Book Review – Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship

Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, is divided into two sections.  For the purpose of this blog we will be reflecting upon the first section titled, “Gospel Worship.”  During the time of the Reformation the structure of the gospel was re-identified in one symbolic way, as Luther placed the pulpit and altar among the people in the first Protestant church in Torgau, Germany.  According the Chapell this was more than an architectural preference on Luther’s part.  It demonstrated that the people were not ruled by the church leaders but lead as the leaders were among them.  This symbolic structure is still used today in our church buildings and it is important.  Similar in importance is the worship service (liturgy).  It is the structure that tells the gospel.  When discussing liturgy one cannot ignore the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.  Much of what is in the traditional worship service in the Western Culture has its roots in Rome.  We are reminded that Luther did not intend to leave the Roman Catholic Church but to reform it.  Luther’s work proved to be a pivotal point in worship history as he promoted participation of laity in the liturgy.  Calvin for the most part was in agreement with Luther’s liturgical understanding.  However, Calvin used the Old Testament readings and brought a clear focus upon the Word at the onset of a service.  Among other things Calvin saw collecting alms, saying the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed and participatory singing important parts of a service.  By the time of the Westminster Assembly the liturgy of worship had began to be hammered out upon the anvil of experience.  It is clear that many of the modern movements coupled with the influence of secularism affected the traditional liturgical style of worship.  Many churches have escaped from the very structure that not only told the gospel story but helped hold the centrality of Christ among His worshippers.  Chapell shares that worship should always honor the gospel, communicate the gospel, and shape the worship of the church (100).

It should be noted that the gospel does not find its dependence upon the symbolic structure of a building or in the structure of liturgy.  The dependence of the gospel is upon the Word and the Holy Spirit which has the power to change lives.  Without the presence of the Holy Spirit our worship is nothing but a finite attempt to reach infinite God.  A traditional order of worship is in jeopardy of becoming merely “canned” repetitions of words without embracing the power of the Word of God.  As Chapell states, “Worship is our love response to his loving provision, so nothing is more honoring of his grace than making its themes our own” (117).  Chapell does give us the vital ingredient, provision.  Because God has provided for us we can recognize our need of Him and respond to His provision from hearts that worship.  Criswell offers a more lengthy definition of worship, “To worship is to quicken the conscious by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open up the heart to the love of God; to devote the will to the purpose of God” (Criswell 1980).  Even still we see that God is acting on behalf of the worshipper to enable him or her to worship.  If the structure of the liturgy tells the gospel story as Chapell presents, then we should be able to hear the story every time we worship the Lord.

Today the church faces many challenges in its effort to remain Christ-centered in worship.  Cultural, theological and personal preferences are so diverse that one needs to choose what style of worship is right for him or her.  What is essential is that in the decision process one does not lose sight of the true meaning of worship in giving glory to God.  And the church’s mission is to present the gospel through its worship.  The mission is the safeguard that ensures the unity among the church as a whole.  Identifying and defining the Christ-centered values of the church ensures the centrality of grace.  We can conclude that keeping those values in focus allows the components of our worship to remain as fresh as the Word itself.  Chapell’s book to this point is informative and challenging.  He captured the value of liturgy through his detailed presentation of the structure of historical worship.  Certainly this book is a gem and should be placed within hand’s reach of every pastor for reference and appreciation.

Chapell, Bryan.  Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Ada, MI:
Baker Academics, 2009.

 Criswell, W. A.  Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors.  Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press,
1980.

Book Review – Robert D. Dale’s “Leadership for a Changing Church: Charting the Shape of the River”

This is a book for today’s leaders in the church.  If the last decade has taught us anything it has taught us change is inevitable.  Change is the ugly word which every pastor must constantly war with as he or she leads.  We are living in a Postmodern world and things have drastically changed in the business world and within the church.  Third millennium leaders are different and this is a good thing.  Yesterday’s leadership strategies will not work in today’s world.  According to Dale, our values help determine our leadership stance.  We must know where we stand and how we stand in this generation.  The ones we are ministering to in our churches are techno savvy and have at their fingertips information, which took us years of study to obtain.  With a few clicks on a smartphone they could get up and read a sermon on any particular passage.  What we must do is demonstrate how to apply the information.  According to Dale, having the information is not as important as knowing how it should be applied.  Herein, is where today’s leaders must dig in and “charter the shape of the river.”  In my opinion this little book is excellent and I recommend every pastor read this book with his or her church leadership.  This is what I plan to do in the upcoming year if time allows.

Book Review – Bishop B. E. Underwood’s “A Portrait of the Pastor: A Biblical Description of the Role of the Pastor”

This is a very practicable book for pastors.   Underwood was a former pastor and General Overseer (Bishop) in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.  This was one of the main reasons I chose to read this particular book.  It was refreshing to hear the view of one who has traveled the path I am now upon and to glean form his experience.  Underwood’s book is divided into twelve chapters with each chapter focusing on a particular role of the pastor (Leader, Bishop, Student, Prophet, Hero, Father, Evangelist, Equipper, Provider, Healer, Person, and Shepherd).  This was very helpful because as a pastor I have discovered there are many hats that must be worn.  Often times the hats are interchangeable and sometimes the hats must be worn by themselves.  It is difficult to place the roles in any particular order.  What surfaced during my reading is all the roles are important and if one is missing then it would take away from the pastor’s productivity.  This is a great little book for pastors, especially those serving within the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.  It would have been nice if Underwood would have discussed the importance of marriage and the role of a covenant partner.  He did discuss this some under different roles but this is a huge subject which a whole book could be written.  This is the only negative thought I have regarding Underwood’s book.  Great servant of the Lord, may he rest in peace and enjoy his eternal reward with the Lord.

