Founded by Jennifer Speer, Word Of Joy is a bible teaching ministry that packs a powerful dose of relevant truth.
When we first looked into the Word Of Joy ministry, we were instantly taken with the wonderful timeliness of their messages. There’s clear evidence of changed lives by means of their biblical focus and caring approach.
Jennifer is a bible teacher, conference series speaker, and author.
We caught up with her to ask two basic questions:
- “How did you pick joy as your ministry name/theme?”
- “How did you deal with, and end up on, the positive side of “grief and trauma?”
Discovering His Grace: I guess the way I would characterize your ministry is that you put on a series of conferences. Is that how you see it?
Jennifer Speer: You know, I really see myself as a Bible teacher. And the format sometimes takes a format of a conference, or a weekend retreat, or a Bible study series. But when I look back at the path that God has taken me, it has always been in the format of going through Scripture week to week. And sometimes it’s a book of the Bible. I do love expository teaching, but the one I’m in now is more topical. My books are more topical. To say I’m a writer is probably the hardest thing for me to say. Because I don’t see myself as a writer, I’ve just been transposing my teaching onto paper. Basically, that’s what that is.
DHG: I need to say to this. This may seem like an interview, but it’s really us getting to know you and then making that information available to more people. You’re among friends.
JS: I’m sure. The format is different for me. [But] I can sit here and just talk all day.
DHG: So I spent a lot of time listening to your talks and felt that if I had to pick three or four topics, these topics are what I’d choose (to teach on). From my notes, here they are:
CONFERENCE SERIES FROM THE WEBSITE (under “Resources”)
WALK THIS WAY [6 week]
– How to live in a Crazy World.
LIVE STRONG [7 week]
– Facing Life with Faith (Study in Joshua).
LIVING IN LIGHT OF HIS COMING
– 7 Weeks of Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
LIVING ON THE EDGE OF DESPERATE
– Winter Bible Study (Examining 7 people from the bible who are in dire need of God’s intervention).
DHG (continues): Now, if I look at Walk This Way, Live Strong, Living In Light of His Coming, and Living On The Edge of Desperate, as topics, I would say, “wow, I think I’d want to talk about those four topics too if I had that kind of ministry. That’s what I would pick.”
JS: I tend to lean toward the practical, as far as what I’m teaching, because I grew up with such great theologians. My dad was such a good theologian. Wayne Barber, who was part of Precept Ministries in Chattanooga: he was such a mentor, just listening to him. And he in particular, was a Greek scholar. So he could take those words and could get all the Greek tenses and everything. Well I’m not, but I can take that information, and then bring it down to the person in the pew. I think that’s where God has me. Because I’ve always loved all of that study, the Greek, the Hebrew, the original language. I love words. I love what they mean. But not everybody out there is going to go look at Greek verbs or tenses. So I felt like everybody should be able to study the Bible whether they know Greek and Hebrew or not. And so that’s why I try to lean toward “practical.”
Well I’m not (a theologian), but I can take that information, and then bring it down to the person in the pew.
DHG: How did you pick joy as part of your ministry name/theme?
JS: Word Of Joy as the ministry name came into play back in the 90s. I was married to my first husband Dana, who died. He was a pastor. I was teaching in the church and being a good pastor’s wife. Then God started opening doors for me to speak. And it grew. It was one of those things that you look back and go, “I didn’t ask for that.” And God just did it. I was happy about it. It started growing and I needed to organize it a little bit because people were calling and asking me to come and speak. I didn’t have a name yet [for the ministry], but I knew my ministry was about God’s word. I didn’t select the name because it had some deep personal meaning. I just knew that God’s word brought me so much joy.
And I was so happy, really, that he had given me the opportunity to do what I was doing. And so that was just a very casual organization of what I was doing. It wasn’t anything official. And then Dana died. And I married Allen. [Backing up…] I don’t know if you’ve heard much of our story, but we met a few months after our spouses had died; our spouses died 40 days apart.
