Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review - Simple Small Groups

A short time ago I learned of a book called "Simple Small Groups" by Bill Search. It's sub-titled "A User-Friendly Guide for Small Group Leaders," and it delivers. There is no shortage of books that promote a specific model for doing small groups - this is not one of them. Instead Search distills some essential elements of healthy group-life, and describes how to foster these elements no matter what model you use for your small group ministry. As Mark Howell puts it, "Rather than over-complicate the subject, Search isolates three simple and essential ingredients that every effective group must have, identifies them with a single word, and then proceeds to explain the role played by each of them. The best part? He goes on to flesh out the nuts and bolts of how it works."

Connect. Change. Cultivate. These are the three patterns that lead to a healthy small group.

Connecting is the growing sense of relationship between members of a group.
Changing is the "spiritual and relational renovation that transforms us into the likeness of Christ." It's goes beyond the intellectual or simple behavior modification.
Cultivating is missional lifestyle. Not just service. Not just evangelism. It's both. It's an outward focus that engages hearts into action.

These three patterns are not rules. They're not prescriptive, but descriptive (a concept discussed further by Joseph Myers in Organic Community). A welcome and distinctive feature of the book is that it doesn't hold up intimacy as the only valid form of connection. People have a real need to relate in a number of spaces: public, social, personal, and intimate (The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups). Small group systems that promise intimacy seldom deliver. Instead, seek to create a safe relational space that encourages connecting without trying to force it.

There are three aspects to the book that I found particularly helpful. The first is that Search drills down into each pattern and considers the continuum in which every group falls. For each he considers three different stages, and how to take a positive step wherever the group may be. The second benefit is that each section also contains a "Nut and Bolts" chapter with a lot of stories and tips on how to put these ideas into practice. This makes the book very practical and easy to read. Each pattern also has a simple tool to help assess where your group is at. The third key to Search's approach is that it recommends a harmony between the three patterns, not balance or equality. It's ok to have groups that are not trying to do everything. One group might for a time focus 80% of its effort on developing community, and 10% on the other patterns. The focus may shift over time, according to the needs of the group and the leading of the Spirit.

Relational Pattern
(Connecting Continuum) : Meet - Connect - Belong
Growth Pattern (Change Continuum): Learn - Grow - Transform
Missional Pattern (Cultivate Continuum): Exploring - Applying - Impacting

The book concludes with an appendix of Scripture references highly appropriate for each pattern. Overall I really enjoyed reading the book and it has given me a lot to think about - for myself, my small group, and coaching other small group leaders. The concepts here tie-in very nicely with key principles from other books I've been reading, such as Jim Egli's "Small Groups Big Impact", or the Up-Out-In paradigm described by Mike Breen, Scott Boren and others. The Relational Pattern is IN, the Growth Pattern is UP, the Missional Pattern is OUT. Again the key isn't to set unrealistic goals of perfection, but to be intentional about (and celebrate) small steps forward in each pattern.

Simple Small Groups is an excellent resource for small group leaders, and is a must-read for small group coaches and pastors.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review - Small Groups Big Impact

Recently Rick Howerton made me aware of a book called "Small Groups Big Impact" by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable. This book presents the results of a careful study on the factors that result in healthy small groups and a thriving small group ministry. I made several posts (Part one, two, three) reflecting on Howerton's interviews with Egli. Their findings seemed so interesting I immediately ordered the book and read through it. Here are my thoughts...

In "Small Groups Big Impact: Connecting People to God and One Another in Thriving Groups" the authors share the results of research studying 3000 groups in 200 churches in 21 countries. Some of the results were very intuitive, but some findings were quite surprising. For example, they found that neither the leader's personality, giftedness, age, gender, nor any other factor outside the leader's control had any impact on group health or group. Also, the time spent in preparation for the study had no statistical impact on group health. What was the key factor? Time spent in prayer for the group meeting and members each week. Sure we say prayer is important, but do we really believe that enough to make it a top priority for our group? Another surprising finding: open groups were found to have a significantly higher level of community than closed groups! Typically people favor closed groups in hopes of finding intimacy and close community - in practice the opposite occurs: inward-focused groups stagnate and do not end up experiencing a greater level of community.

