Thursday, December 18, 2008

Toy Packaging

As we were wrapping up toys for Christmas, I heard a great song that is just so fitting in this Christmas season. It's called Toy Packaging. It's by Sara Groves on her album "O Holy Night"

(It's available for free download courtesy of INO records)

Review - NKJV Chronological Study Bible

The Chronological Study Bible (New King James Version) by Thomas Nelson Publishers is an outstanding resource for those who want to explore the Bible in a fresh and novel way. A chronological Bible arranges chapters and passages of the Bible in chronological order (rather than canonical order), which at times presents quite a challenge for the authors. This particular chronological Bible does a very good job at arranging the Bible in historical order and in providing a great wealth of supplemental material about the historical and cultural contexts. It earns the title of a study Bible due to a variety of notes, charts, pictures, and maps. While it does not replace a traditional Bible or study Bible (e.g. one with extensive cross-references and grammatical notes), it provides an excellent supplement for the reader who wishes to better see the dynamic landscape of scripture from creation to the end times.

How are the materials arranged? The study Bible starts with a number of introductory notes about the chronology and about the NKJV, then the text itself is broken down into nine epochs: Before the Patriarchs, Time of the Patriarchs, Rise of a Unified People, From Tribes to a Nation, The Fall of Two Nations, Exile and Return, Between the Two Testaments, The Coming of the Messiah, and The Church Age. At the end are several nice articles on historical and cultural topics, a generous concordance, and a (very important) index of scripture passages which is needed to find where a given verse is located in the book.

The quality of the book and of the notes is really quite good. The paper is extremely thin, but durable, and the book is well bound. The format of short articles with relevant historical and cultural info right alongside the biblical text is not only useful, but highly engaging. At each point where there is a change of book or other break in the narrative, the study Bible has a "Transition" section that I found very helpful in keeping the narrative flowing, as well as in alerting the reader that they're entering a new book of the Bible. That sounds trivial for a regular Bible but it's important for a chronological ordering which might go back and forth between two or more books of the Bible. Some other highlights I enjoyed: Historical Charts on other Kingdoms (like the Timeline of Persian Kings), frequent Time Capsules of key historical events, the use of a large number of small maps directly on the pages next to scripture rather than a small number of large reference maps in an appendix, and a lot of material on the influence of Greek and Roman culture. It was particularly interesting to read through New Testament books and missionary journeys via the interspersing of chapters of Acts along with Galatians, James, Thessalonians and others.

For in-depth understanding of the meaning of the text and for discipleship Bible study there are better tools available, but this book serves its purpose well in helping us understand the historical flow of the events of scripture, and in given us a better understanding of the cultural background present in the lives of biblical characters. As supplemental study material, or for those looking to read through the Bible in a year, this NKJV Chronological Study Bible is an excellent and enjoyable resource. The retail price is $44.99 (Hardcover), and is available at places like Amazon for $29.69.

(Disclaimer: As a blogger I received a free review copy - no requirement to give it a positive review, just for the reviewer to call it like they see it. It took a while to get to get through the bulk of it!)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Simple Steps

Two things stuck out for me in Tony Morgan's Webcast on Ministry Strategy, and they both describe aspects of keeping things simple when it comes to helping people to connect and grow.

First, a listener asked how they manage complexity as the church and ministry grows. The answer was that they really don't get more complex, they try hard to keep things as simple as possible. Wondering what they meant by that, I looked at their web site - New Spring Church at Hmmm, pretty simple actually. I was curious about their approach to discipleship: how do you help someone go from a new believer to a fully-devoted follower of Christ? The key items on the home page were the worship service video, "New Here?", "Next Steps" and "Connect." Following the "Next Steps" link brings up a page with a small number of steps that describe their development process.

Jesus - Baptism - Commit - Volunteer - Groups - Care

The order here was the second point of interest - they view serving as a volunteer as a primary vehicle for growing in your faith. If you think about the times in your life you were most stretched, it was probably when you were serving others and doing something beyond yourself. After deciding to follow Christ and making this public, they place a high importance on membership so that everyone knows and understands the vision and direction of the church. Groups are promoted as the best way to find community, to stay connected to God and other people. (By a group they're referring to a small group, most often meeting in a home, for fellowship, bible study, prayer and accountability.) The volunteer ministries are under six umbrellas: guest services, creative and technical arts, care and outreach, membership and groups, children's ministry, student ministry.

Make the steps clear. Make it easy to take the next step.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Marketing and Ministry

"The only problem with marketing your ministry is that it might work. People might actually show up and see that it's a sucky ministry. Don't focus on the marketing. Focus on improving the ministry, making sure it actually adds value to the lives of those it is supposed to reach."

The above is a loose quote from Tony Morgan on his Ministry Strategy webcast today on Mogulus. Way to cut to the chase! On his blog Tony has been discussing the role of marketing for churches, and why churches should stop focusing on marketing. The bottom line with both the quote above and the articles is that we need to focus on helping making our ministries more effective in touching people's lives, helping them to take one step closer to Christ, something they want to go and tell their friends about.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Couple of Compelling Videos to Share

Two videos really caught my attention today. The first is about a nasty virus (worm actually) that targets Facebook users. You get an email from a Facebook friend along the lines of "I can't believe I saw you in this video!" or "Wow! You look awesome in this picture!" with a link. The web site it leads to says that you need to download the latest version of flash to view the movie. Beware - that link won't install flash but will download the trojan and you won't like the results. In general be cautious about these types of links and "updates". I've gotten such an email linking to the worm, so be careful! For info see the story on CNN: CNN video clip on the Koobworm.

The second video that I thought was neat was Brian "Head" Welch, former member of the band Korn, telling his story about what turned his life around. It's from a series by Granger called "I Am Second." Check it out below...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

This year I have a lot to be thankful about - so from me and my family to you and yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day. But for some, I know you're struggling today, wanting to be thankful but filled with pain or anger. "I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving." - here in Psalm 69 David gives thanks in the midst of one of the roughest times in his life- in the miry depths where he says "I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God."

If you're in that place right now, I encourage you to read this Psalm. I also want to share a song called "Yet I Will Praise". Some of the lyrics are:

"Even when my heart is torn
I will praise (trust) You Lord

Even when I feel deserted I will praise You Lord
Even in the darkest valley I will praise You Lord
When my world is shattered and it seems all hope is gone
Yet I will praise You Lord"

"And I will not forget that you hung on a cross
Lord you bled and
died for me

And if I have to suffer
I know that you've been there
And I know that you're here now"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review - Creating Community

I just finished reading an excellent resource for those involved in small group ministry - "Creating Community - 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture" by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits. Creating Community is an excellent blend of vision, motivation, encouragement, and some extremely practical ideas. Whether you are a pastor or a small group director/coach/leader, this book is definitely worth reading. Best of all, it's not just theory - the principles have been put in practice and shown to be highly effective at North Point Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stanley and Willits start off making the case why people need (and often crave) community. Leaders need clarity. Churches need strategy. Connection needs simplicity. Processes need reality. The book is very well written, practical and concise. The appendix has several useful items, including a groups director job description, a description of the role of a group leader, and a sample group covenant.

Below is a summary of some of the key points in the book, teaching that caught my attention...