Book Review – Andy Stanley’s “Visioneering”

This is a book for leaders in the church who dare not become complacent in service to the Lord and His church.  In my opinion this is an “on-time” book for those who are serious about leading the church into the future.  Andy Stanley is the founding pastor of North Point Community Church a large church outside of Atlanta, Ga.  He is also the son of Charles Stanley, the popular pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.  Andy Stanley demonstrates the importance of vision not only in ministry but in the business world.  Therefore, his target audience is not just ministers but business professionals.  Though this book is good I would not consider it a must read.  I do think it was useful for my ministry in that it probably has a few sermon seeds.  But the question that kept coming my way as I ready was, “I wonder how much money Andy Stanley is making off of this book.”  These are just some of my honest thoughts which did hinder my digestion of the book.  It would be a good book to take along on a vacation and read for fresh ideas as one dreams and seeks a fresh vision for ministry.

Autopsy of a Deceased Church – Thom S. Rainer (Notes taken from Bishop Danny Nelson’s Fall Leadership Summit Presentation)

In the United States there are approximately 400,000 churches…

10% Healthy           40% Symptoms of Sickness                   40% Sick                10% Dying

Top 10 Reasons for Death

1) Slow Erosion

Refusal of Self-Examination
Physical Facilities
Lack of Vibrant Ministries
No Outward Focus
Lack of Community Connections
Hopes, Dreams Dying
Resources Shrinking
Haggai 1:2-4

2) The Past is the Hero

People Couldn’t or Wouldn’t See Decline – No shifting past became the focus.
Conference Office Building – Unseen rotten wood revealed with storm damage.
When Someone Introduces Change – Response in anger and/or rejection.
“Good Ole Days” – The way it was
Failure to celebrate the past and build on it.
“We” become the focus.

3) Refusal to look into the community

A time when the church rejected the community
People die out, they move and a different community arises
Fortress; no penetration
Us in and them out
People don’t feel welcome
Dying Churches are pre-occupied with self-preservation.

4)  The Budget moved inward

Where is the $ spent?  Inward focus.
Staff: spend majority of time visiting, counseling, attending functions w/the members.
Expenditures keep the members comfortable.
Cuts are made in outreach ministries.
Dying Churches “spend” their way for “doing” church.
Dying Churches exists for its own needs.

5)  Great Commission becomes the Great Omission

Past – Hero – Symptoms – Sickness – Death
Methods become the focus rather than Great Commission
Remember when is fun and blessed; but don’t park there.
Matthew 28:19-20 Dominate word…. “GO”
Dying deceased churches somewhere cease to act
Somewhere they chose not to do and chose their own “comfort”
They want Great Commission to happen without prayer, sacrifice, or work.
They want new people to look and act and behave like them

6)  Preference – Driven Church

Me, Myself, and I
Focus: others to themselves
My music, style length, order
Philippians 2:5-11
Emptied Himself
Church membership is not a country club

7)  Pastoral Tenure

Pastor comes, a few changes are initiated, resistance, leave, cycle continues.
We “want” change if it fits “our” definition.
8)  The Church rarely prays together

Everybody prays, corporate, intentional, specifically, and meaningful?

9)  No Clear Purpose

Going through the motions.
“Doing” Church
No burning passion
It’s just the way we’ve always done it
Philippians 1:3-5
Forgot their purpose
“a church without a Gospel-centered purpose is no longer a church.”

10)  Obsessed over Facilities

Protecting the facilities
Protective over rooms
Memorials
Jesus on things…  Matthew 6:19-21

Book Review – Richard J. Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline: The Pathway to Spiritual Growth”

Celebration of Discipline could be described as a book in recipe form about spiritual growth.  Within, Foster outlines twelve spiritual disciplines under three headings: (1) The Inward Disciplines (Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study), (2) The Outward Disciplines (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service), and (3) The Corporate Disciplines (Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration).  These are basic disciplines of the Christian faith which are easy to list but much more difficult to put into practice.  A disciple is a follower and a disciple of Christ is one who follows Christ.  These principles are presented in such a way to facilitate growth as a disciple.  There is little doubt in my mind that Foster has provided his readers with a challenge to get serious about one’s relationship with the Lord.  This is the takeaway for me from the book which I believe will help solidify my own practice of the disciplines.  However, there are a few concerns with regard to his interpretation of Scripture and perhaps some inclusion of outside sources.  This might be from his Quaker background.  Even still this little book is a must read in my opinion and provides a simplistic approach to applying the disciplines of the Christian faith.  Well worth the study and should be revisited often as one continues the journey.