We didn’t know each other. And then the man that hit my husband (who fell asleep and hit my husband’s car) committed suicide. So everything was falling apart for me… as for insurance companies, and who’s gonna pay that off? So I called a friend, who gave me some advice, and mentioned that his pastor’s wife had just passed away. “Our church is grieving, probably like your church. Would you care for our pastor to call you?” So I’m thinking an old man’s fixin to call me. I was 45 years old; he was just three years older than me. He had three kids at home. He called me maybe three or four months after Dana had died, and we gradually became friends over the phone; and then we married the next year. That threw all of our children into trauma. There were so many changes (changed their home, changed their friends, changed their church). I watched one of our children develop addiction problems, and I started falling apart. I was a mess.
I loved Allen and I was glad to be a pastor’s wife again, but I was like a train wreck fixin’ to happen. Neither one of us had really processed all that grief. We’d just gone right back into what we’d known, you know, being a pastor’s family. But now we had five traumatized kids and I was a mess. I started doubting every decision I’d made in that last year. Should I have married? Should I have moved? By then two of our kids were wrecks, and I had gone into a really deep depression in that year following marriage. And my son was getting worse. I felt God telling me one day, “Jennifer, my grace is bigger than your choices. You made these choices, yes. But my grace is bigger. Your decisions don’t annihilate my purpose in your son’s life.” I had come to feel so guilty. I felt like my choices had done this to him. But God just took that burden away. That’s when I started teaching about grace. I was doing a series at this church in Illinois. I went through Matthew chapter one, about the women in the lineage of Christ. There are 42 names in that list. There’s not one in the entire list that has any merit. Even Mary. You think Mary was perfect, but she wasn’t. God took me through that series of women and he began to teach me about grace. And that, yes, I was a preacher’s kid, pastor’s wife – I had all the answers up here [points to head]. But he (and I don’t like this word) “deconstructed” my faith. God took apart what I thought my faith was, and rebuilt it. But the basis of it was not doing, but being. And it was Grace. I think that is where he started to really instill joy in my life.
“God took apart what I thought my faith was, and rebuilt it. The basis of it was not doing, but being. And it was Grace. I think that is where he started to really instill joy in my life.”After tragedy, God brought Jennifer to scripture and taught her from His Word about grace.
DHG: So, after marrying Allen, you’re going through a difficult time where you’re asking yourself, “did I do the right thing…”
JS: You know, God just really began to do a healing work in me. And then when we moved here (to Florida), a lot of things changed, because I wasn’t the pastor’s wife anymore. Allen’s new post, Agape Flights, did not hire me. They hired Allen. It wasn’t a “twofer.” So now we were here and I was really lost. My kids didn’t need me micromanaging their lives. We came with our younger two sons and they were in high school. Anyway, we ended up at First Baptist Church. It was like God was saying, “just do what you’ve always done.” So I started singing on the praise team, teaching as a substitute in Sunday School, and started a ladies bible study. And then the next year I got cancer. The numbers [of attendees] started growing during my bout with cancer. Then a Presbyterian church invited me to come teach there. It started growing. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t ask for it. It just happened. That’s why I went back and picked up that little title, Word Of Joy.
Because so much was happening, I knew I needed to reorganize again. I know this answer is more than your question… A family here helped me organize a non-profit, and while I was teaching women on grace while I had cancer, a man came to me and said, “you should put this in a book.” I said, Oh, no, no, no, I’m not a writer. But he sat in the back and started recording the teaching sessions. He showed me the first page and a half of his transcriptions. And I just cried. I said, “You believe I should write this, so you’re going to transcribe [the sessions] for me? It was just like that. God said, “Are you going to do it now?” And so I did it. It’s a really simple book. It translated rather easily into Spanish. And then we did another book. It was like God did something that I didn’t ask for; something I’m very thankful for. And all the while, it really it does go back to grace.