Clarify the Goal
- What do you want people to become?
- What do you want them to do?
- Where do you want them to go?

Define Spiritual Maturity
- Intimacy with God
- Community with Insiders
- Influence with Outsiders

One key feature of the North Point Model is that they actually use closed groups. The key reason is to put a greater emphasis on community and give it time to develop, typically 18-24 months. At that point they will multiply. Along with this they have GroupLink and Starter Groups that allow other ways for groups to form other than multiplication. North Point's well known Foyer - Living Room - Kitchen model is described and explained as well.

Train Less for More  (reduced frequency and distilled content has greater impact)
- Think Life Change
- Cultivate Relationships
- Promote Participation
- Replace Yourself
- Provide Care
- Multiply Influence

These six essentials form the basis of everything they teach, just the need to know info, not the everything they could know. In new leader orientation they introduce all six. These are reviewed during one-on-one meetings with coaches. During the semi-annual training events just one is covered in detail, allowing for leaders to see all six in detail over a three year period.  Leaders huddle with their coaches about 3x/year (March/Aug/Nov), and one-on-one 3x to 4x per year.  There are annual retreats in the Spring and Fall.

Their approach is very clear and well thought-out. The principles and examples will help you decide which aspects are right for your church. If you're involved with small group ministry, do yourself (and your group members) a favor and read Creating Community - 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Culture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Confusion is not always bad

It's been a very busy week, and one in which I wasn't able to do several things as well as I wanted to. In times like these, I try to evaluate what I'm doing to see which things need to be the highest priorities, if there's something I need to cut, or if there is an approach I'm taking that isn't going to see the outcome I hope for. Sometimes this type of introspection can leave me more confused than when I started! :)

I was so encouraged this week by a post by Pastor Steven Furtick called "I used to hate to be confused...". In it he describes how lately he is instead learning to love the feeling. Steven writes...

"When I’m confused about something, it’s:
  • a portal to a deeper understanding of the character of God
  • a precursor to greater faith
  • a great occasion to humble myself and seek the wisdom of others
  • a sign that my God is elevating me to another level, and my current mindset isn’t adequate for the place God wants to take me next
  • a birthplace for innovative and breakthrough concepts
"You can either avoid confusion because it makes you feel vulnerable-and miss the chance to upgrade your paradigm - Or lean into your confusion, admitting you don’t have the answers, and watch God expand your thinking and grow your soul."

If that's the case, even a fraction of the times I'm confused, I can learn to love to be confused too!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Delegation - It is Not about You

Often we see delegation as a necessary evil, something that can help us reduce our workload. Of course we want things done right, so we're eager to farm out the tedious and basic tasks. However, there's so much more to, and like so much else, it turns out to be about people and relationships.

My current course at Rockbridge Seminary is on Building a Small Group Ministry. We were asked to study and comment on Exodus 18:13-27. That's the passage where Moses' father-in-law Jethro points out he is overworked and need to delegate the task of being a judge to leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. If you've not read it, go and read it now, I'll wait... the passage is a wonderful demonstration of the benefits of delegation and having teams. And yet as I look at this particular passage with fresh eyes today, there's something even more powerful at work here.

Most people see this as promoting delegation as a solution to the problem of Moses being overworked. I see this as promoting the development of leaders as a means of vastly improving the sharing and understanding of vision, and of helping people to grow in an exponential fashion! It's easy to see Moses' problem, he is worn out. But this is also very much the people's problem: "they stood around him [doing nothing] from morning until evening". Here we see a potential army of people who see themselves merely as recipients of ministry from the sole leader. (Does this sound familiar??) The solution is to turn the audience into an army.

For those leaders of ten and fifty, what impact will it have in their lives to be challenged and empowered to hear disputes of people? When they are taught the word of God, how much more will they listen, now that they are directly responsible for applying His word to life? Those who actually do well at this and display God's wisdom may become leaders of hundreds or even thousands. The average person who diligently hears and applies God's word now can aspire to become a leader of ten. By bringing the difficult cases up the chain to Moses, you get accountability and even greater teaching opportunities! The growth potential for the people is amazing. In addition to this, the person hungry for more of God's word need not spend all day (or wait to have a dispute) to have access to the head honcho. Instead he'll have a relationship with someone who has a span of care of five to ten leaders - someone who is committed to helping them learn and make the best decisions possible. For 5000 people you get 655 leaders - that's 13% of the people, and everyone else is within a span of care of ten. It's hard to imagine a better biblical example of the case for small group coaches and team-based ministry.

And oh, as a side benefit, Moses can get home earlier for dinner with his family!

Election Day

Here in the USA it's election day, and I'll join the crowd in encouraging everyone to get out and vote. But there's something else very important you need to do today...

If you are an American you have a civic duty to vote.

If you're a follower of Christ, you have another duty - to pray. Our citizenship is not here on earth but in heaven (Php 3:20). So my prayer today? That God will usher in the candidate whose election will lead to the greatest glory for God, for the expansion of His kingdom, whether that is through the person's greatness or incompetence, whether it's through prosperity for our nation or whether for hard times that draw people to Him.

I don't think my prayer will be a popular one today, but my confidence is in God, not man.

Thanks for reading! I have two bonus tips for you!

First, in the next election look for "early voting" centers if your area has them. I actually voted last week and the place was empty, no lines at all! 
Second, if you like coffee, be sure to go to Starbucks and tell them you voted, to get a free tall coffee.

Friday, October 31, 2008

October Review on Leadership

End of month is rolling around again, time for a look at some of the more interesting posts I've read. This time I'll focus in on those dealing with leadership (since that's a subject I'm fired up about since Catalyst).

My favorite is Steven Furtick's "Unfiltered Thoughts on How We're Going to Get Better at Developing People." Key points there were:  1. Make a distinction between isolated development opportunities and a deeply embedded emphasis on development. "The desire to develop people must color every conversation, and factor into every encounter."  2. Leading with an attitude of "what do you need from me to improve" instead of what's wrong with followers.  3. Likewise, an attitude when problems are seen of "I believe you're better than this" not just "fix it or else."  4. When fixing something, don't just identify the problem, don't just drive towards a solution, but over-communicate the reasoning behind the decision making to avoid ongoing decision dependence issues.  5. High commitment to developing others - it's not a luxury or a distraction from the 'real work', it is the key continued growth.

Perry Noble has an excellent series on "Seven Things Staff Members Wished Their Senior Pastors Knew." That is an excellent complement to his other series, "Seven Things Senior Pastors Want Their Staff to Know".

Kem Meyer mentions and summarizes a book called The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel. Kem also pointed out a wonderful 2nd grade student council campaign speech!

Tom Cocklereece on Leadership Communication on how noise really distracts from your message.

News that Mark Waltz has written a follow-up to First Impressions called "Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging".

James Higginbotham of Agile Ministry, "Our Church Has a Management Problem," (also Part 2) emphasizing the need for churches to let volunteers step up and lead (and contrasting leading with managing).

David Helbig on "Writing Effective Emails" using the acronym MADE. Hmm... communication is a big part of leadership isn't it? Bill Reichart points out "Vision is Always Speaking!"

