Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review - Get a Life

Get a Life! Sometimes it's an insult, sometimes it's great advice. In this case, it's a book by Reggie McNeal - "Get a Life! It IS all about you." McNeal is an excellent writer, author of other powerful books such as The Present Future and Missional Renaissance. The goal of this book is to help you take a close look at yourself, to move beyond wishful thinking about your life into living a life of greater focus and meaning.

Clearly from the title of the book there is a strong self-help aspect to the book, and yet it is also a book about finding a much deeper relationship with God as you search for clues about how He designed you and what purposes He had in mind in crafting who you are. The book really centers around the following five questions that frame reflection on our lives:

1. Why am I here?
2. What is really important to me?
3. What is my scorecard?
4. What am I good at?
5. What do I need to learn?

Each question is the topic of a chapter, which talks about why the question is important and how you can arrive at solid answers. In addition there are a number of supporting questions raised in each chapter which would be very useful in a small group, or to write out the answers yourself. For example in the chapter 'What am I good at?' one series of questions include:
What do I do that causes me great pleasure?
When do I feel the smile of God?
What do I do that, when I do it, I say, "This is what I was born to do!"?
What talent(s) am I using in this activity?
What am I willing to order my life around so that I can do more of it?
McNeal really does a good job at asking these important questions without the book simply promoting self-actualization or narcissism. Reggie concludes with "You are a unique creation, a one-of-a-kind, a limited edition of one. God made you to show something about Himself to the world. To the extent you become fully you the world is made more complete."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How do we get it all done?

Last week over at the GoingToSeminary web site was a good article called "The Balancing Act". Nancy Wilson discussed the dangers of setting expectations too high, trying to hard in some area, and how easy it is for life to get out of balance. I continued the overall theme with an article posted at GoingToSeninary - called "Getting It All Done."

There I take a look at the example of Christ, and the verse John 17:4, exploring how Jesus managed to get done everything the Father expected of Him (not everything that all his friends and enemies expected of Him!) We're told that Jesus completed all the work the Father gave Him to do. How was He able to do this?
"When it came to getting things done, Jesus was a master of prioritizing at two different levels: strategic and operational. He got the big picture right – He knew why He was here, what His priorities were, and where He needed to invest most of His time. That meant for some very tough decisions. He focused on doing the will of the Father, on reaching the people of Israel, and on building deeply into the lives of only a handful of men. Everything He did reflected His top priorities. Equally importantly, he always seemed to get it right in-the-moment. He took time out for individuals, to heal people, to go to dinner parties with sinners. His sermons got to the point, His teaching time was focused, He never got bogged down arguing with His critics, and He balanced family and ministry perfectly."
Check it out --"Getting it All Done."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review - AND blog tour

Today kicks off a blog tour for a new book by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay - "AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church." I was pleased to get a free review copy, as this book discusses an issue that is important to us at Calvary Baptist Church - what are the benefits of an attractional approach (draw people into the church to hear the gospel, find fellowship and build them up as disciples) versus a missional/incarnational approach (sending our people out into the lives of others directly to witness and grow as disciples). Pastor Chuck has maintained that it's Both-And; they're both useful. Yet if you listen to sermons or read 90-99% of books and blogs, they're diametrically opposed and you can't possibly do both well. Finally, a book that tries to bridge the gap and speak from a Both-And perspective??!

The introduction and first chapter talk about what the world needs from a church, and what God is doing through His church, how He and the church are 'beautifully sent' on mission. Chapter Two was for me the most powerful chapter in the book "Starting the AND... wherever you are". They jumped right in with discussion that target readers would need to know - how can you take a church that is strongly attractional, perhaps even inward focused, and help its people better understand what it means to live missionally and to see new avenues for ministry outside the walls of the church. It had some great discussion about how you can reach the same essential core of incarnational communities coming either from a gathered perspective or from a scattered perspective. Those coming from a gathered church might well consider a pilot group of about 10% of the church (a tithe of members) to receive training and support on developing incarnational communities.

