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Book Reviews

David-and-Goliath_Malcolm-Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest effort at helping people understand the world around them. As in his previous books such as Outliers and The Tipping Point, Gladwell draws upon psychology, business, history, and his penchant for storytelling to describe how the world is not what it seems at first glance.

Gladwell frames the book with the story of David and Goliath. He retells the story to describe how the odds were seemingly stacked against David, a humble shepherd, who decided to fight Goliath, a superhuman trained in various combat styles and armed with heavy weapons. As we know, David won the battle in short measure because he used his knowledge and skill to his advantage. Gladwell makes the point, “effort can trump ability.”

Gladwell uses several examples to illustrate how people born to difficult circumstances can rise above their challenges in spite of their limitations. In fact, they may succeed even more than people without these challenges. For example, Gladwell wrote about Brian Grazer, the successful film producer. Grazer was born with dyslexia and did not do well in school, but he intentionally worked on his skills of negotiation and persuasion to his advantage. Gladwell observed, “Dyslexia—in the best of cases—forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant.”

Gladwell also discovered that many successful people had lost their fathers at a young age. He cites one study which revealed that 45 percent of successful people had lost their fathers before age twenty. Another study showed that 67 percent of prime ministers lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Gladwell stated, “the question of what any of us would wish on our children is the wrong question, isn’t it? The right question is whether we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma—and the answer is that we plainly do.”

The author’s thesis goes against conventional wisdom. Successful people come from all walks of life. However, people with outwardly crippling disabilities or potentially devastating setbacks may indeed succeed in spite of their weaknesses. They are motivated precisely because of their perceived lowly station in life. They defeat Goliath at his own game.

Gladwell summed up his book thus: “so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine. “

 Thoughtful, relevant, and inspiring.

★★★★☆

 

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Pastrix

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, is an autobiographical look at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s journey of faith. Nadia is a paradoxically tattoo-decorated, swearing Lutheran pastor of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints Church.

What I like most about Pastrix is Nadia’s authenticity and transparency. She talks about her own struggles growing up in a fundamentally conservative church, and then losing her faith while battling with addictions for many years. Through her slow journey back to Christianity, Nadia developed a stronger, deeper, more profound faith that oozes from the pages of this book. Along the way, she shares some spiritual truths she has learned. For example, when writing about our relationship to God, Nadia says, “We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.”

Nadia also wrestles with the age-old question of suffering. Why do people suffer? And how can they find relief? Nadia shares from her experiences:

“There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus—Emmanuel—which means ‘God with us.’ We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.”

Nadia writes a lot about grace, because an understanding of grace is what changed her life. She writes, “God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings.”

Nadia started her church to minister to people who are struggling with many of the things she experienced firsthand. She writes that she wanted a place “where no one had to check at the door their personalities or the parts of our stories that seemed ‘unchristian’”. She adds, “I was called to be a pastor to my people.”

Pastrix will challenge your thinking. Because of Nadia’s liberal use of language, it is also not for the faint of heart. But it is a refreshing look at God’s redemptive grace that gives hope to all.

★★★★★

Killing Jesus

Killing Jesus, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, was written to describe the events in the life of Jesus. It is apparent that the authors conducted many hours poring over the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in retelling the story. Some secular historical sources are also cited. However—perhaps because I am already very familiar with the life of Jesus—I found the story to be limited in scope.

The book reads a little like a narrated Bible, except that the authors pick and choose which gospel details to include and exclude, leaving the reader with an incomplete picture of the story.

A few extrabiblical sources are utilized to describe the background setting for the life of Jesus. The information is good, but the events seem disjointed from the rest of the text.

For example, the events surrounding Julius Ceasar forty years before the birth of Jesus are interesting in a historical context, but are not particularly pivotal to the story. Further, especially at the beginning of the book, the story bounces from present to past events without explanation.

Major details from the story in Killing Jesus are often neglected or ignored. For instance, there is little mention of the miracles of Jesus, which are performed to show him as being accredited by God (eg. Acts 2:22).

The claims of Jesus to be the Son of God—deity—are also seldom acknowledged. Although it is true that there is a “messianic secret”, or request by Jesus to keep his true identity under wraps (especially in the gospel of Mark), the book focuses little time discussing his deity or even the validity of it.

