The Soul of a Team | Book Review

“What separates the truly great teams from the mediocre ones?” asks Tony Dungy in The Soul of a Team. His answer is “four simple yet highly effective principles — selflessness, ownership, unity, and larger purpose.” The principles form a memorable acronym: S.O.U.L.

Here’s how Dungy defines the principles:

  • Selflessness: Putting individual needs aside for the good of the team.
  • Ownership: Fulfilling your role by learning it thoroughly and by consistently giving 100 percent.
  • Unity: Understanding and rallying around your team’s mission, philosophy, and culture through open communication and positive conflict resolution.
  • Larger Purpose: Contributing to the wider community in a lasting and significant way.

Selflessness, ownership, and unity constitute the what of teamwork, but larger purpose constitutes the why. Teams often find that defining their larger purpose is a difficult task, but once they have done so, writes Dungy, that purpose “guides their decision-making, shapes their relationships, and influences their conduct,” as well as gives a team “a vibrancy and sense of worth it wouldn’t otherwise have.”

To illustrate the S.O.U.L. principles, Dungy narrates the turnaround of a fictional football team, the Orlando Vipers, in desperate need of a winning season. The principles themselves are transferable to any endeavor that requires teamwork, however, including ministry. Throughout the book, Dungy’s leadership advice is rooted in his Christian faith.

The Soul of Leadership is written in the vein of Patrick Lencioni’s “leadership fables.” If you like the format of Lencioni’s books — tell a story, then explain its meaning — you may like this one too.

Book Reviewed
Tony Dungy with Nathan Whitaker, The Soul of a Team: A Modern-Day Fable for Winning Teamwork (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 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 with permission.

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage | Book Review

Some books offer advice about marriage, others about prayer.

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers advice about both, under the assumption that couples who pray together stay together.“The richness of your marriage will be determined by how frequently and how fervently God is invited into your relationship,” write Joel and Nina Schmidgall. “Prayer will draw you into unity with God and, as a result, with one another.”

The concept of “praying circles around _____” comes from Mark Batterson’s excellent book, The Circle Maker. The Schmidgalls are in-laws of Batterson and work with him at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., Joel as executive pastor and Nina as direct of family ministry. Their book is an excellent addition to the “Circle Maker” brand.

The Schmidgalls identify seven areas (or “circles”) of marriage that couples need to address prayerfully:

  • developing a shared purpose (Vision Circle),
  • resolving family conflicts (War Circle),
  • cultivating personal intimacy (Romance Circle),
  • balancing marital unity with individual interests (Dance Circle),
  • establishing a peer network (Support Circle),
  • responding to unexpected crises (Storm Circle), and
  • impacting future generations (Legacy Circle).

“Of course, the purpose of prayer is not to get what we want from God for our marriage,” the Schmidgalls write in conclusion. “Its purpose is to commune with God and gain His heart for our marriage.”

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers Bible-based, common-sense, experience-tested advice about prayer-filled marriages. It’s suitable for private reading but can also be used in premarital and marriage counseling, as well as in book clubs and small groups.

Book Reviewed
Joel and Nina Schmidgall, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from It appeared in the January-February 2019 issueof Influence magazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed Joel and Nina for Episode 164 of the Influence Podcast. Take a listen!


Six Questions about 1 John

Today we begin a devotional study of 1 John. To introduce this New Testament book, I will answer six questions: Who wrote 1 John? What kind of book is it? When was it written? Where was it written to? Why was it written? And how does it apply to us today? [1]

First, who wrote 1 John? Formally speaking, 1 John is anonymous. But internal evidence indicates that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus Christ (1:1, 3; 4:14; 5:6-7). Additionally, the authoritative way he addresses his readers indicates that he was a leader of some standing within the church (e.g., 2:1-2, 8, 15, 17, 23, 28; 3:6, 9; 4:1, 8, 16: 5:21). The testimony of the early church is that the Apostle John wrote 1 John, and he certainly fits the bill of this internal evidence.

Second, what kind of book is it? Since the early church, 1 John has been referred to as a letter. However, it lacks a standard epistolary greeting and conclusion. Contrast it, in this regard, with 2 and 3 John, which have both. Nevertheless, it is a written communication of some sort. Notice how often John uses the verb “I write,” for example (2:1, 7, 8, 12-14, 21, 26). No doubt John’s readers received his communication through the mail, but it seems more like a sermon designed to be read aloud than like a letter. Nevertheless, because of the long custom of the church, we will refer to 1 John as a letter.

Third, when was 1 John written? Just as the letter is formally anonymous, so it is also undated. However, various Christian documents from the late first and early second century allude to it, so it cannot have been written any later than then. Most commentators give 1 John a date sometime in the 90s. The Apostle John would have been an aged man by then. Perhaps this is why he refers to himself as “the elder” in 2 and 3 John.

Fourth, where was it written to? Again, nothing in 1 John itself indicates to whom John wrote this letter. However, just as early Christian documents enable us to specify an author and a date, so they help us specify a location. These documents consistently point to Ephesus and its environs as the location in which and to which 1 John was written.

Fifth, why was it written? According to 1 John 2:18-19, a group of false teachers had seceded from the church and was trying to convince other church members to do the same. Concerned about the spiritual danger of the situation, John wrote the church to warn it about “those who are trying to lead you astray” (verse 26). These false teachers made at least two errors: they denied the power of sin over their lives (1:6-10), and they denied that Jesus was the “Christ” who had come “in the flesh” (2:22 and 4:2 respectively). These are spiritually dangerous errors in the first and the twenty-first century.

And finally, how does it apply to us today? For an answer to that question, make sure to read tomorrow’s Daily Word!

[1] I am heavily dependent upon D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 669-687, for my answers to these questions.

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