Review: The Measure of Success

Carolyn McCulley has been a favorite author of mine for a few years. She’s in her fifties, unmarried, and talks about Jesus in a straight-forward, unflowery way. I appreciate that. Her most recent book, The Measure of Success, is co-authored by Nora Shank, and aims at the complicated topic of women and work. McCulley and Shank write about work as women who work hard at what they do, whether it’s owning a small business or raising little people.

“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.”

The book is broken into three sections: the story of work (history), the theology of work, and the life cycle of work.

“God has a purpose for our productivity. He uses our daily labors as a means of grace to other people and a way to learn more about Him.”

Sadly, I can imagine many women setting aside the book in the history section, not because it isn’t helpful, but because readers may not sense any immediate application. It describes the livelihood of the home, which was the center of business for millennia, as well as the slow shift from men and women working at home to finding work outside the home in the age of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, of course, the Mommy Wars have drawn lines in the sand, attempting to force women to make a choice between career and family. This history of work is extraordinarily helpful as women navigate cultural expectations. McCulley and Shank intentionally take no side in this debate, but acknowledge that work inside the home and work outside the home are both work. I could imagine their position to be a relief to countless women who are wracked by guilt or indecision. One of the most helpful points of the book is on ambition. McCulley and Shank argue that women don’t pursue ambition. They refer to the overused (and often misused) Proverbs 31 woman, pointing out that much of her description comes from her ambition to be resourceful and wise to the benefit of her family. Sure, the passage talks about her beauty and how highly people think of her, but McCulley and Shank strongly fight against limiting her description to those items. Instead, they paint a picture of a woman who works hard, is resourceful, and intentionally thinks of ways to care for her family — even taking risks for the kingdom of God and for her family.

“Christian women should be eager to develop their gifts (husband, children, spiritual gifts), widen their opportunities (professionally and personally), extend their influence (in the church and community)… so that in everything they do they can bring glory to God.”

In short, I highly recommend this book to every woman seeking to honor the Lord in her work.

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