High Impact Teams | Book Review


Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explainhowto up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

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

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Christians in the Age of Outrage | Book Review


Google the word “outrage,” and this definition appears: “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.” Not just anger, shock or indignation, mind you, but an “extremely strong reaction” of those things. Outrage is anger kicked up to 11.

Contemporary Americans live in the Age of Outrage. We are outraged by what those on the “other side” of just about any political, cultural or religious issue say and do, and we take to social media to “destroy” them. Not dialogue civilly, let alone rebut or refute, but destroy.

Outrage destroys.

In Christians in the Age of Outrage, Ed Stetzer shows “how to bring our best when the world is at its worst,” as the subtitle puts it. The book is a tract for our times, and its author is the right person to share it. Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College. Like Graham — known to many as “America’s Pastor” — Stetzer wants American evangelicals to be “unifying forces in American life,” bringing people together around the gospel. The purpose of his book is “to help Christians move from contributing to the age of outrage to effectively engaging it with the gospel.”

To accomplish that purpose, Stetzer looks at three broad topics. In Part 1, he examines “the two primary catalysts for our outrage”: “cultural forking” and “the technology discipleship gap.” Whereas American culture used to be nominally Christian, so that evangelicals found themselves in its mainstream, it is increasingly becoming post-Christian. Culture forked, in other words, and evangelicals now find themselves outside the mainstream. The new mainstream and the old mainstream eye each other distrustfully across the gap that divides them.

Social media exacerbates that distrust. Face-to-face encounters usually keep things civil, but online, you can abstract your opponents’ ideas from the totality of their lives and then reduce them to that abstraction. Social media use too often succeeds in reducing people to straw men and then providing the match to light those straw men on fire. This results in a vicious cycle of caricature, outrage, counter-caricature, counter-outrage, and so on and so forth.

In Part 2, Stetzer examines “four lies that reinforce and deepen our world’s anger.” They are:

  1. Christians are the worst!
  2. My outrage is righteous anger.
  3. _____ will save me from the outrage!
  4. Mission is optional.

Some of these are lies that post-Christian America tells about Christian America. The others are lies Christians tell themselves. These lies distort clear thinking and rationalize bad behavior.

Stetzer’s debunking of each of these lies is good, but I especially appreciated the distinction he drew between “righteous anger” and “outrage.” He writes:

Outrage exhibits few if any of the short- or long-term characteristics Scripture associates with righteous anger. Righteous anger is aimed at the glory of God,, but outrage is an angry reaction to personal injury or insult. Where righteous anger is purposeful and designed to advance specific objectives and ends, outrage exhibits little critical thought as to its underlying focus, motivations, expressions, or ends.

Outrage is motivated by a desire to punish or destroy rather than reconcile or refine. It is frequently accompanied by hubris and a confidence in its judgment, categorically rejecting any nuance. Outrage is fast and decisive rather than reflective, choosing to exhibit God’s retribution rather than reflect his persistent, steadfast love.

Yes, there are any number of sins and injustices in the world to be righteously angry about. Stetzer’s not denying this. But in the Bible, righteous anger is the prelude to repentance, reform and redemption. It is a means to a greater end. In our culture, outrage is its own reward.

The connection between righteous anger and redemption reminds us that God’s mission to redeem humanity is the purpose for which Christ came into the world. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). When we let our anger get kicked up to 11, we forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors, carrying the message: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). When we keep our mission in the forefront of our minds, however, a different strategy emerges.

Part 3 outlines “ways that Christians can counteract the outrage in their lives and this world by being intentional about developing a Christ-centered worldview, living as God’s ambassadors, loving others in a winsome way, and engaging thoughtfully with others, both online and face-to-face.” I like the way Stetzer summarizes the strategy this way: “Instead of Outrage, Engage.”

There’s so much wisdom in Stetzer’s recommendations that it’s hard to summarize them all. So, let me just highlight his “Principles of Digital Discipleship.” They are particularly helpful, especially given the outsized role that social media play in fomenting our culture of outrage. When online, Stetzer advises:

  1. Remember that everyone is watching.
  2. Choose investment over consumption.
  3. See people, not avatars.
  4. Make grace the default mode.
  5. Resist the urge to fight every battle.
  6. Value authority over freedom.

Regarding that last point, Stetzer writes: “Just because we cansay something doesn’t mean we should. There are ways of confronting abuses of power, and I am certainly not condoning a mindless obedience. But Christians need to understand that the best place for difficult conversations is usually not online.”

The vicious cycle of outrage and counter-outrage has got to stop, for the good of our culture and for the sake of the gospel. Christians need to demonstrate a better way. After all, if the Church is “the hermeneutic of the gospel,” as Lesslie Newbigin put it, then our unrighteous outrage may lead people away from God, giving Him a bad reputation in the process. You can be outraged or you can fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t do both.

In sum, I highly recommend both Christians in the Age of Outrage and its author. If you’d like to see how he deals online with controversial issues in a Christian manner, follow @EdStetzer on major social media. Or check out his blog at ChristianityToday.com.

Book Reviewed
Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is At Its Worst (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of this book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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

The Hospitable Leader | Book Review


People don’t tend to link hospitality and leadership. Hospitality is for the home, leadership for the organization. Terry A. Smith thinks decoupling hospitality and leadership is a mistake. “A hospitable leader creates environments of welcome where moral leadership can more effectively influence an ever-expanding diversity of people.” Smith roots hospitable leadership in Jesus’ teaching and example, but he shows how it has wide application in the church as well as other contexts. “Our world needs leaders who, like Jesus, sit in the middle of a great celebration and invite people in.” The Hospitable Leader shows readers how to do just that.

