5 Marks of Healthy Romance in Christian Novels


Since I write Christian fiction, I also read a lot of Christian fiction. While I read few novels that are primarily romance, I like to experience a little romance in the fiction I do read. I believe a Christian novel that uses romance well can be inspiring and helpful for the Christian reader. Sadly, however, I note some very unhealthy romantic elements in many Christian romances. Perhaps this is why many Christians shy away from the romance genre.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Bible stories include healthy romances, as well as unhealthy ones we can learn from. Christian romances can be more than just “clean reads.” I believe Christian romances should be distinctively Christian, not just Hollywood without the sex scenes.

Part of the problem, I think, is that some story elements make for exciting fiction, though they are contrary to healthy Christian relationships. Thank the Lord, my dating relationship with my husband would make a boring biography. Many writers quote something close to this: “Fiction is real life with the boring parts taken out.” Face it: Commitment, faithfulness, appreciation, and stability are less exciting in fiction than jealousy, misunderstanding, fighting, and hurt feelings. To build suspense, romance authors try to keep a couple apart when they want to be together, or keep them together when they want to be apart. Conflict builds suspense. No conflict, no story.

Sometimes authors work so hard at building suspense that they fail to spot the unhealthy romance in their novels. As readers, however, we need to be discerning. We need to support Christian writers who handle romance in a healthy way.

Here are five things I look for in healthy Christian romance:

  1. It reflects godly standards for choosing who to love and pursue in a committed relationship. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

A godly protagonist won’t date an unbeliever or a believer who is distant in his relationship to God. Many times I see a protagonist fall in love with an unbeliever or someone who is far from God. At the end of the book that person suddenly gets saved or comes back to the Lord. Then, a very short time later, they marry. That is portrayed as a perfectly acceptable model of romance.

The problem is the protagonist , who seems to be godly, set her heart on someone who doesn’t love God like she does. A godly character sets her heart on godly things.

This also sets a dangerous example. It’s easy for a believer to fall in love with an unbeliever, hoping that person may get saved. But that unbeliever may never get saved, or may not get saved for many years. Sometimes an unbeliever professes salvation just to please a believer they love.

Christians need to set a high standard for people they marry or form a relationship with. Salvation is a bare minimum. Believers need to look for other believers who are growing in their relationship to Christ.

  1. The romantic attraction should be based on more than purely physical attraction.

Some Christian romances go on for so long about the color of a person’s eyes, his muscles, or her figure, that the romance seems more hormonal than anything else. Godly characters need to be attracted to each other because of friendship, common goals, concern for each other, and godly character traits. We’re all imperfect and need forgiveness at times. But a reader should be able to pick out positive character traits that draw the characters to each other.

  1. It shows a healthy dating relationship or the dangers of an unhealthy one.

“Dating” is not the only way for a Christian couple to get to know each other. Some use more of a courtship model or group date or simply get to know each other by being in situations where they are together. When I talk about a “dating relationship” I use the term broadly, as whatever means a couple uses to go from point A, where they meet, to point B, where they marry.

Here are some dangerous dating practices I’ve seen in Christian fiction:

Whirlwind Romance: Add up the passage of time in a novel and sometimes the couple is ready to commit to marriage in a matter of a few weeks. They may have solved the story problem, but do they really know each other well enough to make that kind of commitment?

Moving too fast: Some characters move into kissing and commitment very early in their relationship, clouding their emotions before they have time to think clearly.

Dangerous situations: Recently I read about a vulnerable, hurting protagonist who spent many hours with the guy she grew to love, alone, in a motel room with a bed/living room/kitchenette. Not smart, but the author portrayed this as a normal, healthy, place to talk. So normal, in fact, that the protagonist felt no one had a right to question the situation.

Surprise kiss: How many Christian romances have the main characters suddenly thrown together and kissing without either realizing it was going to happen. This is almost always depicted as a lovely surprise with no question asked about if they should be kissing someone they don’t even know how they feel about.

