Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Rainer, Thom and Eric Geiger. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples. (2008). Nashville, TN: B&H Academic

Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger researched more than four hundred evangelical churches to see some differences between growing, vibrant churches and nongrowing, struggling churches (p. 13). The message of the book is found in what the authors call the “elevator conversation: The vibrant churches were much more simple than the comparison churches” (p. 13-14). They call this a “simple” revolution (p. 8), and concluded that “church leaders need to simplify” (p. 4).

After sharing a few examples from everyday life of how the simple revolution has begun in other areas, outside the church, they weave in a comparison of “First Church” and “Cross Church” throughout the book as they describe the process of simplifying church. This process includes four elements: “Clarity, Movement, Alignment, Focus” (p. 68).

Throughout this process, they include results from a “Process Design Survey” that they developed to see if there was “a relationship between being simple and being effective” (p. 63). In Chapter four, they included three stories of real churches that are both simple and effective. Chapters five through eight further developed the four elements of the process.

The final chapter was an encouragement to become simple – “to change or die” (p. 229). They did indicate that the change would be complicated (p. 229, 236). They introduced four steps to make a church more simple, each step associated with one of the four elements. In a postscript, they shared some further lessons learned since the publishing of the first edition of Simple Church, and finally, in two appendices, shared “frequently asked questions” and the research methodology.

Evaluation of the Book

The book is simple. It better be! It reads easily, and there is a consistent use of the First Church and Cross Church examples, to help describe what Rainer and Geiger were seeing in their research. They also focus much more on lessons and solutions seen from the research than on the research itself. Interestingly, they evaluate the book themselves in the postscript, and they call it a “nerdy research project.” (p. 243) I would definitely disagree.  They criticize their own book for being full of “insider language,” and say that they wrote it for pastors and church leaders. (p. 243). That may be true, although I didn’t think that when I read it. I think they adequately explain their terminology throughout the book.

Personal Interaction

My buddy, another pastor, recommended this book years ago. I’ve talked with other friends about this book so much, that I thought I had already read it! I’m pretty sure I even lied somewhere along the way when someone asked if I had read it. I really thought I had. I hadn’t though, and I’m very glad I finally did. It really should be required reading for pastors.

Again, probably because of the second- and third-hand influence of this book already on my ministry, I have attempted to implement a number of things that Rainer and Geiger talk about. So, I was able to read the book and say: “oh, yeah, I do that, or we do that.” But, when I think through why we do that – it’s because of hearing the premises of Simple Church preached by others. To be honest, this caused something of a feeling of déjà vu. Now, I know I hadn’t read the book – I didn’t remember any of the stories – but I was very familiar with the concepts.

We have greatly simplified church in Poland. This is probably easier to do anyway here than in the States. However, although it’s good we have simplified, I saw a number of ways that we haven’t followed through on a couple of key elements in the process. Namely, although we have clarity and focus, we don’t really have alignment and movement. In other words, we know what we are to do – make disciples and engage them in “near” communities (sounds better in Polish), and we aren’t distracted any more by doing things that don’t fit. However, we have a disconnect between the evangelism/discipleship portion, and the involvement in communities. We are missing a vital link. We have attempted to make the communities the means of evangelism, discipleship, encouragement and service – but that hasn’t worked as well, either.

Thankfully, we are in better shape than we were. At least we are simple, and don’t have to eliminate programs. It was encouraging to read this book, and realize that we are actually faced with the much different, and easier, challenge of tweaking or even adding a little to make sure we are achieving our goal.

This is really where Simple Church will help us. We didn’t start by eliminating; that really was as a result of trying to determine what we wanted to accomplish, and what wasn’t helping us accomplish that. However, I think we missed a couple of middle steps along the way, and this book will help us think through and plan those steps.

On a more personal note, often it is tempting to envy ministry in the U.S. There are resources and a worldview that are completely different from what we experience here in Poland. And yet, I am familiar enough with American ministry to know that my likelihood of being in a simple, growing, effective church are not guaranteed, and I have a hard time imagining the life that Geiger and Rainer describe for the employees of “First Church.” When would I have time to grab a coffee with someone who is asking about Christ? How could we ever just go hang out with our seeking friends? There wouldn’t be time to help the foreigner, oppressed, or poor person. And – I think it’s bad now, having to preach three times Christmas week. What would I do with the kind of Christmas program that Rainer and Geiger refer to, requiring planning and practices starting in September, causing total burnout among church staff until March?

James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ Through Community, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 240 pages.

