Simple Church (2006)

It’s been several years since I first read Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric 0805447997_b
Geiger.  The second time through was a good refresher as the authors remind readers about the importance of returning to “God’s process for making disciples.”

Simple Church argues that healthy churches have a simple plan for making disciples.  Four key words describe the process that is presented in the book:

  1. Clarity
  2. Movement
  3. Alignment
  4. Focus

Clarity sets forth the ministry blueprint.  Clarity is “the ability of the process communicated and understood by the people.  Without understanding, commitment wanes.  Understanding precedes commitment.”

Movement is the “sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.  Movement is about flow.  It is about assimilation.  Movement is what causes a person to go to the next step.”

Alignment is “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.  Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.”

Focus is “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.  Focus requires saying “yes” to the best and “no” to everything else.”

Each of the above steps gives church leaders the necessary framework to begin with a simple plan for making disciples.  This model will require a radical paradigm shift in most churches.  Some sacred cows will die.  But more disciples will be nurtured in the long run.  Simple Church is an important contribution and contains some critical components that lead to the establishment of a healthy church.

Designed to Lead

Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, Designed to Lead Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2016, 234 pp. $16.16

The systematic and purposeful development of leaders in the church is sorely lacking. This reality is reinforced in Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. The authors argue at the outset that leaders must be developed in the church context: “The church is designed to lead, designed to disciple leaders who are, by God’s grace, commanded to disciple people in all spheres of life.” Therein lies the central theme of the book.

But make no mistake – Designed to Lead is not your typical leadership book. While the authors do interact with current leadership literature, their primary aim is to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The authors add, “The locus of the Church is and must be Jesus and His finished work for us. The center of the Church must be the gospel; for it is the gospel – His righteousness given to us in exchange for our sin – that created the Church, and it is the gospel that sustains the Church.” So as helpful as leadership theory may be, the real fuel of Designed to Lead is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The book is arranged in three parts. Part one explores conviction. Part two examines culture. And part three explains constructs.

Conviction

The conviction to develop leaders must undergird all of our efforts in the church. An equipped church is a healthy church. Or as the authors write, “Equipping must be viewed as foundational, as fundamental to what it means to actually be called a church.”

Pastors must embrace the paradigm of Ephesians 4:12 and strive to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. They must embrace a mentality of every-member ministry and strive to eliminate the so-called “clergy/laity split.”

Equipping, then, is at the core of every pastor’s calling. Geiger and Peck maintain, “Without a deep-seated conviction to develop leaders, without a passion for equipping – a church will not enjoy the beautiful effect of unity and maturity. A conviction for equipping is essential.”

The authors provide a basic template to help pastors develop their conviction for developing leaders:

  1. Leaders are called to reflect God’s glory
  2. Leaders are called to replicate
  3. Leaders are called to cultivate

The ultimate aim of our leadership development is to “guide others into joyful submission to King Jesus.” Such an approach helps develop leaders in the church who are prepared to impact people in every sphere of life. But none of this will come to pass until we have a deeply entrenched conviction about the importance of leadership development.

Culture

Developing conviction and culture are intertwined to be sure. So the authors argue, “Healthy cultures are conducive for leadership development.” Three layers of church culture are presented, namely, acutal beliefs, articulated beliefs, and artifacts.

Actual beliefsare the stated values of a given church. But actual beliefs are those beliefs that are truly cherished by a congregation.

Articulated beliefs are found in a vision statement or document that spells out what the church treasures.

Artifacts are the “visible, tangible expressions of a church’s actual and articulated beliefs.

These combined elements help make up a church culture. The authors argue that every church culture must be transformed. So churches must be assessed, vision must be cast, and specific goals must be in place for that transformation to take place.

Constructs

“Constructs are the systems, processes, and programs utilized to help develop leaders.” Section three provides readers with the practical tools to help develop leaders in the church. The authors present a framework for transformational leadership to occur. They maintain that “people grow when godly leaders apply the truth of God to their hearts while they are in a teachable posture. Discipleship occurs when truth, posture, and leaders converge.”

Additionally, three leadership components must be in place which includes delivering knowledge, providing experiences, and coaching.

Finally, pipelines must be developed that are directly applied to local congregations. “For a ministry, a leadership pipeline is a visible picture of how leaders can be developed and what their next step in the pipeline is.”

And pathways must be paved for individual sheep in a congregation. This pathway provides a tailor-made plan that helps a leader to fully develop.

Evaluation

Designed to Lead is a well-written and thoroughly researched book. The authors have done their homework and have tapped into top leadership resources. But the real strength of the book is the commitment to biblical discipleship which is grounded in the Great Commission imperative. Designed to Lead is saturated by Scripture and driven by a passion to obey God and help fulfill his kingdom mandate.

One helpful suggestion might be to include some transferable templates for pastors to immediately employ the principles set forth in the book.

Designed to Lead contains a wealth of biblical wisdom by two seasoned leaders who have paid their dues and deserve to be heard by pastors around the country. It is sure to receive a wide readership and help many pastors carry out the vision to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Embracing Followership

Allen Hamlin Jr, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture. Bellingham: Kirkdale Press, 2016, 237 pp. $14.99

True leaders will always have followers. At the heart of leadership is the assumption that a certain group of people is committed to following a given leader. Most books that address leadership focus on role of the leader, exclusively. Allen Hamlin’s new book, Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture takes a different approach.

Hamlin tackles the opposite end of the leadership spectrum by focusing on what it means to follow. The goal of the book, then, is to “determine how we can engage in our followership role with excellence.”