Additionally, the significance of the cross is not discussed. To followers of Christ, the cross symbolizes sacrifice, forgiveness, hope, redemption and grace, to name but a few of its deep theological meanings.

On the cross, the authors of Killing Jesus only mention two of the seven statements that Jesus made. This seriously discounts many of the truths regarding the motivation and character of Jesus.

After the death of Jesus, the narrative moves very quickly, simply glossing over his resurrection, which is of course central to the Christian faith. His last days and final teachings are ignored altogether, which give Christians the Great Commission.

To their credit, O’Reilly and Dugard make a strong case for Jesus and his disciples having the last Passover meal on the Thursday before his death, instead of Friday. And, they also cite substantial evidence that Jesus lived to be 35 or 36 years old, instead of the normally accepted 33.

Killing Jesus contributes to the understanding of Jesus in a historical context, but simply leaves out too much about who Jesus is, what his mission was, and what his life means to his present day followers.

★★☆☆☆

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If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus? This is the question Jamie Snyder asks in Real: Becoming a 24/7 Follower of Jesus. Snyder takes us on a personal, spiritual journey in answering that question. Being a Christian is risky, says Snyder. “The reality is, when you choose to follow Jesus, when you build your life on your faith in him, you are most likely going to be led to places you would rather not go.” Living a risky life is not natural, he says; rather, it means “loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and sometimes doing the undesirable.”

Snyder is not only Scriptural in his approach; he makes his points with directness and humor. He said that he grew up with many rules. Among them: do not wear church clothes out to play—wear your Sunday best. The problem, he says, is that this focus compels people to make the Sunday morning worship time the only worship time in the week.

Snyder doesn’t hold back. He challenges us to act out our faith daily. For example, in a discussion about loving others, Snyder asks us to “identify whom you struggle to love and find a way to love that person or group of people.” Further, we should look for people to love every day. Snyder says, “To love like Jesus loves is to love everyone: irresponsibly, recklessly, foolishly, endlessly, indiscriminately, and intentionally.”

The book has reflection/discussion questions and a summary prayer at the end of each chapter, making it appropriate for groups or personal application. If you are looking for a well-written, thoughtful book that will help you take an honest look at yourself spiritually, pick up a copy of Real.

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Sifted, by Wayne Cordeiro, Francis Chan and Larry Osborne, was written to help ministers work through the struggles of leadership. Drawing from loads of personal experience—both successes and failures—the authors guide and encourage readers to be more fruitful in ministry and in their own spiritual growth.

The authors begin by explaining that trials will occur for everyone. “The only unknown is when.” God knows what he is doing all the time and we need to accept his leading. “The key is that we learn not to fight against the sifting.”

The authors address an issue that many ministers face: trying to make people happy. Instead of trying to solve problems or “fix” people, ministers should point people to Jesus. “The real work of a pastor is to help people come to grips with God’s goodness, even though we often do not understand his ways.”

The character of a minister is also addressed. We must use the gifts God has given us for his glory, instead of for our own selfish pursuits. They ask, “God has gifted you; how are you stewarding this gift?”

Sifting is a life-long process. But it also happens in seasons. The authors suggest five disciplines that will help ministers “survive and thrive through the sifting season.”

  1. Commit to constant learning.
  2. Study the best.
  3. Always be coachable.
  4. Commit to reflection.
  5. Take joy in progress.

Each chapter in the book has workbook style questions to answer and mull over to guide ministers in their sifting. I highly recommend this book to anyone in ministry who is sincere about improving themselves and their effectiveness.

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The Catalyst Leader

I just finished reading The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker, by Brad Lomenick. Lomenick is founder of Catalyst, “a movement purposed to equip and inspire young Christian leaders”, and he has served in various leadership capacities over the years.

Each chapter describes a leadership trait that is conducive to effective leadership. Lomenick says that great leaders are called, authentic, passionate, capable, courageous, principled, hopeful, and collaborative. He uses both personal examples and stories of great leaders to illustrate these principles—people like John Featherston from Chick-fil-A, Dallas Willard, Bill Hybels, and Eugene Peterson.