Inappropriate touch: Writers always struggle to bring more action into their scenes to show what the character is feeling. In a clean Christian romance, a guy often shows restraint as well as care by stroking a girl’s face, squeezing her hand, or kissing her forehead. He uses these means to show he cares about her before he is ready to declare his feelings. But think about it. If an employer strokes the face of an employee, what do we call that? Sexual harassment. Touching a person’s face is a very personal gesture. When these gestures are used in a casual relationship, in which a couple isn’t even dating yet and are undecided if they want to, this seems inappropriate to me.

Ungodly responses: All couples experience conflict, but Christian characters should model ways to work through their problems in a godly way. They may learn by their mistakes, but ungodly responses should not be shown in a favorable light.

  1. It leads my mind down spiritually healthy paths. (Philippians 4:8)

Recently I read a Christian romance that was really well written. In fact, she described the physical responses to the character’s feelings in so much detail that, even as a married woman, I felt the physical attraction a bit too clearly.

Other Christian writers write about immorality and homosexuality in ways that, though they stop short of the bedroom door, can lead your mind down paths that aren’t spiritually healthy. Immorality starts in the mind and even Christian books can cause us to think beyond what is stated to things that may be sinful. When dealing with immorality, Christian novels should show the consequences of sin without too much detail. Stirring the curiosity about immorality isn’t spiritually healthy.

Some content might be perfectly healthy for a married reader, but might draw a younger person or single into sinful thoughts.

A well-balanced Christian novel, on the other hand, will encourage readers to think clean thoughts and make them want to live by a high standard of behavior which pleases God.

  1. It encourages contentment in my present relationship or season of life.

Romances should not only warm us, but also uplift us. Some singles find that reading romances makes them desire a relationship that isn’t right for them at this time. Romances may make some married women feel discontent with their own marriage that may be less romantic than what they read in books.

This is something the reader has to determine for herself, but authors can sometimes help this by exercising a little extra restraint.

Is it impossible?

Finding a healthy Christian romance novel can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes it’s easier to find healthy romance in a genre that isn’t primarily romance. Light romance mixed with mystery, historical, or a general genre often places the focus more sharply on other aspects than the physical attraction. I like to put a little romance into my adult novels, and pair them with ministry. Actually, participating in Christian ministry is a good way for a committed Christian to find a marriage partner.

It’s often hard to judge a romance novel before you’ve read it, but when you find one, tell your friends or write an on-line review to help other readers find it too.

My Keyhole Mysteries combine light romance with light-hearted mystery that deals with relationship issues. Broken Windows, the first in the series, is now perma-free in these places:

zcover Broken Windows

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Déjà Who?, the second in the series, is now available in these places:


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Why I Joined ACFW


Letter a pencil2

If you’re a Christian fiction writer, perhaps you’ve wondered if you should join American Christian Fiction Writers. Maybe you don’t know much about ACFW or wonder if the benefit would justify the membership fee. If so, perhaps my experience in this article can help you decide whether or not ACFW is a good fit for you.

I began writing for Christian publication just before the Christian fiction market exploded in the early 1980’s. I’ve seen great changes in the Christian publishing industry and attended some very helpful conferences for Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.) In recent years I’ve taken note of American Christian Fiction Writers, their conference and their membership.

For several years I hesitated to join ACFW because I can only attend writers’ conferences during occasional furlough years to the States, and only if the conferences fall at the right time in a reasonable location for me. Without the conference discount in my favor, I questioned whether or not the initial fee would be worth it if I couldn’t attend a conference. (It costs $65 to join for your first year, and $45 to renew your subscription each year thereafter.) I heard good things about ACFW, but never had a clear understanding of how it could help me.

In December 2015 I finally joined ACFW. I have gained considerable benefit from a few things and I continue to discover more benefits all the time.  You might be helped in different areas, but I’ll share the ways ACFW has helped me.

{Don’t miss the one helpful hint I share with you at the end that will make the whole ACFW communication easier.}

Critique Group

All members can participate in the Scribes Critique Group whenever they want. Since I have moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing, I wanted input from other writers to make my book as strong as it could be. I wrestled with self-doubt and wondered if certain parts of my book were working. This group gave me objective opinions by Christian writers who were on my side, but honest about changes that needed to be made. It was this benefit which finally convinced me to join ACFW.