Book Reviewed
Terry A. Smith, The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of this book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

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

P.P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with the Terry A. Smith.

The Hospitable Leader | Influence Podcast


Hospitality is a Christian virtue. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,” Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” According to the apostle Paul, one of the requirements for holding church office is being “hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). At minimum, hospitality means providing food and shelter for those in need.

But what if that’s only the start? What if hospitality is a mindset that has multiple expressions affecting every aspect of leadership? That’s the question I’m exploring with Terry A. Smith in Episode 154 of the Influence Podcast.

Terry A. Smith is lead pastor of The Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey, as well as author of The Hospitable Leader: Create Environments Where People and Dreams Flourish, published by Bethany House. You can learn more about his book at this webpage, specifically created for Influence Podcast listeners.

Leadership in Turbulent Times | Book Review


The best way to study leadership is to study leaders. How they exercised influence in their contexts provides examples of how we can do so in ours. For this reason, it is paramount for leaders to be well-versed in biography and history, the knowledge of people and their times.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times provides case studies of the leadership of four U.S. presidents at critical junctures in their administrations:

  • Abraham Lincoln exemplifies transformational leadership as he expanded the North’s war aims from union to emancipation through the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Theodore Roosevelt provides a model of crisis management by how he brought labor and management to the table during the Great Coal Strike of 1902.
  • Exuding optimism and executing a plan to respond to the Great Depression in his first 100 days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt offers a master class in turnaround leadership.
  • And Lyndon Johnson demonstrates visionary leadership by using all the forces at his disposal — including persuasion and hardball politics — to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), fundamentally altering the legal terms under which whites and blacks related to one another.

Goodwin presents these case studies in Part III of her book, “The Leader and the Times: How They Led.” Of each president’s White House years, she writes: “There, at their formidable best, when guided by a sense of moral purpose, they were able to channel their ambitions and summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.”

But those ambitions and talents didn’t emerge de novo or ex nihilo. The four presidents were influenced by circumstances just as much as they in turn influenced them. Part I, “Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership,” narrates the burgeoning sense of possibility each president experienced in his 20s especially, along with the recognition by their peers that they were destined for greater things. Part II, “Adversity and Growth,” shows how each one faced a test or series of tests that forced them to ask deeper questions of their life’s meaning — questions that, once answered, steeled their commitment to lead. Finally, an Epilogue examines how each man reflected on his enduring reputation, a fame that would last beyond both his administration and his death. How would they be remembered by posterity?

As with Goodwin’s previous works on these four presidents, Leadership in Turbulent Times is a gripping read, combining biographical detail and historical context. It is the addition of shrewd insights about leadership throughout the book that marks a departure from her earlier biographies. Those insights are well-grounded and explicit.

One of the great dangers of drawing lessons from biography or history is that such lessons smooth over differences, whether among the subjects of  biographical inquiry, or between their times and our own. Doris Kearns Goodwin is well aware of this danger and largely avoids it. The leadership principles she draws organically arise from the events she narrates. Here’s how she explains the matter in the book’s Foreword:

“These four extended examples show how their leadership fit the historical moment as a key fits a lock. No key is exactly the same; each has a different line of ridges and notches along its blade. While there is neither a master key to leadership nor a common lock of historical circumstance, we can detect a certain family resemblance of leadership traits as we trace the alignment of leadership capacity within its historical context.”

That “family resemblance of leadership traits,” the book’s explicit lesson, is what leaders will most appreciate about Leadership in Turbulent Times. Its implicit lesson is that leaders must know themselves and their own times if they want to change them. Leadership never occurs in a vacuum where principles can be applied automatically. Rather, it requires wisdom. Like the biblical men of Issachar, leaders understand the times and know just what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Book Reviewed
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).

P.S. If this review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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

How to Create a Volunteer-Friendly Culture at Your Church | Influence Podcast


God designed the Church to run on volunteer power. Every member of the congregation is a spiritually gifted individual, after all, called and empowered to do “the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12, ESV). And yet, many churches experience a chronic shortage of volunteers.

What is the cause of this shortage, and what can pastors and other church leaders do about it?

Those are the questions Influence magazine I talk about with Jill Fox in Episode 153 of the Influence Podcast. Fox is ministry initiatives and next gen pastor at Westwood Community Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, and co-author, with Leith Anderson, of two books: The Volunteer Church and Volunteering, both published by Zondervan. (See my review here.)

Five Tensions Churches Must Manage to Successfully Engage Millennials | Influence Podcast


America is in the midst of a generational sea change. Baby Boomers are no longer the nation’s largest generational cohort. Instead, Millennials are.

Unfortunately, Millennials are the least religious generational cohort in our nation’s history. If the Church wants to reach Millennials, it cannot rely on strategies that worked with Boomers. The generations are simply too different.

In today’s episode, Influencemagazine executive editor George P. Wood talks to Geoff Surratt about five tensions churches must manage to successfully engage Millennials.

Together with his wife, Sherry, Geoff is the founder of Ministry Together, which “partners with “ministry leaders for relational health, organizational growth and Kingdom impact.” He is also author of the free e-book, The Church Will Thrive.