How to Make Big Decisions Wisely | Book Review


We make decisions every day. Most of them are small and inconsequential. Others are big and momentous. The crucial issue is how to make decisions well.

Alan Ehler answers that question in his new book, appropriately titled How to Make Big Decisions Wisely. Ehler is a professor and dean of Barnett College of Ministry and Theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, as well as an ordained Assemblies of God minister. His answer combines biblical and theological reflection with insights gained from decision science.

To make big decisions wisely, Ehler argues, you need to know what constitutes a big decision in the first place. Part 1 answers that question. “Big decisions shape the course of life,” he writes. Drawing on Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Ehler proposes a grid for decision making based on four considerations: Is your experience limited? Is your level of clarity or certainty about the decision low? Is there disagreement among those involved with making the decision? And are there many seemingly good options to choose between?

If your answers to those questions are “no,” you can make a fast, intuitive decision. If it’s “yes,” however, you need to slow down and be intentional, because your decision is a big one.

The heart of How to Make Big Decisions Wisely is Part 2, which outlines an intentional decision-making model Ehler calls Story Shaping. The model consists of four steps:

  1. Read the backstory.
  2. Catch God’s story.
  3. Craft a new story.
  4. Tell the new story.

The first step requires decision makers to understand what is happening and why, as well as the outcome you desire from the decision-making process. “Whatever dilemma you may face,” writes Ehler, “you are more likely to make a better decision if you understand the real story, rather than just seeing what’s on the surface.” This is true whether the decision is personal or organizational in nature.

Catching God’s story is the second step. “The goal of Story Shaping is to collaborate with God in shaping your story,” Ehler writes. This is the book’s most theological chapter, focused on how to discern God’s will for our lives. We hear God’s voice most perfectly in Scripture, “which is God-inspired and uniquely trustworthy and authoritative,” as Ehler puts it. And yet, Scripture itself points to two other sources where we might discern God’s will: our perception of the Holy Spirit’s voice and the counsel of Christian community. While these sources can reveal God’s story, they remain subject to the controlling authority of Scripture.

The third step in Story Shaping is to craft a new story, which draws heavily on the secular discipline of decision science. Some readers may wonder why such a chapter is necessary. Isn’t catching God’s story sufficient? The answer to that question is obviously “yes,” but we need to ask ourselves, Sufficient for what? Scripture, the Spirit and Christian community always set the parameters for permissible decisions, but they do not always make the decisions for us. Typically, we have to choose among several good options.

Decision science helps us make good choices by showing us how to sift our options. “The goal is simple: generate as many solutions as possible, narrow them to a manageable list, evaluate each option, and then make the best possible decision,” Ehler writes. Ehler’s chapter on this third step contains detailed suggestions about how to do each thing.

Once a decision has been made, it needs to be communicated to stakeholders. This is the fourth step of Story Shaping: Tell the new story. When you communicate a leadership decision, Ehler recommends keeping things simple. Your communications should explain the necessity and benefits of making the recommended change, as well as how it will happen. Additionally, you need to address people’s fear of change by showing how it will improve their situation. Finally, you need to clarify what part the stakeholders themselves will play in making the change.

Part 3 concludes How to Make Big Decisions Wisely by demonstrating how it applies to personal and organization decisions, as well as conflict resolution. The four steps of Story Shaping may strike some readers as simplistic, but this section of the book shows how a simple model has tremendous power both to explain a problem and to craft a solution.

Alan Ehler wrote How to Make Big Decisions Wisely for a broad readership. It has obvious applications for both personal and organizational decisions, as well as for both ministry and business contexts. If you’re a minister, consider reading it for personal growth, but also consider using it as a leadership development tool with board members, pastoral staff and leading volunteers.

Book Reviewed
Alan Ehler, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely: A Biblical and Scientific Guide to Healthier Habits, Less Stress, a Better Career, and Much More (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P,.S. This review is cross-posted with InfluenceMagazine.com by permission.

