Newsroom

The Whole Woman Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Jul 29th

Why did you write this book? What inspired you to write it?

JH: A few years ago, I sat on the lawn at a picnic at Southeastern Seminary where I serve and ate lunch with one of my friends and colleagues, Kristin Kellen. We both teach in the area of ministering to others; her specialty is in biblical counseling, and mine is in ministry to women. Often our conversations deal with what we’re teaching in class and ways we are involved in serving the Lord on campus. But, as we talked that day at lunch, we dreamed up ways that we could make an impact on women beyond the classroom. We talked about what it would look like to lead women to think through the Great Commandment—that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength—and Jesus’ follow-up command (to love our neighbors as ourselves). So practically, we were asking not only what it looks like to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, but how can we be a catalyst for women to use the grid of heart, soul, mind and strength as a paradigm for whole-person ministry to their neighbors around them.

For whom did you write this book?

JH: Really the audience is two-fold: the everyday woman in the local church and the woman who might be placed in a leadership position to oversee women’s discipleship. The first chapter starts out from the get-go with a discussion on biblical womanhood and the ways evangelical culture has often defined being a biblical woman based on roles that women play—mainly the role of wife and mom. We’re hoping to show every woman in the pew that she is called to love God with her heart, soul, mind and strength only on the basis of and according to the identity she has been given by her creator as a follow of Christ: that she has been created in God’s image, that she is fallen in sin, that Jesus has redeemed her and that God is at work in her life restoring her to the image of his Son. 

And we hope that women of the church read this book in community. It has been written in such a way that it would be great for a book study. Each chapter has discussion questions at the end, so someone could read it on their own and personalize it, or she can read it with the thought in mind that she and a group of friends will use those discussion questions as a springboard for thinking through and applying what they are learning as they read through the different sections.

KK: The only thing I might add to the above is as far as reading in community, that could be a Sunday school class, small group study or a woman’s book club that isn’t congregation-specific. I’ve had several women mention to me that they’re in book clubs with other women and would love to use a resource like this as one of their chosen texts.

Also, though this book is written for women to use in ministry with other women, the principle of loving one’s neighbor with your heart, soul, mind and strength is applicable to everyone in the church, not just women. Men might not be drawn to this text in particular, but the principles can be shared with the larger church body for their benefit as well.

Talk about the connection between loving God and loving others. How does loving God with all we are make a difference in the way we love others?

JH: You know, that’s a great question because it assumes a connection between loving God and loving others. And there is that connection for sure. But I want to take the question a step back before I get to the heart of what you’re asking. The Bible tells us that we love because he first loved us. The ability to love others stems not from our initiative of loving God but because he has loved us and empowers us to love others. Romans 5:5 literally says the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. So, a person who is in Christ can’t help but love others because the Holy Spirit will do this through them. First John 4 says we love because he first loved us, and then tells us that no one born of God and who has the love of God in them can go on in sin and hating their brother. It is then that the command is given: that whoever loves God must also love their brother. Well, how do we do that? God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit and as we grow in grace, we love God more and more. Our affections are changed from loving other people and things to first and foremost loving God. And when we love God in his proper place—that he is the one who has first place and honor in our life, then the more we look to him, follow him and obey him will, in turn, affect our treatment of and interaction with others. Because to love God and obey his commandments naturally leads to properly loving other people.

KK: To continue these thoughts just a bit, God clearly calls us to love him with our whole being, all of who he created us to be. To love him with any less than that really isn’t love. It’s just part of ourselves. But in the greatest commandments that Jesus gives (Luke 10), he tells us to love God fully (heart, soul, mind and strength) and love others. The implication is that we 1) love others fully, too and 2) help them love God and love others fully. Loving others fully is a reflection of loving God fully, with all that we are.

What are some common ways we sometimes minister to the heart and not the mind? On the flip side, how do we sometimes minister to the mind and not the heart? Lastly, how do we sometimes forget the importance of the body in our ministry efforts?

