Category Archives: Books

Quick Review: Shaping Your Family Story

Over the last few weeks, I read “Shaping Your Family Story” by David Welday III and Dr. James Coffield.  My wife and I wanted to read this book after getting acquainted with Dr. Coffield this summer at a training we attended.  He presented on some of the principles that are in this book and overall we really benefitted from our exposure to him. So we wanted to read the book.

Here is the main framework that makes this book unique compared to some other family leadership books out there. They offer 6 principles for shaping a good family story (chapter 2)  (18-23)

They offer 6 principles for shaping a good family story (pp. 18-23)

  1. Create High Emotional Warmth
  2. Have Low and Productive Conflict
  3. Have High Fun
  4. Have High Purpose or Theme
  5. Answer the Right Question  (i.e. “Am I loved?”)
  6. Parent Consistently

This summer Dr. Coffield primarily used the 1st four as an assessment of sorts for really any kind of relationship or community-based situation:  marriage, family, and even teams and larger communities. And that’s the biggest thing that has stuck with us – evaluating our relationships and community commitments through the lens of those 4 categories. From a parent standpoint, 5 & 6 are great and important as well and I think they also apply to leadership as well.

From a parent standpoint, 5 & 6 are great and important as well and I think they also apply to leadership as well. So I believe all 6 categories are a good diagnostic for any relationship or community, but the 1st four provide for a very easy assessment.

Is there high warmth?

Is there low/productive conflict?

Is there high fun?

Is there high purpose?

I think most of us have experienced environments that have been heavy on 1 or 2 of these or where 1 or 2 was completely lacking. I find that these have really helped me develop some simple and practical solutions and next steps whether it relates to marriage, family, or team leadership.

What do you think? Do you think these questions cover the essence of what contributes to a safe and healthy relational environment?

This is not the first go to marriage or family book I would recommend, but I enjoyed it and there was a lot of great insights and nuggets in there – particularly on discipline and the importance of consistency (#6 above).  It was a simple and practical book so it’s very accessible.

 

Quick Review: The Road Back to You

About 15 years I was first exposed to the spiritual tool/diagnostic known as the “enneagram” and found it somewhat interesting, but the exposure was so minimal that I did not really do anything with it. But it introduced or reinforced the notion of core sin patterns that different profiles of people live out.

This summer I listened to a seminar on the enneagram and interacted with a couple people that had been exploring it as well so I’ve been exploring it further and learning about what it is, where it came from, what it entails, and the scope and limits of its application.

The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey To Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile was a recommended book to get an overview. From what it sounds like it’s a good overview and more humor involved than most of the overviews and books that are emerging out there.

I am not going to unpack what it is – only that I know there’s plenty of watchdogs that look to shred the use of anything that remotely facilitates contemplation in the spiritual life and assert it’s all new age or the demonic. For years I actually thought the enneagram was the scientology tool so didn’t rush to learn more about it. That is something else.

I am interested in it because I’m always looking for things that help surface self-awareness and guide people into root heart idolatry or heart sin that drives a lot of behavior but that goes unnoticed without intentional reflection or courageous community.  From what I’ve explored thus far, this is a really helpful tool toward that end – rooting out the false self in its many different expressions and guiding to a deeper surrender to Jesus at the innermost level that can result in an authentic and free worship of God as an image bearer of God.

I have an idea of where I fall in this, but it’s not crystal clear yet.  Two of the nine profiles look pretty familiar to me and resonate fairly deeply to my core.  But I have been impressed as a basic knowledge of the profiles has already helped me re-assess how I approach certain relationships of mine and how to handle tricky leadership development moments.

Like all tools, it’s not something that should be used to label or take an expert position. It should result in humility and compassion and I think this really helps facilitate greater orientation to truth and increased grace towards others.  There are other books that unpack things with more spiritual depth, but this was a comfortable and easy read for an overview and introduction.

It’s worth saying that not all uses of the enneagram are grounded and integrated in Biblical truth and foundations. It’s origins are quite ancient and it’s been appropriated in different ways, but in its raw origins from what I understand, it was the source of what became known as the seven deadly sins.

Anyway – I’ll be reading a few more books on this because as one who is invested daily and weekly in Biblically rooted spiritual and leadership development and formation, there’s a lot of insight and wisdom to be gained here.

 

Quick Review: Crazy Busy

As I’ve continued to prioritize some reading related to rest and well-being, I decided to read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy as another resource to reflect on how to best steward my soul and my contribution, given the immense stress of my life with its many demands, especially in a different country.