How to Lead When Your Church Is Closed | Influence Podcast


The coronavirus pandemic is temporarily changing the way Americans live, work, and use their free time. The federal government has asked citizens voluntarily to “[a]void social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people,” but many state and local governments are imposing bans on such gatherings. This negatively affects the ability of local churches to gather for worship, most immediately, but it also may have other longer term effects.

How should—how can—pastors lead their congregations when their churches are closed?

That’s the question I’m asking Dr. John Davidson in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Davidson is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors. Over the next few weeks, CMNLead.com will publish resources to help local churches respond innovatively during the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

What Christians Should Know about Artificial Intelligence | Influence Podcast


“AI is changing everything about our world and society. And we aren’t prepared.”

So writes Jason Thacker in The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to him about his book, focusing on how Christians should evaluate and use AI technology.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Jason Thacker is the creative director and an associate research fellow at The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. In addition to writing The Age of AI, he helped write the ERLC’s “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles.”

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

When Someone You Love Is Gay | Influence Podcast


According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who say homosexuality should be approved by society grew from 46% in 1994 to 70% in 2017. Over the same period, the share who say it should be discouraged declined from 49% to 24%. Public attitudes toward same-sex marriage have followed a similar trajectory. Pew reports that in 2004, 60% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, while 31% favored it. By 2019, those numbers had reversed, with 61% favoring it and 31% opposing it.

These data points create tensions for Christians who want to uphold the biblical view of sexual morality: fidelity within marriage, defined as the lifelong union of a man and a woman, and chastity outside of it. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking with Joe Dallas about the most poignant tension: what to do when someone you love is gay.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Joe Dallas is a Christian counselor and author of numerous books about a Christian view of sexuality, including When Homosexuality Hits Home: What to Do When a Loved One Says, “I’m Gay.” He serves on the Board of Directors for ReStory Ministries, whose mission is “resourcing local [Assemblies of God] churches to address homosexuality and gender identity.”

Longing for Revival | Book Review


At various times, I have experienced periods of intense spiritual growth. I have also participated in extended occasions in church life where the adjectives more and better describe the congregation’s experience of God and of effectiveness in mission, respectively. Both are examples of revival.

Revival seems like a strange term to many Christians today, a word from another age or place. They acknowledge that revival happened back then or is happening somewhere else, but they don’t see it happening right now, right here. They don’t feel it happening in themselves either.

Worse, the term revival provokes suspicion in some minds because of its association with anti-intellectualism and emotionalism. This suspicion isn’t new. In his 1876 autobiography, Charles Finney described as a “burnt district” certain areas of central and western New York. “Taking what they had seen as a specimen of a revival of religion,” Finney writes, “they felt justified in opposing anything looking toward the promoting of a revival.”

But once you factor out the strangeness of and suspicions about the word revival, it still names what all Christians want, individually and corporately: more of God, and better effectiveness in mission. We all long for revival.

Revival is the work of God’s Spirit. We can’t gin it up, but we can prepare to receive it. How to do so is the subject of Longing for Revival by James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer. Choung is vice president of strategy and innovation for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (USA). Pfeiffer is next gen pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, California. They divide their work into three parts.

Part One asks, what is revival? It is, in their words, “a season of breakthroughs in word, deed, and power that ushers in a new normal of kingdom experience and fruitfulness.” Word, deed, and power express the gospel in different ways: word as “biblical preaching and teaching”; deed as “compassion and justice”; and power in “miraculous or explicitly supernatural ways.”

Different revivals begin with an emphasis on different expressions. The Great Awakening is remembered for its preaching, the Second Great Awakening for its activism, and Azusa Street for its signs and wonders. Yet, the authors contend, “Revivals, as they mature, move toward the center. They exhibit word, deed, and power in love.” A focus on one of these expressions to the detriment of others “can stunt revival in our hearts and communities.”

Part Two asks, how do you prepare for revival? It outlines four essential practices: consecration, calling, contending and character. These are especially the practices of those who lead revivals. “Revivals are first experienced, and then given away,” the authors write.