The authors found three sets of factors that correlate with strong groups that experience health and growth.

Small Group Health Factors -- Pray - Reach - Care - Empower

Leaders who pray for their group, empower their people to lead and serve, and group members who actively care not only for themselves but reach out to those outside the group are the groups that thrive and grow.

Small Group Growth Factors -- Conversion Growth - Assimilation - Group Multiplication

The research found three distinct dynamics which all had to be present for small groups to multiply and thrive within a church. Conversion is not enough unless they are enfolded into group care and life. New groups are almost impossible for form without multiplication of leaders.

Church-level Growth Factors -- Intercede - Equip - Coach

What can the church do to best support its small groups? Consistent and visible prayer for groups, members and outsiders was vital, as was an intentional leadership development process. But the most important factor was the presence of an active coaching system. Systems that thrive consistently answer 'yes' to the question: "Does my coach or pastor meet with me to personally encourage me as a leader?” while small group ministries that fail to thrive have leaders that would say: “I feel as if no one keeps track of our group or me as a leader.” What do coaches do in practice? They pray for and care about their leaders, just as the leaders are expected to do for their group members. Coaches pray for them and with their group leaders, meet with them 1-on-1 primarily for encouragement in spiritual growth and leadership, and they regularly gather them in huddles to talk and problem-solve together.

Small groups are the most crucial factor in the health and growth of churches.

Coaching is the most pivotal factor in the health of the small group ministries.

The book concludes by giving some very good advise on facilitating group meetings in a way that exemplifies the healthy group factors. It also discusses what church leaders can do to support the small group ministry as a whole.

Overall I found Small Groups Big Impact an outstanding resource for small group pastors and group leaders alike. I would really call it a must-read for senior pastors, small group coordinators and coaches. The book is well-written and not very long - get a copy for yourself at Amazon or other retailers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review - Weird

Thanks to Michael Hyatt (Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers) I got a copy of Craig Groeschel's new book - "Weird: Because Normal Isn't Working". (How cool is it when a pastor starts out in the introduction of a book: Why I love being weird. ?)

The book is, well, weird. But in a good way. It portrays a vivid contrast between what has become 'normal', and alternative choices that are now considered weird, but that work out a whole lot better than the new normal. Specifically, it talks about the benefits of being weird with your time, money, relationships, values and even sex.

The central theme of the book is that normal isn't really working out that well. "You certainly don't have to agree with all my ideas, but if you take the Bible seriously, I trust you won't deny that the way normal people live today is miles away from what God intended... Instead of living stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted, you can live a life of meaningful relationships, intentional scheduling, and deep, fulfilling rest for your soul." And this is why the book is very much work reading. It looks at margin and other aspects of live in a bold and direct fashion without pointing a hypocritical finger. Craig freely admits the ways that he has got it wrong (and still does from time to time). He speaks from the heart and from the Word, a great combination. It's an extremely practical book. Check it out.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - Erasing Hell

After the uproar in the evangelical community a few months ago surrounding Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" I wasn't all that eager to read another book on the doctrine of Hell. I heard of Francis Chan's new book "Erasing Hell," but frankly, I'm not a fan of Chan's writing style. The reviews on Amazon are not that strong. And yet, I found a copy sitting in my mailbox at church - left by a friend asking me to skim it and share my thoughts. So I read it, and found to my surprise I thought it was very well done.

Erasing Hell is co-authored by Preston Sprinkle, a professor with a Ph.D. in New Testament. Their goal in writing this book? "to answer the deepest questions you have about eternal destiny. Like you, sometimes they don't want to believe in Hell. But 'We cannot afford to be wrong on this issue.'" They describe it as a book not about arguments, or doctrine, or being right, but a book about the character of God.

