Monday, October 1, 2012

Review - Take the Lid Off Your Church

I just finished a newly released eBook - "Take the Lid Off Your Church: 6 Steps to Building a Healthy Senior Leadership Team" by Tony Morgan. Tony is a church strategy consultant, a former executive pastor, and a really smart guy. I really enjoyed the book, as it provided great clarity regarding the benefits and role of a senior leadership team within a church context. Many churches now are seeing the value in team-based leadership, modeled right from the top. However, for many churches it is a new or foreign concept.

The book addresses some critical questions such as:
  • When should you begin building a senior leadership team?
  • What are the roles of this team?
  • Who should be on the senior leadership team?
  • How does this team empower other leaders in the organization?
  • What should the senior leadership start and stop doing? What’s their focus?

This an e-book that is a quick and easy read. It is a great resource for church leaders, especially lead pastors and existing senior leadership teams who want to get it right. My favorite part was Tony's explanation of the seven essential roles of the team which cannot be delegated. Highly recommended - it's available for the Kindle at Amazon for less than three bucks.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tony Morgan Live for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group

I just watched an excellent video by small groups champion Mike Mack on the Seven Vital Signs of a Small Group (thanks to Randall Neighbour's blog). It's not a short video but an in depth discussion of some very important elements for small groups which Mike uses to help groups assess their health. These come from his book "Small Group Vital Signs".
 
Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group
1. Christ-centered Community
2. Overflowing Leadership
3. Shared Leadership
4. Proactive Leadership
5. Authentic Community
6. Ministry to Others
7. Discipling Environment

Here are some key notes or takeaways from this video for each vital sign above...
1. Christ-centered community - consistently focused on the presence, power and purposes of Christ in our midst. We recognize that He is our real leader; His mission is our mission. We don't place primary focus on leader, curriculum, people's problems, or issues like raising children. We seek first Kingdom of God... This vital sign is foundational for others.

2. A healthy group has a healthy overflowing leader - one with a vibrant growing relationship with God including consistent time spent with Him using disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, fasting, solitude, etc. He/she is a shepherd, leading out of the overflow of what God is pouring into their heart. Your main job as a leader is to stay very close to Jesus.

3. A healthy group shares leadership with a core team (2-3 typically, sharing in prayer, roles, using individual gifts and abilities).

4. A healthy group is proactive - it has developed and written God sized goals and plans for the next year or more. We know who are are, what God has called us to be and to do, and we know where we are going.

5. A healthy group lives in healthy authentic community - a group that is not only committed to meeting together regularly and consistently but in doing life together between meetings. We are friends who care about each other and want to grow together. Ask these questions of your group: Are you carrying each other's burdens? Building one another up? Admonishing? Taking off masks? Accepted for who you are?

6. A healthy group ministers to others - a group that is intentionally open and inviting new people, serving others outside the group on a consistent basis, praying for our friends and looking for opportunities to serve.

7. A healthy group is a discipling environment. (In a sense, this is the cumulative effect of all the above) Such a group is intentional about creating an environment where people are maturing in their faith, committed to growing spiritually through discussion and application of scripture. One-on-one accountability or Mentoring may be a part of this; there is spiritual edification. Your group has to commit to this. It should be a part of your goals. Discipleship happens when individuals are spending time with God on a daily basis. As groups we need to wrestle with the Scriptures together - it's where truth meets life.


How is your group doing?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review - Disciple

Bill Clem's book "Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus" is a little hard to describe. The foreword poses questions like "What is a disciple? What is their identify? Where is their community? What is their mission?" It then says the author does a "masterful job of answering these and other questions about what Jesus intended when he told us to make disciples. Then for the next 90 pages we read about the story of God, the nature of the Trinity (and the community found therein), the basis of redemption, the nature of Christ, missional living, the image of God common to all humans, mystery and wonder, our broken world, and identify distortions. Only then does he unpack the disciple as worshiper, the disciple in community, the disciple on mission. This is both the strength and weakness of the book. If you're looking for a clear and concise definition of a disciple and a detailed plan for making disciples, that's just not the goal of this book. On the other hand, if you're looking for a deeper treatment of what it really means to be a disciple, the biblical basis for who are we as a disciple, and how we live in the image of Christ when we worship, when we live in community, and when we join God in His mission, this is the book for you.