Ed Stetzer's Leadership Book Interviews with Thom and Sam Rainer, and Brad Waggoner. What's so interesting about these interviews is the excellent discussion via question and answer in the comments.

Another good 'discussion' post is Tony Morgan's "Are You Effectively Raising Up Leaders?"

One link that has nothing to do with leadership (or with me in any way, really) is "Too Good for Girl Time?" by Sharon Hodde at She Worships. Why just plain girl time is both good for your health and a scriptural mandate.

Finally, a video "Before He Speaks" pointed out by a classmate at Rockbridge Seminary, Ben Durbin - something you pastors should keep in mind before you use your wife's behavior as an example in your sermon!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fractal Teams

In my recent review of Wayne Cordeiro's "Doing Church as a Team " I pointed out that one of the most interesting concepts in the book was that of the fractal team. Basically, this refers to a repeating pattern in which one leader oversees a team of about 4 other leaders, who in turn oversee their own similar team. The structure may be repeated as often as necessary. Whether the ministry encompasses 20 people or 400, the leader maintains a span of care of 4. The first example he gives is that of a person asked to head up a new Children's Ministry. Rather than jump right in and start working with kids, the leader instead recruits four leaders. (If appropriate for the ministry, each person's spouse might also be included, for a team size of up to 10.) These leaders may themselves oversee one area: nursery and toddlers; Pre-K and Kindergarten; 1st and 2nd grade; 3rd and 4th grade. So the leader starts by finding someone who loves babies. With a fractal team, that person does not immediately jump in and start working with babies. Instead, the pattern is duplicated and that person recruits a team of four others with similar passions and supporting gifts. The specific responsibilities may vary, but one example division would be: newborns, crib, toddlers, walkers. The 1st and 2nd grade leader does the same, so with three levels there are 21 leaders. As the ministry grows, the teams grow deeper rather than larger. For example the newborn leader may eventually recruit four leaders, for check-in/checkout; cleanliness; carriers; lamb tenders.

Cordeiro then boiled down this process to its simplest form, and described the following design:

Six-step process for implementing fractal teams for ministry

Step One: Draw a Circle - that's the scope of your ministry

Step Two: Draw Crosshairs - what is the aim/purpose of your ministry?

Step Three:  Title Quadrants - if responsibility were broken down in to four parts, which together incorporated all aspects of the ministry, what would they be, what would you call them?

Step Four: Gifts Necessary - for each quadrant, what gift mix / SHAPE would make the best fit?

Step Five: Names - brainstorm names of those with right SHAPE to be leader for each quadrant

Step Six: Ask (!) - don't wait for volunteers to magically appear, make the ask!

Here's another example: First Impressions Ministry. Everything from street to seat is the scope. The purpose is to make all guests fell welcome and accepted and to eliminate distractions so that each guest may hear God speak through the word and worship. Four areas into which the ministry responsibilities could be divided: greeters, ushers, info desk, visitor follow-up. The SHAPE of each would be spelled out, e.g. extroverted friendly personality with hospitality gift would make a good greeter. The leader of the greeters might then look for other leaders to continue the fractal team design, either by service time, or by area (parking lot, front door, foyer, cafe). In each case the leader would pray for and specifically ask people to serve as leaders. Before too many levels, depending on the size of the ministry, someone is finally asking people to serve as actual greeters and ushers.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More notes on "Doing Church as a Team"

In my last post I reviewed Wayne Cordeiro's "Doing Church as a Team". Here are some more detailed notes I took while reading this book.

The first three chapters set the foundation for team-based ministry. (1.Reaching for God's Best; 2.God Has a Plan; 3.Don't Forget Who You Are)

Chapter 4 - "All God's Chilluns Got Gifts". Excellent discussion of God's unique shape or design for each of us, how we were made to serve. He describes the acronym DESIGN:

D for Desire – what is your passion?
E for Experience – what past experiences, hurts, have made you who you are?
S for Spiritual Gift – what are your spiritual gifts?
I for Individual Style – each of us has a unique temperament or style.
G for Growth Phase – where are you in your walk with Christ (infant to maturity)?
N for Natural Abilities – what do you enjoy and are good at doing?

Three great results from using our design/gifts in serving others: 1. Amazing Joy; 2. Healthy Accountability; 3. Accelerated growth (you grow more spiritually when you're acting as Christ did, serving others).

Chapter 5 - "Finding your Fit", your design for ministry. Cordeiro introduces an acronym quite similiar to SHAPE... 'DESIGN' - Desire, Experience, Spiritual Gift, Individual Style, Growth Stage, Natural Abilities. "Your passion in the area, or arena, where you feel most motivated to use your gift. Knowing your spiritual gift will answer the what question, knowing your passion will answer the where question." "When you operate in your gift and passion, you will enjoy maximum effectiveness and a minimum of weariness."

Chapter Six, "The Fastest Way to the Throne" highlights three blessings of using your gifts: Know amazing joy; enjoy healthy accountability; experience accelerated spiritual growth.

Chapter Seven, "Mining Leadership Gifts in the Church". Opens with this quote: "One of the most critical keys to doing church as a team is to build an ever-increasing core of servant-leaders. No pastor was designed to do church alone." Then he talks about finding by believing: "The first step in building a core of leaders is to believe that they are there... so look!" Approach on how to find them was interesting - how to pave the way for an influx of new leaders? "Start with their dreams."

Security Checkpoint - are you a secure or insecure leader?

A secure leaderAn insecure leader
Encourages others’ attemptsSabotages others’ efforts
Points out others’ strong pointsBrings attention to others’ faults
Overlooks flawsUses others’ flaws as ammunition
Readily admits own mistakesIs defensive and justifies mistakes
Gives away credit to othersDemands or manipulates credit
Rejoices when others succeedIs jealous of others’ successes
Is excited when others do it better   Is easily intimidated
Is willing to risk to improvePlays it safe to retain position
Is content to remain anonymousRequires others to notice
Is quick to build teamsWants to do things himself

Chapter Eight, "Developing Servant Leaders." Quotes include: "God is less interested in what you're doing than in what you're becoming." "Character is the ability to follow through on a worthy decision long after the emotion of making that decision has passed." Cordeiro discusses 'shadowing', or a younger/candidate leader following around a more experienced leader: Three stages of Shadowing: Step 1. I do. You watch. Step 2. We do together. Step 3. You do. I applaud.

Chapter Nine, "Setting Your Compass." All about vision - not coming up with something clever but abiding in God until you see His blueprint for your life and/or your church. Cordeiro gives some excellent questions to think about. If your church could only accomplish four things, what would they be? How much of our ministry is geared toward the harvest, and how much is designed to take care of the grain? The process of receiving a clear vision starts with dreaming, but it also takes work to hammer it out and make it clear, then craft a custom trumpet to blow and share it. A worthy vision will be grounded in God's word, consistent with the Greta Commission, hammered out until it is clear, concise, and easily understood by everyone. Finally, it must guide everyday activity.

Chapter Ten, "Alignment: The Power of Moving Together." Cordeiro notes "The strength of any vision lies in alignment - that is, vision caught and shared by every person involved." Any vehicle out of alignment cannot function up to its potential. One thing worse than a church with no vision is a church with many visions. Alignment is like a set of arrows all pointing in the same direction. You must constantly check for alignment - is each ministry functioning in accordance with the vision of the church? The next key step is to identify your core values. These values act as a reference, a 'North Star', providing a sense of direction and cohesion. 