Table of Contents
1. Does Everyone Go to Heaven?
2. Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?
3. What Jesus Actually Said about Hell
4. What Jesus' Followers Said about Hell
5. What Does This Have to Do with Me?
6. "What If God ...?"
7. Don't Be Overwhelmed
Appendix: FAQ

Other reviewers commented that in this book Chan takes pot shots at others, carries a very arrogant tone, and that merely presents a response to Bell's book that doesn't stand on its own. I really did not find this to be the case at all. I find a Chan that is extremely gracious towards others, humble, glad for having been challenged to study the Scriptures to seek the truth, challenged by his own lack of love, and passionate about wanting others to know Christ. (I thought he was far more gracious and humble here than in Crazy Love, for example).

Chan and Sprinkle make a strong case for the existence of a real hell that is eternal and not empty. Chan admits he would not like this to be true, but that neither Jesus nor his followers nor the majority of theologians throughout the history of the church give us much hope that it is not. Repeatedly he reminds the reader: this is not about doctrine, but the destinies of real people - people God loves. The final chapter leads off with "We are not just try to cope with hell, but be compelled - as with all doctrine - to live differently in light of it." He then spurs us on toward a greater sense of urgency about sharing the cross, the solution to the problem of sin.

Is it a perfect book that answers all questions and removes all doubts? By no means. But it is definitely a solid and accessible book of interest to those who want to better understand this important doctrine, and/or those who are confused by what they thought they believed upon reading Bell's book. If you want to be thoroughly challenged in your understanding of Hell and be awed by a God who is naught but love, if you like a book to raise more questions than it answers, by all means read Love Wins. But if so, do not let it be the only book you read on this subject! (Another recent book in this area that comes well recommended is a direct response to Bell's book - "Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's Love Wins" by Wittmer and Horton. It's a gracious response written from the perspective of two systematic theology professors.) There are a host of issues in Bell's understanding of Scripture and teaching on hell that simply cannot be ignored. Erasing Hell is a good counterpoint that treats both Scripture and authors with opposing views fairly - and a book that stands on its own merit. Are Chan and other traditional evangelicals wrong? I sure hope so! Really, I do. But I think their position is the one best supported by Scripture and a holistic view of the character of God.

"Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity and the things we made up" is available at Amazon and other retailers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Empowering Leaders

In yesterday's post I discussed an insightful article by Will Mancini on the vehicles needed to cast and share vision. There I started to consider application of these principles to leadership development, and continue here with some more thoughts on empowering leaders and application to our church.

Mancini is a co-author with Aubrey Malphurs on a superb book called "Building Leaders" (sample chapter on empowerment here), a guide to building a leadership development process in the church. He shares on the great importance of empowering leaders in this book, with a summary on his web site. Take a close look at the list above. Do you see how vitally important leaders are for casting vision across all levels of the organization? Empowerment is not easy! It's painful and at first inefficient. More from Mancini:
#1 Empowerment increases the scope of unknown ministry outcomes.
#2 Empowerment requires a sacrifice of short-term ministry efficiency.
#3 Empowerment requires giving away authority that previously provided the basis of personal ministry success.
#4 Empowerment necessitates close support and authentic community with other leaders.
What's my takeaway for a mid-sized church with a strong leader, wonderful volunteers, yet is too big for the pastors to know everyone and drive everything and too small to have a large staff or a solid culture of leadership development and empowerment?
  1. It is essential to have a significantly higher level of interaction, support, and community with our small group leaders. (And not just as conduits to distribute information, but in recognition these are our most valuable set of leaders in the church.) 
  2. It would be of tremendous benefit to more intentionally foster a leadership development culture in our church, by increasing communication and discussion, encouragement, and empowerment. Again not just top-down, but leader to leader, taking time to dream, dialogue openly, and pray together.
  3. Our preaching of vision is strong, but can be made more effective by some advance planning so that the message is repeated and reinforced in other venues.
  4. We should continue to re-evaluate our communications and branding as well as our structures and titles involving volunteers.
  5. We have to be more willing to risk short-term pain and even failure to develop the culture of empowerment needed for us to have a significant kingdom impact.
Is your church empowering leaders? Can your ministry leaders and small group leaders articulate the church's vision? Is it their vision too? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Casting Vision and Developing Leaders

Casting Vision and Developing Leaders - the two are a lot more connected that it might seem at first glance.

