Blessed to be a Blessing

Book Review



Although many in the world and in ministry believe there is a difference between the two disciplines, to preach is to lead and to lead is to preach. In 360-Degree Preaching Michael J. Quicke presents the case that not only can there be a conversation between preaching and leadership but there must be for creating and encouraging healthy change in any congregation. 360-Degree Preaching is thoroughly practical and aimed at all preachers; “I write this book for average preachers whom God loves and uses.”[1] Quicke develops his book in two parts. Part one “shall describe how preaching and leading seem to operate in different spheres.”[2] Quicke explains the historical and cultural ideas behind leadership and preaching and while they have been traditionally seen as separate disciplines they must work together because God has always used preaching to move his people. Part two is a model “for a working relationship so preaching and leading can “do business” together.”[3] This is where Quicke spends most of his time and effort. It is a practical section that helps develop a place to start and keep growing as a preacher-leader.

The strength of Quicke’s work is in his practicality. Most of his book is practice and not just theory. Many leadership books are heavy on theory and lite on why it matters. Quicke presents enough theory in part one to give the preacher-leader a basic understanding of the issues and their importance and then dives into why it matters in part two. Part two, along with the appendices is an excellent resource of skills, steps, charts and examples. These strengths make 360-Degree Leadership not just a read but a resource. I find 360-Leadership weak in two areas; first in the area of other Church leaders, second in the area of discernment. Quicke’s Baptist background is reflected in his leadership style; a strong, central pastoral figure and a limited role of other Church leaders. There are only four mentions of Elder in the entire book. I assume Quicke believes in the plurality of Church leaders but in leaving this out he missed the opportunity to explain how preaching leads leaders and encourage the Preacher to lead and teach communally. The Church is the community of God. Even if it has one central, vocal, preacher-leader (I believe the Church should have a plurality of voices and this is possible under Quicke’s model) a congregation still needs the unique gifts God has given the Church and no one leader has them all. Secondly, although Quicke is heavy on how and why the pulpit leads he is light on where the pulpit leads. I wish the author would have included a way to help people completely new to the process get starting in understanding how the Preacher leads the Congregation in finding their vision and values. He is very clear on how to preach together there but is fuzzy finding where there actually is. He clearly presents a strong case on how to Change but nothing on knowing what to change.

Quicke challenges me in chapter six on Learning Skills. Each section has a reminder that has helped me; Every Sermon Matters.[4] Beginning with realistic full-blooded preaching he writes that every sermon has to create some tension. Change is by nature a pull between where you are and where you need to be. If the sermon is not helping to stretch the hearer then it is not ultimately serving a purpose. Every sermon matters because “preacher/leaders must learn how to preach powerfully about God’s biggest picture – by emphasizing his kingdom.”[5] Preaching that transforms congregations has to deal with something bigger than the moralistic and individualistic sermons that preachers are prone to preaching. These reminders help give me some important questions to ask in my own sermon development. I need to ask; “What is the big picture for this message?” “How does it fit into getting us where we need to go?” and “Would it matter if I didn’t preach this sermon?” If every sermon matters then every message has a point and purpose that gets the church a step closer to realizing its vision.

360-Degree Leadership has encouraged me with my struggle to see the importance of preaching and worship. If preaching leads the congregation it also leads in worship. Preaching is first worship and it requires worship to even begin. “Nothing sabotages spiritual leadership more savagely than missing personal worship.”[6] Preaching is spiritual leadership so preaching needs personal worship. Sometimes I get too caught up in studying, preparing, and preaching sermons that I neglect personal worship. It is an important reminder that the preacher cannot lead where the preacher has not been and if the preacher has not worshiped and wrestled with God through the text then it will be difficult to get the hearer to. “Nothing should receive more care, skill, and devotion than planning intentional worship in order that people encounter more of God.”[7]

Preaching is powerful and preaching leads. 360-Degree Leadership is a call to preaching that matters and preaching about what matters. God-honoring preaching guides the life of the Church because there is no area of its life that preaching does not touch.

[1] Michael J. Quicke, 360-Degree Leadership: Preaching to Transform Congergations, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, 16. [2] Ibid., 17 [3] Ibid., 24. [4] Ibid., 109 and following. [5] Ibid.,116. [6] Ibid.. 133. [7] Ibid.


In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians – Graham H. Twelftree

Twelftree’s work on exorcism among early Christians is as deep as it is wide. His book surveys the varying perspectives on Christian exorcism, and its practice among the New Testament through 200 CE. He states his thesis early 51EUUbKCP1L__SS500_on in the book, “Hence I have two principle aims in this study. My chief aim is to determine the place as well as to describe the practice of exorcism among early Christians reflected in the New Testament documents. Secondarily, I will attempt to explain the variety of approaches to exorcism in the New Testament Canon.”[1] To do this he describes and discusses exorcism and exorcists during the first century, including Christian and Non-Christian. Then, he takes a chronological approach to examining what writers of the New Testament have to say about the practice among early Christians. Finally, he considers extra-Biblical sources including the Apostolic Fathers and critics of Christianity to examine their views of the practice up to the year 200 CE.[2] After his vast historical study, Twelftree comes to the conclusion that, “I am obliged to recognize that it (the New Testament) has provided the church with a range of options for understanding and dealing the demonic.”[3] The early Christians were “remarkably restrained”[4] in their interest and imagery of exorcism and that when techniques are discussed it stands in contrast to other ancient sources for its “extreme brevity.”[5] Twelftree’s final conclusion is that the New Testament writers believed “exorcism was a confrontation between the divine and the demonic in which the demonic was defeated”[6] and the defeat was not through any power from the Early Christians but “because they brought about a confrontation between Jesus and the demonic.”[7]

The major strength of Twelftree’s book is his depth of content and research. This is not just a survey of mentions of exorcism in the New Testament but a deep study of the social-historical context and views on exorcism of many different groups during the time that he research. He often includes detailed translation notes and information from other writers and commentators that give solid scholarly depth to his work. It is also to his strength that he limits the scope of his study to 200 CE and focuses on just the early Christians so that the reader can get a picture of early Christian history that is not influenced by stores and traditions that came after 200 CE whose historicity is sometimes doubted. One weakness in his writing is his frequency of offering conclusions based on small amounts of evidence and including conjecture in his conclusions; practices that “may have been known”[8], inferring conclusions from little evidence[9], grammatical contrasts based on what “could be”[10], and writing “although these important conclusions have a slender base”[11]. Twelftree’s should have left these comments out as they may cause the reader to doubt the author’s confidence in his own work.