Chapter Eleven, "Building Teams." He stresses the body of Christ not as an organization but as an organism, every member connected to Christ. No one can do it alone. Cordeiro then explores an interesting practical paradigm for building teams - the fractal team. A mathematical concept, a fractal is a geometric object that can be split into parts, each of which is essentially a miniature copy of the whole (self-similarity). His view then sees teams as repeating patterns, each with similar structure and similar purpose. When starting or structuring a ministry, the leader doesn't jump in and directly try to do everything. Instead they assemble a team of people each overseeing a different area or aspect of the ministry. If those areas are still large, each leader will then assemble their own team, and so on. The key advantages? Growth without burnout or need to restructure, and a proper span of care to foster healthy relationships. Another key advantage of these teams of five is the ability to care for and disciple the team - it's one feasible approach towards a church of (not with) small groups. The chapter concludes with a simple design for implementing this approach (I hope to make another post on this). 

Chapter Twelve, "Transitioning a Church Culture." Having core values well known is essential, but for making a specific transition it's also important to discuss and clarify the biblical reason behind the change, discuss it with leaders until it resounds, clarify for everyone what will not change, make clear the benefits of the change, and do it - realizing it will take time (it takes seven years to grow and oak but just three months to grow squash).

Chapter Thirteen, "Nurturing the Team." Growth (in size or in strength) can't be forced, but it occurs naturally in the right environment / culture. His five principles for nurturing your team: 1. Incubate the right culture; 2. Raise the value of healthy relationships); 3. Live to make others successful; 4. Stewarding authority; 5. Watch your starting points. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review - Doing Church as a Team

If you want to understand the great potential for teams in your church and better understand how to encourage a culture and environment for team-based ministry, you may want to read "Doing Church as a Team". The author is Wayne Cordeiro, senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii. The book actually does a great job of bringing to life the truth of Ephesians chapter four, that effective ministry is gift-based and carried out by everyone, not just some special group called 'clergy.' The book does a better job of providing motivation for teams than for looking at the nuts and bolts on how to form teams and improve team performance. The chapter on building teams is an exception, giving one useful framework for building teams in such a way that scales well while emphasizing healthy relationships between those doing ministry together. Each chapter has a series of questions at the end, "Team Preparation" that lets a team or small group use the book as a workbook to help apply the principles in each chapter.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Reaching for God's Best
Chapter 2. God Has a Plan
Chapter 3. Don't Forget Who You Are
Chapter 4. All God's Chillun' Got Gifts
Chapter 5. Finding Your Fit
Chapter 6. The Fastest Way to the Throne
Chapter 7. Mining Leadership Gifts in the Church
Chapter 8. Developing Servant-Leaders
Chapter 9. Setting Your Compass
Chapter 10. Alignment: The Power of Moving Together
Chapter 11. Building Teams
Chapter 12. Transitioning a Church Culture
Chapter 13. Nurturing the Team
Epilogue. A Moving Picture

The first four chapters set the foundation for team-based ministry. Chapters five and six transition towards practice in discussing the discovery of spiritual gifts. The second half of the book emphasizes several practical aspects of doing church as a team, and the end-of-chapter questions are very helpful. Be aware that most discussion even in the second half is focused a lot more on principles than examples or how-to. The readers who will benefit most from the book are church leaders looking to transition from a church structure where far too few are involved in ministry, and for ministry leaders who are starting or restructuring a new ministry. An existing team leader will find some points of interest but may finish wishing there was more material on actually working effectively with his or her team.

In upcoming posts I'll share some more detailed notes from my reading of "Doing Church as a Team".

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Tip for Married Men

A friend in my small group studying marriage shared this article which gives some great advice for married men - in particular for those who are expecting a new kid. One particularly powerful quote is:

When you find yourself attracted to a woman who is not your wife, sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of the things you like best about the woman. Then look at those attributes as action items on a ‘To Do’ list for self-improvement. It’s never really about the woman. It’s about what’s missing in your own life.
                                                                                                                ~ Dr. Richard D. Grant

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Some Applications of Essential Church

Last month I reviewed an excellent book, "Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts" by Thom and Sam Rainer. Today thanks to Ed Stetzer, I got to ask the Rainers a few questions on applying some of the principles in Essential Church. Ed is doing a series interviewing authors of books helpful to church leaders.

My first question was with respect to starting new ministries at a church. "How does this tie in with the need to simplify, focus, and keep alignment? If a person has a heart and SHAPE for a ministry that doesn't exist within your church, does the need to keep things essential suggest limiting the number of ministries, or just that they need to be tightly aligned with your overall discipleship structure/process?"
[Thom Rainer:] "When Frank Tillapaugh wrote Unleashing the Church in 1985, many churches began starting new ministries when almost anyone in the church had an idea for ministry, As a result, some churches had more ministries and activities than they could support. If someone in the church suggests a ministry direction that is currently not a part of the overall direction and mission of the church, I would suggest looking at one of three alternatives for them. First, the ministry idea might can best be utilized in some area outside the local church, such as a parachurch ministry. Second, it is possible that the ministry does align with the current mission of the church, but this idea would be a new expression of the mission. Third, if enough people in the church begin to express this specific missional desire, the church leadership may seriously need to consider if the direction of the church does need adjustment."
My second question was: "Do you have any suggestions for how to transition from an attractional mindset to one that is more incarnational? That is... for a church with a historically inward-focus but that is now understanding much better the need to be more involved in the community, what can we do in practical terms to become more of an influence for Christ outside the church?"
[Sam Rainer:] "The transition from a "come and see" mentality to a "go and tell" attitude is one of the biggest steps in becoming a healthy church. And the only way to understand the needs of the community is to ask. For example, our church recently called the Supervisor of Elections and asked how we could best serve his office since they are swamped with November 4th approaching quickly. They were thrilled that we even cared to ask! What he said would serve them best is for our church to provide meals for them the day after the election. So we're going to deliver 22 meals to their main office on November 5th. The point is that we never would have guessed their needs. We simply asked the question. One of the easiest ways to begin reaching outward into the community is to ask the leaders and organizations of the community what the needs are."
Excellent answers! Thank you Thom, Sam, Ed. I would never have guessed what those officials would have requested. The point is... you shouldn't guess!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prepare first then build

Proverbs 24:27 (English Standard Version)

"Prepare your work outside;
    get everything ready for yourself in the field,
    and after that build your house."

It's tempting to want to push forward on the things we feel we must have, but dangerous to do so when we lack the resources at the present time to acquire or build something. Many in our current economy have found this out the hard way. The Proverbs are called wisdom literature for a reason!

Matthew Henry's Commentary has the following comments on this:
1. We must prefer necessities before conveniences
2. We must not think of building until we have can afford it. "Many have ruined their estates and families by laying out money on that which brings nothing in, beginning to build when they were not able to finish.
3. When we have any great design in mind it is wisdom to consider the cost carefully, and make the necessary preparations before our hands start the work, so that when it is begun, we may not sit idle for lack of resources.