This is a short book – about 130 pages or so and it could be read in 2-3 hours easy.  They are short chapters that cover a lot of the main areas that need attention in modern society impacting well-being and business.  Prioritization (mission creep), Parental anxiety, Internet and Technology addiction or even attachment, Sabbath and rest, Personal Limitations, and most importantly the heart issues that drive our decisions and behavior that are rooted in sin or immature character.

This book is not a deep dive into these areas, but a broad exhortation in these different areas to highlight a key overall concept – we need to choose what is best even over the good.  And the best is resting in and abiding in God as the source of life, trusting that He will do what only He can do and expressing that confidence in faith by only doing what we can/should for God’s glory.

So many of us are struggling here with one or more of these areas covered in this book and we need to stay vigilant to guard against these enemies of living out of God’s abundance.

For a deeper dive I still recommend Buchanan’s The Rest of God as a more devotional journey going into rest and abiding in God that will draw you more deeply into God’s presence.  But this is a good and simple exhortation that we all need on a regular basis to guard our hearts, schedules, and relationships from drifting away from abundant life in God.

 

Quick Review: The 3 Big Questions For A Frantic Family

I read Patrick Lencioni’s The 3 Big Questions For a Frantic Family over the past couple of months in different sittings.  In short – it’s a strategic planning book for families, which sounds horrible and boring. But it’s not. If you didn’t know, I’m a strategic planning professor right now – but that doesn’t mean it’s a niche book.

What I like about this book, like a lot of Lencioni’s leadership fables is there is a simplicity that makes organization and leadership doable, sustainable, and worthwhile. It’s a great book not because it’s sophisticated, but because it’s simple in its strategy for helping parents take greater ownership in stewarding their family in line with their sense of purpose and values.

The 3 questions are basically?

  1.  What makes our family unique?

    This is a simple way of doing value and identity work. It’s important to get a working understanding of what your family is about and what you’re committed to. So this is a “vision and values” type of question but it’s framed simply.

  2.  What is our top priority right now (rallying cry)?

    This is a simple and family version of the rally cry/thematic goal Lencioni unpacks in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. But this is one of the most helpful things and I actually have utilized this concept in trying to lead our family.  Right now our family rallying cry is, “To increase our family capacity and live with more joy and peace in a challenging city.”  It’s a 2-6 month big picture goal that you can make significant progress towards that’s crucial for your family vision and values.  A part of this is establishing some objectives and measurements to help you know you are going the right direction. He talks about defining objectives and standard objectives. Standard objectives are the more ongoing categories of life.

  3.   How will we talk about these questions and help them stay alive?

This is a plan for communication and accountability.

So in some ways, it’s not rocket science. Lencioni does a good job illustrating that parents fail to exercise the same common sense and skills they might know in their work in the context of their family lives.  He’s not advocating people lose the family vibe, but to just take the organizational leadership skills crucial to parenthood a little more seriously for the sake of more robust and value driven lives.

Go to tablegroup.com and download a 4-page summary as well as a worksheet you can use if you want to do some planning and prioritization for yourself or your family.

I’ve noticed that while many families may make some specific choices for the sake of values, most do not really plan intentionally in light of their true or desired values. We all save for vacations, but few are planning for family connection and intimacy. That’s where value driven planning can make a huge difference.

 

Quick Review: The Rest of God

Over the past month I’ve been going through The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul By Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan. If there’s been any theme or need in my life over the past year, it’s been the concept of rest and abiding in the Lord – but the last month has been when I’ve really been able to take steps towards that rest as most of the year became the antithesis of abiding.

Reading this book in a spirit of reflection and contemplation – taking each of the 14 chapters every two or three days to really focus and think about has helped me move closer to what title of the book promises – experiencing the restoration of my soul.  Coming into this summer I was probably closer to burnout that I wanted to admit, fresh off an inhuman pace of life and work. This was one of the best books that could have helped me enter the truth – the truth of God’s rest available to me and the truth of how and why I avoid or fail to enter that rest all too often. This is the book I recommend regarding burnout and rest as opposed to what I reviewed last week.

The book is not just about Sabbath as Sunday, but as living life in the Gospel – experiencing life in God as a gift to be received, not as something to be mastered or conquered.  There are excellent chapters on rest, Sunday Sabbath, play, freedom, and identity among others.  In fact, all 14 chapters had significant insight and reflection on God’s gift to us of Himself through Sabbath rest.

