Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review - As Iron Sharpens Iron

If you're not a big reader, you may be tired of all these darn book reviews this month :)  I wasn't keeping up with reading (and reviews) earlier this fall, but have been catching up on my reading pile over the past few weeks. A growing interest of mine is mentoring, and I finally got to read a classic on the subject this week - "As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character In a Mentoring Relationship" by Howard and William Hendricks. It's a book I skimmed many years ago that didn't make much of an impression at the time, so I really wasn't expecting much more than an outdated men's ministry tool. I was wrong.

As Iron Sharpens Iron is an extremely practical and insightful book covering all aspects of mentoring relationships. Part One takes a close look at these from the perspective of a man (really, of anyone) seeking a mentoring relationship. Part Two flips things around to look from the mentor's perspective - why mentor, what to look for in a protoge, how to help the your mentoring partner set a learning agenda, and more. There is also a helpful appendix on how to establish a mentoring program in your church.

The principles within apply well both in formal mentoring contexts as well as informal. Both have advantages, but the authors make a strong case for informal mentoring relationships and taking things slow (especially for men). Here are some of the highlights I found within the book:
  • Established the benefits of mentoring relationships for all, including peer mentoring
  • Very practical and realistic advice on initiating mentoring relationships (one of the most common stumbling blocks) - including a nice list of 20 ideas for starting such a relationship
  • Clear focus that mentoring is about relationships, with intentionality for growth
  • The ten marks of a mentor - as well as the profile of a protege
  • A very useful guide in the appendix for personal or group use, to walk a person or pair through the book and apply it
  • Overall, an approach that seems like it would work well with modern (and postmodern) audiences of all ages
One of my favorite tips in the book was that when talking to someone about initiating a mentoring relationship, don't use the word mentor or mentoring!?! It tends to scare many people off unnecessarily. In talking to several men, both younger and older, I've found this to be quite true.  Likewise, if you're looking to start a mentoring program, they suggested that you don't actually make it a "program", and that you don't have to refer to it as "mentoring" :)

I've read over a dozen books and scores of articles on mentoring in the past few months. I now wish I started with this book - it pulls together many best practices and great ideas that I've seen scattered across many other sources. The intended audience for the book is definitely men, and leaders of men's ministry. Yet the principles and practices taught are definitely applicable to any audience. You can find "As Iron Sharpens Iron" at Amazon and other book retailers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review - Spiritual Rhythm

In August I posted about discouragement and some encouragement found in Kem Meyer's blog, in which she was talking about a book by Mark Buchanan - "Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul". The very next day I found an unexpected package on my porch, a copy of Spiritual Rhythm, sent by Mark via Zondervan Publishers! In the intro he described the book as one not to be rushed through, so I've taken my time reading it. Tonight I finished, so here are my thoughts on the book.

Spiritual Rhythm is a deep and thoughtful book, looking how it's not just ok but natural and healthy to go through all forms of seasons in our spiritual lives. God is there, and speaks to us, in winter, spring, summer and fall. How we relate to Him, what is expected of us, and how we interact with others are all deeply effected by the season we're in. Mark writes with passion and out of the experience he has in dealing with each of the seasons. 

As I mentioned, this is not a book to be rushed through. It's one to take in slowly, to reflect on - and I imagine one to revisit when I find myself in a new season of life. The first part of the book takes a close look at each season, first describing what it looks like, then some thoughts on activities that will be most fruitful for that season. The second part of the book is a set of essay describing various spiritual rhythms: balancing, abiding, seeking, walking in the light, being, sustaining, knocking, persevering. I especially like the chapter on balancing. Most of us want balance, but we don't know that what we really crave is rhythm. If we tried to stand up in a kayak, yes, we better have perfect balance. But that won't get us anywhere. To actually paddle a kayak you need a rhythm. 

Spiritual Rhythm is a book worth reading - all the more so if you find yourself in the season of winter, or wondering why there seem to be so many ups and downs in your life, faith or ministry.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review - Intentional Church

I dislike buying a book that has no reviews on Amazon, especially when it lacks the 'Search Inside' feature. Invariable when I get one of these, I end up wishing I didn't. Recently I took a chance on a book called "The Intentional Church: Moving From Church Success to Community Transformation" by Randy Pope. It was the first in a long time where I'm glad I did (even though the main content wasn't really what I thought it would be!)