For another more modern and more detailed consideration of the question - how much is enough to have in reserve for a church, see this article on Liquidity from

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aloha Peace

Christianity Today published an interesting interview with Pastor Rick Warren, "After the Aloha Shirts". Not only will you find out why he no longer wears crazy Hawaiian shirts, but you can find out about his PEACE plan, version 2.0...

What is PEACE? The Saddleback website describes it like this:
"The P.E.A.C.E. plan is our strategy to have every small group in our church,  and then tens of thousands of small groups in other churches,  become engaged in solving the five biggest problems in the world: Spiritual Lostness, Lack of Godly Leaders, Poverty,  Disease, and Lack of Education.  These giant problems are so big that neither the governmnent, nor all the NGOs (non-government organizations) can tackle them. There is only one group large enough to tackle these global issues- the Christian church in all its local expressions around the world."

P.E.A.C.E. itself is an acronym for the key points of the plan:
  Promote Reconciliation
  Equip Servant Leaders
  Assist the Poor
  Care for the Sick
  Educate the Next Generation

What does he mean with PEACE 2.0? Saddleback has basically done a beta test of the original PEACE plan, with a focus on Rwanda , listened very extensively for feedback and suggestions, and modified their approach. Now they're basically ready to go "full scale" with PEACE and bring it to the nations and to the churches at a much higher level. In the interview Warren points out "There are three key words in 2.0: Scalable. Sustainable. Reproducible. We never sacrifice sustainability or reproducibility or scalability for speed. The faster way to do it is always to do it yourself."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Review - Tribes by Seth Godin

A new book by Seth Godin will be released tomorrow (Oct 16th) - it's called "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us". Seth is a marketing expert who has written "All Marketers are Liars" (interesting irony), "Purple Cow" and "The Dip" (nine best-sellers in all, and author of the most popular marketing blog around.) He spoke at Catalyst Conference 2008 and was kind enough to give out free copies to all those who attended. I read my copy on the flight home and have some thoughts in review.

From the Product Description...  "A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature."  With the internet eliminating barriers or geography and cost, countless new tribes are being born. "And so the key question: Who is going to lead us? The Web can do amazing things, but it can’t provide leadership. That still has to come from individuals— people just like you who have passion about something. The explosion in tribes means that anyone who wants to make a difference now has the tools at her fingertips."

Seth's goal is to encourage ordinary people who have a passion about a cause, a group, a tribe, to be willing to lead. Those who ignore this opportunity he terms a "sheepwalker", a defender of the status quo.  "Tribes will make you think (really think) about the opportunities in leading your fellow employees, customers, investors, believers, hobbyists, or readers. . . . It’s not easy, but it’s easier than you think."

Keep in mind that given the target of this blog, this review is from the perspective of a ministry leader or pastor who wants to understand how people connect and communicate, and what's going on in culture outside the walls of the church. (Which is my tribe :)

On Religion... One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the comparison Seth makes between faith and religion. Faith matters. Faith is a vital part of our nature, and something everyone has. Religion often gets in the way of faith. As a result, he challenges us to be heretics!?!  That's used not in the sense of casting away biblical orthodoxy, but in being willing to challenge religion when our faith burns in our heart to confront the status quo.

On Communication... In discussing "Leading from the Bottom," Seth gave an example of the power of a newsletter. Lots of us get newsletters, and they're not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of power or passion. The key is that a newsletter is not about news, it's not just an information device, rather its effectiveness lies in its ability to build connections between people around a common cause. "The newsletter connected the tribe members. It turned a disparate group of career engineers into a working community." How? By sharing stories, by touting wins for the people, by helping the readers think they could make a difference.

On Curiosity... I really like his discussion about curiosity - "A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to his religion before he explores it, as opposed to a curious person who explores first and then considers whether or not he wants to accept the ramifications." and "A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it." A friend at the Catalyst conference made a comment very similar to this in describing their reading habits and why it's good to read those you disagree with as well as those you agree with.

On Community... People are asking two questions:  'Who else is going to be there?' and 'Who is going to lead us?' He talks about the importance of being tighter compared to just growth.  ""It's tempting to make the tribe bigger, to get more members, to spread the word. This pales, however, when juxtaposed with the effects of a tighter tribe. A tribe that communicates more quickly, with alacrity and emotion, is a tribe that thrives." Some tools that can be used to foster this include blogging, facebook, and twitter.

Two final quotes I liked: "If your organization requires success before commitment, it will never have either." and "You get to choose what tribe you will lead." At Catalyst he finished with an acronym and question:  4v2. Are you doing something for the tribe, or to it?

My thoughts... I thought 'Tribes' was quite interesting and a thought provoking look at how communities form and grow and the opportunity for ordinary folk to make a difference. There are three points I want to make however. First, the book is very abstract - there's nothing at all in the 'how-to' of leading a tribe. This is intentional, as Seth describes at the end of the book. There's a sense that a real leader will just know what to do. A second related point is that the target of the book seems to be ordinary people who don't think of themselves as leaders. It tries to inspire them with the fact that they are needed to lead a tribe. Either of those two points alone isn't bad, but the combination of the two suggests many might be frustrated by the book. I would have loved to see more about the implications of the concept of tribes for those who are leading an organization, or a small group. The last point should be obvious; this is a book written by a marketer and philosophy major, not a book that recognizes the uniqueness of the Christian faith, the power of God to build His kingdom, and the fact that for us as Christians our goal is to see the body of Christ grow and become tighter. It's His tribe! That's not to say the material is opposed to the Christian worldview; just keep in mind that this aspect is by necessity missing from the book. For example, the emphasis on serving the tribe instead of just attracting followers to yourself is a great point that we would all do well to observe.

"Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us" is a very interesting book that is worth the read. Check it out if you get a chance. (And if you're at Calvary and interested in reading it, let me know.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Catalyst Conference 2008 - Day Two