DHG: So, you moved to Venice, Florida. You were doing Bible studies, and you got cancer…
JS: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2013. And my dad died in January of 2014, seven days after my first surgery. So it was a crisis year. But it was in that year that this ministry really took root. God works that way. But through all that, like the roots going down in the bad soil … just struggling, God was really doing something through some of the most difficult moments in my life. So the ministry has consistently grown. There are two books now – and they’re both also in Spanish. I feel like God is doing more through my Spanish books than anywhere else in my ministry. I’m able to travel. This year I was in Peru. We had just returned home from Cuba. Allen was the one that first introduced me to Cuba. He’d been going down for years; since the early 90s. And when we got married, he took me in 2008. I taught in seminary there and and then once the ladies heard that I had a book, they wanted it in Spanish. And so that was a whole process of [getting that set up].
Above: from the Cuban trip
So many miraculous doors have opened. You know, Allen is a ‘take the bull by the horns’ guy. He is a go getter. He is a, you know, – It’s gonna happen! And I am not that way. My way is to sit here and be quiet; – ‘If God wants to do something, God can do something. But I just can’t go out there and shake the trees.’ But I didn’t have to. God was working with me. He was the one shaking the trees, because I didn’t even know how. So we found a printer in Bogota, Colombia that would print my books in Spanish. They then ship all the way to my garage. I didn’t know how to put that together. But God did.
And so with Peru – I’d never been there – I found a printer there that printed 1,000 books. So when I got to Peru, those Spanish version books were waiting on me. We were able to distribute all of them. I could not have orchestrated these things myself. God always puts the people in my life to do those kinds of things, and fill in those gaps where I’m so inadequate.
DHG: It’s interesting how you can be waiting on the Lord with your life’s posture and he makes things happen. Whereas, with your own husband, it’s a little different because of his kind of personality …
JS: Yes, it is. And that’s what’s so interesting: that God doesn’t do the same thing the same way with every person.
At this point, another matter came up that required attention. We resumed our interview a few days later.
We resumed our interview and Jennifer recapped some of the events covered earlier and how God was teaching her through the tremendous challenges she had faced through loss, the blending of grieving families, and even cancer. She recounted how lost she felt after they had moved to Florida. It was a fresh start for them, but unfamiliar territory. Allen had come to start an important new job as the CEO of an aviation ministry, but unlike a typical pastoral role, the new position did not require the wife’s involvement. At that time, Jennifer’s ministry kept growing. She was highlighting Biblical truths with lessons that God had taught her in the midst of her own trials. Cancer entered the picture around that time. Jennifer quickly points out that many people have had far worse experiences with the dreaded disease. In her life, it was an added challenge to the ones she’d already gone through. One outcome was that Jennifer learned more about fear. “I know that fear can be my greatest struggle,” she readily tells me, and is quick to add that she is sustained by the Lord through these times.
“You go through adversity,” she tells me, “and you’re not the same person anymore. You become a better person.” She observes that God didn’t answer any of Job’s questions, or acknowledge his trials. God just revealed who he was. Job’s response was that he surrendered. She notes that through her own difficult experiences, It was very evident that God was present throughout. “I don’t need answers to why anymore. I know I just have to trust him.”
“I don’t need answers to why anymore. I know I just have to trust him.”
Jennifer says she trusts him most days, but is quick to point out she’s not perfect at it. “Some people have been through so much more. But this is my story. I’m thankful for what he has done in my life. I see him at work in all the difficulties. I thought I had a lot of answers boxed up neatly at the time when I lost my husband. But then God took my base and grief happened. God wanted to see what was real. “Coming out of it on the other side, I can see there is a great mystery to God that I am so willing to surrender to. I used to be able to explain God. Now I can’t. I just see God as a glorious mystery, that if I could explain, he wouldn’t be God.” Her peace is not from the absence of trials, but in the fact that God is in control, and that “the ending is always up to him.” That’s her peace.
DHG: While preparing to do this interview, I listened to a lot of the messages on your website. I said to myself, “this is where the rubber hits the road of life for Christians.” And one of our other editors said that she thought your content was deep.
JS: So, it’s funny to me that people would say “Oh, she’s deep” because that’s not what somebody that just knows me as a friend would say. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:130.