[1] Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007, 29.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Ibid. 293.

[4] Ibid, 294.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 295.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 41.

[9] Ibid, 61.

[10] Ibid, 70.

[11] Ibid, 76.

In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History – R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. E.d.

The Goal of In Defense of Miracles is to present a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding whether or not God has worked in history through miraculous events. The book is organized into a four part structure of chapters written by different authors, “commissioned because of their expertise in each case.”[1] The editors begin with the case against miracles and then the parts explore different approaches to understating miracles. Part two deals primarily with the philosophical problem of the possibility of miracles. Part three discuss the ideas surrounding miracles and the ideas of God’s involvement in creation. Part four presents case studies for specifically Christian miracles. The 51HXKzpq0KL__SS500_major premise of the book comes in the conclusion, the fact that after observing and discussing miracles in philosophy, history, theology, science, etc… the case for miracles stands. The authors believe that the case they have laid out to defend miracles in these disciplines is not just for the intellectuals but for everyone. “In our view, the case for miracles is strong and needs to become better known outside the academy.”[2]

The major strength of the book is the editor’s multi-disciplinary approach. Their goal was to create a comprehensive work and they accomplished it. Their approach leaves no area untouched as they survey many disciplines. The scholarship and authors are very thorough and knowledgeable in their topics. I specifically appreciated how each author takes the space in their chapter to answer counter points or arguments that may be presented from opposing viewpoints. This helps make the book practical for apologetics and even devotional thought. The major criticism of the book is that it seems to be entirely focused on being a rebuttal for David Hume’s Of Miracles from 1779. The editors write in the introduction, “In many respects, the chapters by Hume and Flew set the agenda for the rest of the book.”[3] This seems to make the book feel dated. There must surely be a better work against miracles to respond to since 1776. I believe that the book would reach a wider audience if the authors did not specifically intend to address Hume and Flew in every chapter. Aside from that organizational issue, the book may be too scholarly for some. The language and concepts may be too academic for individuals outside of the academic circle. The authors need to take time to explain complex concepts so that readers can have a conversation across disciplines without needing higher education in each. Overall the book is well-researched and full of helpful information to serve as a primer for a multi-disciplinary study of miracles.

[1] R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press. 1997, 25.

[2] Ibid, 280.

[3] Ibid, 19.

Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth – John C. Cavadini e.d.

Cavadini is the editor of the series of papers presented in Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity. He writes in the preface, “The essays in this collection originated in the annual year-long seminar on Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity held in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.”[1] The papers all revolve around miracles in the ancient world. Cavadini presents them first by tracing the history of the problem of miracles and continuing through 51pymBF-e1L__SS500_the Biblical period, post-Biblical period, and drawing on both Testaments as well as Jewish sources. Although they explore different ideas surrounding miracles ,”in the end, all of the essays explore ways in which miracles stories, both biblical and postbiblical, invite us into the realm of the imagination as itself a locus, and in some cases a privileged locus, of truth.”[2] This is the ultimate thesis of Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity; to explore the miracles and how the invite the reader into imagination.

The strength of this collection of papers is in the scholarship. The academic work presented is of the highest quality and writers present their information in a way that acknowledges multiple academic disciplines as they explore the miracle texts of their individual papers. The papers bring to life not only the theological points of their miracle texts but the social and historical developments surrounding the events and interpretations throughout history. I personally found the Cultural and Social Questions Checklist[3] to be particularly helpful in understanding miracles from a multi-disciplinary point of view. The collection of papers does have a downside, the fact that it is a collection of papers. Honestly, I see no reason for this publication other than the fact that they wanted a collection of all the papers presented for the 95-96 seminar on Miracles. Each stands alone and there is no interaction between chapters and thus no development of a main idea or thesis. The individual papers have development and purpose but the book seems as if it lacks direction.

[1] John C. Cavadini, Miracles in Jewish and Christian Antiquity: Imagining Truth, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1999,vii.

[2] Ibid, ix.

[3] Ibid, 39.

Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry – Fredrick J. Gasier.

Healing in the Bible by Fredrick J. Gasier is a conversation between the healing stories of the Bible and our modern world. Gasier approaches the healing texts with a different method than most scholars. He does away with the typical methodologies of critical exegesis and thematic study to use a case study approach Imageof what he calls “a hermeneutic of appreciation”[1]. The case study method attempts to consider each text individually and how it contributes to the overall theme of healing in the Bible. Gasier’s thesis is presented on page 5, “The goal of this book is to explore the ways in which the Bible amplifies the claims and promises of both Testaments – “I am the Lord, your healer” (Ex. 15:26); “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people” (Mt. 4:23) – and then to think about all of this in our own cultural perspective.”[2] Healing in the Bible is more of a conversation with scripture than a conversation about scripture.