How does it work?

To join the critique group you need to join an orientation class that teaches you how to submit and receive critiques. This takes about an hour a day for five days.  If you have already learned to use track changes, that will make this process easier. When you have completed the course, you can submit and receive critiques.

(Don’t miss my helpful hint at the bottom.)

You have to critique two chapters from other writers in the group for every one critique you receive. Some “critters” are more experienced or thorough than others, but you get at least 3 critiques for each chapter you submit. Comparing critiques gives you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

You aren’t obligated to make any changes, but if several critters note the same problem in your chapter, you’ll probably want to make a change.

I submitted the first 5 chapters from Broken Windows, which I had already published in 2015. I felt  these chapters needed to be tighter and get into the action faster. Since I had self-published, I could easily change these chapters, which I did once it was critiqued. I also submitted the first five chapters for Deja Who?, the sequel. Since the first chapters of any book are especially important, I decided to have these early chapters critiqued.

I feel the critique process gave me many good responses that helped improve my books, but I didn’t choose to have the whole books critiqued. You are  only allowed to submit 2 chapters a week (or 2500-word portions.) I didn’t want to wait long enough for the whole books to be critiqued, but appreciated the help for the chapters I submitted.

If you’re worried about flooding your inbox with emails, don’t miss the helpful hint at the bottom.

Email Loop

This allows you to ask questions and make comments on the email loop, as well as read other questions and comments. You don’t have to read or comment on anything if you don’t want. The subject headings help you scan the topics quickly and read the helpful entries.

The loop covers topics like punctuation tips, where to find valuable research, information about writing topics and contests, when authors are looking for blogs from other writers, and all kinds writing subjects.

I’ve found many of these entries helpful, but don’t miss the helpful hint at the end that helps you keep your sanity.

Joining Groups

You can also join groups with ACFW. Most, if not all, of these groups use Facebook to interact.

Since I don’t live in America, I belong to ACFW Beyond the Borders. This allows me to interact with other authors who live outside of the US. I’ve even “met” a few who live in New Zealand.

I also belong to two review groups that allow me to post my books for review by readers who agree to give an honest review in exchange for a book. I can also ask for beta readers from one of these groups. I have no obligations to this group, but I can ask or give reviews or comments when I want.

I’m also tiptoeing into a couple of others groups. Though not all of these groups are exclusive to ACFW, I wouldn’t have found them without it.

Other Benefits

You can also take online writing courses with ACFW, attend the national conference, meet other Christian writers, and find places to promote your own books.

Check out more information about membership benefits here.

You can find me on Fiction Finder here.

It takes a while to find your way around the extensive members only section of the ACFW website, but you can find help when you’re stuck. The spirit of ACFW is not competitive, but cooperative. You meet  a community of Christian authors there who understand people like you and want to help.

I can’t say if ACFW is a good fit for you. You can join and get nothing out of it. But membership does offer many benefits if you choose to use them. I have found my membership more helpful than I thought it would be, and plan to continue with it.

I did find out very quickly, however, that one helpful hint really helps you get started on a better foot. This is the tip I’ve been saving until last.

ACFW will work better for you if you have a separate email address for it. If you join a critique group, while you are giving and receiving critiques, you will be receiving many emails every day and it will drive you crazy if your ordinary email is bombarded with these. This separate address works well for the email loop too, so the email loop messages don’t get mixed up with your personal mail. Once you choose a separate address, you can sort the loop messages from the critique group messages. (They’ll tell you how.) That way, when you want to look at them they’re there, but otherwise they aren’t in your way.

I chose a gmail address for my ACFW mail, and that works well. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle, however, if I had used this separate address as soon as I registered.

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part Three: Ministry and Other Interests

Woman Juggling“I don’t know how you find time to write.” I usually cringe when I hear this comment. The person who says it may just mean, “Isn’t it great that you’re able to do this?” But in my mind I hear them saying, “You must be neglecting your ministry if you have time to publish books.”

