountant. The book focuses on the common trials of women in ministry (insecurity, cultural missteps, relational conflict, burnout etc) and the solution to all those problems (spoiler alert; it’s Jesus.)

While not a theologically challenging book, it’s easily the most practically-helpful book I have ever read on the subject of women in ministry. I highlighted/underlined/circled the absolute crap out of this book. Here are a few quotes that have made my copy now un-returnable.

Bancroft on insecurity and pride in ministry.

There is no room in us for Christ if we are full of our successes. Likewise, there is no room in us for Christ if we are full of our failures.

On handling personal conflict

We will not last long in ministry if we spend all of our time correcting inaccuracies. Christ’s good opinion of us is the anchor that will hold when the waters get rough.

And on why specifically ministry is so difficult

The hardships of ministry expose the dark places of our hearts where the gospel has not yet penetrated.

In addition to encouraging responses to ministry struggles, the author includes a series of thoughtful questions at the end of every chapter. Sometimes when Christian authors do this, I groan and roll my eyes at the trite workbook efforts. But Bancroft’s book asks questions like this:

Name something that you think God owes you.

Uh, ouch. The questions in this book cut right through the nonsense, and straight into the heart.

Honestly though, ministry (in whatever form) is incredibly hard. We are broken, sinful people trying to serve other broken, sinful people. The author speaks a lot from the perspective of a pastor’s wife, but trust me when I say that her words are easy to apply in any woman’s situation if she considers herself to be ministry-focused.

If you are tired, hurt, confused and frustrated with ministry as a woman, you should read the book Running on Empty.

If you are a woman in ministry and aren’t tired, hurt, confused and frustrated; does your church need a new intern? Where can I send my resume?

This a pretty solid book, you should buy it.

 

 

 

 

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