Wheaton professor Dr. James Wilhoit focuses on how the church can and should encourage spiritual growth, in community. He points to 4 areas of spiritual growth: receiving, remembering, responding and relating, and address how churches can foster growth in each of these areas. Page numbers refer to pages from 2008 (first) edition

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 1)

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 2)

In the final four chapters, Dr. Wilhoit focused on the last 2 “R”s, Responding and Relating

Chapters 7-8:  Responding – Foundations & Fostering

Responding refers to loving and serving others as a reaction to what we receive from God. Corporately, it seems easiest to focus on the “one another” passages as examples of how we can respond, within community. However, our response needs to be beyond the community of faith, into the whole world. One difficulty will always be our struggles with hospitality, in the sense of welcoming and serving those who are different from us. At one time, this was most evident with racial differences. Today, I think it is evident with political or lifestyle differences. Corporately, many American evangelicals struggle to welcome Democrats, Muslims, gays and others. We aren’t hospitable, and sometimes it seems we wouldn’t dream of serving such people – although now almost no white Christian (hopefully) would dream of refusing to serve a black person. Our Polish churches would be similar, with some lingering racial prejudice, not so much toward Africans, but certainly toward Jews.

I was never a particularly compassionate person, and really struggled with how to respond to poor people, especially those that I thought were poor as a result of their own bad choices. I still don’t know what to do many times. However, in the past 2 years, we have been closely involved in the life of a Liberian woman who was regularly beaten and abused by her Polish husband. As we have helped her leave her husband, find freedom, and begin to live on her own, I have sometimes been amazed at the huge mountain she must climb in order to live normally. Of course, much of this relates to her emotional and psychological reactions to a life of freedom, but a lot relates to the almost insurmountable difficulties for an immigrant, with few language and job skills, and no experience with banks, paying bills, insurance, etc. This experience has certainly helped me grow in the area of “responding”, loving and serving others as a reaction to what we receive from God.

Chapters 9-10:  Relating – Foundations & Fostering

Relating refers to forming community. I think, in the way church usually looks, truly biblical fellowship is rare – and perhaps even impossible. If church means going to a service on Sunday, and nothing more – that isn’t community. If it is a smaller congregation, and they spend some time engaging one another in conversation, it’s a little closer, but still far from the ideal. If they spend a fair amount of time together during the week, know one another’s struggles and victories, pray for one another, then maybe we can start talking about community. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum are Christian “kibbutzes,” which are outstanding ideas – as long as service for others (Responding) remains a very high priority. Those little Christian fortresses can frequently become hostile to the world around them, instead of seeking to serve it.

Nearly all of my experiences in community, where we have helped one another, have been in small groups. We have been involved in many different kinds of groups, and I’m not really sure if the format or type matters. I think what matters more than anything is the size. More than 12 or so, and I’m not capable of really being involved in their lives. Of course, we can and should remember to focus on the Word, be involved in service, and minister to one another. I’m glad for the recent rise in the “missional community” terminology, although I know that the concept and practice has been around for centuries. Still, though, I think size matters – and smaller is better.


Most of my book reviews are pretty short. This one is almost as long as the book was . . .

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001. 224pp.

Clive Stapleton Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898. As a teenager, he left the faith of his parents, and became an avowed skeptic. However, in his early thirties, influenced by his friends, T.S. Eliot and J.R.R. Tolkien, he returned to Christianity. In between his departure from and return to Christianity, he served in the British army in World War I, and was wounded in the Battle of Arras. He subsequently achieved Firsts in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin Literature), Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) and English from Oxford University. Lewis taught at both Oxford and Cambridge, and wrote over 20 works of nonfiction, and nearly as many fictional. Most of Lewis’s books and essays dealt with Christian themes, and he is known as one of the 20th century’s most effective Christian apologists, sometimes being called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

Although Lewis’s nonfictional works are highly regarded, especially Mere Christianity, his fictional Chronicles of Narnia have made him one of the most well-known authors of all time. The Screwtape Letters is another fictional work, originally written as a series of short articles in the Anglican newspaper The Guardian (which closed in 1951).

The Screwtape Letters are written as correspondence from one demon to another, as His Abysmal Sublimity Undersecretary Screwtape, T.E., B.S., etc. attempts to instruct his nephew, a lesser demon named Wormwood, in the temptation and retrieval of the soul of a new Christian. Through this method, Lewis attempts to describe the devil’s strategies for defeating followers of Christ (the Enemy – according to Screwtape). A number of different situations and stratagems are explored, but Wormwood eventually loses the battle, when the Christian dies. Each short chapter stands alone, although Screwtape sometimes refers to something he wrote earlier. He also obliquely refers to Wormwood’s correspondence, although only Screwtape’s letters are shown to the reader.

