Unexceptional (Book Review)
Seven stories, collated by Sharon Dickens, Director of Women’s Ministry at 20schemes, show how ‘unexceptional’ women can do extraordinary things when empowered by God.
How many of us identify with the feelings of inadequacy in women’s ministry that Sharon confesses to experiencing, assuming that “everyone else would be better suited to the role of women’s worker than me”?!
However, in her book, Dickens seeks to prove that none of us are perfect and that God doesn’t look for “super-Christians” or “blemish-free ideal(s) of a Christian woman” to serve him.
The women God does look for are the kind of women we hear from in this book: those who love the Lord with a passion and long for other women grow in their love for him too.
This confronts us with the assumptions we make both about ourselves as we serve the Lord and about others, as we seek to encourage them in ministry.
For example, would we, like Dickens, appoint a young woman who has been a Christian for just three months as a youth worker in our church? This book might challenge your initial response!
Dickens introduces us to seven different women who tell their stories of serving women in some very difficult contexts. She adds her own story of planting gospel churches in some of Scotland’s most deprived schemes or housing estates with 20schemes.
Listening to the voice of each woman speaking honestly about their own testimony and experience of ministry, sharing practical insights gained along the way, is both humbling and inspiring.
Each chapter helpfully closes with recommended books and questions which enable us to reflect on our own situations - ideal for small group discussion. Dickens’ concluding chapter titled Persevere to the End is an excellent encouragement to endure faithfully in difficult times.
Most of these women serve in churches in very needy communities where meaningful relationships are only possible by living closely alongside the people there.
Some of us might baulk at the intense demands of this kind of “24/7” life - this is a necessary challenge to the more comfortable approach of a structured, events-based women’s ministry that Dickens and others suggest we can be tempted to settle into.
It prompts us to think about how women could be discipling each other more effectively in our context: “doing life together” as Sharon describes it.
It’s hard to see these women as unexceptional. Each one of them knows the cost of obeying the call to serve, but they show that when ordinary women trust in an exceptional God they are enabled to persevere and do extraordinary things for him.
It’s also hard to ignore Sharon’s concluding challenge: full-time worker or not, feeling gifted or not, “We can all serve in some way… Invest yourself. You have been saved for a purpose”.
Unexceptional: Ordinary women doing extraordinary things through God by Sharon Dickens is published by 10Publishing. You can buy the book from 10 of those (RRP £5.99).