If you are on the verge of burnout or if you just need to have a helpful catalyst to resting in the Lord, I highly recommend The Rest of God.  I really enjoy Buchanan’s writing style and I think there are several chapters I plan on coming back to on a regular basis because they are so helpful for me in light of my typical struggles to find rest and abide in the Lord.

This will be something I recommend a lot moving forward, so I’ll start here with you 🙂

 

Quick Review: Zeal Without Burnout

I read last week Zeal without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice by Christopher Ash as I’m in a season of reflection and evaluation of my own capacity. I’m reading a few different things relating to Sabbath and rest.  This was a book I added to the mix because it fits some of my current challenges and I picked it up for 99 cents on the Kindle.

First, the book is fine. As an introduction to pacing yourself as a minister and not getting sucked into demands and ministry tasks that end up taking over your life.  It can serve as a helpful intro to rest and well-being as a minister.

But…

I saw that it was being offered for 9$ on Kindle and I do not believe it is worth that.  I had assumed this was a 3 or 4 dollar kindle book as it’s only 130 pages and there’s a lot of space between chapters so I would say it’s closer to 100 pages of actual content.

The book is a good encouragement, but if you have money I would suggest going elsewhere like Mark Buchanan’s The Rest of God, which I am reading right now as well.  Zeal without Burnout does not really go deep enough into all of what’s involved in these areas of struggle for ministers to justify the high cost and in general only offers limited insight beyond a basic exhortation to avoid legalism and other components.

For what it was for me – I appreciated it.  But it served as a 99 cent Kindle e-book that lightly encouraged well-being, spiritual health, and healthy limits in ministry.   I don’t mean to be negative about the book because it had some good qualities – especially some firsthand stories from people who have struggled mightily with burnout.  But when I saw the normal cost, it just didn’t feel anywhere near worth it.  If you want a book on rest or Sabbath, keep an eye out for some of my upcoming thoughts on The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan.

 

Quick Review: Stuck! Navigating Life and Leadership Transitions

Last week I read the book Stuck! Navigating Life and Leadership Transitions by Terry Walling. Terry once led a brief time of organizational refocusing at my home church about 15-20 years ago so the name has stuck with me, but I was motivated by this book because he offers a popularized book of some of Dr. Robert Clinton’s work on Leadership Emergence Theory. Clinton is most known for his book The Making of a Leader and he has been at Fuller Seminary for quite a while.

Walling offers an incredibly practical description and road map for journeying through some of the biggest moments of leadership and spiritual development in life – what he calls “Transitions” and what Clinton calls “Boundaries.”  These are moments where old paradigms are being broken down to make way for the new. They can take a few months or they can take years to journey through.

Clinton’s work was formative for me in my late twenties as I was going through a significant boundary or transition. It was a 3-year phase of my life, but I would have taken much longer to navigate the deep truths I was being invited into about myself and about the Lord without Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory. It shifted the direction of my life and increased my leadership influence significantly the following decade.

Walling’s book was so easy to read and understand. My wife is a great test case in this. She is reading it right now and she is finding it to be a powerful read in the context of her life right now.

There are significant times in life where we can focus on the challenges and struggles and just try to get through. But it’s a much different experience to see such a phase as an invitation to go deeper and have our paradigm of life with Jesus expanded for the sake of preparation for what’s ahead. My wife is definitely in a big transition season right now and I may be in one too – it’s been helpful for us as we discern God’s leading.

The focus for Walling is the 3 big transitions in a leader’s life, which range from about the 20’s for the first one, the 40’s for the second, and late 50’s or early 60’s for the third.  We’re reading it in a timely way because we’re around that 2nd major life/leadership transition and boundary.

This could be a great intro to Leadership Emergence Theory if you want to begin reflecting on the big picture / sovereign hand of God in your life. It’s a far more practical and manageable version of Robert Clinton’s theory and work. I can’t think about my own leadership development at this point without some of the categories of the theory so I recommend you get acquainted with it and explore it.  This book is a practical introduction for you.

 

Quick Review: Strengths Based Marriage

My focus for a couple months, while we are in the U.S. and at a training for international staff, is family so I’m reading a bunch of books and resources related to family life right now because that’s a lot of what we are thinking about and reflecting upon right now. One of those books is Strengths Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts.