Book Review – John C. Maxwell’s “Developing the Leader Within You”

This is a book which contains many leadership principles which are condensed into ten topical chapters.  Maxwell defines leadership as one who has influence.  Anyone who has influence on others is a leader.  Furthermore, in order to be a leader one must first lead him or herself before he or she can lead others.  It is impossible to lead someone where the leader has not been.  That would not be leading but rather pushing or encouraging.  The principles are very practicable and well explained.  What I have gained from this reading is some leadership points which after putting them into practice will help one grow as a person.  According to Maxwell people follow people and not positions or titles.  This means integrity is essential for successful leadership.  I had often heard of the 80/20 rule but Maxwell seemed to shed light on the necessity of setting priorities in order to be productive.  About 80 percent of the work in ministry is done by about 20 percent of the people.  I would even go as far to say this is applicable to tithing in many churches as well.  In order for an organization to grow it must change.  In essence, growth is change.  Many in the church today do not embrace change and Maxwell acknowledges this struggle.  In order for people to accept change they must first see the change in the leader.  Otherwise it would be “do as I say” and “not do as I do.”  We all want to rise to the next level whether in an organization, maturity, or spiritually.  Maxwell shares that our attitude determines our altitude.  As a pastor, I am concerned with church growth.  I want to see the numbers increase as numbers represent souls for the kingdom of God.  According to Maxwell, the numbers are not the big concern but raising-up other leaders.  This nugget I have heard before but this time it hit home and I am glad I read this book at this particular time.  It will definitely help me in my refocusing my values as a minister.  I want to see the church I serve and focusing on the leaders is a good starting point in my ministry.  I concur with Maxwell revitalized on many of his points.  I re-read this book after I read “Failing Forward.”  I was much more impressed with this book.  In my opinion this is a great book.

Book Review – John C. Maxwell’s “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success”

This is a book about the redirection of defeat toward victory.  The key appears to be the changing of one’s perception and response to failure.  Failure does not have to be complete defeat.  In fact, our failures are not defeat but rather lessons on how to succeed.  The more we fail is an indication that we are still in the lesson mode.  The experiences we have in life help shape who we are and who we will become.  Therefore, we can utilize the experiences of failure for pathways to succeed.  Maxwell proves his thesis by sharing real life experiences of people who later became famous.  He believes their failures helped pave the way for their success.  He mentions people like the Wright brothers who after several failed flight missions mastered gravity and took to the air for the very first successful flight.  They had many lessons but eventually the lessons paid off!  Thomas Edison is another who after many attempts finally succeeded and we certainly would not think of him as a failure.  Overall, Maxwell makes a good point but he does seem a little insensitive to the hard fact that failure is painful.  It is easy for one who is very successful to promote a change of attitude or perspective as a solution.  Is it really that easy?  I do not think it is easy but if one can then failing does not have to be backward it can be forward.  Perhaps, this is best seen in reflection of one’s successes and not during the pain of one’s failure.  This book is helpful to me in understanding that failure is not necessarily a bad thing if I can utilize the experience for my life and ministry.  I would recommend this book for those who have experienced failure in business or even ministry.  However, I would not suggest this book for one who has lost a loved one to a terminal illness or a failed marriage.  In my opinion this is a good book but not a great book.

Book Review – Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson’s The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting With the Movement Shaping Our Culture

The urban church in America is faced with many challenges but at the top of the list is the challenge to be authentic.  Without authenticity there is no trust and without trust there is no effectiveness.  It is apparent one is not granted trust just because one wears a badge or is serving in public office.  On the contrary, it usually means that one will have to work exceedingly hard in establishing a level of trust.  It is not hard for us to understand this reasoning when we examine historically how people in urban America have been treated.  It was echoed by former President Ronald Reagan when he shared his nine most terrifying words to hear, “I’m from the government and I am here to help.”  In 2006, we witnessed and experienced the beginnings of a national recession which sent major shock waves throughout urban America.  Foreclosure and bankruptcy gave rise to an increase in demand for assistance.  Many people were looking for some type of “bail-out” and many were outraged because many had fallen trap to predatory lenders which promised them help.  To make things worse, not only did the housing market bubble burst but so did people’s dreams as our government provided the banks of the predatory lenders “bail-out” funds.  Throw in the horrors of war and terrorism it is understandable why one would need to prove to be trustworthy.  In the midst of our changing culture and poverty there is a vital need for the church to bridge the gap and establish trust between the church and the unchurched.  In order for the urban church to be missional it must understand the culture, namely hip-hop.

The definition of hip-hop is more than a musical genre because hip hop has become the main voice of the people living in urban America.  Because of its historical roots, hip-hop cannot be limited to just one generation.  Therefore, when defining hip-hop one must take into consideration the overall culture of urban America.  Some equate NYC as a modern day Corinth which was known for its wide-spread sinfulness.  However, I would not leave out other major cities with this equation.  I would extend this “Corinthian” description to all urban America.  For this reason, the church cannot stand idle waiting for converts to enter in.  The church must be missional!  We can expect challenges as we seek to build bridges out of the church walls and into the culture.  One challenge is the perspective of hip-hop being evil.  We must be real and admit not all of hip-hop is evil.  But we cannot unequivocally say all hip-hop is good.  Trying to decide if hip-hop is good or bad is not the main point.  Such judgment would only feed conflict and set us on a collision course with the ones we are called to love and disciple.  Smith and Jackson state, “The collision position on the church and hip-hop works only if you see the church as good and hip-hop as evil rap music, the church as godly and hip-hop as worldly” (Smith and Jackson 2005, 24).  The collision position is harmful and does not reflect the ministry of Jesus.  We must accept hip-hop is here and it is here to stay because it is a culture.  Therefore, the culture of hip-hop is the larger concern for which the church must wrestle if she is to be effective.  Smith and Jackson state the following: “The main point is that hip-hop is a culture and within the culture there are philosophers.  If the church wants to engage hip-hop culture, not just be provoked in spirit by its idolatrous negative side, it must build bridges with the culture so that theologians, church members and hip-hop philosophers might reason together” (52).  Urban pastors must seek out lead ways to be relational and missional.  One method is to help their neighborhoods by investing time, labor, and yes, tears.  Handouts alone are ineffective.  A handout or bailout is a like a bandage to a seriously infectious wound.  Healing of urban America will come about only by the church becoming incarnational.  Hip-hip needs Jesus in the neighborhood not inside a building known as the institutional church.  Lupton states, “When a church has made a commitment to partner with a community to more past betterment, beyond handouts, and toward sustainable development, volunteer involvement takes on increased meaning” (Lupton 2011, 184).