Lomenick’s words are challenging and inspiring. For example, when writing about courage, he says we need to set “scary standards.” Lomenick explains: “Safe goals are set by safe leaders with safe visions. Give your people a goal that scares them, and you’ll produce leaders who know what it means to overcome fear.”

Lomenick asks thought-provoking questions throughout the book. When writing about land mines, or things that can blow up in leaders’ faces, he asks, “What are the areas in which you are most vulnerable? What are your hidden weaknesses that could blow up in your face?” When writing about vision, Lomenick asks, “what’s on your heart or stirring in you that you keep pushing back because it doesn’t seem possible?”

Crammed between the pages are also tidbits of good advice. The reader will find gems such as, “Twenty points on leading twentysomethings” and “Seven signs you’re too big for your britches”.

Lomenick also discusses the importance of mentoring in leadership. He says that every leader should not only have a mentor but should also be a mentor to someone else.

An appendix outlines the results of a research study on effective leadership conducted by Catalyst and the Barna Research Group.

Lomenick concludes by offering some sage words of advice:

“Your legacy, regardless of where you are in your leadership journey, starts now. The way you start determines how you finish.”

adventures

Adventures in Churchland

Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion, is Dan Kimball’s latest book. Kimball is the author of They Like Jesus But Not the Church, and The Emerging Church, among others.

Adventures in Churchland chronicles Kimball’s journey from an unchurched person to a pastor of a church. He discusses his initial reactions to Churchland, or the organized church, with candor and humor. Kimball describes taking communion for the first time.

The woman next to me handed me the cup and said something about blood and ‘this is for you’ and something about flesh…When I finished, I realized that I was supposed to hand the cup off to Randy. The problem was, I couldn’t make sense of what the lady had said to me when she passed me the cup…So I just handed Randy the cup, shrugged, and didn’t say anything. ..When he was done, he took the cup and held it out to the woman on his left, hesitating for a moment. He knew he was supposed to say something to the woman, but since I hadn’t said anything to him, he was stumped. So he looked the person in the eye and with great confidence handed her the cup, saying, ‘Here is the Cup of Wonder.’ I knew those were the wrong words, and…the tension of the entire experience just overcame me and I burst out laughing.

With these experiences in mind, Kimball explains how the church is often perceived by unchurched people, and what we can do to address these perceptions. For example, he writes that unchurched people are turned off by “organized religion.” Kimball suggests that, over the years, we have institutionalized many aspects of the church, such as the design of church buildings, the way communion is celebrated, sermons, and dress. He gives the admonition, “When carpets or buildings become more important than people, a church begins to reek of organized religion.” Some tradition is good; but, Kimball says, “If tradition gets in the way of mission, it is sin.”

Kimball also warns against becoming “comfortably numb” in our Christianity. This happens when we spend most of our time with other Christians and doing Christian activities. We tend to have fewer unchurched friends the longer we are Christians. Kimball says that, “we should still seek to be in the world—though not of the world—just as Jesus taught us. And we need to guard against becoming so focused on our involvement in Christian community that we don’t spend enough time in the nonchurch community all around us.”

Kimball spends some time evaluating what the church is. He says that we need to watch our language. He says, “when we understand that we are called to be the church, not just go to church, it changes our identity. No longer do we go to a building where religious activities happen and that is ‘church.’ We now are the church all week long.”

Sage words of advice from someone who has journeyed far in life. I would recommend Adventures in Churchland to anyone who wants to be live with, and for, Jesus.

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What does beer have to do with God? Bryan Berghoef answers that question in Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God. The idea of Pub Theology is to have spiritual discussions with people from all backgrounds in a neutral environment—the local tavern. Berghoef describes it thus:

“we wanted to allow anyone and everyone to come and give their perspective. To share their story. To unload their baggage about religion, about faith, about God. To have a group that is willing to listen without judgment, to accept without demanding conformity, to simply embrace them as another human being…”

Berghoef speaks from experience. He has been meeting people in pubs for these purposes for several years. And he has learned many things from his conversations.

First, his meetings are designed to provide a safe place for people to express their “doubts…their beliefs, their hopes, and their struggles.” Someone may counter, “But what if this leads to people questioning their own faith?” The answer is that it does. Berghoef says, “When a person has the attitude that he should not question his belief structure, it reveals the reality that he does not actually want to know the truth, if the truth turns out to be somewhat different than the truth as he now understands it.”