I read an excellent blog post today by Will Mancini - The six vehicles for church vision: how many are you using? Everybody knows the great importance of preaching for casting vision, but there you're leaving a tremendous amount of influence on the table if it's the only (or even the primary) venue for vision. Please read the whole article, but here's some key points from the six vehicles he describes.

Vehicle #1 - The Connecting Environment. Small groups are where vision sticks or bounces off. It's actually the primary vehicle because it is the most relational.

Vehicle #2 - The Leadership Pipeline. Highly underrated! Will writes "The leadership pipeline is the vehicle where vision is transferred from leaders to other leaders. It assumes a leadership development culture. It supposes there are time and places where only leaders meet to pray, dream, dialogue and train together."

Vehicle #3 - The Preaching Event. There is no substitute, as it connects the vision to the Word of God and the act of worship.

Vehicle #4 - The Structural Story. The supporting structure and systems, and your attitude toward staff and volunteers matters a great deal.

Vehicle #5 - The Visual Brand. Everything speaks.

Vehicle #6 - The Voice of Each One. Essential, though it may take a long time to get there if starting from a centralized preaching-centric approach. "Vision transfers through people not paper."

In my next post I'm going to discuss the need for empowering leaders and share some thoughts on applications within our church.

What are your thoughts? Are you using all six vehicles? If not, what needs to change?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review - On the Verge

This week heralds the blog tour of a new book by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson called "On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church." It's part of the Exponential Series at Zondervan.

On the Verge is a book that combines some rather deep and strategic thinking on the church of the future along with content of great interest to practitioners as well. This is due in part to the passions of the two authors. Alan is a missiologist encouraging the church to return to its roots and create a high-impact apostolic Jesus movement. Dave has roots as a church planter and is now the pastor of Community Christian Church, a mega-church in Chicago.

The authors lay out a model for apostolic movement which they refer to as movementum: imagine - shift - innovate - move. They attempt to "reimagine the church in apostolic perspective". A key discussion is that of the missional DNA called "The Apostolic Genius. Verge churches combine exponential thinking, church-growth practices, and incarnational mission approaches. Throughout the book a 'both-and' approach is taken.

The core mDNA, or the Apostolic Genius, is a their paradigmatic center comprised of:
  1. Jesus is Lord
  2. Disciple-making
  3. Missional-incarnational impulse
  4. Apostolic environment
  5. Organic systems
  6. Communitas
Confused yet? I still am. To be honest I found On the Verge a very difficult book to read, very though-provoking at times, while simply annoying at others. They place such a strong emphasis on criticizing (deconstructing) current views of the church that they're constantly inventing new words to describe things. Apostolic Genius? Movemental? Verging the church? Communitas instead of community? I imagine they think this helps makes things clearer, but not for this reader. It's not clear if this book succeeds in its hopes to be highly practical.

I don't want to sound too negative - there really is some excellent material, and church planters and thought leaders in the church would do well to struggle through it. And Ferguson and others in these kinds of movements are seeing fruit. If you were a fan of Alan's "Forgotten Ways," embrace postmodern paradigms and long to see fresh apostolic reexpressions of church, chances are very good you will love On the Verge. Modern thinkers, church leaders wondering how to help their congregation take first steps towards more missional living, and those who eschew neologisms are not likely to connect well with this book.