Day Two Recap
  • Tim Sanders led things off on day two of the Catalyst Conference 2008. Tim is the author of "Saving the World at Work", outlining the Responsibility Revolution. "Leaders gauge reality and give hope."
  • Dave Ramsey was warmly welcomed. To my surprise (or ignorance) he didn't actually speak on finances, but on leadership (!)  Dave shared about some key principles used as he leads his own organization. Key idea: Lack of unity is a real killer in the church, especially among staff and leaders. He shared his five main enemies of unity - 1. Poor communication,  2. Gossip, 3. Unresolved disagreements, 4. Lack of shared purpose, 5. Sanctioned incompetence. (Chris Martin has some more details on Dave's talk)
  • Our course, they couldn't let Dave Ramsey escape the stage without sharing a little bit on our current economic situation. Breathe. The world is not coming to an end. There is a spirit of fear on Wall St. Stock prices are at an artificial low driven by emotion and fear. Don't pull everything out.
  • Comedian Jeff Foxworthy made an appearance to talk about making a difference among the poor in Africa.
  • Standing ovation for Catalyst Lifetime Achievement award to Billy Graham. His son Franklin Graham accepted and gave an inspiring talk. (See Tony Morgan's blog for more on Franklin's talk or Tim Stevens' on the award)
  • Ed Stetzer was a statistical Maverick, encouraging us to engage young folks today with the gospel.
  • Andy Crouch, an expert on engaging culture, shared four bad ways in which the church tends to engage culture: condemn, critique, copy, consume, and gave an alternative better approach: cultivate that which is good.
  • Andy Crouch spoke of Creative Circles. More often than not, great ideas get their birth with a circle of three - where there is suspension of impossibility; this grows to 12 who bring depth, then 120 who bring breadth.
  • "Cultural change always moves the horizon of the possible." was a great quote from Andy Crouch. 'Help your three, your twelve, see where horizons must move.'
  • Three questions for a takeaway: 1. What are you cultivating? 2. What are you creating? 3. Who is in your creative circle?
  • Matt Chandler was up next. Matt preached passionately from I Timothy, chapter 4. Wow! These young guys have a very different style yet are clearly anointed by God for this generation, connecting in a way to younger people in a way that's very real.
  • "You can teach what Christ commands without being a jerk!" "Careful! If you've been at church more then four years, then where the church is weak... you are weak!"
  • For more notes on Matt Chandler, see Will Johnston's notes. (Actually, Will has great notes on almost all the sessions, check 'em out)
  • Andy Stanley closed out the Catalyst Conference 2008 very strong! He shared five quotes he loves because they challenge him greatly and because, well, he doesn't know the answers - but is committed to keep working on them.
  • A favorite quote Andy shared is from Craig Groeschel - "To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing." For the other quotes and take-home points, see notes by Brad Ruggles, or the excellent summary by Tim Stevens.
  • Another thought by Andy that I want to think about a lot more - "What currently can't be done in the church, but if it could be done, would fundamentally change the church."
Phew! Catalyst is over! The conference was fantastic, very challenging. Wrap up consists of Red Thai curry for dinner at Mama Fu's, reading "Tribes" on the plane back home, and the need for a few days to process the rest...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Catalyst Conference 2008 - Day One

Rather than just scribble notes on paper that would get tucked away and never read again, I thought I would experiment with twitter to share key thoughts online. I posted regularly at from my trusty iPhone (challenging the battery in the process.) Fortunately this makes it easy to share a summary of what went on during day one at the Catalyst Conference 2008.

Day One Recap
  • Worship was absolutely amazing! Steve Fee rocked the house and everyone loved being united with 12,000 others in praise.
  • Andy Stanley led off with some powerful words on leadership, reminding us that as God calls us to be leaders, our influence is based on moral authority as our deeds match our creed, and far less on our position.
  • Some amazing parallels were drawn between the days of Nehemiah and today, including the economic situation, credit crunch, and the crippling impact of too much debt and high interests rates (!)
  • Three key areas where it's absolutely critical for our creed to match our deed: Forgiveness, Family, and Finances. In these areas it's far too easy to lose moral authority, but by doing right over the long haul with these, we gain moral authority and influence.
  • "Prioritize the role no one else can play over the ones other people can play"
  • Andy said "I'm no financial guru, but let me break this down for you." Pulled out ten one-dollar bills. All ten belong to God and He asks us to manage them for him. The first bill goes right back to Him. The second ones goes to savings if we're wise. That's a whole lot left for us to use. If you like it even shorter, in order: Give, save, live on the rest.
  • If we don't get this right, our walk matching our talk in forgiveness, family and finances, the rest will just bounce off.
  • Next up we got a taste of the craziness (innovation) of Catalyst. Robert the "popper" from Dance with the Stars did an amazing contortionist act! 
  • The next speaker was William Paul Young, author of "The Shack ", an awesome book aimed at people who are hurting, and Young shared an amazing testimony. The Shack is definitely on my short list of books to read.
  • Jim Collins, author of "Good to Great" had quite the introduction. Since he spoke on 'getting the right people on the bus', they actually drove in a bus, from which came a mariachi band, a banjo player, and a large hog (?!)
  • Churches need not strive to be more business-like, but there's value in understanding some key factors in being great instead of just good - and to a large degree, that's a choice -- Greatness is not a function of circumstances, but of intentional choice and discipline.
  • In any great enterprise you will find a culture of discipline that is simply not present in average organizations.
  • Jim shared some new research which looks at why great companies fall, and one common reason is overreaching - born of hubris when seduced by their own success.
  • Key indicator of overreaching is when you sacrifice quality of people on the bus for the sake of growth. Remember, first who then what.
  • Leadership, not just any kind, but 'Level 5' is required to go from good to great - and the common characteristic of Level 5 Leadership is humility that puts company/values above self. (No surprise to followers of Christ)
  • On the Hedgehog principle, many people have a to-do list, but do you have a "Stop Doing!" list?
  • Well that sure got me hungry for lunch, so with some prodding from friends, I ate a whole large hot chili pepper for a free t-shirt from Sermon Spice :)  (It's an excellent resource for video clips, sermon illustrations, and background loops)
  • Brenda Salter McNeil led off the afternoon session, teaching from Acts 2 on how God shakes us up to change the world. As catalysts we accelerate change without being burned.
  • Next speaker was an amazing young man of God - Steven Furtick of Elevation Church brought it like no one else did today, pouring out his 28-year-old heart. His message was one of exhortation to be patient and faithful in that gap between when God makes a promise and when we see the fulfillment of that promise.
  • We learned about Hoops of Hope, helping children in Zambia by... shooting free throws! For fun and to raise some cash, there was actually a slam dunk exhibition in the arena :)  And oh, the ministry was started by a 9 year old boy!
  • Another highly regarded business figure, marketing expert Seth Godin told us about some key cultural changes that impact how people and organizations connect, grow, lead, make a difference. He talked about the importance of "Tribes". Oddly, Seth challenged us to be heretics (in the good sense of the word... hmm.. didn't know before there was a good sense of the word!) He was kind enough to share with us a free copy of his new book "Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us". (I will review that shortly - it's actually a pre-release copy due out October 16th)
  • An amazing movie opens today, a "Rockumentary", part concert, part story about slavery going on today - Call and Response.
  • Craig Groeschel of LifeChurch ended the day with a passionate plea to allow God to break us, heal us, use us. "Ruin us!"
  • Outstanding day capped with an outstanding dinner at Fogo de Chao, both food and conversation were wonderful!

That's my recap! For some more detailed notes and other thoughts from outstanding blogs check out:
- Tim Stevens at Leading Smart had highlights from day 1, notes on Andy Stanley, Jim Collins, Steve Furtick, Seth Godin.
- Tony Morgan also had great coverage on Catalyst Conference 2008, with notes on Andy Stanley, William Paul Young, Jim Collins, Steven Furtick, Seth Godin, and Craig Groeschel.
- Thom Reece of the Simple Discipleship blog put together some great notes on the Jim Collins talk. He reminded us that in the church, BHAG is spelled BHAGGG - a Big Hairy Audacious God-Glorifying Goal.

Back from Catalyst

I got back late last night from Atlanta, after two fantastic days at the Catalyst Conference 2008. My head is swimming with a holy swarm of challenges, information, stories, and so much to process. I could use another few days just to think through the experience, process what I've learned and renew notes, and several more days to reconnect with my beautiful wife and kids. Inbox is in good shape, but 371 posts in my RSS reader and I need to prep for teaching on Wednesday night - alas life doesn't wait...