The main section of the book looks at those three key aspects of being a disciple: worship, community and mission. For each there is a chapter describing God's intention for the disciple, and another chapter looking at common distortions of each. The book concludes with a chapter on the plan for living as disciples and the plan for making disciples (multiplication). Even here Clem takes a strongly different approach from most how-to books on discipleship. The plan starts not with common basics of becoming a disciple, but rather with overcoming hurdles such as habitual sin, debilitating mindsets, and priority management. Overall I found it very interesting, though at times hard to follow. Disciple will be a very challenging and possibly difficult read for many, but a breath of fresh air on the subject for others.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Amazon for this review as part of their Vine Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review - Sifted

Wayne Cordeiro, with the help of a few friends (Francis Chan and Larry Osborne) has just written a marvelous book called "Sifted: Pursuing Growth through Trials, Challenges, and Disappointments". If you are in ministry and haven't faced major challenges, hurts, trials and disappointments, you will. If you have, Sifted will help you process these. If you're in the middle of a season of trials and disappointments, it's a simply must-read. The authors have not only faced their share of trials, but they have helped many other pastors and ministry leaders make it through. The book will be especially encouraging to church planters.

Part one, "Heart Work", describes the process of sifting, why it is virtually inevitable for those who will eventually bear much fruit in ministry, and how to respond when you are being sifted. The writing here is compassionate, warm, challenging, and highly encouraging. Part two, "Home Work" covers some of the key areas we simply cannot ignore - our family, taking care of ourselves, and facing desperate times. You've heard this content before, but it's presented in a fresh and helpful way. Part three, "Hard Work", gives much needed balance in our approach to hard times and tough situations. The veteran authors strongly urge reliance on the Spirit but also note: "We place too much emphasis on spiritual gifts and too little on sweat and gumption." It also discusses the major role sifting plays in character development.

One of my favorite quotes from the book gives a flavor of the tone of the book and the encouragement to be found by those wondering when the pain will end, wondering if they will ever make a difference in the lives of others: "A sifted life is an influential life. Your greatest influence takes place after you have been sifted and have survived... Unsifted Christians won't have as much influence, and that's simply the way God has designed it to be." Do yourself a favor and read "Sifted." At the time of writing this review, it's actually on sale for the Kindle for just $2.99 (along with a few other titles in the Exponential Series). That's just crazy cheap - so go get your copy :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from Amazon  for this review as part of their Vine Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising".

Friday, March 30, 2012

Greek Tools for Bible Study

It's been a busy month! I've been taking a fair bit of time investing in the study of Biblical Greek and in the use of Bible Software for Exegesis and Language Study. Perhaps more on that later, but I'm really loving Logos 4 Bible Software. Another resource I'm finding helpful are a series of lectures by William Mounce on Greek Tools for Bible Study.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Won't Accept My Worship?!

I was struck powerfully by this verse in my Bible reading last night...

Why doesn't the LORD accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! ..." (Malachi 2:14, NLT)

Hold on... did you just say the Lord sometimes won't accept my worship?! I better listen up for when and why!
I’ll tell you why! Because the LORD witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the LORD make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Mal 2:15-16, NLT)
In this passage and in other chapters in Malachi, God is hammering his people for taking their vows lightly and failing to put Him first. They are shortchanging him and being disloyal in their relationships, their resources (robbing God by failing to tithe), and in their respect (animal offerings).

Guard your heart --> do not be unfaithful to your wife.

These are not two unrelated commands! If you do the first, you will be able to do the second, over the long haul. Fail to do the first... it's a nightmare waiting to happen.

Men... guard your hearts. Men of Calvary Baptist Church... join me in the Courageous Study starting March 13th - Honor Begins at Home.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review - NIV Life Application Study Bible

A good study Bible is one of the must-have's for the serious follower of Christ. The NIV Study Bible series from Zondervan has for a long time been one of the best study Bible's on the market. The Leather-bound NIV Life Application Study Bible does not fail to deliver - it's a very high quality and useful resource that will enhance your study and enjoyment of God's word. This particular version has a durable cover, a high quality binding that lays flat well, and a ton of special resources aimed not only at helping the reader understand the Bible, but apply it to their life.

Here are some of the key features of the NIV Life Application Study Bible which I liked: the ongoing study notes are the best feature of the Bible, explaining many nuances of the text right on the same page where you are reading; the introductions to the individual books of the Bible; the helpful "timeline" charts; book outlines; lots of maps and charts; abundant cross references for deeper study. The concordance in the back is a feature you will use over and over. I also really like the "character sketches" for a number of key figures in the Bible such as Abraham. There's even a reading plan to help you get on track with reading through the Bible in a year.

If you're looking for a high quality and easy to read study Bible with a ton of useful features, look no further.

The NIV Life Application Study Bible was received as a complementary Review Copy from the Amazon Vine program. The book is published by Zondervan and is available at Amazon.com and other retailers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review - Leading Small Groups With Purpose

Steve Gladen's new book Leading Small Groups with Purpose is an excellent guide for small group leaders to help them foster the health of their group. Those who lead the small group ministry itself would do well to check out Gladen's first book Small Groups with Purpose (which I reviewed previously), while this book is aimed squarely at the small group leader.