Check out an excerpt of On the Verge for yourself, or get a copy at Amazon or other retailers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review - Small Groups with Purpose

Last month a tremendous new resource came out for those interested in launching or strengthening a small group ministry - "Small Groups with Purpose: How to Create Healthy Communities" by Steve Gladen. It's an extremely practical and well grounded look at small group ministry. To say Gladen is experienced would be a huge understatement - he's the Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church, which has 120% of its weekend attendance engaged in more than 3500 small groups (!) He's not describing a specific model (although the approach is one that fits particularly well with purpose driven churches), but shares a number of tips on design and implementation of a small group ministry. I know personally that Gladen has a tremendous heart to help churches develop healthy small groups - whether the churches are large or small. He leads a national small group network (which is free) that is a great way to connect together in a huddle with other small group ministry leaders.

The first part of the books gives a bit of back-story on the small group movement, the ten foundational principles of small group ministry at Saddleback, and the origin of small group community found in the book of Acts. The second part asks "What does this look like?" It covers the need for clarity about the win, a biblical understanding of community and spiritual formation, mobilizing your groups for service and outreach, and the role of worship in groups. Part three looks at some of the nuts and bolts of developing healthy small groups: a spiritual health assessment tool, barriers to the discipleship pathway, a process for leadership development, and a supporting infrastructure for the ministry. The final section considers some church strategy questions related to Sunday School, connection events/processes, and campaigns.

What is new here?
- If you haven't followed any kind of purpose-driven training on small groups before, you will find a wealth of principles and practices that have been tested and refined. Saddleback's approach to connecting people in groups, the use of campaigns, a lower initial bar for leaders as H.O.S.T.'s, and of course the five purposes behind a healthy and balanced group
- If you're already familiar with the purpose driven framework and perhaps launched a 40 Days campaign, there is still a lot of unique and very helpful information here: details on their unique approach to supporting small group leaders with community leaders, how to manage a strong connection event, and some great insights on how they allow people to get involved in small group leadership without a ton of training - but don't leave them there.
- A few other distinctives: they favor balanced as opposed to special-purpose groups; focus on leadership potential instead of proven leaders, growth by campaigns rather than dividing existing groups, and the use of master teacher curriculum rather than expecting leaders to be experts.
- Read through the book carefully! Gladen's advice is so densely packed with practical suggestions and insights learned from many years of experience that it's easy to think "Ah yes, I know that" and skip ahead to the next section. Read with a highlighter in hand. This book will be of highest interest to the point person for small groups in a church, but is also valuable for small group leaders and coaches.

Who may not like it as much?
- If you think anything remotely connected to 'purpose driven' is antithetical to the Bible, you can safely skip this book.
- Fans of cell churches, house churches, missional communities may find the approach here too structured for their tastes. Mind you, Gladen's approach to small groups is in fact highly relational, externally focused, and consistent with missional living, but there are other books where the language and practices are simply more explicitly organic. (For example check out books by Ralph Neighbour, Neil Cole, Scott Boren, or Joseph Myer).

My favorite section - their coaching structure

One of the most common experiences of churches with small group ministries is how challenging it is to effectively support, train and care for small group leaders. Leaving it all to the small group pastor is typically a horrible idea (violates span of care principle). Yet in many churches a small group coaching system that looks good on paper simply flops in practice. Why is that? In a nutshell, they tend to treat all groups and leaders as equivalent, and they are not. Here's the approach Gladen recommends.
  • Priority care is needed by new groups
  • Personal care is needed for seasoned groups
  • Phone care is needed for veteran groups
  • Persistent care is appropriate for stubborn groups :)
I love how he recognizes the existence of the latter group, but these are the guys that burn out coaches like wild fire in many traditional approaches to coaching. They're not going to change, so let 'em be. Put your effort and heart into those leaders who are both most receptive and who need the most guidance. (If you are familiar with Ken Blanchard's Situational Leadership concepts, you should see some strong similarities here.) Likewise each group will be at a different stage, probably doing better or worse in the different purposes. Rather than being frustrated over immature groups, help them to take a first baby step by crawling, then later walk, and be patient waiting for them to learn how to run. Clarity of the role, for both coach and leader, is essential.