Gaiser’s strength is in his method of developing his thesis. Considering each text by itself makes his work very approachable and understandable. In general, his reflections tying the ancient healing texts to the modern world are refreshing. Discussing the texts and miracles without a fight over worldviews or apologetics puts more focus on the text and allows for appreciative reflection regardless of one’s view of the text or miracle. There is something for everyone in this approach. However, his strength is also his weakness. The case study approach makes his book feel like he does not ultimately get anywhere, like meandering around scripture with nothing to prove. It is hard to understand exactly what one is to take away from the book as a whole. Some readers will be turned off by the amount of speculation and opinion Gaiser includes in the chapters, specifically in chapter 11 where he draws too heavily on what he calls Israel’s “radical monotheism”[3]. Overall, Healing in the Bible is insightful and well-developed. 

[1] Fredrick J. Gaiser, Healing in the Bible: Theological Insight for Christian Ministry, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010, 4.

[2] Ibid, 5.

[3] Ibid,148.

Lost and Found

The younger generations are largely absent from the Church.  Lost and Found by Stetzer, Stanley and Hayes is a study into the 20-29 year old un-churched population that aims to help Church leaders better understand the mindset, values, and culture of this generation to better reach them for Christ.  The results of their surveys and studies are surprising.  Although underrepresented in the Church, the 20-29 year old generation is more likely to be interested in God and spirituality than any generation before.  What is keeping them out of the Church and what can the Church do to better reach them?

altLost and Found is divided up into three parts, beginning with the presentation of Data.  The Center for Missional Research and LifeWay provided polls of a large group of young adults as well as conducted interviews.  Many churches that are reaching young adults were interviewed through various forms.  From the presentation of Data the authors moving on to what they call “Listening” (Part 2).  This is where they set down with all the responses and boiled them down to four markers of what defines the 20-29 year old age segment.  The final Part, (3) “Reaching” describes Churches that are reaching this age group and what they are doing.  Lost and Found is organized in a logical way that presents the data and offers ways to act on it; the book is not so much a collection of statistics but a window behind the statistics to see what is really going on in the lives of young adults.

The survey produced some surprising results.  81% of the age group believe in God or a higher supreme being (p.21); four out of five.  57% believe that it is the God of the Bible; a majority of the unchurched surveyed (22).  66% believe Jesus died and came back to life (27).  The numbers turned south as they asked about the Church.  Only 39% believe their lifestyle would be accepted by Christians, 67% believe the church is full of hypocrites, and 90% believe that they can have a relationship with God without being involved in the church (32).  It is clear that the unchurched young adults do not have a problem with God or Jesus; they have a problem with the Church.

What is most interesting about the age segment is that although they were opposed to the Church they were open to hearing about Jesus; 89% would be willing to hear about Christianity, 61% willing to study the Bible with a friend.  These numbers are encouraging.  The problems seem to lie in a few different areas;  63% would be willing to try Church if they presented truth in an understandable way (38) and 58% would come if the church “cared about them personally”.  Most surprising is that music is not the problem for the vast majority; only 31% said they would go if the church played music similar to their favorite type (38).  From reading the responses it seems to indicate that the 20-29 year old segment finds “contemporary” praise music shallow and boring; they prefer hymns.

Part two contains some “Markers” of the 20-29 year old generation.  The first was community.  At the deepest level, young adults want to do life together, they want to travel along and know that they are not alone.  In some ways this may be recoil from the individualism prevalent in modernity.  Everyone wants to be a part of something; they want to feel connected to other people.  Lost and Found believes that the church will have to experience a radical paradigm shift to move to a community driven model.  The Church is supposed to be a model for community; with God and other people.  Sadly many churches do a poor job at creating the kind of deep, personal community that young adults want and Christ intended.  The authors believe that the church has operated under a “behave/believe/belong” model for years (83) that will not reach postmodern generations.  Many want people’s act cleaned up before they come to Church whether they will admit it or not.  They say that to reach young adults we have to move to a “belong/believe/become” model (84); letting people come and be a part of what is happing, be accepted, then come to faith and growth on their own terms.

The second marker is depth.  The 20-29 year old segment is educated and informed.  Growing up surrounded by information and connection, “If they were ever to make a decision for Christ, then it would be an informed, educated one (88).”  They want personalized, deep content.  Most sermons that middle aged individuals latch onto are simple with four points and a poem; the young adults don’t want it easy.  Young adults want something more, “they are hungry for the unanswerable (92)” and want to struggle with content, not be told what to do or think.  Older generations have typically reasoned from a, “tell me what to do and I’ll do it” faith (practical then reflective), younger ones want the content to sort out on their own.  The depth of content is “about engaging people at every level – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and even physically (95).”  The responsibility here lies squarely at the feet of preachers.  Preachers are not reaching younger audiences because they are not connecting with them.

Marker three is responsibility.  20-29 year olds have a strong desire to make a lasting impact on the world.  They want to serve and help others and be responsible for the environment.  This is excellent news for the Church; there is a willing army of volunteers what want to change the world, we just have to reach them and point them toward something eternal.  66% say that “the opportunity to meet the needs of others (locally and globally) is extremely important in their lives (111).   The key for young adults is where the service and responsibility is; they are not interested in handing out bulletins or passing plates, “Opportunities for responsibility must extend beyond the walls of the church building (116).”  Lost and Found even proposes that “we must focus our efforts toward establishing social action as a major element in the strategies and programs of our church (117).”  The modern church must recapture the heart of service that Jesus had if it wants to connect with young adults.

