Book Review: Caring for Widows, by Brian Croft and Austin Walker
Brian Croft and Austin Walker. Caring For Widows: Ministering God’s Grace. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015.
Widows matter to God, and they should matter to God’s people as well. As the apostle James said, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
In a day where our attention is often drawn toward the trendy, a book like Caring for Widows is much needed. It calls us to stop and pay tender attention to those who too often are left to “suffer quietly” (10).
To make this review as helpful as possible, I asked a few members of our church to join me in reading and then discuss it over lunch. Thanks to Grandma Becky (widow), John (pastor of counseling), Micah (deacon of member care), and Patty (hospice case manager and deaconess of member care) for your insightful wisdom.
CONTENT OF THE BOOK
The book is divided into two clear sections: Biblical Instruction (ch.1-10) and Pastoral Application (ch.11-20).
In the first section, Austin Walker chronicles the Scriptural testimony that God cares for the widow. The Biblical theology of this section is excellent as he shows how the Law, Prophets, and ministry of Jesus all display God’s love for the widow. While the order of the chapters might be rearranged for smoother reading, we loved the simplicity of his arguments and the clarity of his writing.
In the second section, Brian Croft gives what he gives best: practical advice on how pastors and churches should apply God’s command to love widows. As we read, we sensed that Brian spent time living what he was commending us to do. His seasoned wisdom will help pastors and church members better understand what to expect when visiting widows, including ways to bless them and pitfalls to avoid.
The book was helpful in many ways, so it’s difficult to whittle down our commendations. Here are a few to consider:
No one had to reread a section to understand what the authors were saying. This is the kind of book I will freely hand to new and mature believers alike.
We need to come face to face with the oft-forgotten fact that God calls us to care for widows. As Walker puts it, “The way [God’s people] treated the widow was to be a direct expression of their love for God and their ready obedience to Him” (47). This book reminds the church that loving widows is a necessary command for the church.
The authors rightly made clear that “the Scriptures take us beyond mere humanitarian help” when it comes to caring for widows (18). Our job is to “bring spiritual care and encouragement to a widow” (87). While practical needs must be met, this book makes it clear that to provide true practical ministry, gospel ministry must guide all our care.
Ministry activity void of authentic love will do more harm than good. Grandma Becky shared how principles in this book could help churches avoid painful experiences she had when she became a widow. Brian’s practical section was careful to counsel believers to love widows with a patient, authentic love.
The book helped us catch a glimpse of the beautiful blessing that gospel ministry can be in the mist of life’s most difficult seasons. Widows receive Christ-like love when the church shows them grace in their time of need. But they also share a wealth of wisdom they have gained through their suffering. Too often, these gospel opportunities are missed because we neglect caring for each other in ways this book describes.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT
While there was much practical wisdom in the book, one important exhortation was missing. We all agreed that the book should emphasize the need to ask for permission before sharing details of a widow’s suffering with the congregation. It is right and loving to involve the church, but those good intentions can become hurtful if not carried out with this kind of wisdom. This may be obvious to most, but stating it in the book could help some avoid wounding an already hurting sister unnecessarily.
We were all informed by the book, but believed the work would have been strengthened by a chapter that pursues, exposes, and encourages the heart of the reader. That is, a chapter or section that challenges us to face our attitudes, hesitancies, and limitations in our relationships with widows might have forced the reader to interact with the book, and even God’s Word, in a more convicting, transformative way.
If God loves this kind of ministry so much, why don’t we do it? What keeps me from caring for widows? Is it fear, apathy, a lack of opportunity, or something else? Such questions, when strategically placed, can highlight the fact that most of us fail to love widows for reasons other than ignorance of Scripture and inexperience.
Addressing these sorts of heart issues could help to move us not just to adding widows to a new checklist of ministries, but moving them to the forefront of our hearts, just like they are in the forefront of God’s.
Brian’s section on how to involve the pastor’s family was excellent, but we all agreed that a much stronger emphasis on how the church could become the new family for the widow was important. Chapter 12 and 20 both mention this, but we hope a future edition will challenge pastors to supplement their own care for widows with focused efforts to equip their church in loving widows well.
While asking widows to join families during holidays is an excellent idea (ch. 20), we think the exhortation should be aimed at a more holistic integration of widows into the life of the church and its families. What would it look like for families to regularly have widows over for meals, or to allow a widow to cook for unmarried members of the church if she wanted to do that? The options for this kind of integration are limitless.
One other application that wasn’t mentioned in the book, but I think is important for pastors to consider has to do with church culture. We all need to examine if our church culture either hinders or enhances the love of widows and others who are “suffering quietly” (10)?
I am increasingly convinced that segregating our churches around ages (junior high church, college service, etc.), stages of life (singles ministries, senior ministries) and “worship preferences” (traditional, contemporary, etc.) works against the kind of love God requires of His people. After all, how will junior high students learn from the wisdom of older and wiser saints if they are off playing Chubby Bunny and running through smoke machines instead of fellowshipping with saints of other generations? How will love and true worship be cultivated in our church if we divide services over music preferences? Would it not be more encouraging to the church and glorifying to God to learn from each other about why we love the songs we do and learn to sing them together for mutual encouragement (Romans 14:19)?
Grandma Becky’s insights in our time together reinforced the fact that widows often have a wealth of knowledge that needs to be harvested and passed on to the next generation. At the same time, the faith of older saints is strengthened when they are ministered to by passionate young believers. We would love to see these kinds of ideas considered either by the authors, or at least by churches who read this book together.
Our entire group agreed that Caring For Widows is a resource that pastors, churches, and seminarians should read and discuss together. We pray that God will use this excellent resource to strengthen the church and encourage widows with the love God has for them.