One of the tough challenges in the book is really understanding what Halter means by the term 'Incarnational Community'. Is it a small group living missionally, a community ministry team, a home cell group, or something else? Is it something we've seen in a larger church, or something altogether different? I was somewhat disappointed to see this was not covered well in the book - rather the authors referenced their previous book, Tangible Kingdom, and a resource called the TK Primer for those who want to develop such communities. It makes sense from their perspective to do this and not waste time repeating material already available. Yet it is so central to their AND thesis that skimping here didn't help their cause. (It didn't help either that the Amazon reviews on Tangible Kingdom were downright scary, almost to the point of calling it heretical?!) After reading the book I saw an online article by Halter entitled What is incarnational community? which helps answer this key question.

Chapters 3 and 4 talk about something working against the church (consumerism) and something that done well is essential for the church (spiritual formation, but something broader than traditional spiritual disciplines).

Chapter 5 is where things started to go downhill fast for me, and I never saw a hoped-for recovery. Its goal was to discuss the tremendous harmony of gathered and scattered, but the authors get caught up in two scholarly terms coined by Ralph Winter - sodalic and modalic, how there is a need both for outreaching missionary activities and groups, and nurturing and support for those on the inside. Before this the books' style had been easy to read, stressing story and clarity. It's not that material was too hard to understand, but the stark contrast in style and approach were jarring.

Chapter 6 was one I looked forward to since getting excited in chapter two. It was called "Morph: Transitioning from Gathered to Gathered AND Scattered." It implicitly spoke as if you were the senior pastor of the church, and described the need to assess your gifting, calling, along with the capacity of your congregation. This was followed by a caution to be careful about the rate of change. And then... the chapter was over. Maybe this was a bad expectation on my part, I was sorely hoping this chapter was the one referenced on page 86: "In a later chapter we will unpack a process that every church can use that will move people from consumers to contributors, from fans to faithful followers, and from adherents to apprentices." I had been so pumped when I read that quote, yet after finishing chapter six it felt like they didn't come close to delivering on that promise.

Chapter 7 found me scratching my head completely. Had I misunderstood the whole aim of the book?? It was a discussion aimed at house churches and other missional communities committed to being scattered and incarnational, and discussed the question of if it was in any way useful to even gather at all in some kind of larger church service (!?) I started to reread the back cover and press info to find out if they were truly trying to propose a harmonious blend of mega-church style incarnational approaches and house-church style incarnational approaches, or were they trying to address the latter community and persuade them that it's ok to actually meet as a larger body without becoming a dead institution. The positive quotes on the back cover are from pioneers in the area of house churches and organic community; nothing said by mega-church pastors?

Chapter 8 tried to pull things together and encourage the reader to think about leaving a legacy, living as if you're really dying. It was inspirational but did not address the concerns developed in reading the previous three chapters.

I would have love to have seen more about the practical issues surrounding the tension between gathered and scattered - where does doctrinal instruction occur? is it really best for younger children and adults struggling with life issues and sin to sit together in the same group discussing the Bible? are teens hanging out with their folks at that time too? how are overseas missions to be supported? why wouldn't it be best to have a large audience being taught by a superbly gifted teacher? how does one learn how to face life-stage issues?

My conclusion after reading the book? No pun intended, but I can truly say that BOTH: I was highly disappointed with the book AND you should definitely read it if you have any kind of interest whatsoever in bridging the gap or resolving the tension between attractional/gathering and incarnational/scattering approaches to ministry, discipleship and evangelism. How can I say that? (Besides the fact that I may not be the target reader for the book?) Because I'm completely convinced, like I think Halter and Smay are, that both gathering as a large community and loving one another inside the family of God (modality), and living out our faith missionally in the lives of those around us far outside the walls of the church (sodality), are extremely important - and these together reflect the Great Commandment and the Great Commission - we cannot neglect either. The other reason it's important to read this book is because there isn't much out there that tries to bridge the gap. In addition, there is some really excellent material despite the flaws in the book. The book would still be worth getting if you only read the first two chapters. Finally, my disappointment may well be due to wrong expectations or high hopes going in to the book.

AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church is available at Amazon and other retailers.