When ministering to an urban people one must become urban and embrace a coexistence mentality.  We live together, we can express our feelings together, and we can worship God together!  Smith and Jackson state, “The coexistence position sees hip-hop not just as music but as a culture, a milieu in which we are the living and growing up” (Smith and Jackson 2005, 25).  One of the first things we need to do in order to be effective in urban ministry is learn the culture.  Lupton says, “Be an interested, supportive neighbor for at least six months before attempting to initiate any new activity” (Lupton 2011, 160).  Secondly, we need to engage in order to penetrate the culture with the gospel.  This means we have to do more that learn about hip-hop we must embrace hip-hop as our culture.  If not, we will not be viewed as authentic.  Hip-hop has been a tool of the enemy but hip-hop is not our enemy!  Smith and Jackson state, “Our enemy has used hip-hop for evil, but we can ‘spiritually hijack’ it for evangelism, discipleship, justice, and missions” (Smith and Jackson 2005, 35).  This can only be accomplished through earnest prayer stemming from a compassionate heart that empathizes with the hip-hop culture.  Smith and Jackson state, “True hip-hop is not just about being heard; it’s about being felt” (Smith and Jackson 2005, 113).  Let us not forget hip-hop has deep spiritual roots in liberation theology.  Long before the enemy began using hip-hop for evil God was using it in its embryonic stage to provide hope in Him.  The Exodus motif gave hope for African Americans during the time of slavery.  The Negro spirituals not only gave the slaves hope it provided a way to release emotion and to communicate through embedded “shout’ messages.  As Smith and Jackson confirm, “Like the Negro spirituals, hip-hop is concerned with liberation from bondage” (Smith and Jackson 2005, 95-97).  Jesus came to set the captives free!  The culture of urban America can be liberated from sin By grace through faith” in the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  And as redeemed people engage the urban culture, even hip-hop can truly glorify God.

Bibliography

Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It), (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers), 2011.

Regan, Ronald. YouTube: The Nine Most Terrifying Words, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhYJS80MgYA (Accessed April 26, 2014).

Smith, Efrem and Phil Jackson, The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting With the Movement Shaping Our Culture, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press) 2005.

Book Review – Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church

According to McNeal the rise of the missional church movement is the biggest renewal since the Reformation.  The missional emergence or renewal offers hope to our culture because its focus is upon incarnational living.  The leaders of the church must first be engaged in missional living reflecting authentic relationships with God and others in order to lead the church effectively.  The church is no longer able to rely on programs and ministries but must build relational bridges through missional service, celebration of and recognition/rewarding of missional work.  McNeal offers three shifts which will help the effectiveness of the church in fulfilling the Great Commission.  First, the church needs to shift from being internal focused to becoming external focused.  It is not about us but about offering Christ to the people in our community.  No longer can we operate on a “come and see” basis because it is too shallow.  The shift under missional leadership offers people something to give their lives to fulfill.  People need to know we care enough to die in order to fulfill our mission.  Second, the church must move from being program oriented to becoming people oriented.  It is not the ministries that make the church it is the people.  As we focus on developing people who are passionate about missional living we can expect to witness spiritual growth among our congregations.  Third, the leadership of the church needs to shift from operating like a corporate structure to becoming a kingdom structure which will reflect the church as a living organism.  As missional leaders we must focus on the Kingdom of God and less on our understanding of the church.  Most people in our culture do not see value in becoming a member of our churches but they can see the value of being in the Kingdom of God.  The book offered me fresh insight on how to lead change within the local church and the need to lead people away from the traditional understanding of the role of the church into the Biblical missional role of the church.

Book Review – Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger’s “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples”

On the surface, being the pastor of a simple church sounds great!  Right?  As a pastor, there have been many church growth programs, ideas, methods, etc. which have come my way.  Some I have tried implementing in the churches I have served.  All seem to have a common theme which is moreMore ministries, more people, more workers, more money, more time, more resources to purchase, more complexity!  Is more really better?  I don’t think so and if more is not healthy then I would rather have less or at least simple.  According to Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger the local church needs to get back to simply making disciples and in their book, “Simple Church” they say this can be done through a strategic process.  They define a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”[1]  They are not alone in this concept as companies such as Google, Papa John’s, and Apple have capitalized on simplistic marketing of their products.  The local church can easily become over taxed by “doing” instead of “being”.  Please do not misunderstand, we are supposed to be doing the work of the ministry but this work should come naturally out of who we are as a Christian and as a local church.

Rainer and Geiger present a comparison between a simple church (Cross Church) and a complex church (First Church).  Cross Church is operating on a simple paradigm of processing converts through four stages: (1) Clarity, (2) Movement, (3) Alignment, and (4) Focus.  Did you notice simple has just taken on a fourfold paradigm?  Perhaps, you can relate to my “midway-the-book” thought, “Oh no, this is just another method being promoted as the latest greatest thing for pastors.”  I must admit I have become somewhat of a skeptic.  I have realized there are no easy answers to the problem of declining church health.  The bottom line is Jesus instructed his disciples to follow him.  In doing so, they left all they had in absolute surrender and ventured on a journey of a lifetime.  That is not easy and that is the radical call of discipleship we must get back to in order to simplify our lives and ministries.