Second, Pub Theology is about people learning from each other. It is not an, “I have all the answers” approach to spiritual discussion. Too many followers of Jesus have shut themselves off from the world outside of their Christian bubbles. Berfhoef says, “The less you know of the world and of other faith traditions and of various philosophical outlooks, the easier it is to be convinced you are right.”

Third, one of the goals in pub discussions is to listen. It is not the time to preach or even necessarily to teach. Berghoef gives advice on how to use “provisional language”, or language that shows we are listening without judgment. For example, he advocates using statements that begin with, “It seems to me that…” or “From my perspective…” instead of black and white, pejorative language such as, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

Further, we should listen without judgment. Berghoef stated, “If I try to railroad someone in a conversation, she is not going to care what my convictions are, not suddenly be ready to repent and say the ‘sinner’s prayer.’”

Fourth, pub discussions are a way of expressing hospitality. Berghoef says that Jesus’ attitude toward outsiders was “marked by openness, by invitation, by hospitality.” This attitude got him into trouble with his own kind, from people who criticized Jesus for eating with “sinners” to those who were offended by him letting a woman—who was likely a prostitute—wash his feet. In fact, the writer of Hebrews admonishes us to, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (13:2).

I did not necessarily agree with everything that Berghoef said in Pub Theology. But I appreciate his heart for evangelism. He certainly challenged my thinking and inspired me to be more aware of others’ viewpoints. The important thing to remember is that our lives should reflect Jesus in everything we do and everywhere we go—even in the local pub.

For more articles on this subject, check out AJ Viola’s My “Friendly” Beer and a Bible Interview and What Would Jesus Brew? from the Wall Street Journal. 

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I just finished reading It’s Personal: Surviving and Thriving on the Journey of Church Planting, by Brian and Amy Bloye. Brian and Amy lead West Ridge Church, a large church they planted in Dallas, Texas.

Within the first few pages the Bloyes hit upon one of the key elements of church planting—it is personal. They liken church planting to giving birth. It requires great personal and family sacrifice, it is exhausting, but it changes us forever.

From the beginning, the Bloyes explain that church planting is a reflection of our relationship with God. It affects our lives, our marriages, our families, and our friendships. The authors state, “Your experience in church planting will go the way of your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your absolute devotion to Him will be reflected in how you build the church…”

The Bloyes also discuss the rhythms of church planting. We can make plans, but we really do not know where God is leading us. We are often faced with times when we must decide to cross major rivers of decision. These are times of testing when God, according to the Bloyes, asks, “Are you ready to go with me to this next level?”

The authors also state that starting a new church requires us to serve our communities out of love. They said, “Jesus didn’t simply go into the community; he stooped to serve the community—and he never set himself up as a rock star.” Further, the Bloyes said that this attitude demands authenticity: “Being authentic means admitting that we are all broken people.”

The Bloyes are an example of this authenticity. They profess, “This entire life, from womb to tomb, is a rescue mission.”

Each chapter in It’s Personal concludes with questions to think about and discuss.

The Bloyes have done a good job of explaining church planting from a personal and spiritual standpoint. And they show, through their own experiences, the highs and lows of starting a church from scratch. As they eloquently put it,

“Church planting is the ultimate mountain ascent. It is a quest that forces you to watch your footing, to cling to God, and to be certain that you’re tightly roped to your fellow climbers. You’ll be breathless at times, exhausted at times, but we’ll promise you this: the view is indescribable.”

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Sacrilege

Sacrilege is Hugh Halter’s third book after The Tangible Kingdom and And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. The subtitle of Sacrilege is, Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus, and that is precisely what the book challenges us to do. For example, Halter incites churches to design “missional communities” as opposed to small groups. The distinction is that small groups are places for us to belong while missional communities are specifically geared toward helping others–who are outside of the group–belong.

When discussing evangelism, Halter says that the “come to Jesus talk” is not the solution. Rather, evangelism is a process of “subtle wooing”. Halter asks us to:

Consider as a community the challenge of not saying anything about Jesus to your sojourning friends unless asked. No Bible verses or doctrine for an entire year. Instead, replace that religious fervency with service, blessing, and an invitation to join a community where anyone can be real and relaxed and loved and cared about.