It's a bit hard to describe Catalyst or what I learned there. Part of it is a you-just-gotta-be-there experience, but there was also a lot of practical teaching, inspirational preaching and story-telling. The theme of the conference was "Together" and much of it focused on community. Catalyst is geared toward motivating the Next Generation Leader and helping young men and women dream dreams. The challenge to the older guys (sigh... ok... us old folk) is to realize that those who come after us will be the ones to reach their generation and be the vessel through which God does the next great thing. More and more we need to encourage, coach, empower - indeed unleash younger people for ministry, those with the passion and energy to be used mightily by God. Ok, rather than wait in vain hope until I have everything figured out and neatly packaged, I'm going to get a few short posts out sooner rather than later. If you do have any questions on any of the sessions or want to know more, please ask away in the comments!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Heading to Catalyst Conference 2008

Today I leave for Atlanta to attend the Catalyst Conference! I'm pretty excited - it'll be my first time at Catalyst and I've heard some great things about it. It's a high-energy power-packed innovative-church conference aiming at raising up the next generation of leaders in the church. (Shhhh! Don't tell anyone I'm just a bit older than that demographic! Although, I still have young kids... plus I play the drums!)  With 12,000 people expected to come I don't know if I'll run into anyone I know besides the folks from Calvary, but it sure would be cool to meet some fellow bloggers!

A key theme of the conference is on Community. What is the body of Christ supposed to be? What is the church supposed to be when we're working together? What does your Community look like? Do you have people helping you to finish well? Do you have people you're walking through life with? What does it mean to be working together in community on projects? 
There's a lot of ways for you to keep up with going on at Catalyst.
  • As an experiment I'm going to try to be more active on Twitter - follow me as ltbaxter (or if you want to drink from a firehose, keep up with the hashtag #catalyst08 on twitter)
  • Your special backstage pass is at the Catalyst Backstage blog (or grab the RSS feed) - they may even show some videos from the conference here
  • The Catalyst Space website will have lots of news and articles
  • There's even a "road-trip" version of their podcast to listen to on your way there
Here are six elements of being a Catalyst Leader:
  • Passionate about God
  • Courageous in Their Calling
  • Intentional About Community
  • Engaged in Culture
  • Uncompromising about Integrity
  • Authentic in their Influence

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

ESV Study Bible

There's a new study bible coming to town! Not normally the kind of thing to attract a lot of buzz or hype, right? Think again! The ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version) looks to be rather a unique resource.

In my last post I gave some background on the popular versions of the Bible available today; what's different about the ESV? It has its roots (like some others) in an evangelical reaction to issues with other versions. Published by Crossway Bibles (a division of Good News Publishers) in 2001, this translation was led by J.I. Packer himself, leading a team of 95 outstanding bible scholars. says: "It's an evangelical revision of the RSV that corrects the non-Christian interpretations of the RSV in the Old Testament and improves the accuracy throughout with more literal renderings. It also updates the language somewhat. The makers of this version undertook the work with the idea that there was a need for an evangelical version that was more literal than the NIV but more idiomatic than the NASB." They also conclude that while it does not supplant the NASB or NKJV for serious study, "As modern versions go, the ESV should be counted as one of the best for use in teaching ministry. It is more literal than the NIV, and so it is largely free of the problems that come with the use of so-called "dynamic equivalence" versions; but it is not so severely literal that ordinary readers will struggle to understand it. Its English recalls the classic diction of the KJV, and so it has some literary power (this is not unimportant in a Bible version). Its handling of the Old Testament is agreeable to conservative principles of interpretation."

The ESV Study Bible website gives some impressive endorsements...

“The ESV Study Bible is the most important resource that has been given to the emerging generation of Bible students and teachers. The ESV Study Bible is the best. Period.”

Mark Driscoll, Preaching Pastor, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA

“Outstanding! The ESV Study Bible is a treasure—a beautiful volume, filled with a wealth of resources. It will be just as useful for the seminarian and long-time pastor as it will be accessible to the brand-new Christian.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

“The ESV Study Bible is an invaluable and inexhaustible resource—for those who already know and treasure God’s Word, as well as for the new generation of Bible students who have yet to discover the wonder and wealth of Scripture. I especially love the way the notes and articles highlight the great redemptive story and ‘connect the dots’ between the various portions and themes of Scripture. Full of rich insight, scholarly yet accessible—I am deeply grateful for this magnificent work.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, author, host of Revive Our Hearts Radio

The website is fairly informative, there's even a page with several videos giving an overview and specific details about the ESV Study Bible. The amount of study material in there looks to be truly impressive, with 2,752 pages, 20,000 notes, 80,000 cross-references, 200 maps, and over 50 articles. What modern site would be without a blog, and indeed there is an ESV Study Bible Blog - the nice thing there is that you can download excerpts from their new bible and even PDFs of book introductions. What I've seen in there really does look quite good.

The best thing about it from my perspective... anyone who buys the print version of the ESV Study Bible will have free access to the ESV Online Study Bible, which will have additional features like audio recordings and searching!

The publication date for the ESV Study Bible is Wednesday, October 15, 2008.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Brief Look at Bible Translations

Whenever there's something available for which there are a ton of choices, I tend to ignore what's going on until I'm actually looking to buy something. This applies to things like gadgets, phones, games, and... bibles. It's been a while since I've taken any look at what translations are popular and why.

Back when I became a new Christian and did the research on what were the best translations (1985), the choices were a lot simpler. King James Version (KJV) was the most popular though archaic, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was also popular, and the Living Bible the most popular paraphrase, but the two that stood out for serious study were the New International Version (NIV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The last three had come out in the 1970's, with the NASB a fairly literal translation, while the NIV championed "dynamic equivalence", where idioms and phrases would be translated to keep the equivalent idea intact instead of a word for word translation. So I bought the NIV study bible, a copy of the NASB and was just fine for the next decade or two. More recently I've been seeing reference to a lot of other versions I don't know much about (and also seen on sites like ): HCSB, TNIV, The Message, NLT, CEV. This week I noticed a lot of buzz about a new study bible coming out for the 'ESV'. What's up with all these new translations, and why would anyone care about a new study bible coming out?

Fortunately there is no lack of information about these many versions. Many sites argue endlessly about what is the 'best' version, but others offer a good overview of the history and philosophy behind English translations.

My long-time favorite NIV had gotten into a storm of controversy not just once, but multiple times. I won't go into all the details about it, but here's the basics. In 1995 Zondervan modified the text for a 3rd-grade reading level and marketed the "Children's Bible". Shortly after it was realized that this version made extensive use of gender-neutral language that caused an uproar with James Dobson and many evangelicals. In 1998 the International Bible Society (IBS) had to reprint a kids version without the gender neutral language in 1998.  In 1996 came out the NIV: Inclusive Language Edition in Great Britain. That didn't go over well with convervatives, and the IBS was thinking about marketing it in the US, possibly as a new revision for the NIV. They ended up going with a new name for their gender neutral version, calling it the TNIV, Today's New International Version, in 2002. Surrounded in controversy from the start, and with the original NIV still extremely popular, it has not become a very popular version.