As the book progresses, the reader can catch a glimpse of the progress in Christian growth of Wormwood’s patient, as well as a few references to World War II, during which Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters. The focus, however, is really not on the Christian’s growth – which actually seems rather haphazard and inconsistent, but rather on the “wiles of the devil.” Lewis does not give clear instruction on how to combat these wiles, but attempts to present the devil’s tactics from the devil’s perspective.

One of the key points Lewis demonstrates the efficiency of the demonic strategy of deluding a man into thinking he has personal rights, especially the right to his time, and how defeating it is to have that personal “me” time taken away unexpectedly. In fact, Lewis, through Screwtape, says that this strategy is even more effective than sexual temptation (95-96). Although the nature of the book as a series of disconnected letters makes it a bit difficult to determine what Screwtape perceives to be the best strategy for retaking the Christian’s soul, the demon returns regularly to this theme of convincing the human that he has ownership, possession, rights, or a claim to something.

This selfish self-centeredness seems to be Screwtape’s goal for Wormwood’s patient, in order to draw him away from Christ. In fact, any possible small movement in the direction of self is to be encouraged, while sacrifice, for whatever reason, is to be discouraged. It was interesting to research a quote that Lewis references on page 109 from Reinhold Niebuhr, where Lewis basically says that Niebuhr is aiding the devil by giving some other reason for belief in Christianity than the fact that it is true. It was Niebuhr, however, who described the root of evil as the “prideful human pretension of being God”[1]. Lewis describes sin in a very similar manner.

Screwtape frequently encourages Wormwood to allow his target to engage in something good, including prayer and Christian fellowship, but to slightly corrupt the good activity. If the good thing could distract him from Christ, or eventually bore him, or best of all, lead him to pride – the battle was won. If the soul became proud of his prayers, or especially of his type of Christianity – the devil’s work was accomplished. We would rightly  include in our live several spiritual disciplines, especially prayer and fasting, but it must be remembered that such disciplines are means to an end. If they are seen as the goal, rather than that which leads us to Christ, then the amount of time and effort we expend can easily produce pride, or a greater sense of self, rather than the real goal of “more God, less me.”

Lewis, through Screwtape, shares a perspective on death and suffering that is in stark contrast to what modern Westerners practice. Screwtape encourages Wormwood to keep his patient alive, to let him avoid suffering and an early death. He says that suffering and death more frequently serve the cause of his Enemy (Christ), than they do the cause of Satan. Suffering opens the door for man to understand Christ, and death opens the gate to the next life (134). In fact, Screwtape claims that humans regard “death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good” precisely because the devils have taught humans to do so. (131)

The fact that the book is written during World War II serves as an interesting background, but little more than that. Screwtape is himself almost dismissive of the war, seeing it more as a tool of the Enemy (Christ) than of the devil. He claims that more people choose Christ because of war than because of peace. This is a very interesting perspective, and worthy of further thought. Of course, Screwtape sees the value of promoting hatred, and especially cowardice, against the backdrop of war, but the war in and of itself does not particularly help the devil’s cause.

Screwtape also claims that the devils, through Fashion, have succeeded in causing humanity to castigate that which it most needs in any given era. So, enthusiasm is exposed as dangerous when apathy holds sway, or Puritanism is decried during lecherous ages. “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood.” (117-118).

The pursuit of pleasure, or hedonism, is the most significant area where some of us might disagree. We many times emphasize the need for holy living, while Lewis argued that pleasure is good, and meant to be pursued. Of course, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to use corrupted pleasures to entice his patient, but cautions that these strategies can backfire, as they lead the soul to guilt, which should be avoided because the soul may then be more cognizant of his spiritual state, and of the remedy. Many writers would list hedonism as one of the worldly values that draw us away from God, and encourage holy living that wouldn’t damage our testimony in front of others.

Although The Screwtape Letters is a work of fiction, and furthermore, written from the devil’s perspective, it has a strong biblical basis. There is a biblical understanding of grace, the gospel, forgiveness and sin that permeates the book. It doesn’t attempt to proclaim any new doctrinal insights, but rather basic foundational understandings of the nature of the battle. Of course, there are no biblical citations – that would be anathema for Screwtape. But his descriptions of Christ’s love and sacrifice for humans are in agreement with the Gospel, although he admits that he can’t understand Christ’s plan or goal.