And how should we address spiritual thinking outside of the Christian box? Halter says, “Don’t confront them. Instead, encourage their search. At least there is wind in their spiritual sails.”

As you may have guessed by now, the sacrilege in Halter’s book comes in when he calls us to respond to the Gospel by doing things that are seemingly contradictory to our traditions. Instead of saying, “judge the sin not the sinner”, Halter says that Jesus would say, “Don’t judge the sin or the sinner.” The reason is that Jesus will take care of both sin and sinner.

Halter makes the revelation that the average church spends 85 percent of its income on itself on things like salaries, buildings, and programs. He defies this practice by challenging churches to go out to their communities—even on Sunday mornings—to serve the poor and needy. “Our religious rhythms must be to the neighborhoods, communities, and cities we worship in,” says Halter.

This book challenged me to view my Christian mission through the eyes of Jesus. I would encourage you to read Sacrilege and began acting in “sacrilegious”, Jesus-formed ways.

understanding the Bible

Understanding the Bible Made Practical, by The Understanding the Bible made Practical Author Team,  is a useful guide to reading Scripture. The authors are careful not to interject their own biases; rather, they take an objective stance in biblical interpretation. The focus is on how to read the Bible by providing readers with practical tools, thus allowing them to draw their own conclusions.  

For example, the authors summarize and explain literary characteristics in the Old Testament such as narration, plot, motif, dialog, points of view, scenic depiction and characterization. They also discuss basic principles of exegesis, such as genre, themes, meta-narrative, and synthesis. Suggested steps are also offered as a way to apply Scripture to our lives.

Appendices in the back of the book provide further helpful information, including sections on Ancient Near Eastern Origin Myths and Symbolic Numbers in the Bible.

I would recommend Understanding the Bible Made Practical to any student or teacher of the Bible desiring to have a better grasp of Scripture.

Exponential, by Dave and Jon Ferguson, is a how-to book on beginning a missional church movement.  Writing from their own experiences in church planting, Dave and Jon outline a proven model for starting and building a missional church movement. The authors state that a missional church can only begin if we follow Jesus and seek his guidance. They said, “Being spirit led is the most critical quality in the life of an apprentice of Jesus.” Following Jesus also requires sacrifice and risk on our part. Dave and Jon said that we, “must be prepared to die for his [Jesus’] mission.”

With apprenticeship as the foundation, the authors outline a strategy for building a missional church movement consisting of reproducing tribes of 10-100, reproducing communities of 100-1000, and reproducing movements of 10,000’s. The authors emphasize three “C’s” that every tribe must practice: celebrate, connect, and contribute. Celebrate is an emphasis on our relationship with God; connect is the ongoing emphasis on building community with others in the tribe; and contribute is the emphasis on serving those outside the tribe. The authors state, “We find that groups who come together without an external “contribute” component or missional focus often fail to experience the same depth of community as do the groups who seek out opportunities to contribute to a particular cause and work together.”

Dave and Jon also focus on developing leaders. They discuss a step-by-step plan to move someone from an apprentice to a leader, a leader to a coach, a coach to a director, a director to a church planter/campus pastor, and from a planter/pastor to a network leader. The ultimate goal, according to the authors, is to become a reproducing movement that influences neighborhoods, cities, states, countries and the rest of the world.

Beginning a missional church movement is not for the faint of heart or for those who are not totally committed to making disciples, but it is something we can all accomplish with the power of God. Dave and Jon remind us that God is saying, “You can do it!”

In Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen and Steve Cockram call us to a life of discipleship. They boldly assert, “Effective discipleship builds the church, not the other way around. We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause.” Breen and Cockram describe the process of discipleship as beginning with a Huddle, which is a group of eight people chosen by a leader. Those people enter into a discipling relationship with the leader. After a period of around six months, those disciples are encouraged to start another Huddle and continue the process of discipling others. The authors estimate that if this model is followed for a year and a half there will be approximately 248 people being discipled.