I was luke warm on this book, but was intrigued initially because I have some Strengths Finder training and often teach and do trainings related to the typical Strengths based themes.  There are some helpful things in this book for people familiar with StrengthsFinder, but in general I did not find it all that great.

First – I think the audio book experience for this one didn’t work for me. The book is divided up between a marriage counselor/expert and a strengths coach/expert. They rotate back and forth and I grew weary hearing them identify themselves as an expert in their field for each of their sections.  I read along in the book at points to take some notes and was not nearly as bothered in the written form.

There are just some things I wasn’t feeling – there was a lot of language that describes a lot of marriage things in stereotypical language. Like the comments that men need this and women need that, while men like this though women like that.  That kind of stuff.  There was helpful insight, but there was a bit too much labeling for me along the lines of the “Love and Respect” books.  There is some truth in there, but it gets lost for me in the generalizations.

I was surprised that there was a Biblical foundation or commitment by the authors so I appreciated some of the attempts to link it to Scripture, thought the use of Ephesians for the love and respect type of stuff above irked me a bit. But the stuff on servanthood was pretty solid.

Language wise – there was also a section in which complaining was encouraged as a necessary way of helping spouses having a voice with each other.  Some of it is semantics as their point was really about sharing your heart, but they used “complaining” as the actual word/concept and I think that’s a really poor choice of language and I don’t think that has ever helped anyone. I do support the idea of spouses listening to each other’s hurts, pain, frustration, and anger.  I guess I don’t see that as complaining.

The book is designed around the StrengthsFinder tool, but they recommend you take the version of the assessment online that gives you all 34 strength themes, not just the top 5.  I am not sure I am a fan of that, but they propose matching up your 34 side by side with your spouse to see where there are strength “tensions” or conflicts – say my top strength is strategic and my wife’s 34th strength is strategic (and that type of thing).  This could be helpful, but it draws a lot of attention to non-strengths and at times I didn’t like that Strengths was being presented as the secret ingredient to a healthy marriage.  I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide

I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide some helpful ideas as to how to encourage one another at the identity level and not just the performance level. But I’m not sure StrengthsFinder is the secret ingredient to most marriages – though it can help I suppose.

But hey – also, if you have ever wanted a conversation about how StrengthFinder impacts the marriage bed – this is the place for you.  That’s a whole next level of application there, but it was interesting.

If you are a SF junkie it’s not a bad book to read, but I’d encourage you to go elsewhere if you are really looking to go deeper in your marriage – maybe starting with Families Where Grace is in Place, which I reviewed a few days ago.

Quick Review: The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership

So a book I started well over a year ago and have read excerpts and sections off, but never really officially finished until this week was The Art of Virtue-Based Transformational Leadership by Mark McCloskey and Jim Louwsma.  It’s about 140 pages and a great primer on a really helpful leadership framework.

I had been looking forward to this book for quite a long time because Mark McCloskey was a significant mentor in my life as the head of the Transformational Leadership MA program I went through at Bethel Seminary a decade or so ago.  This book essentially captures the intro class to that program with a bit more refinement in some of the ideas and in the packaging. Louwsma has been a significant collaborative partner with McCloskey. I remember him visiting and presenting in some classes during that time and was impressed by his insights and perspectives.

The book gives an overview to what they call the 4-R leadership framework, which starts with Relationships and works its way out to Roles, Responsibilities, and then ultimately Results.  I’ve found it to be the most comprehensive and helpful framework for leadership development that I’ve used, but it’s also the dominant framework I’ve been exposed to over the years. McCloskey was former staff in my ministry organization and helped implement this framework as the leadership framework for the whole organization.  So I’ve been immersed in this framework both academically and in practice over the past 20 years.

As an aside – if you are Cru Staff, you should own and read this book to have more foundation for the framework that is central to organizational evaluation and development.

The authors weave the theory of the model with the narrative and example of Nehemiah from the Old Testament book of the same name, but one of the nice touches is they include a diverse number of 2-3 page biographical summaries on various transformational leaders in history.  I especially liked that they extended behind typical examples, but took a global approach in highlighting leaders who have exhibited transformational leadership.

It’s really not an overwhelming read as it’s less than 150 pages, but you get a lot in those pages. For $100 you can find the MBA / ultra-academic version of this book.  But now that this is available as a Kindle e-book I can’t recommend it enough if you want to explore a practical, yet research-based framework to help build and shape a leadership culture. Even if it’s just for your own development, it will help you do an audit on just about every area of your leadership from character to practices to skills.

Get it!