JH: Whew, this is a pointed question for me—mainly the part about ministering to the mind and not the heart. Because as a professor, I can get caught up in the intellectual world and lean toward that way of loving God to the detriment of loving God with my strength, or my heart or my soul. And that helps point out a theme of the book that a struggle for most is leaning toward loving God in ways that are most natural for us in our personalities and makeup. For example, I love reading theological books, thinking deeply about what I’m reading, and bringing family and friends into that world so we can contemplate theological concepts about God together. And sometimes that results in pride or arguments. For instance, a theological category I find this happening with is thinking through the end times and the way Christ’s return and reign is going to play out. If I just focus on the truth, what I think the Bible teaches about these things and have the attitude that  I’m right, and my friends or family are wrong, then, really in discussion on those things, I’m not promoting love for God and I’m not loving my neighbor. I’m just wanting to win a theological debate. But if I want to minister to the mind, as well as incorporate holistic application, I should reframe the discussion around the key concept: Jesus is returning and Jesus will reign. And how does that truth cause me to love Jesus more right now with my mind? With my heart? With my soul? With my body? It’s really taking theological truths and not stopping at the base level of knowledge but pursuing transformation, which is when we know true learning has taken place. 

KK: I’d echo these thoughts about typically loving God in ways that come most naturally to us given our personalities and positions. When we think about loving God and others with our hearts, what comes to mind for me is our affections. What do we feel love for or a pull towards? How can I foster an affection for God and others in my sisters? That involves the mind, in part, because fostering affection includes a reminder of God’s character (his goodness and love for us), but it’s not only a mental construct. It’s something felt deep within us, involving our affections, desires, and motives. But like Julia, sometimes we like to live in the theological realm, talking about the latest “hot topic” in theology or something we read recently that energized us mentally. As a professor, I resonate with this one, but as a counselor, most women I encounter are struggling in their hearts, not their minds. As we love others, we have to be mindful of where they are and how they best perceive love, but also their areas of lack.  

As it relates to the body, our first inclination is to meet some physical need, like bringing a meal after a friend has surgery or a baby, or bringing by coffee—that sort of thing.  And those are great!  But like I just mentioned, what are her areas of lack?  Is she struggling to eat well, and if so, how can I help her there? Or maybe it’s a physical need like chronic pain. What sort of encouragement can I give in the midst of her suffering?  Can I go to a doctor’s appointment with her so she’s not alone? These things are huge but not something we think of often. But also as it relates to the body, we have to remember that we are part of a larger body, the church. How can we leverage the local church in caring for her? Who are the “hands,” the “feet” and the “ears” that can help her (1 Corinthians 12)?

What practical steps does this book give for ministering to women holistically - heart, soul, mind, and strength?

JH: The chapters in this book were written by nine different women who serve in various places of ministry. We have the collective experience of women who are counseling others, teaching others in the church and in seminaries, women who have served as pastors’ wives and wives of church planters, ones who have developed businesses of their own and work for large non-profits, as well as leading in denominational settings and churches. Because of the breadth of experience these women possess, we hope that anyone who reads this book will find practical takeaways that will serve them well in their own ministry context. 

So, what are some of those practical steps? 

In the area of loving God with your heart, we have two chapters that talk about the heart—specifically one on emotions and one on desires and motivations. One practical takeaway from that section is understanding emotions as being a good gift from God, not for self-expression but to be used to glorify God and serve others. That chapter also helps those who struggle with emotional regulation in looking to Jesus, who being perfect in our place, was perfect even in his expression of emotions.

In the area of loving God with your soul, the two chapters in the soul section help readers to focus on their relationship with the Lord and cultivate spiritual disciplines. A practical takeaway from that section is pushing women to think through various disciplines that push us to grow in love for Christ. Amy Whitfield wrote that chapter, and she offers several practical tools such as books, apps and music that she has found helpful in her own cultivation of spiritual disciplines. And her chapter is written in such a way that it reminds us that spiritual disciplines are not things we do to check off ways to be good Christians; they are not about performing. Amy does a great job at showing spiritual disciplines as a way to hang out or commune with Jesus so that we are conformed more and more into his image. 