The fourth marker is most surprising, cross-generational connection.   Young adults deeply want to learn life skills and spiritual disciplines from experienced Christians (127).  They want to learn life from someone who has already been there; they are looking for places to turn in difficult times.  It seems that some of this is due to the absence of their parents at younger ages.  Young adults are interested in things that have stood the test of time.  “An appreciation for hymns and liturgy is resurging among younger adults and the churches that are reaching them.  Things of substance and age are being embraced (131).”  Un-churched Americans prefer Churches that look like traditional medieval cathedrals compared to the mall like mega-churches 2 to 1.  Young adults want to be a part of something that will outlast themselves and has come before them.  This is the place the Church needs to step up; we desperately need older believers who want to mentor younger ones.  It is the Biblical model.

Overall, younger generations are more open and willing to investigate Christianity than any other generation of our time.  The real question is; do we have Churches with leaders and believers who are willing to step up, and out, to meet the needs of people passionately seeking real significance in life or will we be content to sit and hope they just show up one Sunday?  The 20-29 year olds are waiting on you; care for them, engage them, invite them, hug them, serve with them, show them incarnational love.

Lost and Found is one of the most revealing and thought provoking books I have read in some time.  It has given me insight not only into others but into myself.  This book should be read by someone in leadership at every Church.  If you have ever looked around a Church and asked; “where are the young people?”, then you need to read this book.  The more you understand the culture, thoughts, needs and attitudes of this group the more effective you will be in reaching them.  It is time for Churches to make a commitment to younger generations.  Don’t do it because you want their tithe, don’t do it because you want their service, don’t do it because you need to fill a seat.  Do it because they are searching for something that only Christ can give them; Life, and life to the fullest.

Ed Stetzer is a writer and researcher of culture and Christianity with LifeWay Research.

Richie Stanley is a team leader with the North American Mission Boards Center for Missional Research.

Jason Hayes is the young adult ministry specialist at LifeWay.

Meetings That Work – Alexander Strauch

Meetings That Work: A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings by Alexander Strauch is a short, practical read about what Church Elders should actually be doing.  His thesis is that most modern elders meetings are not what they should be.  If elders can focus on real spiritual matters of the Church and get the Big Picture, the Church will be more effective and Elders meetings will become a place of spiritual growth, God-honoring community and Christ-Centered leadership that shepherds the Church into a healthy direction.

Strauch believes that “elder’s meetings affect the spiritual health of the church (8).”  Positively or negatively there is a correlation between the health of the church and the effectiveness of elders’ meetings.  If the meetings are pointless and the leaders are not growing, how can they expect the church members to have purpose and grow?  Biblical leadership is an “Eastern-Shepherding” model as opposed to a “Western-Driving” model; the picture looks like shepherds vs. cowboys if that image makes it any clearer.  Most Elders meetings want to direct with a top-down, western, model of leadership whereas the Church needs Christ like leaders who model growth and incarnational love.  “the Elder council is a microcosm of how the whole congregation should live and work together (8).”

Strauch believes that Elders meetings are important because they affect the spiritual health of the Church; they build Character, develop leadership skills, enhance Group Moral and accountability and train future leaders.  If your Elders meetings are not the place for this than maybe it is time to refocus your meetings on things that matter.

The trick to having effective elders’ meetings is having effective elders.  Effective elders are individuals who are Biblically qualified (see 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5 and others to understand the qualities and qualifications of church shepherds).  They have to not only be qualified but individuals who conduct themselves with Christ like attitude (20), Love (21), and Service (22).  These individuals are people who understand what really matters to the Church.  Far too often Elders do things that other members should be doing; they discuss finances, building issues, plan dinners, and others things that don’t ultimately help the Church.

The key to effective elder’s meetings lies in the idea that Elders deal with Eternal matters; elders should be shepherds of not only the present church but stewards of the future church.  To do this, they have to have to care about the things that Jesus cared about.  “The proper functioning of the eldership revolves around three core responsibilities: people, prayer, and the Word (42).”  People are the focus of the meetings; understanding needs and caring for others, providing “soul-care” for the family of God they have been trusted with.  To carry this out Elders need significant Prayer time.  It is a shame that elders meetings have been reduced to a 15-second blessing at the beginning of the meeting followed by two hours of building needs talk.  “Prayer should, therefore, be a significant part of all elders’ meetings (44).”  If you are not praying you are not connected to Christ and how are you going to lead his Church without even consulting him?  Finally, elders deal with issues of the Word.  “A fundamental task of the elder council is to define, clarify , state, and continually restate the church’s foundational, nonnegotiable beliefs, its unique doctrinal distinctive, its ministry priorities, its direction its spiritual values, and its mission and vision (47).”  These are the Biblical tasks of church shepherds.

Meetings that Work includes practical wisdom to get organized to be more effective as well.  These ideas are more cultural suggestions than Biblical imperatives.  Keeping records, having a well thought out

agenda, minutes, and evaluations are important to managing things well regardless of what shape they take.  Strauch includes prayer guides, discussion questions, and a sample agenda to help a board get reorganized and start dealing with things that matter.  These are very helpful and easy to implement into elders meetings.

This book would be an excellent, quick read (87 pages) for preachers or any elder.  It would even make a good quick study for an elder group that wants to be more effective.  I encourage anyone who is in located ministry and wants their church to be truly effective to get this book, read it, and pass it along to members of the board.  For the Church to be effective in today’s society it cannot continue on the maintenance mode that has sustained it for the past century.  If you want your church to be effective you need leaders that are effective.

Alexander Strauch is a gifted Bible teacher and elder at a church in Littleton where he has served for over 40 years.  (Inside Cover).

The Leadership Baton – Forman, Jones, and Miller

The Leadership Baton by Rowland Forman, Jeff Jones, and Bruce Miller is a practical guide to leadership development.  There are many different leadership development programs out there but what makes The Leadership Baton unique is the “Church Based” approach that they take.  The authors have a strong believe that, “the church has a God-given capacity to engage in whole-life leadership development (25).”  They agree with many others who have stated that, “the church is only one generation away from extinction (22)” and the solution to this problem comes not from outside sources such as seminary and training groups but from an in-house leadership development culture at every local church.  Their book is divided into three parts; Vision for Church based training, Process, and Implementation.