Consecration consists of “making ourselves available to God so he can make us holy, and set us apart for his holiness.” Calling nourishes a “holy discontent” with the way things are. “It’s a provocateur against comfort, prodding us toward an alternative vision of what God can do.”  The consecrated and called engage in contending, which isn’t contentiousness! Instead, it is “learning to pray in such a way as to not give up” — spiritual warfare, in other words, “fighting with God’s power and not with our own.” Finally, character. “Revival leadership invariably takes us on a path of confrontation with the status quo, and that means our character will be tested by both the praise we receive and the rejection we suffer.” Too often, revivals falter because their leaders fail this test.

Part Three asks, how do you lead revival? One noteworthy insight is what the authors call the “Mystery and Strategy Paradox.” In any revival, there are experiential elements (“mystery”) and organizational elements (“strategy”). According to the authors, a “holistic” revival majors in both mystery and strategy. When it majors in mystery but minors in strategy, it’s “experiential.” When it minors in mystery but majors in strategy, it’s “pragmatic.” When it minors in both, it’s merely “social,” a gathering of amiable people with no greater passion or purpose.

There’s an old gospel chorus that, if you pray it and live it, will lead beyond no greater to more and better. It doesn’t make an appearance in Longing for Revival, but it’s a fitting coda nonetheless:

Revive us again; fill each heart with They love;
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory, Hallelujah, amen!
Hallelujah, Thine the glory, revive us again!

Book Reviewed
James Choung and Ryan Pfeiffer, Longing for Revival: From Holy Discontent to Breakthrough Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 issue of Influence magazine and is posted here with permission.

The Age of AI | Book Review


Popular thinking about artificial intelligence (AI) alternates between the utopian and dystopian. Will our future be like the 1999 film Bicentennial Man, in which a robot becomes human over the course of 200 years? Or will it be like the 1984 movie The Terminator, in which a cyborg assassin travels back in time to kill the mother of the man who will prevent an AI-initiated nuclear holocaust?

Perhaps the future will be a little of both. As Jason Thacker demonstrates in The Age of AI, humanity is the image of God, and “God gave us specific jobs and responsibilities to perform as we seek to reflect him in this world.” Technology — even complicated technology like AI — is simply “a tool that helps us live out our God-given callings.” The problem is that humanity “brought sin into the world and broke the natural order of things.” Our technology reflects our mixed character as the image of God marred. It helps, and it harms.

Thus, AI holds both promise and peril. In the medical field, AI promises to make more accurate diagnoses and perform more intricate surgeries. But will it also deny medical care to those with low odds of survival? AI promises to make factory work less arduous, but will robots take jobs from humans? Social media helps people connect across distances and barriers, even as AI runs complex algorithms in the background and sweeps up personal data. Is that information safe from hackers, criminals and authoritarian governments?

Underlying these ethical dilemmas is a theological paradox. Some AI advocates — called transhumanists — believe humans are simply complex machines. When machines become sufficiently complex, they too will become almost human, like Robin Williams’ robot character in Bicentennial Man. The hope is such machines will avoid human failings. Thacker identifies the paradox: “We dumb down what it means to be human and treat each other as simple machines, but at the same time put our hope and faith in these machines to solve the problems and ills that we deal with each day.” In the process, we idolize our creations but demean God’s — people made in  His image.

“AI is changing everything about our world and society,” writes Thacker. “And we aren’t prepared.” Reading The Age of AI is a good starting place.

BOOK REVIEWED
Jason Thacker, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

A Biblical Approach to Productivity | Influence Podcast


“Life is complicated, and it’s easy to lose clarity in the face of daily, pressing needs,” writes Dr. Brandon Crowe. “To cut through the complexity and begin to make progress, you need a plan of attack.” In Every Day Matters, Dr. Crowe offers sound advice for how to “think biblically about how to get things done,” as well as how to maximize “your time and energy toward the most important things in everyday life.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Dr. Crowe about this biblical approach to productivity. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Brandon Crowe is associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, book review editor for the Westminster Theological Journal, and author of Every Day Matters: A Biblical Approach to Productivity, one of three leadership book recommendations in the March/April 2020 issue of Influence magazine.

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