Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review - The Walk

Author Stephen Smallman describes his new book as essentially 'Discipleship for Dummies'. It's called "The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus". While aimed primarily at new Christians, it's also very helpful for those who have wandered away and are looking to take a fresh look at their faith. I first learned of this excellent book from Justin Taylor's blog.

The strength of The Walk is that it really assumes no prior understanding or background at all. It doesn't even assume the reader has yet decided to profess faith in Christ, so there's no nagging here and no jargon unless he's teaching what a word means. The approach is to walk alongside the reader as they work through The Gospel of Mark and the Book of Romans. I have to stress that even though the book starts basic, it is not simplistic, and by the end the reader will have tackled some difficult subjects. On the back cover Smallman describes this book as being for people who want to follow Jesus, "but"... don't know anything about the Bible, don't have a Christian background, have drifted so far away they don't know how to start over, or who have no idea where to begin. With the heart of a pastor, Steve does a great job of doing this in a manner that is warm, practical, and distinctly gospel-centered.

There are several ways the book can be used, but it really begs to be read and discussed with a friend or group. With twelve chapters and discussion questions, it would work well in a Sunday School or small group setting. It should be especially effective in a discipling relationship or mentoring group.

Table of Contents:
Part One: The Basics
1. What is a Disciple?
2. Do I Have to Go to Church?
3. Learning to Read the Bible and Pray
Part Two: Discipleship through the Gospel
Step One: Know the gospel itself
4. The Gospel of God
Step Two: Know how you came to believe the gospel
5. The Call to Salvation and Discipleship
6. Conversion
Step Three: Know the benefits of believing the gospel
7. A New Record: Justification
8. A New Life: Sanctification and Adoption
9. A New Future: Glorification
Step Four: Life a Life that flows from the gospel
10. Faith Expressing Itself in Love
11. The Gospel Changes Everything
Part Three: Following Jesus on His Mission
12. Disciples Making Disciples
- A Final Word to New and Renewed Followers of Jesus: Now What?
- Some appendices with more info, suggested reading, and follow-up plans.

Each chapter has Bible reading that is explained/discussed, sidebars to address likely questions, a helpful summary, words of encouragement, and assignments such as specific Bible reading. If you're looking to take new or renewed steps walking with Christ, or have a heart to help those who do, I recommend you take a look at The Walk. You can check out the preface and first chapter for free online.

The book is available at Amazon and other retailers, including a nice discount if you order from the Westminster Bookstore.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review - What Difference do it Make?

After reading "Same Kind of Different as Me," a powerful story of faith and friendship by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, I was excited to get a review copy of the sequel "What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing." Sometimes an original can be so good that it makes it hard for the sequel to match up to expectations. "What Difference Do It Make" falls prey to this danger.

This book doesn't so much continue the original story as much as it fills in some more details, answers some questions, and shares a number of real-life stories of people impacted powerfully by Same Kind of Different as Me. That's a key cause of a significant problem with this book - it comes across as a promo book, trying to leverage the popularity of the first book. (I do not think that this was the intent of the authors! Nevertheless the book at times does read this way.)  The second aspect of the book that was awkward was that the attention paid to the relationship between Ron Hall and his father. It was a dysfunctional relationship that failed to inspire, a few tender moments notwithstanding.

The book has its strong points. It's a book about racial reconciliation, unlikely friendship, community outreach and caring for the homeless, faith and compassion. The book contains some powerful nuggets of wisdom from Denver, reflecting on his personal experience with homelessness. If you loved Same Kind of Different, you would probably enjoy this book to some degree. If you've not read that one, go read it!

"What Difference Do It Make?" by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent is available at Amazon and other book retailers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Twitter?

I often get a puzzled look or blank stare when I tell people I like Twitter, Facebook, or blogging. Sometimes it's hard to explain what these things are to people who don't use social networking tools. Let me try a different answer today - rather than explain what they are, let me share some ways in which they've been a benefit over the past few months.

Thanks to Twitter, along with blogs, Facebook, and other web-based tools that build community I have...