The devil’s perspective, and the anecdotal portrayal of his strategy provide the real strength of Lewis’s book. The Screwtape Letters can let us see just how defeated the devil already is, but it also helps us see what the devil is attempting to do in the lives of ordinary people, as well as world structures. However, Christ has won the victory, and the devil is struggling just to play catch-up.

The length of the 31 chapters serves as a strength, as well. Each chapter is about 1200 words, probably to make the copy fit in the original Guardian periodical. The number fits perfectly with a daily reading over a month, although Lewis doesn’t indicate anywhere that this was his goal. The chapter size makes it possible to read in just a few minutes, but can then be dissected or discussed at length.

The book very well describes the insidious nature of the devil’s attacks. We so frequently think of spiritual warfare as a frontal attack, as demon possession or adversity. However, Screwtape shows us that the devil might actually prefer us in church – as long as that makes us apathetic, or proud, or anything else that removes our attention from Christ. Or he may encourage us to serve someone else – if we can take pride then in our service.

Chapter XXVI was one chapter that personally resonated with me. Screwtape describes the differences in the way men and women think about Unselfishness, but he also shows the slightly corrupted version of Unselfishness that allows us to take pride in being unselfish, and then umbrage at others for not following our “unselfish” wishes, and finally bitterness and quarrels when our “unselfish” wishes clash with others’ “unselfish” desires. Of course, in the end, it is all about self, and true love is forgotten. “Some degree of mutual falseness, some surprise that the girl does not always notice just how Unselfish he is being, can be smuggled in already” (124). How often I have acted and thought just like that! Not only in my own marriage, but in ministry as well! And how devilish, how self-promoting that kind of “unselfishness” really is.

Sometimes Lewis attempts such a convoluted argument that one wonders just what he is getting at. This was especially true in Letter XXX, when Screwtape talks about “reality.” Perhaps an understanding of the cultural milieu of the 1940’s would give a clearer picture of what Lewis is addressing. However, Lewis, who at times makes the perfect profound phrase, sometimes builds complex arguments that start to disintegrate after a few long sentences.             Once in a while, one almost gets the idea that Lewis himself started to lose track of his argument.

Another weakness in the book would be that there is no real plan or even suggestions for the Christian to combat the devil’s tactics. Of course, the book helps us understand his strategy better, but sometimes it would be helpful to have a clearer picture of how these tactics can be defeated. In fact, the conclusion of the book, where the man dies and enters into the presence of Christ, seems almost to indicate that the man is saved in spite of himself.

Or is that the whole point of grace??

[1] Gary Dorrien, Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition, John Wiley and Sons, 2008, p. 248

McNeal, Reggie. Missional Renaissance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2009. 224 pp.

Contrary to what you might assume from the title, Missional Renaissance is not a ground-breaking book about missional church theory. McNeal did that already in his 2003 book The Present Future

This book focuses on three shifts that need to take place, both in theory and in practice, for a church to become “missional.” I took McNeal’s “Missional Leadership” class at Columbia International University, and Missional Renaissance served as the core curriculum, so we had a chance to dialogue about these shifts, and the accompanying scorecards. In a future blog post or two, I’ll share some reflections from that class.

The three shifts are:

From an internal to an external focus.

From developing programs to developing people

From church-based leadership to kingdom-based leadership.

My three top thoughts from this book:

  1. The missional church is the people of God partnering with God in His redemptive mission in the world. (24) This is a good definition – simple and easy to remember. This isn’t a paradigm shift for our ministry in Poland, but, it does show the overall shift in thinking for the church. We can use this definition to assess all we do.
  2. This is very broad – but the whole idea of changing the scorecard. What gets rewarded, gets done. Making a shift in what counts and is counted (in brief, p. 68 – but all through the book) Each chapter about one of the shifts in thinking is followed by a “scorecard” chapter, showing how we can practically apply the shift in thinking.

For me, this was the biggest value of this book. The missional theory wasn’t ground-breaking. It was fairly simple – and I don’t think the author meant it to be otherwise. The practical elements of the scorecard, however, were exactly what most of us need. We accept theory, but then hit upon the barrier of: “how do I do that?” The scorecard had a number of ways to apply missional theory, and even more important, to assess what we are doing. I think the scorecard ideas even translate well into our strategic planning in missions, and it would be great if the board and senior leadership of our mission agency read this book. We count baptisms, church plants, leaders trained, etc. – not bad, but I think we could be counting other things that equally reflect the heart of God. I also loaned this book to my U.S. pastor – who is leading a missional church, but is always looking for ways to move forward.