The most important part of Church-Based training is the culture of the church itself.  “Leadership development has more to do with who they are as a church than what particular things they do (30).”  This culture is prepared from the top down with any church’s current leadership.  The elders of a church must be willing to grow and develop and most importantly, always be looking for potential new leaders to empower and raise up to release into ministry.  The Leadership Baton gets its title from this constant searching mentality.  Their idea is that they give each leader a relay baton, and it is that leader’s responsibility to pass it off to someone else.  Then when that individual completes the church-based training for leadership they are given a baton to pass off to someone else.  This system is effective because it recognizes leaders, encourages them, rewards them, and challenges them all at the same time.    The authors believe that this mirrors the structure that Jesus and the early Church used.  They trace this “apprenticeship” method from the first century on and show that our current form of leadership development (seminary) is a product of the enlightenment and birth of the university.  They do not believe that seminary training is bad but that “Local churches have both neglected the training of leaders within the congregation and largely abdicated to professional schools for the responsibility for training pastoral leaders – and this has had profound consequences for the church (48).”  Because the leadership responsibility is placed on another intuition there are usually insufficient numbers of godly leaders for local churches, many local churches are often pragmatically driven without deep theological understanding, and governing board member are unequipped to shepherd.  The solution presented in The Leadership Baton is their leadership development curriculum and philosophy of leadership development.  In some places the book starts to read like an advertisement but their system seems to be well-suited for the local church development model.

Their process involves starting with the end in mind.  The best place to begin leadership development is to ask, “What kind of leaders do we want to create?”  They state their goal, “By God’s grace, we want to produce wise leaders who are sound in their knowledge of God’s Word and his world, strong in character and compassion, and skillful in ministry and mission (62).”  The Church-Based training focuses not just on knowledge but on creating wise leaders, Godly leaders, and skilled leaders.  The key is to not just get leaders full of Bible knowledge but Biblical wisdom.  They want leaders with Godly character and believe that this is the key to successful leadership.  Finally they want to create leaders that have the hands to equip others.  The authors strongly believe, “We don’t develop leaders; God does (65).”  But we can create a strategy that provides an avenue for God’s development.  The Church-Based program basically revolves around a combination of graduated courses, a biblical community approach, and purposeful spiritual mentoring.  They discuss each of these in individual chapters that have a very practical, step by step approach.

The implementation section is very practical as well; including surveys, discussion questions, and readiness inventories.  The implementation phase begins with the church eldership.  “A key responsibility of a pastor is to spearhead efforts to equip board member to be effective in their role as church leaders (134).”  They believe that this kind of training will do away with the “lobbying” that happens in church leadership by creating leaders that can prayerfully discern spiritual issues at work in a congregation and break the cycle of the board functioning as an “approved” or “denied” stamp on a pastor’s idea.  To effectively empower a church board the process must be intentional, regular, and communal.  Have goals of what you want the board to become and measure progress.  Make it a regular ongoing time (it must be more frequent than monthly or community is lost).  Most importantly, take training out of the business meeting; it will always get pushed aside by budget or other agenda items.  “Developing and unifying your board is one of the best possible investments of a pastor’s time (144).”  Developing emerging leaders takes a similar approach.  It is best led by the church leaders and elders because the leaders that have gone through the program can now develop others and “pass the baton” off to future generations.  There are many different approaches to designing a strategy for implementing this at a local church level and that will take a different shape in each local church.  The authors offer an important reminder; “It’s easy to get so busy in doing ministry that we fail to devote attention to developing others.  Yet, the development of people is our real job – even more important than accomplishing the tasks (155)…. If we are not doing this, then what are we doing?  Developing people always has been and always will be the church’s most important job (156).”

In the final sections of The Leadership Baton the authors propose that Church based training could take the place of seminary in a post-modern society where formal education does not hold as much power.  I am skeptical of this approach but see their point.  The Church-Based training philosophy helps the church operate in the way that God intended it to; making disciples who make disciples.  I still believe that there will always be a need for the highly trained specialists that seminaries can train.  The church based approach (not necessarily curriculum) has already seen much success in the “mega-church” world as evidenced churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback that predominantly hire from within.  The Leadership Baton would be an excellent read for any church leader that wants to see what a leadership development program could look like.  Its focus on practicality and implementation makes it an attractive choice for a program that a local church can build off of to become more effective in disciple making.

Rowland Foreman is the director of curriculum development for the Center for Church-Based Training.

Jeff Jones is the Executive director of the Center for Church-Based Training

Bruce Miller is the chairman of the board of directors of the Center for Church-Based Training and senior pastor of McKinney Fellowship Bible Church.

Strategic Disciple Making – Aubrey Malphurs

Why is the Church here?  What are we supposed to be doing?  Aubrey Malphurs writes in Strategic Disciple Making that the answer is not hard to find.  “Two thousand years ago, the Savior predetermined the church’s mission.  It’s the Great Commission, as found in such texts as Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; and Acts 1:8 (13).”  Make disciples.  Malphurs believes that the Church has lost focus of what is really important.  There are many churches who do not know why there are there.  They meet to have a good time, sing some songs, and see their friends.  Many churches are organized around caring for people, teaching the Bible, evangelism, worship, family ministry or anything else.  These are all good things but cannot be the main thing for a church that wants to follow the direction of the Savior.  Strategic Disciple Making is not an in-depth guide but a very helpful overview of reorganizing or organizing the Church around its God given purpose; making disciples.