First, we clarify (or re-clarify) the mission of the church.  We are in the promotion business.  We are not promoting our ministries, programs, building campaigns, church growth strategies, agendas, etc.  In simplistic terms we are promoting only One, the Lord Jesus Christ!  Pretty simple, huh?  Sure but if your bulletin reflects anything like the ones from churches which I have served as pastor you might think otherwise.  What a wake-up call!

Second, we need to mobilize believers into action.  This is not an easy task because most folks I have met are not eager to take up a cross, a crown, yes, but not a cross.  We have given folks so many options and in doing so we have cluttered the simplistic call to radical discipleship.  Have you ever given thought to how heavy the cross was that Jesus carried?  I think he may have been dragging the base of the cross up Calvary’s hill.  If so, the base would act as a brace keeping him from backsliding (not in a spiritual sense but a physical sense).  If the church is mobilized in following Jesus we will be gaining ground and not losing.

Third, we need to be properly aligned in order to receive the blessings and anointing of God.  Jesus had twelve which after his ascension turned into one hundred and twenty, which after Pentecost turned into over three thousand!  We need to align ourselves with what God is doing.  If we can come together in unity regarding following Jesus we can experience true revival!

Fourth, we must keep our focus.  It is so easy to lose focus.  One thing we must do is “keep the main thing the main thing.”  Jesus is the main thing and he has given the church a mission and vision.  If we can rediscover and regain his mission and his vision, the church will be on the way toward becoming healthy.

To simplify, the fourfold paradigm is really a call to radical discipleship.  Can we complicate this?  Sure, we can!  What I would like to do is issue this challenge to the readers of my post for this blog.  It is not an ice bucket challenge.  I challenge each one of us to simplify our personal walk with the Lord.  Are we seeking to promote Jesus in every area of our lives?  Are we mobile and carrying our cross?  Are we right in the center of God’s will and purpose for our lives?  Has anything blurred or encroached upon our vision?  I am just offering a simple challenge to do some personal reflection.

               [1] Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, (Nashville TN: B & H Publishing Group), 2011, 60.

Book Review – Alan Hirsh & Tim Catchim’s “The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church”

When I experienced the divine call to preach my pastor at that time asked me which of the five-fold gifts listed in the Ephesians 4 passage did I believe the Lord was leading me?  At that time, I told my pastor, “I believe the Lord has called me to preach and teach His Word.”  I continue to believe this is true of my calling.  However, my eyes are being opened to greater possibilities of how my calling might unfold.  Alan Hirsh and Tim Catchim’s “The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church” provides a fresh look at the Ephesians 4 passage and promotes apostolic, missional ministry which includes each of the five-fold gifts (APEST = Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher).  When all five of the gifts are operational within the church the church will naturally operate as God designed it because the church is a living organism.  If the church does not have all of the gifts operational within the church the church will not be missional.  According to Hirsh and Catchim the church has limited herself to the use of primarily two gifts: shepherd and teacher.  I was encouraged by the book and gained a better understanding of apostolic ministry.  They offered two diagrams which helped support their purpose in writing the book.  The first provides a practical team model for the church utilizing the five-fold gifts (see page 86) and the second provides an operational flow chart or framework for creating an “Apostolic Environment” (see page 115).  What I have gleaned most is a fresh understanding that the Lord is at work building the church and he has provided the church with everything she needs in order to grow spiritually and numerically/evangelistically.  However, if what the Lord has given is not put into place and utilized growth will be hindered.  Previously, I had been taught apostolic ministry ceased with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The premise of this false teaching was that one of the requirements to replace Judas Iscariot was that the apostle had to have been with Jesus.  On the surface this appears plausible but with further research the replacement of Judas was within a certain context.  It is not accurate to jump from the Lukan account to the Pauline passage in Ephesians and conclude there is no longer a need for the gift of an apostle.  Hirsh and Catchim cite two Biblical examples of apostolic ministry which was enlightening.  Peter was a catalyst apostle and was not sent to the mission field but rather was sent to help the community of believers by helping them reflect, discover, and fulfill the mission within the community.  On the other hand, Paul was definitely one sent to the mission field and he was a catalyst for church growth.  We must have people with the gift of apostle (as well as the other gifts) on our ministry team to be effective.

Book Review – Lee Strobel’s “Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary”

Strobel makes some good points in his book.  He shares his own personal experience as an unbelieving news reporter in pursuit of the best story at the expense of others being hurt.  And from his atheistic and skeptic background he brings to light how some unbelievers feel about church.  The book provides much food for thought as how to meet the needs of unchurched “Harry and Mary” (names he uses to refer to all the unchurched).  However, I do believe his overall premise is somewhat flawed.  We are not called to meet the needs and desires of the unchurched in our attempt to build the church.  On the contrary, we are called to make disciples and in doing so we must be truthful.  Stobel mentioned that there are three types or camps of people: A) People who have found God.  B)  People who are seeking God.  C)  People who are not seeking God.  In my experience it was not I who found God but God found me.  Or perhaps it would be better to say He found a way to penetrate my hardened heart.  From a genuine encounter with the Lord came forgiveness and redemption.  I became a disciple of Jesus.  Discipleship comes at a cost and not with all the thrills promised by some of the so-called “seeker-friendly” churches.  I am not saying such churches have not done a good work for the Lord.  What I have gleaned from this book is an up close look at what some unbelievers think about church, some methods of evangelism, and most of all, an understanding of how some churches have fallen into a trap of commercializing the church to the point of meeting the needs of the unchurched.  I believe Strobel has provided me with some good information which will help penetrate the culture of the unchurched and for this reason is right on-time with our current studies and what I will reference in my dissertation.  He states, “Rescuing people in spiritual peril frequently requires us to strategically venture into their environment” (85).  This point is well supported as he shares insight on how we can build bridges to the unchurched.  I think this information is extremely valuable.  My point is once the bridge is built we share the Good News in a way that does not compromise the mission of the church.  Otherwise, we are not really doing the work of evangelism but rather promotional-ism.