3. Putting prayer at the beginning of nearly every scorecard – but best of all, listing concrete ways to count prayer. That doesn’t sound radical – but it is. Finally, we have a means of counting – and rewarding – prayer.

We all give lip service to prayer. Most of us in leadership pray – quite a bit, even. But we struggle to understand how to make prayer a major part of our corporate life. I really appreciated the practical ways implement prayer, and the ways to assess if prayer is a significant part of the community of faith. I will be using a number of these to encourage prayer, but also keep track of the place of prayer in our community life.

You can get a copy of Missional Renaissance here.

Cole, Neil. Church 3.0. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2010. 274 pp.

Church 3.0 is a follow-up to Cole’s earlier book, Organic Church, and is structured to answer questions that might be asked about organic churches. The terms organic, simple and house church are sometimes used interchangeably – as you might see in my review of Felicity Dale’s book, An Army of Ordinary People. In short, organic are meant to be “relational, simple, intimate and viral” (from the flyleaf of Church 3.0) and are usually separate from buildings and hierarchy.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t care for. I don’t care anymore for books that use the Bible to say “this is the only biblical way.” I think I didn’t mind that much the first 10 books I read that said that about their methods. With each new book, that makes the same claim, though, I get more and more frustrated. Of course, Cole – and every other author who writes like this – is convinced that his method has biblical support. Fine, I get that. And the Bible is our primary authority. However, I often wonder if this type of argumentation would make it very far in an academic setting with higher expectations. Of course, feel free to remind me of my words when I write my first book explaining why my method is the only biblically supported method!

The title, and assumption that organic church is the next “upgrade” on church, equal to church 1.0 (pre-Constantinian) and 2.0 (Church since Constantine) – well, seems just a little bit presumptious. However, since I don’t have near the experience that Cole does, it would be presumptious of me to criticize his presumption 🙂 This presumption looks very similar to Hirsch’s history of “missional mode” from Forgotten Ways, which I critiqued here.

Although I really liked the perspective on groups of 2 or 3, I thought he overdid it with the proof-texts in support of the idea. It might have been enough to focus on the “sendings” – Jesus sending the disciples in groups of 2 (Luke 10:1b) and the Antioch church sending Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2b-3) Both examples are on page 140 – where we also find Cole’s statement, based on Matthew 18:20, that “Jesus promises to join the meeting when two or three come together, no matter where or when it might be.” This strikes me as a great-sounding statement based on a verse ripped kicking and screaming from the context.

Here are my 3 favorite insights from the book:

  1. The base unit of life: two to three people. Community. Accountability. Confidentiality. Flexibility. Communication. Direction. Leadership. All are stronger with 2 or 3. (139-142)
  2. Integration is better than segregation for children and adults (211-221)
  3. A manipulative leader cannot take advantage of Life Transformation Group participants because they are not a biblically illiterate following (239)

Yeah, I know I criticized the way he took verses out of context to support the groups of 2 or 3. However, the base unit was still an eye-opening concept for me. Although the other sizes that Cole uses – leadership team (4-7), family unit (12-15), etc. are in place in our Lublin structure, we have faltered in discipleship, especially in application of Scripture and in accountability. I think implementing the 2-3 idea will be a great help. This size is probably most cross-cultural, as well, whereas I think the other sizes would need to be adjusted in other cultures.

We haven’t integrated children in our groups. These groups have ranged from a simple Bible study to house church, but we still haven’t included children. Sometimes it happens unintentionally, but if we are able, we usually send them to do something else. However, in WI, in our LifeGroup, we involved 3 young children, and all of us were better for it. We ought to be able to do the same in Poland.

I loved the emphasis on discipleship throughout the book. The idea of people reading large portions of Scripture in the 2-3 groups, and being accountable for application really should help produce literate, biblically-informed, obedient disciples. Those kinds of people are much less susceptible to heresy than those multitudes who gather around a charismatic manipulator – demagogue. Life Transformation Groups mitigate against demagogy, and do seem to be an excellent bulwark against heresy. I think Cole might be overstating it when he says a manipulative leader cannot take advantage of people in a Life Transformation Group, but I can see where it would be much more difficult than in large, more biblically ignorant group.

You can buy Church 3.0 at Amazon.

Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. 2006. 304 pp.

The Forgotten Ways is one of those books that simply destroys old paradigms and introduces completely new concepts. Hirsch attempts to describe the “apostolic genius” of the early church, and challenge the contemporary Western Church to recapture that “missional DNA.”