  • Made several new friends with similar passions that I would love to meet someday
  • Received over a dozen new-release books for free, to review or from giveaway promotions
  • Been able to ask questions and get thoughtful answers from some great minds and authors like Reggie McNeal, Nancy Ortberg, Matt Chandler, Steve Gladen,  Steve Saccone
  • Helped other people out with technical questions
  • Reconnected with some friends I haven't seen in years
  • Had fun testing out some cutting edge technologies (like getting a Google Wave invite)
  • Found mentors in areas I want to grow
  • Attended some outstanding conferences "virtually"
  • Shared pictures with friends and families from events, right from my phone
  • Gotten an inside glimpse into the daily lives of many friends
  • Got a new CD via a promotion on the day it was released
  • Learned information helpful in doing my job at work
  • Received dessert suggestions for restaurants while I'm there eating
  • Been able to encourage many people when they were down
  • Been encouraged and taught on an almost daily basis
  • Learned about several critical prayer requests in real time and prayed for people across the globe
  • Likewise had folks I barely know praying for my family in times of crisis
  • Become aware I need to be able to communicate more concisely :)

So instead of answering the question of why I Twitter, I'm going to as you - why don't you?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Paradigm Shift in Education and Discipleship

There is a game-changing shift in adult education that is well underway. In thinking about how education in general and discipleship in particular have changed over the years it has struck me that we're seeing a paradigm shift in both. Later this month I'll be starting a new course at Rockbridge Seminary - The Theology and Practice of Discipleship. We'll be considering the basis and practice of pursuing an intentional strategy for encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ within the church. In doing so we'll be considering the change in the landscape of adult education.

In essence, both education and discipleship are shifting away from the transmission of prepackaged bundles of information with the topics and answers provided by an authorized teacher, to personalized and pragmatic learning that is far more interactive, answering real-world questions and addressing challenges in the same context where they are faced. For followers of Christ the ultimate goal of spiritual formation has not changed - to be more like Christ, loving God and loving people - but the methods by which this is pursued are definitely changing.

Consider traditional seminary education. What comes to mind? People hearing "a call to the ministry" who put their life on hold for several years to prepare for a vocation as clergy. There they will follow a set curriculum emphasizing subject mastery, learning as individuals taught by a professor, proving themselves via tests which probe how well they have received the information. Sounds exciting? Good preparation for leading a congregation today? Some would say there is a better way. Rockbridge Seminary Online is an innovate new paradigm seminary in which students learn in community, engaging at a deeper level in their current ministry without putting life on hold. The professor is more of a guide than a teacher, and each students develops their own personalized learning plan. Sure, there are still core courses and electives, but the goal is to develop ministry competencies that span the purposes of the church and meet the needs of the people they serve.The student learns how to be a life-long learner, integrating their learning with the ongoing challenges they face while in ministry.

How has the pursuit of discipleship changed within the church? The old paradigm emphasizes programmatic education on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, curriculum and topics determined by church leaders, and teaching people the right answers to defend the faith. The new paradigm views living as and growing as a disciple as a 24/7 process, done in community with other believers and lived out in the community, led by a shepherd or guide rather than a teacher. People have less time to go through comprehensive programs learning everything before they need to know it, and instead want to find answers as they run into challenges. They want to take more control over what and when they learn, to face felt needs and to better serve people who are hurting. Learning is more personalized and decentralized. The tools are also changing, supplementing exhaustive concordances and commentaries and denominational quarterlies with online classes and sermons, and tools like Monvee and YouVersion. Likewise our approach to leadership development is changing, helping people to be leaders in whatever sphere of influence they serve, not just in their roles as 'church leaders'.

How can we do a better job at encouraging the development of fully-devoted followers of Christ? How can we help people to take more responsibility for their own growth? How can we do this in a way that is more relational, interactive, and ultimately fosters life transformation? These are important questions for which there are no easy answers, but ones I look forward to exploring!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Environments for Developing People

I recently listened to an audio MP3 of a conference call on "The Small Group Fraternity" led by Mark Howell. This featured an interview with Jeff Galley who serves at as Central Team Leader for Life Groups / Life Mission. Jeff discusses small group coaching, people development, life coaching, and some big shifts in how they think about discipleship in their church. I found it really interesting, and wanted to share a few highlights here. If any of those areas of interest to you, definitely check out the MP3 (time points listed below are from this audio).