Breen and Cockram also discuss key concepts illustrated by eight shapes that strengthen the discipling process. These shapes graphically demonstrate what it means to be shaped by the Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus. The appendix in the book is an instrument that helps the reader understand if she/he is more likely a pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, or apostle. These roles are defined and explained by the chapter on Personal Calling.

Once the concepts and shapes in Building a Discipling Culture are understood, the book provides a meaningful and useful resource for building disciples.

Mike Flynt has been a life-long coach and consultant. At the age of fifty-nine, he returned to his alma mater, Sul Ross State University, to play football. In The Power-Based Life, Flynt inspires people of any generation to dream big, be positive, and rise above any obstacles. He tells us that often the biggest obstacle is ourselves. Flynt says, “This is not going to be easy…There will be days when you feel every impulse to take the path of least resistance. You are going to have to want it more than the other guy. You are going to have to want it longer. And you are going to have to walk away from some other things you might enjoy doing.”

Flynt believes that one of the secrets for accomplishing goals in life is to take an eclectic approach—focusing on body, mind, and spirit. He shares twelve strategies for helping people grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. For example, Flynt says that cultivating a winning attitude involves enlarging our perspective. He says, “Take your eyes off the tree and look at the forest.” Spiritually, Flynt says, we need to let our lives be a testimony to God. He says, “People can say they don’t believe in God, but they can’t argue with the experience of your life.” Concerning difficult situations, Flynt’s advice is to learn from them. “We are going to confront things we cannot change; therefore, we must allow them to change us.”

The Power-Based Life is full of wisdom and practical tips for living. It is useful for helping anyone lead a life dedicated to achieving success while staying faithful to God.

★★★☆☆

For more information about Mike Flynt, go to his website here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com http://BookSneeze.com book review bloggers 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 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Barefoot Church is a reminder of Jesus’ call to serve the least. Author Brandon Hatmaker recounts how he was convicted to give his brand new boots to the homeless during a worship service. “It feels like just yesterday that I turned to around to look up the stairs and saw an entire church being sent out into the city…barefoot”. Serving communities outside of the church is the essence of Barefoot Church.

Hatmaker describes how his church plant, Austin New Church, began to engage its community through service. However, instead of making service a ministry of the church, he built service into the DNA of the church. Hatmaker says, “One of the challenges of our existing church structure is that we are inclined to view service as an event or program instead of viewing it as a way of life.”

Drawing from his own experiences, Hatmaker offers practical suggestions for serving communities. For example, he explains how churches can be structured to serve through small groups. His church begins this process by encouraging church members to connect with small groups from the beginning. Hatmaker also recommends that churches partner with existing non-profit organizations that are already meeting needs in their communities.

Hatmaker argues that serving communities takes the focus off of us. “When we orient our ministry around mission and the kingdom, we tend to get increasingly more dependent on God and increasingly more thankful for his movement.”

Reading the Barefoot Church will not change a church; putting it into practice will. A companion study guide, Barefoot Church Primer will be available in January.

Nudge, by Leonard Sweet, describes evangelism as “awakening each other to the God who is already there.” Sweet reminds us that God goes before us and is already at work in other people’s lives. The author says, “Our job is to give the ball to the Holy Spirit and get out of the way.” In other words, evangelism should not be viewed as working for God; rather, it is “God working in us and through us to bring to fruition what God is already doing.”

Sweet introduces Semiotics as “the art and science of paying attention.” He then claims that evangelism requires the same attitude. One way of paying attention is to watch for the signs of God in everyday life.

Evangelism is also described as being relational. Relational evangelism “is both impacting and being impacted, which means that the nudger himself or herself can’t escape being nudged.”

Sweet discusses the five-P Celtic Exercise of Spiritual Awareness: pause, presence, picture, ponder, and promise, and devotes a chapter to each “nudge point”. The idea is to be fully aware of God’s presence by using all five senses.

Nudge not only defines our role in the process of making disciples, but also helps us be more attentive to God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others.