Discipleship is not a ministry of the Church; it is the ministry of the Church.  Malphurs lays out what the church is supposed to be doing by making some observations of the Great commission.  “The Great Commission has both an evangelism and an edification or spiritual growth component (18).”  In the Great commission we see that Jesus was clear that the Church’s mission was to take unbelievers and move them to mature believers.  Malphurs stresses in the practical sections of his book that this can be done many way but the key is intentionality.

So what is a disciple?  Malphurs starts by defining what a disciple is not.  A disciple is not a learner who follows a teacher (28).  One can be a learner and not be a disciple.  There were many crowds that followed Jesus and learned from him but not all decided to follow him.  A disciple is not only a committed believer (29).  Disciples are committed but there is more to it and it gets tricky to define committed.  “As we have seen, the Scriptures are clear that a disciple is not necessarily a believer who has committed his or her life to following the Savior, but simply a believer (30).”  Congratulations; if you believe, you are a disciple.  “The concept of biblical discipleship begins when a person accepts Christ (31).”  The amazing thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that it does not end when you believe but only begins.  Discipleship is the “ongoing process that encourages the believer to follow Christ and become more like him (35).”

Malphurs explains that it is first God who makes a disciple.  Father, Son, and Spirit, all work together to call, grow and mature a believer.  In 1 Cor. 3:5-7 Paul writes that he and Apollos are just servants and it is “God who makes things grow.”  Without God the Son, there would be no church.  “God the Holy Spirit is the one who is in the transformation business (39).”  It is also the responsibility of the disciple to continue growing.  “Too few disciples are taking personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and development (41).”  We can and should choose to grow; it takes the intentionality of an individual working in God’s designed path to move in the direction of maturation.  The responsibility of the church “is to come alongside and complement what each person is doing personally to grow and mature in faith (41).”

While Jesus was here on earth, he made disciples.  How did he do it?  First he preached.  When Jesus taught the crowds his primary focus was to turn them into disciples (believers).  Then he focused on small groups of people.  He specifically called 12 to be his own.  They became his apostles; the ones who were sent.  Then he spent time with a few individuals and “took the inner circle aside for further disciplining (58).”  Finally he counseled individuals in one-time meetings with people who needed some help; such as Nicodemus and Peter.  The Church is to follow Jesus’ lead.  “It is not to be one of several programs of the church; it is the program of the church (67).”

Disciple making is a process of moving people closer to Jesus.  You will need to know what a disciple looks like to make one and have a way to evaluate where someone is in the process.  There are excellent quantitative and qualitative questions in Strategic Disciple Making that Malphurs gives to help nail this idea down.  Malphurs believes there are three basic steps to putting a Disciple making program in place and making it the heart of your ministry.  First you have to determine the church’s mission.  This is simple; Make disciples.  Articulate this in a short, memorable statement to make sure that everyone inside and outside of the church understand what the church does.  The second is to ask “the sanctification question.”  Look at what the Bible teaches concerning the characteristics of a mature believer.  It is very important that this are (at least two but not more than five (79)” so they can be memorable and organized under your current primary ministries.  Then communicate it to people; this is the most important process.  People have to know how you are going to aid them in moving closer to God.

In the rest of Strategic Disciple Making Malphurs discusses important issues such as organization, staffing, and funding issues to get the Church firmly rooted in disciple making.  In my opinion the book could be bigger and more in-depth but is still very helpful.  It is theological and practical and is one of those resources that I see myself coming back to; similar to a compass, guiding the way to make sure I am on task.

The most important thing that I gathered from the book is the fact that the church has no other business than making disciples.  Everything else is secondary.  It truly reinforces the desire in my life to make disciples who make disciples.     Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is a professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He is the author of more than fifteen books as well as the president of the Malphurs Group (, a training and consulting firm.

Values-Driven Leadership by Aubry Malphurs

Values are the single most important element of an individual or a Church.  If you do not know what yours or your church’s values are you are probably in bigger trouble than you realize.  A valueless church has no present and subsequently, no future.  Values-Driven Leadership by Aubrey Malphurs could be one of the most important books you read about the direction of your Church or even the reorganization of your ministry.  The core values conversation goes much deeper into who you are than the popular “purpose-driven” literature.  Malphurs’ short (143p.) book is geared toward Church leaders but would be beneficial to anyone looking to help their ministry (professional or lay ministry) understand itself, their future, and direction.  Values-Driven Leadership includes discussion questions and many helpful resources that would make for an excellent book to study with a Church board, ministry team, or staff.

Malphurs first describes what core values are not.  Values are not Vision, they are not strategies, and they are not doctrinal statements.  “Vision answers the question, What are we going to do (30)?  Values answer the question, Why do we want to do it (30)?”  Values lay underneath vision, mission, and strategy as the primary driving force explaining what a Church does and why it does it.  “I (Malphurs) define a church’s core values as its constant, passionate, sacred core beliefs that drive its ministry (31).”  Constant because they never change, passionate because they grab hold of your heat and tell you where you stand, sacred because they are found in things that God values.  Values drive a ministry because they determine what makes one church different from another and provide the shaping priorities that get a ministry where it wants to go.  For a church, values “often serve to unify the church and communicate the church’s central thrust (51).”

Whether you know it or not, you already have default values.  Every person does and every ministry does.  With that being understood, you may not have articulated them or gotten to the point where you have flushed them out.  Some values are good, some are bad.  For example:  If you spend more time at work than you do with your family, then you highly value work.  For in a ministry context: if you spend more time, effort, and money on worship than anything else, than worship is a core value for your church.  (Too much work is bad.  A high value or worship is neither good nor bad but would help you understand what makes your church unique.)  The question you ask here “is not, what values should you hold? But, what values do you hold (61)?”  Malphurs suggests finding out your personal core values before working discovering an organizations values.  How are you going to do it?  Malphurs has a “values audit” in his book (165) that is helpful along with other resources in the appendices that are worth the price of the book alone. Self-understanding is critical to not only church leadership but life itself.  Take some time to describe and write out what your ideal church looks like, that shows you what you value.

