Discipling in a Multicultural World | Book Review


The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20) commands Christ’s followers to “make disciples of all nations.” That discipleship has at least two basic components:conversion, symbolized by baptism, and change, realized through ever-increasing obedience to Christ’s commandments. Notice also its multicultural shape. Christ commands His followers to disciple “all nations,” which means “people groups,” not “nation-states.”

In Discipling in a Multicultural World, Ajith Fernando outlines “biblical principles about discipling” and presents “examples about how they apply in daily life and ministry.” Fernando is the former national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, which he now continues to serve as teaching director, and the author of seventeen books. This book is the fruit of mature biblical reflection and decades of practical ministry experience.

Fernando divides the book into two parts: “Introducing Spiritual Parenthood” and “How People Change.”

Part 1 uses the metaphor of spiritual parenting to describe discipleship, which he defines as “an affectionate relationship of caring between people who see themselves as having a parent-child relationship.”

Part of the genius of this metaphor is that it’s multiplicative. Consider what Paul wrote to Timothy: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). As Fernando notes, “Four generations of Christians are mentioned here”: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others.

“Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” –Ajith Fernando

The parenting metaphor also jibes well with the New Testament understanding of the community of believers as a spiritual family. This understanding cuts against the grain of both Western individualism and the familism of the developing World. “Many church communities [in the West] have diluted the biblical idea of the solidarity of the community and its importance in the life of a Christian,” Fernando writes. The challenge of discipleship in Western contexts involves, in part, incorporating individuals into the body of Christ.

By the same token, however, the familism pervasive in most traditional cultures, including that of the Bible, presents a different challenge. For many converts in Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim contexts especially, to become a Christian is a lonely experience because one is immediately cut off from one’s family and extended community. Fernando wisely notes that converts belong to “two families—their earthly family and the family of God.” Discipleship in such contexts requires a delicate balance between honoring one’s earthly family and ongoing membership in one’s spiritual family. Disciples in these contexts often experience suffering, persecution, and loss of honor — a pattern we also see in the New Testament. Fernando offers wise advice about how disciplers can help disciples navigate these negative experiences.

Drawing on the work of missiologist Paul Hiebert, Fernando identifies three kinds of transformation in Part 2, “How People Change”:

  1. cognitive transformation, where a person’s belief system changes;
  2. affective transformation, where we personally experience God; and
  3. evaluative transformation, where we evaluate the beliefs and practices of the prevailing culture.

He devotes the bulk of this part of the book to describing what the Bible says about these three kinds of transformation, highlighting the role of Scripture, prayer, the discernment of  right and wrong, and the experience of healing in the discipleship process.

Three chapters — 10, 11, and 12 — focus on right and wrong. “In the Bible and in today’s culture,” Fernando writes, “people respond to issues of right and wrong along three lines: (1) guilt and forgiveness, (2) honor and shame, and (3) fear/bondage and power/liberation. Although all three lines are present in every culture to a degree, Western culture typically follows the guilt/forgiveness line, while traditional cultures follow the other two.

In a multicultural world, disciplers must understand all three so they can help disciples make sense of Christian faith and practice in culturally adequate ways. While the entire book contains mature biblical reflection seasoned with practical ministry experience, these three chapters are the best part, in my opinion.

I close this review with two sentences from Fernando’s concluding paragraph. First, “Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” This mindset is crucial, both to avoid authoritarian forms of discipling and to count discipling’s costs. Spiritual parenting, like parenting, isn’t easy.

Second, in light of that cost, Fernando prays: “In this busy world, may many Christians rise to pay the price of investing in people in this comprehensive way.”

Amen to that!

Book Reviewed
Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).

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

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

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Leadershift | Book Review


“Every advance you make as a leader will require a leadershift that changes the way you think, act, and lead,” writes John C. Maxwell in Leadershift. He goes on to enumerate eleven specific changes, which he illustrates with stories from his own leadership journey. He also provides practical advice to help readers make necessary shifts in their own leadership practices.

Maxwell defines leadershifting as “the ability and willingness to make a leadership change that will positively enhance organizational and personal growth.” Here are the specific changes he outlines:

  • focus: from soloist to conductor,
  • personal development: from goals to growth,
  • cost: from perks to price,
  • relational: from pleasing people to challenging people,
  • abundance: from maintaining to creating,
  • reproduction: from ladder climbing to ladder building,
  • communication: from directing to connecting,
  • improvement: from team uniformity to team diversity,
  • influence: from positional authority to moral authority,
  • impact: from trained leaders to transformational leaders, and
  • passion: from career to calling.

Like all of Maxwell’s books, Leadershift offers shrewd advice in simple language. Some readers may find its advice formulaic. Others, myself included, think the formulas make the advice memorable and therefore easier to act on. Having followed Maxwell’s writing for more than 25 years, I can honestly say that anyone who takes his advice to heart will improve as a leader.

Though written for a broad audience, Leadershift contains illustrations and applications directly relevant to church leaders. “If you want to be successful as a leader,” Maxwell writes, “you need to learn to become comfortable with uncertainty and make shifts continually.” His book shows how to do precisely that.

 

Book Reviewed
John C. Maxwell, Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace (Nashville, TN: HarperCollins Leadership, 2019).

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.

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.

When Ministers Change Jobs | Influence Podcast


In today’s Influence Podcast, I talk to my friend Mike McCrary about how to navigate transitions in ministry jobs. Mike is director of Funding for the Church Multiplication Network, a role he began this year–on my birthday, no less!–after nearly two decades of ministry in local churches. His recent experience gives him a unique perspective on what happens when ministers change jobs.

“Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code” by Samuel R. Chand


Samuel R. Chand, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011). $24.95, 224 pages.

According to Sam Chand, “Culture—not vision or strategy—is the most powerful factor in any organization.” Many churches formulate excellent vision statements and strategic goals for reaching their communities. But their success or failure depends on whether they have attended to “the personality of the church,” that is, its “organizational culture.” Chand arranges these churches on a spectrum from “inspiring” to “toxic.”

What separates inspiring churches from toxic ones is how they deal with seven organizational issues, which Chand outlines using the acrostic CULTURE:

  • Control: “People function most effectively if they are given control (or authority) with responsibility.”
  • Understanding: “Every person on a team needs to have a clear grasp of the vision, his or her role, the gifts and contributions of the team members, and the way the team functions.”
  • Leadership: “Healthy teams are pipelines of leadership development.”
  • Trust: “Mutual trust among team members is the glue that makes everything good possible.”
  • Unafraid: “Healthy teams foster the perspective that failure isn’t a tragedy and conflict isn’t the end of the world.”
  • Responsive: “Teams with healthy cultures are alert to open doors and ones that are closing.”
  • Execution: “Executing decisions is a function of clarity, roles and responsibilities, and the system of accountability.”

I wish that Chand had devoted a chapter to the spiritual dynamics of church cultures alongside the excellent chapters on organizational dynamics. But that is my only caveat. I recommend this book to pastors whose vision for reaching their communities is bumping up against the toxic elements in their own and their churches’ personalities. This book will help them identify the challenges their church culture poses and work toward solutions.

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

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