There’s a great little chart on page 64 that summarizes the church in the three modes he describes: the apostolic and post-apostolic, the christendom mode, and the emerging missional mode . However, the chart highlights my disagreements with the book. If I had two criticisms, they would be related to Hirsch’s history-telling.

1. I don’t think the picture Hirsch paints of the apostolic church was really quite so rosy in reality. Yes, the church grew very fast, and was characterized by a focus on mission. But there were some serous theological battles, that led to large portions of the Church separating from one another. In addition, although the “christendom” mode did see a consolidation and stagnation, there was still a strong focus on expansion, and significant Christian “missional” activity.

2. The “missional” mode, according to Hirsch, has been over the past 10 years. (Counting back from 2006). This unbelievably Western-centric viewpoint is actually uncharacteristic of Hirsch – it would be interesting to see if he changed this chart in the second edition. Hirsch himself refers to other “missional” movements, outside the West, that precede the recent wave of books with “missional” in their title or subtitle.  Seriously – I think he really may be dating the missional mode from the 1998 publication of Missional Church

Of course, we missionaries have frequently been guilty of exporting institutional church – but not always. And around the world, Hirsch’s missional DNA has been present in many places, throughout Christian history.

In spite of that criticism, I actually thought Hirsch did a better job of not gushing over American methods than most authors in this “missional” movement. He is Australian – which certainly helps – but he also focused on the theory behind practice, making this book easier to apply cross-culturally.

The missional DNA looks like this:

  1. Jesus Is Lord: A simple, but irreplaceable confession.
  2. Disciple Making: becoming like Jesus is at the core of the church.
  3. Missional-Incarnational Impulse: the gospel is lived out across cultures and people groups.
  4. Apostolic Environment: a certain type of leadership is necessary.
  5. Organic Systems: structures for growth.
  6. Communitas, not Community: We are sent, not gathered into a safe haven.

Brief digression – I loved the Paulo Coelho quote on p. 217, introducing the chapter on communitas: “The ship is safest when it is in port. But that’s not what ships were made for.”

I picked out 3 ideas that I thought were basic:

  1. Non-dualistic spirituality (p. 96). Hirsch’s diagram, contrasting dualistic and non-dualistic spirituality, i.e. integrating sacred and secular, really helped me to see and understand how I was doing that in my life, but also how to better communicate to others an integrated spirituality that includes God, church and world.
  2. The quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship (p. 119) Discipleship is primary, leadership is always secondary. This is a key concept – maybe even THE key concept. (It’s one of those “duh” ideas – of course leadership is dependent on discipleship – that has been simply ignored most of the time)
  3. Greek concept of knowledge contrasted with Hebrew concept of knowledge. (p. 124) The Greek concept is that right thinking leads to right action. Hebrew – right action leads to right thinking. Hirsch uses this in his chapter on disciple making, but the paradigm definitely applies for leadership training as well – but we very, very seldom apply this concept

A change toward missional thinking is really not just about following a new fad in church development. The spiritual concept Hirsch shares illustrates that it is about bringing all things, every sphere of our lives, under the lordship of Christ. We preach that, but we don’t always mean it, especially if it means significantly changing the church.

The last point resonates with a key factor in church planting movements around the world – obedience-based discipleship. In other words, doing what the Word says MUST go hand-in-hand with knowing what the Word says.

If you want to know a little more about the terms and history of the “missional” church movement – there’s a pretty good summary in J.R. Woodward’s blog here. If you’ve read and tried to apply Newbigin and Bosch – as most cross-cultural missionaries will have – Hirsch’s book will seem very basic in many areas.

However, if you love reading books that challenge your thinking about the church, or if you see that the church, as it is usually conceived, comes up short in reaching a culture that grows more “foreign” with every year – this is a great read.

You can buy Forgotten Ways at Amazon.

McNeal, Reggie. A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2000. 224 pp.

Sometimes when and where you read a book means almost as much as what is in the book. Although the what in Work of Heart is pretty significant, the time and place in life when I read it made the book so much more valuable.

I was in the middle of my lowest point ever in ministry. Thinking strongly about packing up and “going home” back to America. But we had committed to being part of a Luis Palau evangelism outreach with several other churches in town, and as a part of that, we rented a couple of rooms in the center for a prayer vigil leading up to the campaign. We always had someone there, on duty, while people came and prayed. I needed something to read during my shift – so I picked up this book that my supervisor had given me a few months earlier. Am I glad I did!!

