When Your Church Feels Stuck – Chris Sonksen (2017)

stuckChris Sonksen, When Your Church Feels Stuck: 7 Unavoidable Questions Every Leader Must Answer Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017, 181 pp. $10.80

Many churches in America are sitting on the plateau – so Chris Sonksen’s book, When Your Church Feels Stuck is relevant and fills an important need. The author sets forth an important principle at the outset: God determines the talent but we determine the choices. That is, are we faithful with the resources that God has given us? Sonksen remarks, “The measure of success is based on your living up to your potential, doing the absolute best you can o with what you have been given, digging deeper into your heart and soul, and seeking to become the leader God intended you to be.”

Several questions are offered which assess attitudes:

  • Am I doing all I can to reach my God-given potential?
  • Do I seek out people to mentor me or do I let pride get in the way?
  • Am I open to change or stuck in tradition?
  • Has ministry become more of a career than a calling?
  • Do I hold on too tightly to past successes?
  • Have I gotten too comfortable with the way things are?
  • Is everyone else recognizing a problem except me?

The author presents different stages in the life of a church from the initial launch, to utopia, whirlwind, increase, merry-go-round, and slow death. Readers are encouraged to evaluate which stage their respective church is currently in.

Most of the book revolves around seven questions, which are outlined below:

  1. Mission: What do we do?
  2. Strategy: How do we get it done?
  3. Values: What are the guiding principles we live by?
  4. Metrics: How do we measure a win?
  5. Team Alignment: Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction?
  6. Culture: How do we change the culture of our church?
  7. Services: How do we match what we say is important and what we really do?

The author goes into more detail as each question frames a specific chapter. The seven questions are helpful diagnostic tools and should be carefully considered by pastors and church leaders.

While nothing harmful is presented in Sonksen’s work, I would prefer to see a more biblically faithful model. Such work is found, for instance, in Andrew Davis’s book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again. The work under consideration may help jumpstart a struggling church. However, it fails to provide the robust biblical groundwork to help a church move forward in a Gospel-centered way. My fear is that a business model is slowly replacing the biblical model, which is presented in the pages of the New Testament.

My assessment of this work is mixed. Readers should proceed cautiously, refusing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But they should also realize that there is no “magic bullet” for church growth or revitalization in the local church.

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

When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace (2004)

when fish flyJohn Yokoyama and Joseph Michelli. When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace. New York: Hyperion Books, 2004. 158 pp. $14.63

Whenever I have the chance to take a guest to Seattle, one of the first places on the list is Pike Place Market. Anyone that knows anything about Pike Place knows that the tour would be incomplete without visiting the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market. Each guest has a chance to see fresh salmon flying through the air. The seafood acrobatics are matched by an enthusiastic team committed to fulfilling the vision of the market. But there’s nothing fishy about this Seattle-based company. Everything that unfolds before the guests is carefully thought out. The details are revealed in the book When Fish Fly: Lessons For Creating a Vital and Energized Workplace by John Yokoyama and Joseph Michelli.

When Fish Fly is an inside look at the success of the Pike Place Fish Market. The authors work through eight foundational pillars which drive the business plan:

  1. Creating a vision of power and possibility as a team.
  2. Enrolling and formalizing individual commitment and team alignment to the vision.
  3. Helping team members distinguish between the state of being and the state of doing.
  4. Having the leadership redefine themselves as effective agents of change.
  5. Assisting team members in letting go of internal and external conversations that rob them of their personal power.
  6. Guiding team members to listen to make a difference instead of listening to defend or blame.
  7. Helping the crew live their commitment to one another through effective coaching.
  8. Assisting crew members as they turn snags into breakthroughs.

Each of the business principles is explained and explored in greater detail. Yokoyama’s tale is sure to inspire new entrepreneurs and veteran business people alike. There are many nuggets here to mull over ruminate on. But the one thing that stands above all is the commitment the author to people. The author is more concerned with influencing people than a financial payout. Yokoyama writes,

“All of us can come together and benefit from generating bold visions of the future. You have an opportunity to positively empower people … I invite you to create a powerful vision for yourself and others in your community.”