Small Group Coaching  (8:00-15:00)

Every environment is unique, so every campus needs their own approach to small group coaching. One of the more popular models adopted/tweaked by different campuses is very decentralized. When a person signs up to lead a group they meet immediately with a coach and dive right in, pulling people together the start their group. About twice a year clusters of 4-5 group leaders under one coach will come together for a huddle. At that point they go through a more intentional development process that takes about six-weeks, based on conference call discussions with reading or an e-learning lesson between sessions. The point is let leaders jump in when they're excited to do this, and train them after they've been doing it when the questions and discussion will make sense. The use of the 60-90 min conference call and reading in-between is to fit their schedule. is big on open source - actually they provide these lessons for any church to watch! That site is currently down for updating but will be available again soon. After leaders been through this training, what happens next? The coaching becomes much more informal, mostly driven by the leaders' need or questions as they arise. Once a month coaches will give a phone call to each leader he or she has on their list and just touch base, letting them know they're praying for them. LifeChurch structures this for growth, not control.

People Development (23:10-27:30)

It's not about the program, but in life change - they have identified five specific behaviors they want to see people engage in. They can't force people to exhibit these behaviors, but their goal is to set up environments which foster these, support leaders, inspire people to want to be a follower of Christ, then step back and coach the process. Specifically, they've identified Four Environments that are effective in supporting development. This is NOT four programs, not four buckets to discipleship, and in some cases these things might go on together in one venue, or four different ways of viewing the same activity. Their four key environments:

1. Group  (be in a small group / life group)
2. Learn Something
3. Serve
4. Get Coaching  (for my own life and development, or functional development towards helping others)

This actually represents a major shift in their shift in thinking on discipleship -- 
"Not all the environments are going to be the right thing for people at the right time." Not everyone wants to be in a small group / life group, and that's ok. As a result what they're doing in their campus is to set up some best practices to encourage these environments, but promote the desired behaviors more than programs, and allow people freedom to choose their own path in this common direction.

Their new approach is pretty simple, asking their people these questions:
"Where are you now?" "What's next for you?" "What should you do?" These lead to: "Which of these four environments is going to help you go down that road?"

Five Behaviors they're looking for, what does a "win" look like at LifeChurch? (29:30-35:45)

1. Lead people to identify their next step for personal and spiritual growth
2. Generously serve others
3. Build healthy relationships (healthy family, relationships they're investing in, and people investing in them)
4. Read and reflect from Scripture
5. Be Christ-Centered - He is the compass for all areas in their life

What they would like to do is measure these outcomes rather than just program participation. The 1,000,000 dollar question is of course, how? For example #3 is pretty hard to measure. What they're likely to try is to develop an evaluation process including a survey, some kind of self-evaluation, plus a follow-up personal interview. Then repeat this a year later and see how people have changed.

A natural question is: "How do we track people's participation in these four environments." (43:20-46:30)
Jeff's answer may surprise you: "Why do we need to track them?? What we want to see is the behaviors. If we're seeing those, we don't really care how they got there." They don't cast vision for groups, for coaching - they're casting vision for growth, for life change, for the things a Christ-follower does, not the methods themselves. That said they're not going to stop tracking these other numbers - they do give some useful info - which environments are working, and which need some help. But the key to remember is that these are not the primary determinant of success, God-honoring behaviors are.

Coaching - What might it look like? (36:07-40:00)

Probably there will be an intentional structures to do these two kinds of coaching:
1) Life coaching - How can someone sit down with me and help me develop a plan for my growth, my next steps, or more broadly, how do I get a better understanding of my life purpose? Maybe it's a marriage situation, or parenting. Not a counselor, but a coach.
2) Functional coaching - To do this, we will have to train volunteers to do these very things and to better craft these environments. Jeff is going for coaching certification and will setup a program to train people interested in learning how to coach. He wants to help interested leaders to mobilize people to become effective coaches who can in turn help others. As a great benefit, these skills are completely transferrable. They may also develop several Coaching Journeys (maybe doing a book together) along with a common coaching methodology.