Malphurs gives ten reasons for discovering core values (58).

  1. Values discovery and clarification empower a ministry to know its distinctiveness.
  2. Values help people outside the ministry determine if it is a ministry for them.  This answers the question; Do we join or look further?
  3. Values communicate what is important to the organization.  People know where to focus their energies.
  4. Values help people embrace positive change.  They determine what change will be helpful or harmful to the ministry.
  5. Values influence overall behavior.  They drive the decisions made, problems solved, goals set, and so on.
  6. Values inspire people to action.
  7. Values enhance credible leadership.
  8. Values clarify a ministry’s character.  They affect how it conducts its ministry.
  9. Values contribute to success in that they generate deeper personal involvement.
  10. Values determine ministry’s vision.  They are the hidden motivators that guide the selection of the vision.

Shared ministry values are important to discover.  You can find these out by observation or talking with people who have been involved in it for a long time.  Asking, “Why is this church here?” and “Why do you come here?” are helpful questions.  Even ask for a copy of the budget.  “Like people, churches spend money on what they value most (63).”  Malphurs spends the rest of the book working from a very practical standpoint.  In chapters 4-7 he discusses writing your values credo, communicating core values, implementing them into the church or sub-ministry, and how to preserve core values.

The thing that sticks out to me the most is “that when ministries know and are explicit about their core values, they can legitimately expect people to abide by them (59).”  For example: if worship team decides together that they value excellence and hard work to glorify God, people who are always late, lazy, or put out shoddy work know they will not fit here.  Everyone would know they are expected to work their best and they can hold each other accountable when someone breaks a value.

Values-Driven Leadership is an excellent resource for any ministry.  If you are the primary leader of a church you need to read this with some leaders and define who your church is and what it stands for.  If you are in youth ministry, worship ministry, or any other sub-ministry you should read this and work through it with your volunteers so everyone knows what your ministry stands for.  Once you understand your values you can move on to vision, mission, and strategy but discovering and casting the core values for any ministry is the most important thing you will do to set your ministry up for future growth and success.

I have done this myself and you can take a look at my refreshed core values under my Philosophy of ministry page.

Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is a professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He is the author of more than fifteen books as well as the president of the Malphurs Group (, a training and consulting firm.  

Evil and the Justice of God – N.T. Wright

The problem of Evil is a big deal.  I make no claims to understating it before or after I read Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright but I think he may have helped point me in the right direction.  In the aftermath of events such as 9-11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquakes in Pakistan and Kashmir, Wright set out to add to the conversation about the problem of evil in a world ruled by a Just God.  He admits that he will not

“solve” the problem and that solving the problem is not even his primary task (11) but he wishes to point to signs of God’s New World on the basis of Jesus’ victory on the cross and his resurrection.

Evil and the Justice of God is a relatively short book (165p).  What he lacks in length he makes up for in the time I had to spend reflecting and processing what he wrote.  Wright’s book is intended to be read by all Christians and his language and length makes it accessible to anyone with interest in the subject.  The book is laid out into five chapters.  In the first he outlines the problem and describes it as deeper and more serious than the world usually takes it.  Chapter two deals with the Old Testament and God using Israel as part of the solution.  Chapter three shows how the Gospels present Jesus as God’s rescue plan for the world.  In chapter four, Wright discusses the hope Christians might have imagining a world without evil.  Chapter five deals with our present responsibility in relation to the problem of evil.

Wright puts out some interesting philosophical ideas in regards to the problem of evil and surmises that the problem cannot and has not been fixed in the way that Modernism has proposed; a philosophy rooted firmly in the steady march of an assumed doctrine of progress (22).    He comes to the conclusion that the world either a). ignores it when it doesn’t hit us in the face, such as not rocking the economic trade boat because human rights would stifle business, or b). act surprised when something evil does happen, and c.) react to it in immature and dangerous ways; “Just as you cannot eliminate evil by act of congress or by a philosophical argument, so you cannot do so with high explosives (28).”  He says we often project evil on to others, generating a culture of blame and claiming that we are all victims of (insert choice evil here) or we internalize it; neither is healthy.  He concludes that we must not soften the blow and we must name evil for what it is and take responsibility for it.  The most powerful idea I took from this chapter was that we often turn the problem of Evil into an “us” vs. “them” game when in reality, “the line of evil runs through all of us because of the fall.”  There is evil in the world and we can not ignore it.  “Evil may still be a four-letter word. But so, thank God, is Love (41).”

Chapter two looks at how God deals with evil in the OT.  At the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) he confronts it, judges it, and keeps it from having its desired effect.  The Flood (Gen. 6-7), one of the most depressing events in the OT, is a “reminder that God hates evil and what it does to his creation, that he can and sometimes will take steps to stop it in its tracks (50).”  The Fall (Gen.3) shows again that God judges evil and will not allow man to live forever in a fallen state.  The OT shows us that God will ultimately contain Evil and not let it have full run of his creation and he foreshadows deliverance in his Servant of Isaiah 40-55.

In Chapter three Wright takes us to the foot of the cross and proposes that at the cross all human systems and evil put Jesus on the cross and in the grave but it was not enough to keep our loving creator from bursting forth new life out of the deepest darkness.  “Evil at all levels and all sorts had done its worst and that Jesus throughout his public career and supremely on the cross and dealt with it, take its full force, exhausted it –(that’s) why the, of course, death itself had no more power (89).”