When Fish Fly is a worthy read for anyone who has a passion to make a difference in the lives of people. Well done, Mr. Yokoyama!

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.

THE NAVY SEAL ART OF WAR – Rob Roy (2015)

Former Navy SEAL, Rob Roy was inspired by Sun Tzu’s, The Art of 0804137757_bWar.  The result is a book of his own: The Navy Seal Art of War.  The book is filled with over fifty chapters of leadership inspiration.

Rob Roy shares a wealth of leadership tips from his years in the military in The Navy Seal Art of War.  Each chapter contains a short but powerful meditation that will help anyone who aspires to influence others.  The author writes, “Real leaders inspire, direct, guide, and give hope.”  The book delivers as promised.

Roy’s book addresses various leadership topics like planning, mentoring, human resources, mental toughness, devotion, faithfulness, loyalty, and hard work.  Leaders from all walks of life will appreciate the approach here.  It is a good day to learn a few lessons from the world’s most elite fighting force.

Here are a few examples:

The Essential Seven

Extraordinary teams have a clear leader.

Extraordinary teams have quantifiable goals.

Extraordinary teams have well-defined roles.

Extraordinary teams share resources.

Extraordinary teams communicate effectively.

Extraordinary teams are 100 percent committed.

Extraordinary teams discourage big egos.

Mental Toughness

Be decisive.  Move quickly.

Don’t let stress result in your blaming others.

Don’t let distraction  deter you from accomplishing your objectives.

Never “take yourself out of the game.”  Always stay positive.

Under stress, good leaders learn how to compartmentalize tasks so they don’t get overwhelmed and shut down.

Stay focused on the mission.  Don’t let fatigue or stress deter your focus.

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

3.5 stars

TAKE COMMAND – Jake Wood (2014)

“The key to relentless execution, quite simply, is the consistent and conscious choice 9780804138390_bof success over failure.  It is living your personal life and leading your professional life in a way that acknowledges that when the stakes are high, the only thing that moves the needle from failure to success is the right attitude.”  Jake Wood points leaders in the right direction with such a mindset in his book, Take Command.

A former Marine sniper turned businessman, Jake Wood shares his life experiences with readers with a systematic approach which is easy to read and apply to daily life situations.

The author presents eight lessons for leaders.  These lessons are not mere theory; these lessons were forged on the battlefield and the business world.  Relevant quotes from famous military leaders are found throughout the book.

The lessons are organized in four broad categories – prepare, analyze, decide, and act. Wood’s life experiences in the military and business world make the life lessons come alive.  His approach is humble and inviting.  There is no pretense here; only common sense principles for anyone who seeks to become a better leader.

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

3.5 stars

HOW STARBUCKS SAVED MY LIFE – Michael Gates Gill (2007)

1592404049_bI have over one hundred and fifty books on my “to read list.”  Most of them are big books; important books.  Most of these books are theological in nature.  They address the big questions in life.  They stimulate my thinking.  They warm  my  heart.  These books lead me closer to the Savior.

So why would I pick up a book about a burned out corporate executive who took a  job on a “wing and a prayer” at Starbucks?  Why would I pick up a book about a guy who lost everything and traded a life of affluence for a blue-collar job and a green apron?

Perhaps the Starbucks label drew me in.  Or maybe the tagline by Hartford Cournant worked its magic with the word, “inspiring.”  Whatever it was, this little book edged out a bunch of good books and captured my attention for five or six hours.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is the riches to rags tale of a high-paid advertising executive who was not only fired but also threw away his marriage and ended up jobless, without health insurance and faced an expensive surgery to remove a tumor in his brain.

The book is readable from start to finish and is extremely difficult to put down.  The author utilizes his writing experience to lure readers in – a story that is both compelling, inspirational, and heartbreaking.

The most important character in Gill’s book is a twenty-eight year old African-American woman who hires the unemployed executive.  She emerges as the hero who mentors a man old enough to be her grandfather.  Crystal motivates, encourages, and even scolds Michael Gill.  In the words of Gill, she “saved my life.”