As I said in part one, “People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own.” But ministry is never-ending. You can always think of more that could be done, maybe should be done. Does that mean you should never be able to pursue other interests?

Side ministries, hobbies, sports, and other interests can be a healthy part of ministry for a number of reasons.

  • Participating in groups in the community may help you develop relationships that can be helpful in ministry. My husband’s work in the local community patrol fits into this category.
  • Pursuing side interests give you a needed break from constantly obsessing about ministry.
  • People in ministry often give out continually, focusing on the needs and interests of others. In time this may drain them of needed emotional energy. Pursuing side interests often help them feed their own needs and keep them more contented in ministry.
  • God may want you to take part in a side ministry.

In my case, I felt God calling me to write for Christian publication before I felt his call to missions. For more than 35 years I have done both. Both in Taiwan and New Zealand, my missions ministry has always taken precedence over my writing ministry. During the years I was in language school and had two small children at home, I didn’t do much writing. Other years also left little time for this. But during most of that time I’ve been able to carve out time to write as well as work in our church planting ministry. If I had waited for leftover time to write, I would never have done much. If I had put my writing first, my church ministry could have suffered. So each year I had to go before the Lord and figure out how to balance the two.

On the one hand I felt God had gifted and called me to writing. I felt I would be disobedient if I didn’t serve the Lord in this way. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel guilty about the time spent writing because it could look like I’m neglecting my missions ministry. How do I balance that?

As I said in part two, our life situations often determine how much time we can spend in ministry as well as side pursuits. A missionary wife who home schools five kids at once will have to tackle ministry in a different way that a single woman missionary. In my case, my ministry situation allows me opportunity to write for several reasons.

  • Much of my work is done out of my home and I have great flexibility in my schedule.
  • My nest has been empty for 15 years. While I would like to spend more time with family, on the field I don’t need much time for family events and expectations.
  • Most of our national holidays on the field fall on Sundays, and since my husband is the pastor, we always work on these holidays. For eighteen years we haven’t had American co-workers and most of the American holidays don’t seem worth celebrating on our own.
  • While we are technically allowed 2-4 weeks for vacations, most of the time we’ve been on this field we haven’t had anyone to fill in for us on Sundays. As a result we do well to take 3 or 4 days vacation once or twice a year.
  • We live on an island and have seen most of the things close to us. We don’t really have access to a “cheap” vacation, like visiting families or friends, so we really can’t afford to take our full vacation time, even if we could schedule it.
  • During January, many of our ministries break for the summer, so my ministry demands are lightened considerably.
  • I don’t do much gardening and keep other hobbies to a minimum.
  • Though I am a fulltime missionary, I feel I can take time throughout the year that would be used by many people for days off, family time, holidays, and vacations for pursuing my writing ministry. Instead of using this time in chunks, I work time for writing into my schedule throughout the year.

I know I am responsible before God to give myself fully to my missions ministry as well as pursuing my writing ministry as he leads. I’m responsible to our church, our mission board, and even the New Zealand government for working at my church ministry as a full time job. Of course, the hours spent can fluctuate greatly from month to month or week to week. But I have to satisfy my conscience that I am not neglecting my main ministry. At the same time, I need freedom to pursue my writing without feeling guilty. Generally speaking, no one questions me about this, but I want to do right before the Lord.

If you’re in full time ministry and are working to balance that ministry with other pursuits, you will have to work to find a good balance between the two. Here are some questions you might find helpful when you are considering adding a new interest to your life.

  • Is this something God wants me to take time to do?
  • Is this the right time in my life to pursue this interest or ministry?
  • How much time can I afford to use in this pursuit?
  • Does this pursuit hinder my ministry?
  • Does this pursuit make me resent my main ministry, or does it help me appreciate it?

Generally speaking, a side interest outside of ministry can be healthy and prolong your years of ministry—as long as you keep it in balance. Rest is also important. My next blog, by Pastor Maynard Belt, deals with that. May the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry this year.


[image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/Deposit Photos.]