The NASB (1971, revised in 1995) is a revision of the American Standard Version (1901), produced by a company of conservative scholars in reaction to the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which was considered unacceptable among many conservative churches. The NASB intentionally interprets the OT from a Christian perspective. It's main issue is that the text is frequently awkward and unnatural, due to strict word for word adherence to the original languages. Hence it became a popular 'second bible', very good for additional study but not the best one for reading.

The Message is a paraphrase version by Eugene H. Peterson (NT in 1993, Bible in 2002) published by NavPress. Peterson was a preacher who wanted to bring alive the bible for his congregation. He started with a paraphrase with Galatians, and just kept going! The Message is particularly well suited for devotional reading, and as an extra resource which can help the reader see things in a new light. Of course for serious study, or as a primary bible, a paraphrase is not going to be the best choice.

The New Living Translation (NLT, 1996) is interesting. It's an "entirely new translation" that is an extensive revision of Ken Taylor's Living Bible (1971, a paraphrase). The goal was to have a more accurate version, a translation not a paraphrase, that was "lively and dynamic". It was significantly more accurate than the Living Bible, but still not appropriate for study. In 2004 the NLT had a second revision to "increase the level of precision" of the translation to make it an excellent general purpose version for both reading and study. 
So what is the HCSB I keep seeing in Baptist materials? Ah, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is indeed published by Lifeway, a primary publishing house for the Southern Baptist Convention. Why did it arise? It spun out of the NIV 'controversy' when in 1997 the IBS announced it would do a revision with gender-neutral language. Overal the HCSB is a bit more literal than the NIV, but far less literal than the NASB, and is easier to read. One distinctive feature is that when words are added in the English not present in Hebrew/Greek, they are enclosed in [brackets]. It also has an unusually high number of marginal notes.

The Contemporary English Version (CEV, 1995) is a simplified version for children and uneducated adults, at a 4th grade reading level. It's similar to the Good News Bible previously published by the American Bible Society(hey, that's the one I read as a kid!) Drafts were kid-tested and even the teachers found they liked it quite a bit. Popular versions for kids include this CEV, the NLT Young Believer Bible, the NIV adventure bible (and Zondervan's Beginner's Bible for ages 2-6).

Next post I'll describe the English Standard Version and the new ESV Study Bible coming out next week, October 15th, 2008.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Save your kisses for your wife

"In Kirk Cameron’s new movie, “Fireproof,” he has to kiss the actress playing his wife. That was a problem. Cameron will not kiss any woman who is not his wife."

How did he deal with that? Kisses on camera happen all the time, right? No big deal? Cameron and the filmmakers stood firm, and decided to dress his wife (actress Chelsea Noble) like the movie's female lead, and they shot the scene in silhouette. Cameron explains: “So when I’m kissing my wife, we’re actually husband and wife honoring marriage behind the scenes.”    [Source: MSNBC/Today show ]

I'm looking forward to seeing "Fireproof" :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Unpacking Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something frequently misunderstood, not just at a philosophical level but at a very practical level, in our hearts as well as our head. What do the following ideas on forgiveness have in common?

  • Forgiveness is commanded and should be instantaneous when we're hurt
  • "Forgive and forget" is a biblical command
  • There are some hurts against us that are just too big to forgive
  • Forgiveness must be earned

What they have in common is that they're all incorrect. Some contain aspects of truth but don't paint a full picture. Some key things to keep in mind... Forgiving the sins of others is definitely a command, indeed a very serious one, as Matthew 6:14-15 shows. However as humans our hearts will take time to heal, and 'automatic' forgiveness while the wounds are still fresh and deep can actually prevent healing of a relationship. Hanging onto hurt forever and refusing to ever forgive is another thing - as someone who has received forgiveness from God in Christ, that's equivalent to saying "No, but the death of Jesus on the cross simply isn't sufficient payment, the person's wrong against me is too great." To be effective at restoring health, forgiveness must be sought and received, but full restoration may well take a lot longer, and typically requires a lot of effort.

I saw on blogs by PastorHacks and Justin Taylor some great questions to ask yourself before confronting someone out of a book by Chris Brauns that's just now coming out: "Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds". Really some excellent advice in these questions. Brauns' book looks like it might be very interesting as well as helpful. It definitely covers an area in which I'm no expert (well, ok, no shortage of those areas!)  If you think you're an expert, maybe you want to take Brauns' forgiveness quiz?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What I've learned this month

Lots of neat ideas crossed my radar screen this month - here are some things that really caught my attention...

Some words of wisdom from our Family Ministries Coordinator, Amy Anthony, when asked about how much detail to include in an email -- "One thing I am learning is that it takes a lot of time to get people to understand things (both what we are doing and why we are doing it) and instead of overcommunicating in an email or written form it is better to give them motivation to come and then pray that they come to an understanding once they're there."

An interesting discussion by Mark Howell at Small Group Resources asking "Do Healthy Small Groups Grow and Birth?", "What about Birthing Groups?" and "What is the Most Effective Method for Launching Small Groups? ". The focus of the second article is more 'how can we encourage an environment where birthing is more likely to occur?" rather than trying to force or coerce multiplication of groups.

Chris Forbes at Ministry Marketing Coach answers a number of questions on Church Assimilation. What I particularly liked about this post was the list of questions that Saddleback considered in their strategic planning process which led to their popular CLASS system. I'm very familiar with the outcome of that, but it was very interesting to see the questions that guided the development of the system. (Speaking of assimilation, here's some thoughts on "Sticky Church")

Some innovative uses of technology for ministry. Bill Reichart at Ministry Best Practices pointed out a service called Issuu which allows you to publish a document online in a way that's very flexible and allows readers to interact. You can even embed such a 'magazine' on a blog or web-site. Tim Stevens describes a 90-second video approach to the tricky issue of making announcements in service that they use at Granger, called "The Feed ." The Pyromarketing blog had some ideas on using technology to help people connect in social organizations (well, clubs, actually but draw any inferences from that!)

Speaking of innovation, just today I saw that Granger is making videos of their talks at Innovate 2008 available to watch!

Tim Stevens also summarizes some very key points on "Why People Serve" - in a nutshell:
People choose to serve because...
  1. They see a real need
  2. They have confidence they can do it
  3. There's not someone already doing it
And because of that, we must do three things:
  1. Make the vision clear
  2. Help people determine their strengths and gifts
  3. Always have open roles for people to serve in

Bob Hyatt pointed out an excellent resource on "Preaching in a Postmodern World". It's actually a set of lectures available on iTunes (for free), by Tim Keller. I listened to a few of them in podcast format, and he made some excellent points both on the need for Christ-centered preaching as well as some specific thoughts on how to engage a postmodern audience.

James Higginbotham at Agile Ministry posted his notes from a recent conference by John Maxwell called “How To Be A Real Success” - "Defining Success" and "Real Success". I love the definition given right at the top of the talk:  "Success is knowing my purpose in life."  The other post by James that I really liked was "Church Coordinators are Marketers".

Ed Stetzer had some thought-provoking posts - one was a discussion of "Coaching, Mentoring, and Life-Change", and another (somewhat heavier) was "The Emergent/Emerging Church: A Missiological Perspective".

What did you learn this month?