Reading this book, during a time like that – a low point, but also a spiritual retreat time – made the message much more meaningful, and allowed me to work through the questions the author includes for personal growth.

Here are my three best thoughts in the book:

1. The call we are discussing as a heart-shaping subplot in the leader’s story is the specialized and specific setting aside by God to some special lifelong task in His kingdom. . . The call is not invented, it is revealed. . . The point is this: it is tough enough to serve as a Christian leader with a call. Without it, the choice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. (98-99)

I had struggled with understanding my call to Poland. I thought I was to come as a church-planter, but church-planting was so tough, and I, at least then, gave up after the first failure. Meanwhile, some elements of planting a church had no appeal for me. I think I had tried to invent a call – but based it more on a need, than on the way God had gifted me. This book was extremely helpful, beyond even the chapter on call, in helping me come to grips with this. It led to a crisis, where I almost left Poland, but we needed to go through that to come to an assurance of God’s leading.

2. Commonplace: Discovering that the ordinary is extra-ordinary. Habits: look for God, keep learning, say yes to God, stay grateful. (175-186)

Seeing God in the commonplace was probably what helped us survive the crisis we faced. When my ministry partner had an affair, when our church plant fizzled, when the dollar dropped by 50% – all at the same time – some of these reminders here helped us survive, and eventually see God’s leading.

3. The reflection questions from the conclusion. I worked through all of these, reflecting on most of them with my wife, and they really helped me see myself, my world, my heart and my call. (188-192)

            As I mentioned, working through these reflection questions was so helpful. I had never done anything like that, and I’m so glad I did. I’m very grateful to my supervisor for giving me this book, and I would have to say it was one of the most positive influences in my life – ever. I’ve shared ideas and questions from this book with Polish leaders that I mentor, as well.

Personal follow-up note: I had a class with Dr. McNeal at Columbia. During a break, I told him that this book had saved me in ministry. His response? Not just “thanks” or “praise God.” He said (without really knowing me) “you are worth it.” I got a lot out of the class, but to be honest, it’s those four words that I will remember the longest.

You can buy a revised version of Work of Heart here: Work of Heart at Amazon


Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, And: The Gathered and Scattered Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2010. 208 pp.

AND is an attempt to reconcile the attractional model of church with the missional model. The attractional models focuses on bringing people into the church, then discipling them. The missional model focuses on sending disciples into the world, where they can be incarnational, and make other disciples. Halter and Smay reconcile the two approaches with the idea that BOTH are necessary.

The three most insightful thoughts, in my opinion:

1. The missionary flow – engaging culture, forming community, structuring congregation. Even working backwards – starting from established structures, all three steps are necessary. (54)

I appreciated the inclusion of both directions – starting from scratch, as well as starting from structure. I also appreciated the terminology – that this is a missionary flow. The U.S. church could learn much by listening to missionaries who have a lot of experience engaging culture. We are forced, from the very beginning, to closely examine the cultures that we have voluntarily joined. The North American church of today is living in a culture that is nearly as foreign as is the eastern European culture that I live in. I can help my American friends by dropping hints about how to study and learn the culture they live in.

2. Engaging the culture – becoming good friends with people – takes 2 years. Everywhere. (57)

This was an eye-opening comment. We do expect it to happen much faster, and then wonder why it doesn’t. In our own ministry, we wondered why it took that long to get to know our neighbors, why it took so long to get invited to someone’s house. Even after the barrier of Polish was overcome, friendships didn’t develop quickly. So, the idea that a church can be planted, from scratch, in less than 2 years is a pretty crazy one. But, we continue to expect just that. In fact, when it doesn’t happen, we get more tempted to take shortcuts, such as inviting people from other churches to come join us (sheep-stealing), or we get very discouraged, and think that something is very wrong with us that no one wants to be our friend. It just takes time!

3. Modalic and sodalic are both necessary arms of the church – but in order to bring balance our intention must begin to lean toward the sodalic. (133)

Halter and Smay simplify their terms with this short explanation: “Modalic structures tend to focus on caring for those who are already inside the structure. Sodalities push toward those on the outside.” (129)

I think that I am more involved in the sodalic than the modalic, even though I am a pastor. However, I need to take an intense, honest look at ministry. It could be that, because of my learned church culture, I am mistaken, and spend more time than I realize caring for those in the structure, or even just caring for the structure! (God forbid!)

If you are in the U.S., and interested in the discussion about missional church, this is a book you should read. If you aren’t in the U.S., and are interested in the American discussion about missional church, this would be a good book to read. If you aren’t in the U.S., and aren’t particularly interested in this uniquely American dichotomy – I wouldn’t bother reading this book.