Fifteen Observations:
(from Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary by Lee Stobel)

Observation # 1)  Harry has rejected church, but that doesn’t mean he has rejected God.

Observation # 2)  Harry is morally adrift, but he secretly wants an anchor.

Observation # 3)  Harry resists rules but responds to reasons.

Observation # 4)  Harry doesn’t understand Christianity, but he’s also ignorant about what he claims to believe in.

Observation # 5)  Harry has legitimate questions about spiritual matters, but he doesn’t expect answers from Christians.

Observation # 6  Harry doesn’t just ask, “Is Christianity true?”  Often, he’s asking: “Does Christianity work?”

Observation # 7)  Harry doesn’t just want to know something; he wants to experience it.

Observation # 8)  Harry doesn’t want to be somebody’s project, but he would like to be somebody’s friend.

Observation # 9)  Harry may distrust authority, but he’s receptive to authentic biblical leadership.

Observation # 10)  Harry is no longer loyal to denominations, but he is attracted to places where his needs will be met.

Observation # 11)  Harry isn’t much of a joiner, but he’s hungry for a cause he can connect with.

Observation # 12)  Even if Harry’s not spiritually sensitive, he wants his children to get quality moral training.

Observation # 13)  Harry and Mary are confused about sex roles, but they don’t know the Bible can clarify for them what it means to be a man and woman.

Observation #14)  Harry is proud that he’s tolerant of different faiths, but he thinks Christians are narrow-minded.

Observation #15)  There’s a good chance Harry would try church if a friend invited him – but this may actually do him more harm than good.

Book Review – Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense Out of Suffering

Many questions arise during one’s lifetime.  Perhaps one of the most significant questions centers in the topic of suffering and pain.  People do suffer and people do have pain.  This is a fact that is supported by much evidence.  A person does not have to look far for the evidence.  The main question is, why?  Why do people suffer and why do they have pain?  If there is a God and He cares for people then why does He allow people to suffer and to experience pain?  This type of questioning has led Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, to address the problem of suffering.

Kreeft’s book is an excellent source for anyone pondering this great mystery.    He does not claim to have all the answers.  He does offer his guidance as his readers attempt to tackle one of the hardest and toughest questions in the world.  Vanauken states in the forward of Kreeft’s book, “To be wise is to be discerning between the false and the true, to be balanced in judgement, to be, in fact, very sane.  A wise man, indeed, if you can find one, is a good guide amidst the claims of the experts” (vii).  Kreeft comes across as both an expert and a guide.

The problem of suffering is an apparent one.  Kreeft remarks that before a reader finishes his book that thousands will experience pain and suffering.  Among the great thinkers of the world stand Jesus and second would probably be Buddha.  A young prince, Gotama Siddhartha, was faced with the question, why do people suffer?  Siddhartha better known as Buddha made observations concerning pain and suffering which caused him to make a decision that launched Buddhism.  He calls these the four distressing sights.  The first sight was a sick man.  The second sight was an old man.  The third was a dead man.  The fourth sight was a sanyassin.  A sanyassin is “one who has renounced all worldly possessions … to become wise” (3).  Gotama became a sanyassin after he renounced his palace and princedom.  He became no wiser from while living a life of ascetisism.  So he alienated all the other sanyassins except five, which became his disciples.  He then proclaimed he was Buddha and stated his Four Noble Truths.  The first was that life is suffering.  The second was that the cause of suffering is desire.  The third is that the way to end suffering is to end desire.  The fourth is that the way to end desire is the Noble Eight-fold Path of ego-reduction.  The goal was Nirvana, which Buddha claimed would end suffering.  Kreeft’s examination of Buddha thoughts on suffering was educational and at the same time thought provoking for the reader.

The question, “Why does one suffer?” has generated many untrue explanations.  Kreeft takes a standpoint centered in Christ.  God is the only one who knows why people suffer.  Faith in Christ is the only answer that can satisfy the soul of man.  Kreeft tells stories from real life accounts of suffering and pain.  He identifies the case against God as, “ How can a mother trust and love a God who let her baby die?” (9).  Kreeft goes on to release four secrets that are often concealed in the lives of Christians.  The first is that almost every Christian will at one time or another be angry at God.  The second is when a Christian believes he or she is full then he or she is empty.  When he or she thinks that he or she is empty then he or she is full.  It is a paradox that can only be explained in realm of spirituality.  God is at work in the life of the believer.  This is a major key to understanding suffering.  If we cannot fully understand God then we cannot fully understand suffering.  The third secret is that a Christian’s faith is often made up of the intellect and the intellect fails in understanding God.  The fourth secret is that the Christian is not exempt from the same moral problems as non-Christians.  Kreeft makes a powerful illustration in including a letter from G. K. Chesterton.  Chesterton  answered a question concerning what was wrong in the world.  He simply stated “I am.”