In The Gathered and Scattered Church, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay continue where The Tangible Kingdom left off. They tell the story of how they began their church plant, Adullam, in Denver, as a church intent upon balancing gathering people and missionally scattering them as incarnational communities. Hence the definition of AND—people who gather together as a church while also scattering to engage with their own communities. Instead of beginning with the traditional model of a church that reaches out to culture, the AND church begins with the culture, which develops into communities and ultimately forms a church. Thus, outreach is not limited to a program of the church, but is embedded into its very DNA. However,  this is not easy. Halter and Smay warn that if you are part of a church that intentionally gathers AND scatters , “You have to exchange your ambitions for God’s; your kingdom for his, and you must be available for God to interrupt your nicely scheduled day with needs that will pull your hair out.” Strong admonition. But then again, so are Jesus’ words in the Great Commission.

Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time

Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, by Greg Ogden, is a call for discipleship in the local church and beyond. Ogden defines discipling as “an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip, and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ.” He says that, traditionally, leaders in churches have focused their time on being “program developers, administrators and caregivers”. Instead, leaders should spend the bulk of their time equipping, training and encouraging the people of God to minister. Ogden outlines a plan for Jesus followers to disciple others in triads (threes) with the goal of growing spiritually. Then he says that each triad should multiply by forming three more triads. The overall goal is to leave a legacy of transformed disciples that can reproduce on their own. Get this book if you are serious about discipleship!

Reggie McNeal, author of The Present Future, hits it out of the park again with Missional Renaissance. The author calls churches to become missional by changing the scorecard of how we define church success. McNeal defines the missional church as “the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world.” Missional is described as intentionally reaching people where they are instead of waiting for them to come to church. McNeal says that churches focusing on inreach suffer in their outreach; but churches that begin with outreach will naturally develop inreach and upreach. “Being salt and light can not happen in a faith huddle”, he says. The chapter, “Changing the scorecard from internal to external focus” is chock-full of community outreach ideas that alone are worth the price of the book. This book will challenge you to change your focus and your mission!

The Tangible Kingdom

The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, is a call to creating incarnational church communities. The authors call Jesus followers to return to the practices of ancient church by building authentic relationships in our communities that naturally evolve into churches. Recalling their experiences at establishing a church from scratch, Halter and Smay state, “We start with their assumptions, their experiences, their worldviews, their emotions. When we start there, everything changes: our posture with people, our livelihood, what we do with our spare time, who we spent our time with, how we structure the fabric of our lives.” Readers are challenged to engage into culture with a “whimsical holiness”, defined as interacting in the culture “with ease, humor, love, and holiness without being swayed away from clear biblical boundaries.” Halter and Smay encourage churches to become incarnational by focusing on growing and equipping people to become missionaries, instead of getting caught up in numbers. I highly recommend reading The Tangible Kingdom. It is certainly a breath of fresh air!

I Dare You to Change!

Bil Cornelius gives us a challenging and inspiring life plan in his book, I Dare You to Change! Sharing examples from the story of Gideon, Cornelius charges us to seek God’s best for us. He says, “If boring, complacent lifestyles are the result of our choices, then fulfilling, exciting lifestyles can just as easily be ours.” He also asserts that God wants to see us succeed. “God does not want to see us fail. The only red ink He uses is the blood of Christ on the cross.” This book is not written as conjecture or theory; Cornelius speaks from his experience as a planter of a mega-church in South Texas. Each chapter concludes with an action plan for the reader to contemplate and develop. If you feel that your life is going nowhere, this book will give you new hope and vision.

Servolution, written by Dino Rizzo, pastor of the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a call for churches to serve people in their communities. He says our mission is to help the poor, whom he defines as “any person in any kind of bondage or under any kind of oppression who needs the freedom of Christ shown to them.” Rizzo’s definition of a servolution is bringing healing to a hurting world and loving them to Christ. He described how his church began, and how it helped victims of Hurricane Katrina and 911, but also encouraged churches to start small and look for the needs in their own communities. Rizzo suggests practical ways to serve the community, from giving away bottled water to giving roses to exotic dancers in strip clubs. This book is a must read for people who are serious about meeting the needs of people and sharing the love of Christ with them.