The Intentional Church is a practical and well-written guide for church leaders desired to be more effective in developing mature disciples of Christ and impacting their community. The focus is on intentionality - thinking carefully about the elements of effective discipleship and ministry, and creating a reproducible process to help your people grow as followers of Christ. The Intentional Church was originally published as The Prevailing Church. It's been revised and updated, now including a number of examples and insights learned from Randy's experience as senior pastor of Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA. He does a great job of sharing real-world experiences and practical tips without ever making it sound like we should become copies of Perimeter. His goal is to provide a framework for thinking about church leadership without providing a specific model to emulate. Since reviews on this fine book are scarce, I'm going into a little extra detail here than normal...

Table of Contents Introduction: What Will it Take to Be Truly Successful?
1. What Jesus Wants from His Church
2. What Makes a Church Grow? Six Widely Recognized Causes... and a Neglected Seventh Factor
3. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. i) A God-Honoring Purpose
3. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. ii) A Faith-Oriented Commitment
5. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. iii) A God-Given Vision
6. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. iv) Well-Prioritized Values
7. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. v) Well-Defined Mission
8. Inside the Mission: Accomplishing Vision
9. Inside the Mission: Making the Mature and Equipped Followers: The TEAMS-based Church
10. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. vi) Biblically-based Job Descriptions- The Roles of Deacons and Elders
11. Biblically-based Job Descriptions- The Role of the Pastor
12. Biblically-based Job Descriptions- The Role of the Laity
13. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. vii) Strategically Designed Infrastructure
14. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. viii) Culturally Relevant Strategy
15. Inside Culturally Relevant Strategies- Four Questions that must not be Overlooked
16. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. ix) Well-Developed Goals and Plans
17. Inside the Effective Ministry Plan. x) Ongoing Measurement
18. Making the Tough Choices
19. Evangelism: Reaching the Lost in This Generation
20. Life-on-Life Discipleship: God's Model for Life Transformation
Conclusion: For His Gospel, for His Glory

There were a number of great insights throughout the book - I found myself highlighting quite a bit. The presentation is very logical, without being rigid, and not neglecting the pivotal role the Holy Spirit and power of God play in building His church. I saw four themes that came across very strongly in the book: a well thought out framework for strategic planning; a life-on-life approach to disciple-making centered on Truth, Equipping, Accountability, Mission and Supplication (prayer); leadership development; and the importance of the church being both gathered and scattered, reaching in and reaching out. Pope does a great job in providing the 'why' behind the tips he shares for effective ministry. For example, while discussing infrastructure he goes beyond the suggestion of providing large-size, medium-size and small-group structures to talk about the function behind each of these: to allow for celebration, community, education, and pursuit of the great commission. The only thing I felt was missing (given the title of the book) was more discussion on how to become more of an Externally Focused church transforming the community.

There are other excellent books providing frameworks for thinking about church, from a wide variety of perspectives, including The Purpose-Driven Church, Church Unique, and AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church. The Intentional Church is an excellent resource that should appeal to many church leaders - especially those with a desire for more intentional strategic planning, a more relational and focused discipleship process, and/or a desire to be both the church gathered and the church scattered.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Best wishes to you all on this wonderful Thanksgiving day! My family and I are really looking forward to sharing the day with some good friends, as we celebrate together the many things we're thankful for. I was commenting recently to my wife that one of the main things I'm thankful for is to have someONE to be thankful to. It's what makes the difference between Thanksgiving and merely Turkey Day. A friend on Facebook recently posted how Thanksgiving came to be a holiday in the United States - it was via a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The Abraham Lincoln Online website presents it as follows:

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."
Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review - Ignite

"Ignite - How to Spark Immediate Growth in Your Church" by Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Henson takes an approach of having a series of 'big days' in your church to spark growth, and double the size of your church. The method is very practical, has been used in Searcy's own church, and lays out its rationale very clearly. The book is fairly well written, and will be of use to many churches who are healthy but stuck at a size barrier and wishing to break through.

