Category Archives: Development

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!

 

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.

 

Quick Review: Unoffendable

On our family drive to Colorado recently I read Brant Hansen’s Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.  

I was drawn to read it because the summary fits the general realm of self-differentiation that I enjoy looking at, but also because it had potential relevance to some of the shame and conflict research I’ve been working on this past year.

This turned out to be a more “popular Christian” book than I expected, but it wasn’t all bad in that regard as there were some unexpected nuggets in parts of the book that did not fit my expectations. The book is written by a guy who works in Christian radio. That fact might have scared me off before I read the book, but turned out to add some fascinating insights.

The premise is clear – giving up the right to be angry makes all the difference in relationships, leadership, ministry, and all of life. The author unpacks how a lot of people spiritualize anger, especially toxic anger under the vernacular as “righteous anger.” This was the most important part of the book – a prophetic word to angry Christians about how their anger is not righteous, but self-serving.

I expected most of the book to relate to conflict, but there was helpful exploration of how anger and “offendability” impacts evangelism and many other things, including a good discussion about dying to anger as it relates to forgiveness.

An interesting discussion is to compare/contrast this book with Bill Hybel’s Holy Discontent, which speaks to some measure of righteous anger as a fuel for passion.  Hanson argues pretty clearly that anger has no place in motivation for justice because our motivation is love.  Jeff VanVonderan in Families Where Grace is in Place (which I am reading now) has a really helpful chapter where he unpacks a discussion on anger which echoes some of Hanson’s arguments but frames a more robust argument around the original Greek language used for “anger.” There are different words and concepts.  VanVonderan offers the most satisfying explanation of the verse “Be angry, but do not sin….”  Hanson though includes great insight that justice work need not be driven by anger and how research shows the most outraged and offended are often those who do least to be part of the solution.

I had not thought much of what it would be like to work in Christian radio because I don’t listen to Christian radio. But what a sad and sobering picture to hear what kind of stuff Christian radio folk personnel have to deal with. It’s not shocking actually, but what a mirror to the heart conditions of many Christians – the legalistic, the spiritualizers, and especially the Christian watchdogs that feel like it’s their responsibility to correct or judge every person or action they disapprove of or disagree with (including matters of doctrine).

I’ve found many popular Christian books cover the same ground – not judging, forgiving, building relationships, grace, general gospel overview, and more.  They also just tend to use a different lens to share a vision of what life with Christ can or should be.  The particular lens in this issue is the idea of “unoffendability” and dying to anger in all its forms.

To summarize – I like the concept of “unoffendability” and appreciated some of the more prophetic challenges this book includes even though I may quibble with some of the arguments or statements at points.  But – I like the lens of unoffendability because it’s true that offendability, outrage, and anger are to be the exact opposite of what the church is known for, yet it’s another area where the church seems to often look exactly like the world.

 

 

Quick Review: Shame Interrupted

Over the past few months I read Edward T. Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & RejectionIt was one of those books that lent itself to casual reading over time to maximize the experience of reading it. There are about 30 chapters that all take about 15 minutes to read and they are thematically organized so taking it in short doses while I read other things as well was a quite refreshing way to go through it.

Welch is a counselor so he tackles the issue of shame from that perspective, but he also offers some solid theology to ground his writing. What I appreciate was that in addition to the theological and psychological insights, Welch shows himself aware of many of the cultural and social dimensions to shame and identity. He draws on helpful insights from both the Ancient Near East as well as cultures today. He also addresses power and majority-minority dynamics intentionally at various places, which I appreciated.

There’s a poetic and lyrical nature to how this book is written so it is very easy to read in some ways, but it’s an easy read more so because the style targets the human heart and reality so authentically that there’s not much in the book that you don’t feel like you relate to.

In Asia, shame is a more recognized and understood dynamic. People just get it – and as such, this is a great resource here in Asia. In the west, shame is not something most know their way around. Many either are not aware of what it is and its impact on identity and relationships or they don’t know what to do with it or how to find freedom.  This book helps develop awareness of how shame may be at work in one’s life and it offers a grounded and hopeful perspective from Scripture to help one understand how to see their story re-written as they place their story within the God’s story.

It’s actually a really creative and insightful book that offers an immense depth of wisdom and insight. I would recommend it to just about everyone because I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t benefit from going through this book whether for personal growth or leadership development.

 

Quick Review: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World

It’s one of my commitments every year, while I’m in the small kid stage of parenting to read a parenting book. I have tended to satisfy this goal of mine through general books that “somehow relate” to parenting, but I have felt the need now that our kids are a little older to actually read some parenting books that are more specific and targeted towards parents with our kids’ ages in mind.

So before 2016 came to a close, I got in a parenting book by reading Kristen Welch’s Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World.  Genre-wise, this is a mom blogger book. The author is a blogger and she quotes a lot of bloggers. But it’s well done and is rich in illustrations that resonate well if you have kids in the same age brackets. Where we are at in parenting fit the insights of the book to a tee.

Each chapter covers some significant area for parenting in today’s world. And by today’s world – the context is primarily western and more or less affluent. Living in Manila, our kids are spared from some of the materialism and excess discussed in the book.  But in other ways, being westerners living in a developing nation we have more resources and can live comfortably compared to many others. Entitlement can grow even in the developing world.

Topics include discipline, setting limits, social media best practices for parenting, financial systems to promote stewardship and selflessness, and how to cultivate servant’s hearts among others.  Each chapter includes some suggestions and best practices for developing children organized by different age groups – there were a lot of helpful ideas in them.

