Read Like a Leader | Influence Magazine


I write the “Read Like a Leader” column in Influence magazine. I recommended the following three books in the August/September 2017 issue:

Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination
John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis (Oxford University Press)

All Americans support religious freedom and oppose discrimination — except for when they don’t. “But the devil is in the details,” write John Corvino, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis, “and these topics are rich with controversial details.” Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination presents a point-counterpoint debate between Corvino, who argues that contemporary religious-freedom claims constitute “a license to discriminate,” and Anderson and Girgis, who argue that laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination needlessly violate religious freedom. Many Americans despair of contemporary political discourse, but this book shows that debate on a hot-button social issue can be conducted with both substance and civility.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
Eugene H. Peterson (WaterBrook)

Near the beginning of his pastorate, Eugene H. Peterson found himself tossed about by “the winds of the times.” The 1960s were a tumultuous decade, and many voices clamored for his attention. On top of that, he felt “increasingly at odds” with his denominational advisors, whose ideas of leadership came “almost entirely from business and consumer models.” So he turned to God’s Word to see what it said about doing God’s will God’s way. As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons which consider that theme. It is a master class in what Scripture says about the pastoral care of souls. (Check out my longer review here.)

Multipliers, Revised and Updated
Liz Wiseman (Harper Business)

Leading a church is hard because of what David Allen calls “new demands, insufficient resources.” Or, as Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Too many pastors respond to new demands on their own. They fail to see God’s resources in the spiritual gifts distributed throughout their congregations. In consequence, pastors burn out and followers feel underutilized. Wiseman wrote Multipliers to figure out how leaders can grow the intelligence and capability of their organizations. It contains insights about leading others that are relevant in ministry. (Check out my longer review here.)

P.S. I am cross-posting this from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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No Silver Bullets | Book Review


As a young minister, I attended many leadership seminars with my pastor. These seminars were taught by well-known megachurch pastors and leading church-growth experts and gave us notebooks filled with detailed instructions about how to do church more effectively. After each seminar, my pastor and I discussed what wholesale changes we needed to make in light of what we had just learned.

Over time, though, we learned an even greater lesson from these seminars, albeit unintended: What worked for them will not necessarily work for you. Don’t get me wrong, these pastors and experts were on to something, but that something was not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to what ailed our church. Rather than importing someone else’s system into our congregational culture, we needed to do the hard work of figuring out how to apply biblical teaching about the church and its ministries in our own context.

I kept that lesson in mind as I read Daniel Im’s insightful new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Im is director of Church Multiplication for NewChurches.com and LifeWay Christian Resources, as well as a teaching pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. He is coauthor, with Ed Stetzer, of Planting Missional Churches (2nd edition).

When you focus on developing missionary disciples,
you will always get mature disciples.

Rather than silver bullets — “one-decision solutions that will solve all your woes and unleash your church into a new season of faithfulness” — Im suggests “micro-shifts” in how you’re currently doing ministry. Christian ministry boils down to discipleship. Make disciples is the only imperative verb in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It’s the Church’s unique and fundamental task, its reason for being. So, the micro-shifts Im suggests are oriented around what we understand discipleship to be and how we do it. They involve moving

  1. from destination to direction,
  2. from output to input,
  3. from sage to guide,
  4. from form to function, and
  5. from maturity to missionary.

The first shift deals with how we understand discipleship. A destination approach thinks of discipleship in terms of “how much [disciples] have achieved, what they know, their observable behaviors, and whether they have completed certain classes.” A direction approach, by contrast, views “maturity as an ongoing process without an endpoint this side of eternity.” This entails that we are always being discipled, and requires that we always are discipling others.

The second shift pertains to what an individual needs to do to move in the direction of Christlikeness. Churches want disciples to demonstrate biblical literacy, the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, etc. These are output goals or results. Input goals are those practices that make output goals achievable. Based on Lifeway Research, Im argues that reading the Bible, attending Sunday worship, and participating in smaller groups are three inputs that especially influence outputs.

The third shift addresses the role of the leader in this process. Pastors often feel that they need to be the “sage on the stage,” the person with answers to all discipleship questions. Drawing on adult learning studies, Im counsels pastors and other church leaders to adopt an approach that might be characterized as the “guide on the side.” In this approach, the teacher puts the learner in the driving seat, helping them when they get stuck. Obviously, there is still room for the Sunday morning sermon, but the guide-on-the-side approach works especially well in smaller, less formal settings

In the fourth shift, Im talks about moving from form to function. This is an especially good chapter for churches that are still debating whether Sunday school or small groups is the better discipleship methodology. Im argues that the function of discipling is more important than the form in which it takes places. Having said that, he counsels paying attention to mid-size communities in the church as a particularly fruitful venue for discipleship. These are neither as anonymous as Sunday morning worship services nor as intimate as a small group.

Finally, Im focuses on the purpose of discipleship. Most churches understand discipleship in terms of spiritual maturity, but Im thinks they ought to understand it in terms of being a missionary. He writes: “when you focus on developing mature disciples, you do not necessarily find yourself with an army of missionaries. However, when you focus on developing missionary disciples, you will always get mature disciples.”

Throughout No Silver Bullets, Daniel Im brings biblical theology, personal experience, and social science research to bear on the urgent question of how churches can better make disciples. Even if you don’t agree with everything he suggests, his angle of vision on the question of discipleship will help you sharpen your own focus in ministry.

Book Reviewed:
Daniel Im, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review.

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History | Book Review


After Charlottesville, I have spent a fair bit of time on Facebook arguing about the Confederacy, the Civil War, and statues of Confederate heroes such as Robert E. Lee. My position is that the Confederacy was incorrigibly racist, that it started the war to defend slavery, and that its “heroes” should not be given statues because they were traitors. I am a conservative Republican and evangelical Christian, so my opposition to Confederate statues comes from the Right, not the Left, which always seems to catch people off guard.