Other interesting comments from the interview

- It's not attractional vs missional, it's both. We definitely need to live out our faith outside of Sunday morning, but we have them here together at that time, how can we make best use of this?
- For things to move forward well it's important to identify catalytic leaders and encourage them strongly, seeing what they're fired up about and seeing how you can help them.
- Any time we use the word "leader" to refer only to people leading in a church program, we lose some of our best leaders and fail to move forward our real mission. (50:00-51:00)

Some of my own thoughts on all this...
- Wow, a lot of this touches on things we're doing or want to do at Calvary. Much of it echoes what Pastor Chuck and other staff have been thinking.
- The five behaviors seem to encompass four of our five purposes, and it seems like anyone doing these four will be wanting to do the fifth. They also stress outreach through several environments including their Life Groups and through Serving.
- I wonder how Monvee might be used as a tool to help people develop in a framework similar to what's described here. Monvee is a tool for encouraging personalized spiritual growth - it should be launched later this year as an online tool tied into what is already going on and supported in a local church setting.

Small group leaders, coaches, Calvary folks, what are your thoughts on developing people?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review - Forgotten God

"Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit" is the latest book by Francis Chan, the author of "Crazy Love." Chan, along with Danae Yankoski, aim to write "a compelling invitation to rediscover the Holy Spirit's power in our lives," and on this mark they succeed.

The message of the book is straightforward, not intending to break new ground but to concisely teach, remind, and exhort us to stop neglecting the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Chapters include "I've Got Jesus, Why do I need the Spirit?", "What are you afraid of?", "Theology of the Holy Spirit 101", "Why do you want Him?", and "A real relationship". The most interesting and thought-provoking chapter for me was "Forget about His will for your life!" Here he points out that as Christians we often use our lack of a good understanding for His will as an excuse not to follow Him day by day, an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. "God cares more about our response to His Spirit's leading today, in this moment, that about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today's decisions." The implication of ignoring the Spirit for both our lives and for the health of the church is a complete lack of power, and severely diminished ability to carry out God's will. Forgotten God is a solid book worth reading.

"Forgotten God" was received as a Review Copy from the Amazon Vine program. The book is published by David C. Cook and is available at and other retailers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review - Find Your Strongest Life

Marcus Buckingham is the author of several excellent books on discovering your strengths and the how and why of using them for a happier and more productive life. I really enjoyed "Now, Discover Your Strengths," and so I was happy to get a review copy of his very latest book, "Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently." I know, I know, I'm not exactly his target audience, but I have a wife, daughter and many friends that I care about and would love to see happy and successful :)

Buckingham addresses some very significant issues in his book, including the question of whether in today's world a woman can truly "have it all"? Fulfilling career, being true to herself, a happy, healthy life outside of work? That can all seem overwhelming, but in his book he tries to convey the keys to help women draw strength from life to feel fulfilled, loved, and in control. This key is based on his research as well as previous work looking at the power of understanding and focusing on your strengths.

The book has three parts. The first looks at the challenges that women face today, and how things have changed over the past decades. He gives some extremely interesting findings from research in this area. These are presented as 'Ten Myths about the Lives of Women'. For example, you might think that with better education, jobs and pay, that women today would feel happier and more fulfilled than forty years ago - not so. You might also be convinced that if only they had more free time, they would feel less stressed. Yet research shows this isn't the case. According to a twenty-five year study each extra hour of free time doubles a man's feelings of relaxation, but does nothing for a woman's. (Don't ask me to explain that one!) The second part of the book gets into the heart of learning to live your strongest life. The central focus here is on his 'Strong Life Test' which considers nine life roles which were unveiled in his research - or 'soul codes' to use Professor James Hillman's phrase. These roles are: advisor, caretaker, creator, equalizer, influencer, motivator, pioneer, teacher, and weaver. Part three gets into some very specific questions, or challenges, faced by women, and how knowing your strengths can help you find and answer to these challenges.

I found the book to be quite interesting, and potentially very useful. As an outsider of sorts, I still found much to think about, and came away with a greater appreciation of the unique challenges women face. (I also found out I seem to fit into roles of teacher and equalizer, if the test is applicable for men!)   The book is not hard to read, and seems to be a decent mix of the soft and hard side of life. I would recommend this book to women who are finding it challenging to find happiness and success in those areas of life which are important to them. The solution he proposes is not to simply "find balance" - in fact one of the best chapters is "Strive for Imbalance." A favorite quote of mine from Buckingham - "Don't try to put in what God left out. Try to draw out what God left in. That's hard enough!"

You can read a preview at the Thomas Nelson publisher website, or get the book at Amazon or other retailers. Or you might start by checking out the free online test directly at (no book purchase required, but to learn how to put the results in practice it will be very helpful).