I have enjoyed Searcy's other books like Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church, and Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch, which are also very pragmatic books seeking to help leaders do a good job with their systems for small groups, first impressions, and church planting. Searcy is definitely a 'systems thinker.' What I like about the other books is that they give very practical tips about implementing things that are very healthy and appropriate for most churches. (See my earlier reviews for Fusion and Activate)

Yet I don't feel the same enthusiasm for Ignite. While he does not intentionally minimize the role of the Holy Spirit, and notes that God wants to reach people far more than we do, the book still comes across as a paint-by-numbers approach to manufacturing growth by human means. He says that both attractional and incarnational approaches to outreach work well and that he advocates doing both, this is a 100% come-to-us approach to evangelism. The material really isn't that new if you're already familiar with the purpose driven church model and the teaching of Rick Warren (which also thinks highly of big days). One issue I have with this book's approach is that it really has a goal of growth, as opposed to a goal of health. In every discussion of big days and church growth I've heard from Saddleback it's been very clear that the goal is church health, and the natural result (if your structure doesn't interfere) is growth - but you never make growth itself your target. When the table of contents talks about equipping the people for evangelism and giving them the tools they need to succeed, I was really hoping for more than 'invite postcards'.

The book describes how big days and the buzz and momentum that come from it can attract more visitors. What is not discussed at all are the reasons why the people would choose to stay. For your limited budget and energy, do you want to invest in mailings and big events and attendance numbers, or do you want to invest in people and disciple-making that show the difference it makes to be a fully devoted follower of Christ. (If you're doing the latter well and want to know how to do the former, this book is for you.) Again, the book and methods aren't bad in themselves - if read and followed with a great attitude seeking to honor God, reach the lost, and be a part of God building a healthy church, then your church may find benefit from this. But more likely the church that is "stuck" and not growing may have a deeper and more spiritual reason that is not best addressed by Ignite.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review - Insights on John

Chuck Swindoll has been a trusted and powerful communicator and teacher for many years. Recently he has been writing a powerful series of books aimed at bringing the Bible to life -- Swindoll's New Testament Insights Series. His gifts for teaching in a way that combines scholarship, storytelling, and personal insights really shine through in this series. Through the Amazon Vine program, I received a review copy of the "Insights on John" volume in this series.

Swindoll's Inisights on John is an extremely readable commentary on the Gospel of John. The author definitely takes a deep and careful look at the text, and does not shy away from trying to explain nuances of language and history. Yet at the same time, the writing style is quite clear, never pedantic or condescending, and very understandable. At 368 pages it's not a book you're going to read cover to cover quickly. It's best application is probably as a companion to an in-depth personal or small group study on John. As such, the name "Insights on..." describes the approach of the book very well -- it definitely doesn't come across as a standard commentary. He doesn't strain to come up with something to say about every verse; instead you get the sense he really is sharing a number of insights that have been meaningful to him in his own study and devotions. Finally, the quality of the book and its hardcover format are very nice. 

Insights on John contains a number of helpful features: 
- The Bible text itself, as a whole passage, in the NASB version 
- Insightful comments, taking things a few verses at a time 
- Personal notes in "From My Journal" sections 
- Application sections that aim to help the Word transform the life of the reader 
- Many useful pictures, charts, tables, to better explain the text 

I would recommend this one to anyone who wants to understand the Gospel of John better and apply its teaching to their life. It can be found at Amazon or other retailers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review - The Walk - Appalachian Trail

One of the fun things about being a book lover and blogger is occasionally I'll get a chance to read an inspiring book that was completely off my radar. This week I got to do that as I read "The Walk - Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail," by Randy Motz and Georgia Harris. Randy ran across several of my reviews on Amazon and asked if he could send me a review copy of this book, which he described as "stories from our six months on the trail, scripture passages, inspirational quotations, prayers and devotionals to draw the many parallels between walking the trail and a walk of faith." I'm glad I took at look at it...

Randy "Windtalker" Motz and his wife and hiking partner Georgia "Mom" Harris love hiking, music, telling stories, and sharing their faith. The subtitle describes the book well - a reflection on life and faith. Across eight chapters they share a number of great things they learned as they saw parallels between their spectacular 2,175 mile journey and the walk of faith as a Christian - insights on prayer, perseverance, community, praise and worship, materialism and simplicity, pride and humility, and service.