Embracing Followership is organized into six parts. Each part examines a different facet of what it means to “follow” with integrity and excellence. The parts are outlined below:

Part One: Misconceptions and Realities of Followership

Part Two: The Opportunities of Followership

Part Three: Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

Part Four: Followership in Relationship with Leaders

Part Five: Followership in Relationship with Other Followers

Part Six: Followership in Relationship as a Leader

Uses

Followers from a wide variety of backgrounds will benefit from Hamlin’s work. Pastors serving in associate roles will find this material especially useful. As one who served as an associate pastor for twenty years, I can testify that this role in particular will define the true nature of followership. Associate pastors have a choice: They can tuck under the authority of their superior by supporting, defending, and complementing them. Or they can subtly undercut and marginalize senior leadership. The former option is the only path to success.

Followers are in a strategic position where they can enhance a given leader’s ability to succeed. Hamlin observes, “When I am behind and alongside my leader, I have the opportunity to contribute where my leader is lacking.”

The theme of embracing followership is an empowering concept that every person needs to build into the fabric of their lives. It is a an important theme that is underemphasized in leadership circles. Hamlin’s work is a needed corrective to a misunderstood and neglected subject.

One critique may be in order. While Hamlin is clear about his Christian commitment, the book appears to target a broader audience, which is understandable. However, whenever Christian presuppositions are minimized, the force of the content lacks the authoritative punch that readers need. This criticism aside, I recommend Embracing Followership and hope this work receives a wide reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

Zeal Without Burnout

zeal

Christopher Ash. Zeal Without Burnout. The Good Book Company, 2016. 125 pp. $11.68

Let’s face it: Ministry, by definition is a brutal undertaking. Most pastors and Christian leaders have no idea what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up for full-time vocational ministry. Long hours, disloyal people, backstabbers, carnal habits and a propensity to pettiness are enough to drive the most mature minister to the sidelines if not the edge of despair. I’ve faced it personally. And the stories of pastors combined could provide fodder for a never-ending novel.

But ministry is not all drudgery. In fact, much of the time, ministry is laced with deep fulfillment and joy. New converts and growing disciples breath life and strength into the heart of the most discouraged pastor or Christian worker. Navigating the tension between the shores of futility and fulfillment provide a helpful key which enable Christian leaders to maintain perspective in the heat of the battle.

Additionally, ministry is time-consuming and stressful. Many pastors work extra hours and proudly wear a “badge of honor” that recognizes their diligent efforts. But there is a fine line between wisdom and workaholism. The prudent Christian leader is able to recognize the difference and maintain a healthy balance between hard work and burnout.

Christopher Ash provides a tool to help pastors and Christian leaders as they navigate these extremes. Zeal Without Burnout is a powerful field manual for Christian leaders who either battle burnout or moving in that direction. It is a helpful antidote for Christians who struggle to maintain balance between futility and fulfillment. It is a tool that if used properly will bear good fruit and enable Christian leaders to have a biblical perspective and move into the future with a godly zeal that is affirmed by the Word of God.

Christopher Ash provides seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice. Since the book is rather short, I will let the reader discover them on their own. One reviewer says this of the book: “A quick read that offers good applicational points, but not revolutionary.” A quick read, yes. But anyone who does not recognize the “revolutionary” nature of this book has either never experienced burnout or is not being honest with themselves.

I highly commend Zeal Without Burnout and anticipate a wide reading which will lead to encouragement for many pastors and Christian leaders in the days ahead.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

RAISING UP GODLY ELDERS

gospel

Bob Thune. Gospel Eldership. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016. 144 pp. $14.99

Everything rises or falls with good leadership. The fruitfulness and effectiveness of the local church is dependent upon men who exert strong, humble, and God-centered leadership. Weak men spawn weak churches. But men who living according to God’s mandate are a part of churches that thrive and produce spiritual fruit to the glory of God.

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer; he desires a noble task.” So says the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy.  Raising up biblical elders was a challenge in the first-century church. It continues to pose a tremendous challenge in our day as well. There are numerous resources that help equip biblical elders. The most notable resource is Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch.

However, Robert Thune’s excellent work, Gospel Eldership: Equipping a New Generation of Servant Leaders serves as a suitable companion and will no doubt be greatly used by God in the days to come.

The thesis is clear enough: “And is it not true that for a church to go deep in the gospel, its leaders must be deep in the gospel? That’s the vision and the goal behind Gospel Eldership.”

So the author presents ten lessons that provide a workable platform to train prospective elders and nurture the faith of men who currently serve as elders.

Description of an Elder
Section one discusses biblical eldership at a grassroots level. The author explores the importance of servant leadership, examines the necessity of a plurality of leadership, and walks readers through the various character qualifications the make up an elder.

Duties of Elders
Section two focusses on the important duties of elders. Elders are called upon to feed, lead, protect, and care for the church. In addition, Mr. Thune discusses the necessity of leadership that is missional and also touches on some temptations that emerge in missional leaders.

The first thing readers will notice in this work is the short, readable chapters. Each lesson is packed with biblical wisdom that point readers to the gospel. Discussion questions are included along with exercises that help apply the biblical principles.  There is much to commend in Thune’s work. But the highlight of this book is found in its repeated emphasis on the gospel. The author sets his sights on the heart of the reader. It is clear from beginning to end that the aim is heart transformation in every elder.

I highly recommend Gospel Eldership and look forward to hearing about how it encourages Christian leaders around the world.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOLD REFORMER: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther – David S. Steele

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On April 1, 2016 my new book, Bold Reformer will be available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and Booksamillon.com.  Here’s a brief summary:

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world ablaze in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Soli Deo gloria!