Kreeft not only identifies the problem but he relates to fellow sufferers.  Kreeft listed who he was addressing in an attempt to demonstrate that this book was meant to be inclusive.  He shows humility in discussing this topic.  He goes on to explain that his book is not full of answers but a book to help others along the journey of understanding.  Kreeft goes into dialog with his readers on several occasions in order to place himself with the reader and not above the reader.  He does not like to be alone on the subject matter and relates that two minds are better than one.  He adds that this is a trait that he uses often in his writing.  He explains his method.  He relies on experience and believes in simplicity.  He is very personal and uses “I” a lot.  He relates himself to Augustine.  He emphasizes journey and quest instead of questions and answers.  He invites the reader to take the journey his or herself.  Kreeft identifies three areas of evil. They are suffering, death, and sin.

Kreeft states ten easy answers which some choose to hide behind.  He states that the answers are not sufficient and just give a quick fix type of solution to a complicated subject.  He claims that these are popular answers but an eleventh one that he states later in the book is not popular.  The first easy answer is that there is no God.  The second is that God is a fairy tale God or demythologism.  The third is psyschologism.  The fourth is old (polytheistic) paganism.  The fifth is new (scientific) paganism.  The sixth is dualism (two Gods).  The seventh is Satanism.  The eight is pantheism.  The ninth is deism.  The tenth is idealism.  Kreeft briefly describes each one of the easy answers and tells why he believes that they are insufficient.  Perhaps the best statement in his book offers hope to those who fail.  He states, “There is only one thing to do with failure: learn from it, turn your failure into a beginning of success.  Back up and start over.  Often the fastest way ahead is to go back” (44).

After exploring the possibilities of the ten easy answers Kreeft goes into dialog once again with his reader.  He has stated the problem and returns to it with the needed ground work completed in order move onto a deeper level of understanding.  The light comes when he explains that the truth cannot be known unless God reveals it to us and that God has a providential plan to save the whole world through Christ (51).  If God is in control (and He is) and if He has a plan (and He does) then is everything that happens apart of His plan?  Kreeft ends chapter three with a series of questions for his reader concerning who is in control.  Kreeft suggest that one should look for clues instead of answers.  In the chapters four through seven Kreeft explores several clues.  Chapters six and seven are where the meat of the book is found.  Kreeft tells about the prophets and the origin of suffering.  The clues point to the one who has all the answers.  The clues “itch” forward to Christ.  The ultimate pain and suffering was demonstrated by God’s one and only Son on the cross of Calvary.  “The answer must be someone, not just something” (129).  Christ is the answer.  Kreeft said it this way, “Jesus is not God off the hook but God on the hook” (140).

In the presence of the answer the reader is still presented with another question.  What is the difference now?  Kreeft explains that because the saints are believers in Christ and believers are His Body and because God is still at work in the Believer, he or she shares in Christ suffering.  St. Theresa said that everything was grace.  Therefore because everything is grace suffering too is grace.  Jesus is the needed explanation.  Remove Jesus from the issue of suffering then our knowledge of God becomes questionable.  Humility and Gratitude are the marks of a mature Christian.  When a Christian understands suffering in light of sharing with Jesus’ pain then anger, resentment and worst of all pride can be avoided.  Kreeft remarks that we do have eternal life and that is plenty to be grateful for.  Faith is the way to joy.  It is the way to heaven.  It takes total surrender in order to become a disciple of Christ.  It is in emptying out that one becomes full.  Kreeft explains in a simplified way what Kenosis is and how the believer can follow Christ example.  One of many quotations from C. S. Lewis is found directly after Kreeft comments on this topic.  “What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ‘ordinary life,’ but simply and solely Hell” (154).

Kreeft again enters into a dialog with his readers in chapter nine.  The result is an unfolding of two problems along the journey or quest.  One is the intellect.  The other is the will or volition.  However, the will has to be handled through the grace of God.  The mind can explore and find data that can support the intellect.  There are basically two types of intellectual thinking on the subject of pain and suffering.  One is the rational or logical way of thinking.  The other is a deeper modern way of thinking.  Kreeft devoted chapter ten to dealing with the deeper modern way of thinking.  He lists and explains seven things that the modern mind seems to overlook.  He states that the Christian has to fight to get these points understood by others.  First what is the greatest good or summum bonum?  Second is the loss of faith in ultimate meaning.  Third is the forgetfulness of heaven and hell.  Fourth is the forgetfulness of solidarity.  Fifth is the forgetfulness of original sin.  Sixth is the forgetfulness in the vicarious atonement.  Seventh is the forgetfulness of justice.

In conclusion the book is excellent.  Kreeft leaves the reader with bad news and good news from the Bible.  The bad news is that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.  The good news is that God gives eternal life through faith in Christ.  The greatest adventure is to be a Christian.  All of the clues found in the book were meant to point the reader to Christ.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book especially the sixth and seventh chapters.  I found the introductory information concerning Buddha educational.  There is good meat in this book that can satisfy hungry hearts.  I will continue to explore more clues on my own in order to be a “good minister of Jesus Christ” (I Timothy 4:6).