Part One helps the small group leader understand his or her role, what is needed for healthy small groups, and some great discussion on the barriers people face on considering joining a small group. He talks about how each group is unique, how this requires being flexible, and how people must first crawl then walk before they can hope to run.

Part Two has ten chapters, a pair for each of the five purposes considered: fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism and worship. For each of these areas there is one chapter which talks about the importance and necessity of living out that purpose, and a second chapter 'Practical Suggestions'. Together this core section of the book talks about the essential foundations of biblical community, spiritual growth, reaching out, and living for God. I really enjoyed sections like: "understanding the after-the-group meeting", "don't let the agenda crowd out the Holy Spirit", "an intentional pathway for development", "it's about health not just connection", "the goal of discipleship is transformation", "help your group members find their serving suite spot", and "conflict resolution."

Part Three is also very helpful and practical. It covers several of the common obstacles (and opportunities) surrounding group health.

There are a lot of books on small groups, including some really excellent ones. Why read Leading Small Groups with Purpose? It's super practical, written by someone who has helped literally thousands of groups and hundreds of churches. It's also very intentional, focused, balanced, and well-written. I also appreciate that Gladen is not at all dogmatic that his approach is the right way or only way. Even if your church or ministry has a framework different from Saddleback's, you as a small group leader will find a lot of useful information in this book.

I'll give you one more reason. Steve Gladen is the real deal. I had the privilege of meeting him last week at the GroupLife Midwest 2012 conference, and the heart and passion Steve has for helping small group leaders is nothing short of incredible. Sometimes we assume pastors at a big church will have a big head; instead I'm seeing more often they have a big heart. If you're a small group leader or point person for small groups you should also check out his small group network.

Both Leading Small Groups with Purpose and Small Groups with Purpose are available at Amazon and other book retailers.

     

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Don't Give Up!

Right now I have several friends who for a variety of reasons are running on empty. They have run out of gas or are on fumes. If you're feeling this way too, let me share with you the words I shared with a classmate this week...

You're running of of gas my friend because you are not a parked car! You're working hard following the vision or dream you believe God has laid on your heart. Vision is a good thing, but when it it truly a vision from the Lord, then the very maker of heaven and earth is with you!

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) is a promise from God you can take to the bank! "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  The word for weary (ekkakeo) means "to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted" - i.e. out of gas. 'not give up' (ekluo / loosened) is "to be enfeebled through exhaustion, to grow weak, grow weary, be tired out" it's actually not a wimping out or being a quitter or poor attitude (as I had previously imagined) but a physical "I can't take another step forward". I point that out just because Type-A's (which I'm guessing you're one) may have an attitude of rather-die-than-quit, but are sorely tempted in the process to "just try harder" and push until poof there's just nothing left. Cars that run out of gas have no 'choice', they don't 'choose' to quit, they simply konk out. If you're running out of gas, consider whether you are simply taking on more than God has ever asked you to do, or if you are on the edge of wanting to give up on something God has truly laid on your heart. If the latter... do not give up!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Be Courageous

I recently saw the movie Courageous and was just blown away with a powerful sense that God is calling me, calling us, to step it up in our walk with Him and not shy away from doing the right thing - even when it's hard. He's calling each one of us to be courageous in serving and protecting those we love. Last Sunday the Calvary family received some news that was tough, and we face some uncertainty that may tempt us to fear, to doubt, to wonder about our future. I want to encourage each one of us to be courageous in facing the future. In II Tim 1:7 Paul tells us that God did not gives us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and self-control. Or to paraphrase, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of courage, and love, and of duty - to do what is right. Cowardice is not fear, but failing to move forward because of fear. Courage is not an absence of fear, but a determination to do what is right, even when there is fear or doubt or uncertainty. We need that spirit of courage in this season at Calvary. After seeing the movie Courageous I wrote down the following prayer - will you make this your prayer too?
Lord - help me be courageous. In little things and in big things. Help me courageous to always choose the right action, the action that honors you, serves others, and draws me closer to your Son.

My words and my actions matter. Not because of who I am or anything special about me, but because of what God is doing through me, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father, in the name of the Son. My actions matter because every act comes either from believing the truth leading to obedience and growth in Christlikeness, or from believing a lie, leading to sin, and grieving somebody. Every opportunity. Every act. It draws us to the Father, or pulls us away. Surrender is key. Not partial surrender. Not giving up one thing while holding back another. Total surrender. God is holy. He is holy. He IS Holy. He and He alone is utterly worthy of our whole life, and nothing less.

My words and my actions matter, because so many eyes, including four very, very special ones, are on me, wondering if the Christ I preach is real, if the Bible I teach I follow, if the Spirit I say lives in me, works through me. Does He matter? Do they matter? My actions and words can encourage, they can build up, or my words or actions can wound. Wound horribly. Wound in ways I cannot heal. May it never be - Lord, help me be courageous.