Sun Stand Still

Sun Stand Still, by Steven Furtick, is a refreshing and courageous view on the power of prayer. Furtick reminds us of Joshua’s bold prayer to God in Joshua 10:12, “O sun, stand still over Gibeon”, and God’s willingness to answer his prayer. Furtick says God is “ready to act if we will be bold enough to ask, not just for a good day or a better life, but for the impossible.” He sprinkles his book with examples of faithful prayers in his own life. He transparently revealed how God was always with him, even through times of despair, and challenges us to remain hopeful. “The glory of God often shines the brightest when the sun goes down…and we keep our eyes on Jesus anyway”, Furtick says.

Transforming Church in Rural America

In Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon O’Dell tells his story of restarting a church in a small, rural town, and growing it from an average of 31 in attendance to over 2000. O’Dell describes how there is no magic formula to growing a rural church. Instead, he says it takes biblically-based principles, passion, and lots of blood, sweat and tears. He says, “When you begin to live out a God-sized vision, it is guaranteed that people will start barking.” O’Dell explains how he focused on prayer, leading by example, building relationships with people, and equipping them to do ministry.

Radical

Radical, by David Platt, is a charge to boldly live out the Great Commission. Platt says the Great Commission is not an option or a suggestion, but it is a command for everyone. He says, “Jesus has not merely called us to go to all nations; he has created us and commanded us to go to all nations.” Not only that, but when we pursue the Great Commission, we will suffer for it. “The danger in our lives will always increase in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Christ”, Platt says. He contends that we are not commanded to make disciples for ourselves, but for God’s glory. “We are not the center of his universe”, Platt says. “God is at the center of his universe, and everything he does ultimately revolves around him.” The question posed by the author is, “Are you ready to live for this dream?”

Christianity Beyond Belief

In Christianity Beyond Belief, Todd Hunter asks the question, “What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow?” He then proceeds to answer that question by describing how we can live an abundant life now. Hunter reminds us that Christianity is much more than simply being secure in our salvation. He said, “The new life story God is writing for us is this: he intends to have a people on earth who happily, easily and routinely embody, announce, and demonstrate the rule and reign of his kingdom.”

When Helping Hurts

When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, was a breath of fresh air. They write about renewing our commitment to helping the poor in the the US and beyond. In their minds, helping hurts because we need to realize that everyone is broken at some level. They explain that we are all either suffering from spiritual intimacy, poverty of being, poverty of community, or poverty of stewardship. And “until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” Instead of serving in soup kitchen or giving money to charity, Corbett and Fikkert suggest that we intentionally develop genuine relationships with the poor and seek restoration together.

The Hole in Our Gospel

The Hole in Our Gospel: What does God expect of Us? by Richard Stearns, is a personal testimony to how his life transformed from being a hotshot CEO to being the president of World Vision. Stearns asks if we are paying attention to the “whole” gospel, or if we have a “hole” in our lives. That is, are we so caught up in our daily lives that we miss out on caring for the poor? Stearns challenges us to not to judge the poor because of their poverty, but to view them as people that need our encouragement and love.

The Monkey and the Fish

The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church, by Dave Gibbons, is a call for the church to recognize and adapt to the ever changing tides of culture. He introduces the idea of “third culture”, which he defines as, “the mindset and will to love, learn, and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort.” Thus, ministering to people with a third culture mindset means that, instead of focusing on our racial, social or other differences, we are called to bless others by loving and serving them. Dave makes a good point when he says that we are not bringing Jesus to people; rather, Jesus is already there, and we are simply partnering with him in his work.

Organic Outreach for Ordinary People

Organic Outreach for Ordinary Peopleby Kevin Harney, is an excellent book on evangelism. Harney says that anyone can be an evangelist, and gives simple and practical ways for us to reach others. For example, he says, “it is incumbent upon us to pray for those who are not yet part of God’s family.” Also, he tells us engage others where they are, and not “run from the world to avoid cultural connections.” Harney has discussion questions at the end of the chapters, and the last chapter offers practical steps to share the gospel.

The Better Way

The Better Way: The Church of Agape in Emerging Corinth, by Ron Clark, compares the church today to the Corinthian church in the first century, and draws many analogies between the two. Clark says the answer to many problems in society is love, and uses stories from his experiences as a church planter in inner city Portland to explain how that love can be expressed to others. He does a thorough job of explaining how Paul understood the social, sexual, and spiritual challenges that existed in the Corinthian culture, and describes how we can learn from him and apply those things to our own ministries.

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