Another interesting feature of Gill’s book is the management philosophy of Starbucks.  He characterizes the coffee giant as a business who cares for their employees; a business who takes care of their employees.  Indeed, Starbucks is an organization that truly makes every guest feel special.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is a story about a man who comes full circle.  Gill admits his failures.  He owns up to his mistakes.  And in the final analysis, he celebrates his victories.  It is a story about the power of humans who connect with one another.

So why would I pick up a book like this?  Is it possible that every person wrestles with the same kinds of things that Michael Gates Gill struggles with?  The deepest answer to this question for belongingness is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ – a point that is never addressed in the book.  So the tension runs thick as the author beautifully expresses his need for belonging and connectedness.

4 stars

 

THE WAY FORWARD: RENEWING THE AMERICAN IDEA – Paul Ryan (2014)

ryanSeveral years ago, I set out to read about as many of the United States presidents as possible.  Reading about the great leaders in America’s history; leaders like George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan is an unforgettable experience that tends to leave a mark on each reader.

During this political season filled with failed policies and lackluster leadership, I set out to read about a few men who may one day occupy the Oval Office.  The first book is written by the Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.  His book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea is a transparent look at the Wisconsin native and his vision for America.

Readers will be impressed with Ryan’s unassuming style.  He’s a small town boy with big dreams for America.  There’s no political pretense here; just well-thought out ideas that Ryan proposes in order to rescue our country from the clutches of the Obama administration.

Several reforms are proposed by Paul Ryan.  The first proposal he presents is entitlement and health-care reform.   The goal here, according to Ryan is to begin by repealing Obama care, the prized jewel of social progressives.   Ryan makes it clear that he intends to save social security, medicare, and medicaid.  But the current policies will, in the final analysis lead to economic disaster.  Ryan proposes commonsense solutions which promote competition among insurance companies and doctors which will ultimately drive down prices; not to mention put more money back into the pocketbook of Americans.

The second proposal includes an economic growth component.  Ryan addresses the growing national debt crisis which is over $17 trillion and rising.  He addresses the liberal proclivity to tax and spend.  Ryan adds, “The bottom line is that when you tax something , you get less of it.  So when we tax prosperity and success, we get less of each – and we need more of both so we can get the economy working for everyone again.”

Third, tax reform is on Ryan’s agenda.  He is in favor of a reduction of the corporate tax rate and argues in favor of a simpler tax code.  Ryan’s reforms would mean “that no business or family would pay more than 25 percent of their income to the federal government.”  And many Americans would pay considerable less under the Ryan plan.

Fourth, ending cronyism and corporate welfare.  Ryan notes, “Cronyism is integral to the progressive approach to governing.”  A brief look at the Obama policies only confirm this notion.  Ryan concludes, “Americans need to know that their government is on their side – encouraging robust competition that will best serve their interests and grow their economy – rather than on the side of big, established corporate players.  Capitalism and cronyism are not compatible, and it’s time Republicans made it much clear to voters that we are the party that stands for a competitive economy suitable for growth.”

Fifth, Ryan makes a good case for regulatory reform.  “Going forward,” he writes, “we should ease the regulatory  burden on the economy, and the best way to do that is to bring meaningful cost-benefit analysis back into the system, reconnect the law with the lawmakers, and restore the balance between the branches of the government.  True regulatory reform can restart economic growth – and produce the energy we need.”

Sixth, aggressive immigration reform should be a key plank in the GOP platform.  Ryan’s ideas are among the best I’ve read as a pathway for citizenship is offered and accountability required.

Seventh, sound monetary policy will guide our country into the future.

Finally, a twenty-first century national defense strategy and foreign policy.  Ryan refers to this final component of his plan as the “missed opportunity” of the Obama administration.  Moving forward will require a strong military and a foreign policy that builds bridges with our allies around the world.

There’s something strangely refreshing about Paul Ryan’s approach.  Readers will notice that this man is devoted to his family and country.  He just happens to be a politician.  Here is a man who has strong gifts  in the field of economics and understands how to apply a supply-side approach in the current climate.  Paul Ryan is a strong leader with strong values and a heart for the American ideal.  Whether he ever ends up in the Oval Office is anyone’s guess.  One thing is true: He knows the way forward.