Whether you are new to small groups ministry or have been at it a while, a small group leader or a point person, I can recommend you check out Small Groups with Purpose.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Google Plus

You may not have heard yet about Google Plus (Google+) but it sure has been generating a buzz on the tech scene recently. Google+ is a new service (by Google) now in beta testing -  a social service with a fair number of similarities to Facebook and twitter, but also with some unique and powerful functionality. You can check out a demo of it, or read a good review on Google+. I'll describe some of the top features here and a few first impressions (I was lucky to catch the brief window of opportunity to join last night as Google opened the doors following the Facebook video chat announcement.)
  • Circles
Circles allows you to place people you interact with into groups such as friends, family, coworkers, or just people you want to follow. Whenever you share anything - a post, a picture, a link - you get to choose exactly who gets to see it. It's a much nicer and more intuitive security/privacy model than Facebook.
  • Hangouts
This is the most unique and fun feature I see in Google+. A "Hangout" is a group video chat that can be made known to the Circle of friends you specify. Up to ten people can chat, and you see everyone's face - and the person currently speaking gets the main/big window. Very slick.
  • Huddle
The "Huddle" feature is group text chat. Think of a series of text messages, but between whatever circle of friends you want, not just two people. It's the perfect way to decide where to meet for lunch or which movie to see. This should work extremely well on mobile devices like Android phones or iPhones.
  • Photo Sharing via Picassa
People who use Picassa will be happy to hear that Google+ users have their limit raised from like 1GB to unlimited. Android users have a great benefit called "Instant Uploading." Every picture or video taken can (by your choice) be uploaded automatically to your Google+ account. Once there, you get to decide who to share it with (which Circles or individuals).
  • Sparks
This is a way to keep up with news in whatever area(s) of interest you choose.

My Initial Impressions using Google+

- Very well done! I like the interface, very intuitive, excellent feature set.
- Circles and how they are used to share in streams seem to be done to perfection
- Hangouts is the standout in terms of innovation
- Huddles, when available on the iPhone, will be a useful tool. It also seems like a pretty cool way for participants to join in the conversation at an event or seminar. Maybe useful for online meetings or group discussions (for those w/o webcams or desire to Hangout).
- Totally underwhelmed by Sparks. It's just not how I want to keep up with information on a given topic. I would rather find the best pages on a topic and follow them via RSS

Biggest fear -- many friends are already saturated in Facebook, spending too much time there following what is going on. If they try to do this in both Facebook AND Google+, I don't see how they (we? I?) will have any kind of life left!!  If they switch, I'll have half of friends on FB and half in G+; that's definitely not optimal. Let's hope there are integration tools to help address that issue.

One last tidbit - this video clip might clarify how Hangouts work...

Do any of you have any impressions about your experience with Google+, or any questions?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review - Not a Fan

Are you a fan or a follower?

That's the key question being Kyle Idleman asks in his new book "Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus." Pastor Craig Groeschel comments "Jesus never asked us to sit on the sidelines and cheer for his cause. Not a Fan will challenge you to grow from a fair weather fan to a full-time follower of Christ." In a way that is casual in tone but challenging in content, Idleman calls for us to consider what it really means to be such a follower. He opens up with the following observation in the first chapter on "Define the Relationship".
"The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren't actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them."
The chapter titles give a good idea of what he discusses:
Part one: fan or follower? an honest diagnosis
1. DTR
2. a decision or a commitment?
3. knowledge about him or intimacy with him?
4. one of many ways or your one and only?
5. following Jesus or following the rules?
6. self-improved or spirit-empowered?
7. the relationship details
Part two: an invitation to follow (the unedited version)
8. anyone - an open invitation
9. come after me - a passionate pursuit
10. deny - a total surrender
11. take up your cross daily - an everyday death
Part three: following Jesus. wherever. whenever. whatever.
12. wherever. what about there?
13. whenever. what about now?
14. whatever. what about that?