Some distinctive features of the book: a warm conversational tone, always reflecting awe and wonder for God's creation and never condescending, blocks quotes sharing some words of Native American Wisdom, several prayers and devotional thoughts, and some keen insights on the Christian walk. I like how they found, as introverts expect to marvel most at scenery, just how more impactful were the people they met along the way, discovering that "The people ARE the trail. When you do life with people, it changes you." (great words for every small group leader to hear!)  Their prayer: "Lord, give me the compassion to love those around me as you would love them. Help me be an encourager to everyone I meet on the path."

The Walk: Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail can be ordered along with other resources at or from Amazon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review - Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual

I recently reviewed "Real-Life Discipleship" and here take a look at the companion "Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual" by Putnam, Willis, Guindon and Krause through NavPress. The subtitle, 'Equipping Disciples Who Make Disciples' sums up the purpose of the book. Their approach is to reform the small group ministry within a church. It seeks to help small group leaders develop as a discipler with their head, heart and hands - learning what a disciple is and how they grow, becoming an intentional leader in the process.

The term 'training manual' is an apt description - this is no casual small group study. The manual lays out twelve key topics spanning twelve weeks, and each member will need to spend 20-30 minutes a day for five days a week in preparation outside of small group time. There is a leader's guide in the back which helps the group leader to plan and work out a 90 minute study that includes shepherding, vision casting, discussion, coaching, application and practice.

Topics include: the heart of a discipler, what is a disciple, how disciples grow, three keys to making a disciple, how to be an intentional leader, a closer look at a relational environment, a closer look at the reproducible process, being intentional with the spiritually dead and spiritual infants (Share), helping spiritual children grow (Connect), helping young adults help others (Minister), being intentional with spiritual parents (Disciple), and a tool for study called storying.

The Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual is a practical workbook that would be ideal to first apply as a pastor with small group leaders. I don't get the sense it's intended for direct use within a typical small group with a mix of spiritual infants, children and spiritual young adults or parents. If your team can make the commitment to study and discuss the discipleship process laid out here, it would likely be of great benefit to your church. The question that remains in my mind even after reading the manual - how do you actually pull this off with a mixed bag of small group members who feel their lives are already out-of-control busy?

If discipleship is important to you, do check out the Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual and companion hardcover Real-Life Discipleship.

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review - Real-Life Discipleship

"Real-Life Discipleship: Buliding Churches that Make Disciples" is a new book by Jim Putman published by NavPress. It's a concise and well-written book aimed at church leaders to address a critical question: "Is your church making disciples... who make disciples?" and that gives them the principles and tools to be able to answer 'yes'. As the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries Putnam's approach is both biblical and very practical, and has been successful at his and other churches.

Real-Life Discipleship reexamines the goal and methods of discipleship. Part One sets the stage for discipleship and describes three keys for effective discipleship: an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a strategic, reproducible process. Part Two takes a close look at five maturity levels of seekers and believers, then gets into the details of their process: Share, Connect, Minister, Disciple. Part Three addresses some important questions on developing leaders within your church. "The leadership of the church must view its job as that of making disciples who can make disciples."

I had a a mixed but overall good impression in reading this book. In some ways it seems like many other old and new books on discipleship, hearkening a return to how Jesus did things - most of which fail to provide practical insight on how to actually do that in the 21st Century. The 'process' in Real-Life discipleship is more of a framework than something you can directly implement. That is both a plus and a minus - you will definitely need to consider further how to apply the principles here to your specific situation. In addition, there is a supplemental Training Manual that gives some more specific ideas and studies.

The material in Real-Life Discipleship is very solid, and Putnam does a great job in addressing a tough subject in a short space, covering both the rationale and process for discipleship. NavPress is known for its commitment to discipleship, so it's a natural addition to their lineup. I would recommend it to pastors and church leaders whose churches are not doing as well as they could be in making and reproducing disciples.

Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches that Make Disciples is available at Amazon and other book retailers.

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