Four and five give practical applications to the previous content.  Wright wants us to envision the world as God intends it to be; full of love, justice, beauty, and peace (102) and work toward redeeming it now as much as we can.  As the people of God we now partner with him in his restoration of all creation until it reaches a climax with the return of Christ.  He believes that we can partner with God through prayer as in Romans 8, Holiness, living presently by the rule of what will be in the future, and in Politics and empire.  “Medical care, education, work on behalf of the poor – all these are signs that Jesus is Lord and that the powers of the world are his servants (123).”  The most personal application Wright gives for us is that of forgiveness; forgiveness through the cross and forgiveness for each other, just like Jesus taught and lived.

Wright says the central point of his book “is not only that in the new world God himself will be beyond the reach of the moral blackmail of unresolved evil, but that we shall be as well (143).”  Not that we have to wait for the second coming but it will be the ultimate end.  Until then, the Cross has transformed us into God’s agents in the world, and it is our joy and responsibility to be a light in the darkness.

I cannot answer all or many of the “Problem of Evil” questions, all I can do is pray that he gives me understanding and thank him for the grace and work of Jesus on the Cross.  Still, I see that maybe God has not done away with evil entirely in the world because it would take an act of de-creation counter to his character to get it out of his creation.  But, he did start the process of creating anew with the Resurrection and victory over Evil and Death on the Cross.

Give this one a read, if you do, let me know what you think.  Blessings.

N.T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Practicing Greatness – Reggie McNeal

Practicing Greatness by Reggie McNeal is a call for leaders to be great.  The Church is moving in to a new age that brings with it different hopes and challenges.  Now, more than ever, is it crucial that the Church have great leaders.  McNeal writes, “Jesus’ idea of greatness revolves around humility and service – a far cry from our typical associations with this concept (3).”  This is the basic premise that lies behind his book; great leaders look different from good leaders.  Good leaders of the world are those who have power, position and privilege (3) while great spiritual leaders humbly practice the disciplines laid in his book.  A book like Practicing Greatness is necessary in the world today.  Throughout the history of the Church it has needed leaders who “are passionate about God and about helping other propel experience eth life God intended for them to enjoy (8)” and that is certainly the case in the world today.  McNeal’s book is organized by different disciplines that great leaders practice; Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Self-Development, Mission, Decision Making, Belonging, and Aloneness.  It is a logical outline that serves his purpose well.  His primary audience is church leaders or potential church leaders.  The fact that the book is not overly academic but biblically based is refreshing.

The content of McNeal’s book is helpful.  In chapter one he writes, “The single most important piece of information a leader possesses is self-awareness (10).”  I whole-heartedly agree with this idea.  If a leader does not know oneself then it is much harder to know others.  To lead one must understand the way that they have been shaped to do so by the many varying influences in life.  He believes that self-awareness is foundational because it is at work in all other disciplines.  Understanding oneself is the only way to know boundaries, agendas, strengths and weaknesses.

The next discipline that had the most impact on me was the discipline of self-development.  This is something that I am passionate about and have grown to appreciate more through McNeal’s book.  I believe the key to self-development is what the author touches on in page 65; intentionality.  Great leaders are intentional about what they are learning and the fact that they need to continue.  This may not necessarily mean formal education but always being aware that education is an opportunity for growth regardless of the venue.  One thing that McNeal writes about I may not agree with is his attitude on strengths and weaknesses (68-80).  Essentially, he suggests that we need to focus on our strengths, understand and develop them, and no worry about being “balanced”.  I agree that all should focus on strengths and the gifts that God has given his but we should not neglect our weaknesses.  A great leader should take the time to understand their weakness so that they can find those in a team based setting that can support them and partner with them through their difficulties.

The final discipline that stuck me was the discipline of aloneness.  God practiced Sabbath after creation and his creation should as well.  Time away gives a leader increased self-awareness, missional clarity.  “The loss of Sabbath is one of the major failings of contemporary church life in North America (149).”  I believe this statement has great relevance now but I wonder what will become of it after the shift out of the modern world.  The age of post-modernity may be much more receptive to getting back to the Sabbath time of rest and aloneness.  As modernity has shunned it, those churches stuck in this model have only built toward burnout busy work without moving toward clarity and real results.  The main enemy of aloneness is time; “every leader battles the issue of time management (153).”  This goes back to the previous discipline of self-management.  A leader who can manage themself properly is one that can be disciplined in aloneness.  As I read Practicing Greatness I was enlighten to the connections that McNeal makes between the different disciplines.  Each discipline is a separate concept and practice that a leader must work hard at to become disciplined in.  With that being said each discipline builds up each other one; be a better self-manager and you will have more valuable alone time, understand your mission better and you will become more effective at disciple building.  Each discipline is equally as important in part or as a whole.  To be a great leader, one must grow across each of these disciplines.

I find Practicing Greatness applicable to my life and ministry.  It has many principles and practices that I hope will contribute to my growing in leadership through service.  All of the disciplines that stuck me are already at work in my life.  I have been applying those for some time although I did not realize it or understand it as fully until I read McNeal’s work.  With that being said, the most important discipline I need to apply in my ministry context is the discipline of belonging.  Honestly, I neglect this discipline because I a terrible at it.  My personality is one that is not wired to seek out belonging even if I am longing for it.  This is especially true in the area of belonging to friends.  Possibly the most important statement I need to apply in his book states “Friendships will not develop without the expenditure of time, priorities, even ministry efforts.  Friendships are reserved for those who count the cost, then pay it (132).  I know that I need to reflect and apply this discipline not only to be a great leader but to grow closer to God.  Christian leadership is not a one man show and neither is the Christian journey.

I would recommend McNeal’s Practicing Greatness to anyone who may find themselves in a leadership position.  This is not just for preachers and leaders of local congregation but any believer could find formative practices in his book that could help them better understand how to lead for God regardless of their setting.