Book Review – James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World”

Hunter presents the case of how Christians can penetrate culture in a late modern (postmodern) world.  The book is divided into three sections based upon three “interconnected” essays.  Section one and Hunter’s first essay is titled, “Christianity and World-Changing.”  Hunter proposes that lasting long term change does not occur the way I would have thought.  From eleven propositions he suggests our culture is “resistant” to change.  On this point, I concur.  However, he goes on to say, “Only indirectly do evangelism, politics, and social reform effect language, symbol, narrative, myth, and the institutions of formation that change the DNA of a civilization” (45).  In order for long term change to occur it must be a type of bottom up approach which is focused on individuals penetrating the common institutions of change and thus having a positive impact on our culture.  I found “The Cultural Matrix” most interesting.  I think this chapter has helped prepare me to become a doctor of the church knowing it is not the groups that bring about lasting change but individuals within the groups.  Instead of looking for a group of like-minded people with a shared vision I can penetrate a group with my own convictions and facilitate change from the inside because I am there.  Section two and in the essay titled, “Rethinking Power” Hunter brings up the quest for power and how it has historically affected culture through economics and politics.  What I gained most from this essay was the reminder that Jesus did not choose power in the wilderness though Satan offered it to him.  There was a greater cause than the pursuit of power for Him and there should be for us.   Hunter states this claim, “It is this power and the spirit that animates it whose sovereignty Christ came to break” (188).  We should likewise seek to disarm the power Satan has upon the world thus bringing about change.  The third section and last essay Hunter shares the hope we can make a difference by working from within.  Such change will come at a cost and the real question for Christians is whether or not we are willing to pay the price for the change the world needs.  As a future doctor of the church Hunter has helped me better understand the dynamics of the problem and what it will take to bring about the change incarnationally.

Book Review – Lesslie Newbigin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”

“Newbigin (1909-1998) was an internationally esteemed British pastor, missionary, theologian, ecumenical statesman” (Back Cover).  Today in our hostile pluralistic culture people view religion differently than science.  With science people look at facts and determine whether or not a particular hypothesis is true or false.  With religion people look at values, tradition, and reason.  What enters the discussion is a plausibility structure which has within it a view of what should be if things were ideal.  Christianity does not fit well within a pluralistic worldview but offers an alternative to the plausibility structure because God is active within the world.

Book Review – Tim Elmore’s “Mentoring: How to Invest Your Life in Others”

Tim Elmore shares, “Mentoring is a relational experience through which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources” (16).  I chose this book because I wanted to better clarify my understanding of mentoring versus coaching.  During my time in the doctor of ministry program at Regent I have realized the importance of coaching in pastoral ministry.  Though the two are significantly different, as I pursue building my coaching skills I also desire to invest in the life of others through mentoring.  Elmore’s view of mentoring complements the co-active coaching paradigm.  He presents the Greek model of mentoring, following the formal academic, passive, theoretical classroom, as less effective than the Hebrew model.  The Hebrew model which Elmore advocates is relational, experiential, and provides on-the-job training.  This model Elmore claims is a coaching model (20).  Jesus was relational and he empowered his disciples.  As God is at work in the coaching relationship the outcome is positive for both the coach and client.  As God is at work in the mentoring relationship there can be a loss of power from the mentor as he or she gives power to the one being mentored (empowerment).  Elmore categorizes coaching in the mentorship process.  He shares there are seven kinds of mentors:

  • Discipler – Helping with the basics of following Christ.
  • Spiritual guide – Accountability, direction/insight for maturation.
  • Coach – Motivation, skills needed to meet a task/challenge.
  • Counselor – Timely advise, perspective on self, others, ministry.
  • Teacher – Knowledge, understanding on a specific subject.
  • Sponsor – Career guidance, protection; network with contacts.
  • Model – A living personal example for life, ministry, career.

According to Elmore, “The bottom line is: we need different kinds of mentors at different stages of life” (99).  This is a great book for pastoral leadership.

Book Review – John Maxwell and Jim Dornan’s “Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others”

This book by Maxwell and Dornan offered me wisdom on how to deal with people.  This is helpful in my context of pastoral ministry because I consistently have to deal with difficult people.  Just being real.  I need the experience of proven leaders with practical application on how I can lead in such a way to gain followers.  Maxwell and Dorman provide such in their book through the use and discuss in of the acrostic “I.N.F.L.U.E.N.C.E.” (Integrity with people, Nurtures other people, Faith in people, Listens to people, Understands people, Enlarges people, Negates for other people, Connects with people, Empowers people, and Reproduces other influencers).  The book was helpful and full of positive information.  It was very edifying to me personally as I reflected on those who have met my needs.  It is my desire to be a great leader in the church by providing assistance and empowerment to other leaders.  It was an easy book to read and was helpful for leadership refreshing and renewal.

Book Review – John Ortberg’s “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”

“The Life You’ve Always Wanted” is a book about spiritual formation as one seeks to live out the good news.  Beginning with the premise of a disappointed life he offers hope through transformation to real living.  He states, “The good news as Jesus preached it is not about the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven when you die.  It is about the glorious redemption of human life – your life.  It’s morphing time” (26).  Ortberg borrowed the term “morph” from the children’s show Power Rangers.  The Power Rangers would announce morphing time which signaled the transformation from ordinary human life into the martial art super heroes.  We cannot change with just an announcement.  However, the announcement precedes transformation and the Holy Spirit provides the power needed for us to live extraordinary lives in Christ.  Ortberg provides such an announcement for transformational living through the application of spiritual disciplines.  It is a good book and would be great for a group study.

Book Review – John P. Kotter’s “Leading Change”

Leading and implementing change in a local church is very challenging and is often unsuccessful.  Kotter addresses the process of leading change in the business world.  I chose this book because my doctoral dissertation includes transitioning the leadership structures within the local church.  Kotter offers eight stages of the change process:

  1. Establishing a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering employees for broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

From Kotter I have gleaned valuable insight such as the need for “buy in” from the people.  Change is a process which does not happen quickly and must be managed in such a way that the leadership does not lose creditable influence and the people do not become complacent.  Having the backing of a leadership team is essential in order for a pastor to lead a congregation in change.  This is a great book which complements “Managing Transitions” by William Bridges and provides resources needed within my context of ministry.

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