I believe the church in most of the world figured out a long time ago that both attractional and missional are vital.

However, if you are interested, you can buy the book here: AND at Amazon

McNeal, Reggie. Get a Life!: It Is All About You. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2007. 179 pp.

Dr. McNeal is one of my favorite authors, so I’ll be reviewing a few of his books in my blog. To be honest, I am definitely not objectively critical toward his books, and my reviews will undoubtedly reflect that. In each review I’ll share a few insights from each book, and what impact it had on my life.

The books centers around five key questions that we need to return to frequently throughout our life:

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

For me, the three best, most insightful ideas in the book were:

  1. Passion distinguishes people from the pack. People with passion stand out from other people who are involved in the same work or activity without it. For the latter it’s just a job or something they have assigned to them. For the people operating from passion, it is an expression of who they are and what makes them tick. (page 12)
  2. Talent matters. Developing a strengths philosophy begins with a clear and honest assessment of your talent. This is the flip side, the antidote, to the philosophy of self-imposed mediocrity through trying to achieve “balance” in your strengths.(page 102)
  3. The single best strategy to avoid dying before you are dead is to practice lifelong learning. If you want to get a life, the learning needs to be intentional, guided by what you want to accomplish. . . Specifically, this learning quest will help you make your next move, knowing how to get to where you want to go in life. (pages 131-132)

As I read this book, I realized how much passion was missing from my life. I had already struggled with burnout and boredom, and tried to deal with it improperly, instead of dealing with the root issues. I was not living from my strengths.

I especially was not maximizing my talents. In an effort to be humble and servant-hearted, I had downplayed some natural leadership gifts. I felt guilty about preaching, and enjoying it, because American missionaries are supposed to have the nationals do that. Of course, multiplying leaders must be my task, and humble servanthood is the heartbeat – but I was expressing both of those values in unnecessary ways.

This book was one of the primary prompters for me to go back to seminary (Columbia International University) Just beginning, at age 41, with family and ministry pressures, was a significant victory. Now, God and my professors willing, I’ll finish this spring, and I’m already looking forward to a Ph.D.

I had two copies of this book, but I gave both away already. However, Get a Life! is available here: Get a Life! at Amazon

Barna, George. Revolution. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005. 145 pp.

Dr. Barna looked at what he calls a “hidden revolution” of Christ followers who no longer go to church on Sunday mornings, but remain devout believers and attempt to be the Church, rather than simply go to church. He compares the state of the Church (chapter 4 “How is the local church doing?”) with a biblical picture of the Church (chapter 3 “What does God expect?) From that biblical picture, he extrapolates the “seven passions” of revolutionaries.

In my opinion, these were the three most insightful ideas:

The seven passions of revolutionaries (chapter 3)

The seven trends leading to the “New Church” (chapter 5)

The Secret of Transformation in mini-movement (pp. 57-58, chapter 6)

In addition, the “affirmations of a revolutionary” (pp. 128-130) would resonate with many of us who have frustrations with the church as an institution, but love Jesus with all our heart.

  1. The seven passions of revolutionaries:
    1. Intimate worship
    2. Faith-based conversions
    3. Intentional spiritual growth
    4. Servanthood
    5. Resource investment
    6. Spiritual friendships
    7. Family faith
  2. Seven trends leading to the New Church:
    1. Changing of the guard
    2. Rise of a new view of life
    3. Dismissing the irrelevant
    4. Impact of technology
    5. Genuine relationships
    6. Participation in reality
    7. Finding true meaning
  3. Secret of Transformation in mini-movement:
    1. Generally working with people who are predisposed to focusing their faith on God.
    2. Mini-movement becomes an individual’s primary source of relationships.
    3. Intimacy experienced facilitates a sense of exhilaration over the transformation.
    4. Clear group goals

Each mini-movement has a very narrow focus.

The seven passions serve as an excellent guideline for our Polish faith communities. We are easily sidetracked by other things, and think those other things should be the checklist of success for our churches. But when we, in community with one another, can focus on these passions, we are much closer to what Christians should be focusing on.

I would like to use the seven trends as a springboard to look at Polish culture, and see how it has changed in the past 22 years. There are Revolutionaries in Poland, usually in house churches, or Catholic renewal groups (or both), and I am curious to see what trends have led to the rise of these groups.

The final point – the secret of transformation – helps me to narrow our focus as we seek to see transformation in people’s lives. We don’t need to change everyone, in every way, right now.

Revolution! at Amazon