“The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.”
I was not a great student. They called me ‘the wing it’ queen in college because I did everything at the last minute. Then when I got to seminary I kind of found my niche. I found what really turns the lights on. It was studying God’s Word. And I read what theologians have to say, and I’m like, ‘oh, man, I can’t swim that deep.’ My brain can’t even comprehend it. So in my heart I don’t feel like I am incredibly deep. I do feel like I know what my goal is personally when I teach. It’s to take those things that I know are deep truths and make them practical and applicable to where women are right now. I have a friend who is a wonderful theologian. She’s also a farmer, and she lives in Tennessee. She calls me the ‘queen of practicality.’ So when I teach, I like to use illustrations. So I’m a storyteller. An illustrator. And the series that we’re doing now, Living on the Edge of Desperate, started with a message that I wrote several years ago. Allen and I were asked to speak somewhere, just to share our story. And I said, ‘Well, you know, I bet we could use that message I wrote and just kind of break it up and use it together and fill it in.’ And so we did. We wound up using that message in several speaking engagements.
A ministry friend and I were talking about the concept of being desperate for Christ. About being desperate for the Lord to do a work. Then I remembered this message that I had written years ago. And I started telling her about it. She said, ‘Oh, Jennifer, I think that’s supposed to be your next Bible study.’ It would be a topical study. And so I spent the next three months praying and thinking about it.
When you look in Scripture, you see that everybody was desperate. Every character had something in their lives that God needed to address, or to intervene, or needed to show them.
The hardest part was to narrow it down to seven biblical people for the seven week Bible study. I managed to narrow it down to seven Bible characters. Jairus (in Luke) is the first one. He’s desperate for his little girl to live. Then I went back to the Old Testament to cover Moses, Job, Josiah, Habakkuk, and the woman caught in adultery. And the woman that had been bleeding for 12 years. So those are our seven people. All of them with a great need. Jesus meets their needs. The series seems to be resonating well with the women that I teach here in Venice. And so I don’t know, maybe it’ll be the third book. We’ll see.
Above: Jennifer teaches Living on the Edge of Desperate
The content of each of my books so far has been so deeply, deeply personal. For me it was just like shedding my tears on those pages. And it was a very healing thing for me. Now this current topic seems to be in that same vein of being really personal. It’s really hitting me. I said this last night when I was teaching, “There are times when I feel such a weight in teaching, because I want to make sure it’s right and that it’s God-ordained and that Christ is being honored.” I want to make sure it’s right, but there’s also a weight because I feel like I have to live everything I teach. God puts me through the wringer every time I stand to teach. It’s like, ‘Do you really believe this?’
And he tests me every time. So here I was teaching on Job, and I was so scared to teach; it’s like teaching on spiritual warfare. Yeah, it’s like I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
So I had something come up by text on Sunday from a family member. It seemed like God was asking me in the midst of it, “You’re gonna talk about trusting in me. Are you going to trust me with this?” Because it [the matter] was the closest thing to my heart. I had to say, ‘Lord, I am choosing to trust you. Yet everything inside of me is shaking as I say that.’ I don’t think God’s asking us to trust him perfectly. It is a trust that we have from the humility of our knees. For me, when I am asked to fully trust God, it is with my knees shaking, facedown in front of him saying, “I trust you. I trust you.” And that’s kind of how this series is turning out to be. I have not written all of the lessons yet. So every time I stand to teach, they are fresh.
This week I’ll be teaching on Josiah. The story becomes a very practical lesson on the truth of God in our lives, and how to do that for ourselves. Not to have to depend on a teacher or a Bible study to do it, but how to really get in and do that for yourself. So this week will be about the practical. The previous couple of weeks were kind of heavy.
DHG: Thank you for helping us learn about grace; and for sharing about living your life with trust.
“There are times when I feel such a weight in teaching, because I want to make sure it’s right and that it’s God-ordained and that Christ is being honored.” … I feel like I have to live everything I teach. It’s like, ‘Do you really believe this?’