KK: In the area of loving God with your mind, we talk about our thoughts and then our theological study. A practical takeaway in this section is that we have to give attention to the thoughts that run through our minds; they matter and can be formative for what we love and what we do. We should be transparent about our thoughts and their messages. As far as theological study, this chapter really drives home the message that 1) we are capable of such study, and 2) we should be diving deep. The Lord intended for us to!  We can do that in community or individually, but it is important.

Then finally, as it relates to our strength, the chapters in this section focus on caring for one’s body like we talked about earlier and the role of the body of Christ, the church. A practical way of caring for women in these respects is identifying physical needs and seeking to meet those or helping her truly connect to her church body. We weren’t meant to be spectators; we are literally a part of that body and should function that way.

How have you seen women who were once struggling, grow in their relationship with God when you started ministering more holistically to them? Do you have any success stories to share?

JH: This causes me to first think about how I have been ministered to by others, what discipleship has looked like in my own life and how that has impacted how I have previously ministered to other women. Looking back, I can see how God has used many women in my life to bring me to realize that I should love God with my heart, my soul, my strength and my mind. Often when we are ministered to and when we minister to others, it is an organic process, meaning we are helped by all kinds of friends and family to come to understand how to love God with all our being. For instance, I have a few friends who are nurses, and my mom is a nurse. In their influence on me as a Christian woman, there have been times that their ministry to me has been in the realm of loving God with my body because they are in that field day in and day out. I have other friends who are doing theology as a profession, and their impact on me is toward loving God with my mind. I have other friends who are biblical counselors, and they push me to think about loving God with my emotions, desires and motivations. I say all this to say that this organic process of discipling and ministering to others happens in a community of believers who have different giftings. But hopefully the book will push us—me included—to think about ministering to women holistically; meaning that, going forward, it’s even helped to shape my mind on speaking to every area of a woman’s life when I am involved in formal discipleship relationships.

KK: Like Julia, I think about how other women have ministered to me and the value I’ve found in each of those opportunities. Then, I try to think about how I’ve ministered to other women. If I’m truly honest, I admit that I tend to lean towards either my most natural inclination (loving with the mind), or where I’ve seen an obvious need. As a counselor, I can often discern clearly how a woman needs to be ministered to. And many times, I can either meet that need myself or connect her with others who can.

What I haven’t seen as much, and what we hope to foster through this book, is intentionality to serve all women in each realm, not just those that are obvious or most pressing. This isn’t common, though I don’t think that’s intentional.  I think it’s just not the way we’ve always done it, so it’s a bit of a radical concept. I’m super excited to see how the Lord uses groups of women who can commit to loving one another in all of these ways and just seeing what he does through that commitment!

How does this book help women who feel stuck or unsure when it comes to serving the women in their lives?

JH: It takes the concept of loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength to a very practical level. It will help them identify very specific areas that are needed to lead other women to love God with her entire self. A woman who is seeking to serve others could also look at the four categories and identify where she has leaned heavily in the past in discipling and ministering to other women and see where she has really been lacking. Or, if she is in a leadership position developing women’s ministry events, she might consider if the majority of the goals and events she has for the women of her church fall into one or two categories: for example, does she mainly organize events/curriculum around loving God with the mind and the soul, while leaving out specific ways to encourage women to love God through their bodies or with their emotions?

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

JH: I hope they take away these three things: 

  1. Their identity is found in Christ. They have been created in the image of God, they are fallen, and they are redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Because of that, God is at work in their lives restoring them to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength. 
  2. Because God is restoring them to be able to love him completely with the entirety of their being, he calls them to love their neighbors. One way to love neighbors is to teach those neighbors how to love God with their entire selves.
  3. God deeply cares about us—all of us. He is at work in his daughters and calls us to live on mission to show his care and love through us, as we minister.

KK: The only thing I’d add is that they take away a commitment to following through; that they see the beauty of loving God and loving others holistically so much so that they put it into practice.