I mention this because I have been surpised by the defense of Confederate statues by my fellow conservatives and Christians. Not all of them, of course, but enough of them to disappoint me. Most of them defend these statues on slippery-slope grounds—e.g., if Lee today, then why not Washington and Jefferson tomorrow? They worry that taking down statues equates to erasing history. But as the conversation continues, someone else will join in with a rosy view of the Confederacy as a redoubt of state’s rights and small government in which slavery was an unfortunate but historically ancillary problem. (Talk about the erasure of history!)

Historians term this point of view the myth of Lost Cause. It is an interpretation of the war that arose in the immediate aftermath of the Confederacy’s defeat in order to explain away that defeat away while simultaneously justifying the antebellum South’s way of life. It is a tendentious way of reading history, one that downplays the central role of slavery in both secession and the Confederacy, and romanticizes the valor of the Southern warfighter, who fell victim to the superior manpower and materiel—though not martial skill—of Northern forces.

Unfortunately, writes Alan T. Nolan in his sketch of the Lost Cause interpretation, “The victim of the Lost Cause legend has been history, for which the legend has been substituted in the national memory.” The goal of this volume, as the editors put it, is “to build on previous literature by engaging various aspects of the white South’s response to defeat, efforts to create a suitable memory of the war, and uses of the Confederate past.”

Nine authors examine various topics. Alan T. Nolan describes the contours of the Lost Cause interpretation (Chapter One). Gary W. Gallagher highlights the crucial role of Jubal A. Early in promulgating the myth (Chapter Two), while Lesley J. Gordon does the same for LaSalle Corbell Pickett, the wife of Major General George Pickett of “Pickett’s Charge” fame (Chapter Eight).

Three authors examine how Lost Cause mythology was put to use in as many states: Charles J. Holden on South Carolina (Chapter Three), Keith S. Bohannon on Georgia (Chapter Four), and Peter S. Carmichael on Virginia (Chapter Five). Chapters Six by Jeffry D. Wert and Chapter Seven by Brooks D. Simpson examine how the Lost Cause interpreted the martial skill of James Longstreet and Ulysses S. Grant, leading Confederate and Union generals, respectively. Longstreet became the “Judas Iscariot” of the Confederacy, blamed for losing Gettysburg by Jubal A. Early, and reviled for working with Republicans during Reconstruction. Lost Cause historians gave (and give) Grant little credit as a leader for defeating Lee, attributing his success to his willingness to hammer Confederate forces into attrition by means of sheer numbers and mechanized weaponry. This allows Lost Cause historians to valorize—if not apotheosize—Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Finally, Chapter Nine by Lloyd A. Hunger looks at “Lost Cause Religion,” namely, the entanglement of Protestant religion with the Confederate cause, so that the symbols of one became symbols of the other. As an evangelical Christian and a minister of the gospel, I read this chapter in particular as a warning to the present of the way that the gospel can be used and abused in support of self-interested ideology.

The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History is an excellent book, but it is probably not the best book to read if you are unfamiliar with Civil War history generally or Lost Cause mythology specifically. It assumes a lot of background knowledge, and its assortment of essays do not make for a unified look at the topic. Historian John Fea has put together a list of essential readings on the Lost Cause, and this book makes the list, however. For that reason, and because it was so informative, I nonetheless recommend it highly to anyone with a decent background knowledge of the issues.

 

Book Reviewed:
Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review.

Daniel Im | Influence Podcast


In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at InfluenceMagazine.com and here on Wednesday.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • “Between 2001 and 2008,” Jerry Ireland writes, “missions budgets for evangelism and discipleship declined by almost 11 percent, while funds for relief and development work increased by nearly 9 percent.” My guess is that this trend continued in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both Jerry and I believe that Pentecostal mission must include evangelism and compassion. However, discipleship has a missional priority. Jerry writes, “The most compassionate thing your church can do is support missionaries discipling local people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).”
  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at InfluenceMagazine.com and here on Wednesday.
  • Chris Railey highlights the importance of church planting in the August-September issue of Influence magazine: “Church planters want to change the world, and the truth is, they are the Church’s best hope. The Assemblies of God is seeing incredible growth in the number of new churches. In fact, 2016 was the best church-planting year in our 103-year history, with 406 new churches opened. Church planters connect us to our pioneering roots; they represent the missional and Spirit-led work of expanding the kingdom of God that has always defined our movement.”

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Y Is for Yesterday | Book Review


Y Is for Yesterday is the 25th installment in Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. Kinsey is asked to investigate the blackmail of a young man just released from juvenile detention for a homicide he committed a decade earlier. As she begins to question family and friends, she uncovers a web of secrets and lies that lead to murder.

At the same time, she keeps looking over her shoulder for the serial killer who failed to silence her six months earlier and still wants revenge. (That story is told in Grafton’s previous novel, X.)

I first heard of the Kinsey Millhone mysteries while living and working in Santa Barbara, California more than ten years ago. Santa Teresa—where Kinsey lives and works as a private investigator—is a lightly fictionalized Santa Barbara, so it was easy for me to imagine her pounding the pavement in search of justice, or at least answers. I started with A Is for Alibi, got hooked instantly, and have since worked my way through the alphabet one letter at a time.

It’s hard to believe that Sue Grafton has been at this series since 1982, when A Is for Alibi was published, but I’m glad she’s persisted. This book is a page-turner, and I look forward to reading Z Is for Zero in 2019.

 

Book Reviewed:
Sue Grafton, Y Is for Yesterday (New York: G. Putnam’s Sons, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.