The book is aimed primarily at the individual, but has some important words for the church as well. In a section on "Snuggie Theology" Kyle reminds us "What you win them with is what you win them too." If we look for conversions based on a watered down gospel, it should be no surprise when we find a church that is not making disciples. One of the things I liked best about this book are the stories at the end of each chapter.

There have been a number of books recently stressing the Lordship of Christ, the need to be a true follower / disciple of Christ and not just a person who says he believes but has doesn't back up his talk with deeds. These include Crazy Love, Radical, and The Christian Atheist. Of these, I think I like "Not a Fan" the best (though all are good, Crazy Love and Radical are a bit dogmatic).

Not a Fan is available from Amazon and other book retailers.

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

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review - Unleashed

Erwin McManus is the very creative pastor of Mosaic; I enjoy listening to his sermons online. So I was glad to receive a copy of his book Unleashed from Thomas Nelson Publishers. I mean, how many megachurch pastors produce a contest-winning Doritos commercial shown during the Super Bowl?!?  (And yes, that did land him in the middle of some controversy)

Unleashed: Release the Untamed Faith Within is an inspiring book that has been described as giving "a call to escape a tame Christianity and become original, powerful, untamed Christians—just as Christ intended." McManus is clearly passionate about the faith, seeing it something that is (and should be) more barbaric and unrefined rather than what we often see a a "civilized" lifeless form of Christianity. Unleashed strongly calls Christians to live "all out" for Christ - and this is a voice we need to hear.

The book is not long. Four chapters: The Barbarian Invasion - Barbarian Call - Barbarian Tribe - Barbarian Revolt. He takes an unorthodox approach but does not deliver an unorthodox message; the main teaching points are solid. That said... the book fell completely flat for me. I simply can't relate. Then again, I didn't like the Doritos commercial either. Being encouraged to be part of an uncivilized renegade barbaric tribe has no appeal for me. I make a living doing combinatorial optimization :) I do desire a passionate heartfelt life that is sold out for Christ, and I get that means we are different from the world and not called to conformity - so I do appreciate my brother's message. Readers who loved John Eldredge's "Wild at Heart" or "Epic" will probably love Untamed as well. I do like his book "Soul Cravings."

Unleashed is available at Amazon and other book resellers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers for this review as part of their Book Sneeze 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".

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Reading

Summer.... what a great time to grab a favorite book, a glass of iced tea, head for the hammock or shady tree, and enjoy!  (Ok, actually, I'm not an outdoor cat, don't like iced tea, am easily annoyed by bugs, but I didn't want to sound like a total bookworm :)

I was encouraged by a post by Gail Hyatt yesterday, "How Many Books are you Reading?" She's currently got six going, and makes a case why this doesn't make you an egghead :)
- Different formats for different situations (eReader on the go, audio books in the car, paperbacks in bed)
- We don't face one issue at a time in life - different books speak to different ongoing needs
- Different moods and surroundings - thoughtful books in quiet times, fiction on-the-go, short chapters or peaceful reading before bed...

Thanks to an Amazon gift card from some good friends who know me well, I've been gobbling up several recently. I'll post reviews for several of these over the next few weeks.

Weird by Craig Groeschel
Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman
Unleashed by Erwin McManus
Simple Small Groups by Bill Search
Finding the Flow by Tara Miller and Jenn Peppers
On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson
Launching Missional Communities by Mike Breen and Alex Absalom
Missional Mom by Helen Lee

Also, after two and a half years, I finally finished reading the NKJV Chronological Study Bible :)
That was an interesting approach. Wonder what to try for the next go around...

So tell me, what are you reading these days?