Our kids are just starting to learn to use the internet, but we’ve been holding them off from social media. But it was just helpful to get a primer on social media issues and dangers and possible parameters to help us empower and protect our kids.  This was one of the more helpful chapters for me to listen to.

But in general – the message is consistent and clear and helpful, that for kids to abandon entitlement, parents must abandon it first. And I couldn’t agree with that more.  We just don’t often assess our own hearts first and realize how we often are the source of some of the problems we are frustrated by. This value of the book is how it can help parents check their own hearts first and then think through how best come alongside children in a way that is helping them learn to live in reality and with a grateful and others focused, serving posture.

It gave me some new conviction to engage some things I have been getting softer on without realizing it. I’m refreshed and motivated to be as intentional as needed to guard against entitlement and to help our kids grow and develop into people who can love and serve in the true reality of this world – and not in an escapist or fantasy world that they are expecting to rescue them from challenge or struggle.

It’s a pretty fun read with a lot of humor in it, but the substance is solid.

 

Quick Review: The Five Temptations of a CEO

Thanks to Audible, Patrick Lencioni’s book The FIVE Temptations of a CEO was on sale last week for 50% so I think I got it for around $4 or so. It’s one of his shortest books and also the first of his well-known leadership fable books to my knowledge. The audio version was about an hour and a half. I listened to just about the whole thing while supervising my kids in the swimming pool on vacation one afternoon. Water was WAAAY too cold for me so I opted for some Lencioni instead.

This was maybe the most simple of all the books I’ve read from Lencioni. Simple story and five simple principles that have a significant and disproportionate impact on leadership and team success. It was a brief book, but it came at a good time for me as I’ve been stretched lately through having to lead at a higher level. It’s not just for CEO’s, but for anyone really leading a team and who is in a position to steward organizational mission, vision, and values.

The five temptations are essentially these:

  1. Status (protecting self over focusing on results)
  2. Popularity (wanting people to like you instead of holding them accountable and making the needed decisions)
  3. Certainty (wanting to avoid risk and failure)
  4. Harmony (wanting to avoid tension and uncomfortability in the team)
  5. Invulnerability  (Maintaining distance and avoiding authenticity)

Here’s his model in simple form as it’s covered on his website. You can download the model here in pdf form.

Much of these principles are unpacked in more detail in later books, especially The Five Dysfunctions and Getting Naked. So I don’t know if paying full price for this book is what you need to do. I would think a lot of it can be gleaned from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. But for the price, it was a great and simple overview of some key things. Of all the ones here, the temptation of certainty was the one that was most helpful for me right now. It’s the one least covered in other books I’ve read so maybe that’s where I found a lot of value here. But overall – it provided a great opportunity for self-assessment and to explore possible development and change moving forward.

It was a great hour and fifteen minutes – I listened at 1.25x speed 🙂

The website for the book is here.

 

 

 

Quick Review: Pursuing Justice

One of the books with the most impact on me this year was Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsI read it in the summer, but I re-read it over the past couple of weeks. Wytsma founded Kilns college and started The Justice Conference. I’ve started going through the last couple conferences via what is on the internet and vimeo.

This book is a primer on God’s heart for justice and offers a corrective to both social gospel as well as gnostic, all that matters is the afterlife,  approaches to the gospel. There’s a strong Biblical foundation offered for what the Scriptures really say about justice and where many of us have gone off to one extreme or the other.

There’s a few chapters I loved.  There is a chapter focused on advent, the incarnation, that was exceptional regarding the call to incarnate into people’s lives and realities as fundamental to Christian life and ministry. Given that I re-read it prior to Christmas this year, my second reading of this chapter was even more meaningful. Maybe the chapter I appreciated the most though was the chapter entitled “Empathy” that connects are hard-wired human ability to feel what other people feel and experience as a key to God’s heart for justice. Without empathy, there is no justice.  There is a paradigm offered in this chapter regarding empathy and “the other” which may come in handy in my PhD research.

Wytsma covers a lot of ground. In addition to the above, he tackles briefly the gospel and politics, the history of the evangelical phobia of “social justice,” and the range of response to justice such as apathy. This book is a great introduction to thinking Biblically about justice and it’s a convicting one that all believers would benefit from.

One of my big takeaways, while not a new conviction, is a deeper commitment that Christian ministry along with its methodology reflects what the Scriptures really teach about the gospel and justice. That’s neither the social gospel or the spiritual escapism often present in evangelicalism today. When word and deed go together, it’s a powerful thing and I’m thankful for those who are helping lead the church towards a more integrated and restorative vision of what it means to be the Church.

I will come back to this book because it also cites really great sources and work from many historical and contemporary justice practitioners. While I’ve read a decent amount regarding justice, there was much that was new to me in terms of stories and anecdotes, but the resources referenced were just as much of a blessing.

 

Quick Review: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

One of the best books I’ve read this year is Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul Tripp. I read Tripp’s How People Change earlier this year, which he co-wrote with Timothy Lane and I use their book Relationships: A Mess Worth Making in the Graduate Interpersonal Relationships Class I teach. But I had not heard of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand until it was recommended to me by the head of my peace studies program.

The book is a theology and philosophy of personal ministry and Biblical counseling. It unpacks the incarnational calling of the body of Christ to minister to one another at the heart level in the way the Scriptures describe and mandate. Tripp challenges secular models arguing that they reinforce blameshifting rather than go to the true source of our problems and need to change – the problem of sin.

Tripp uses Scripture really well to convey a thoroughly Biblical framework for personal change and the role that each of us needs to play in giving and receiving Biblical instruction and counsel.  While giving his personal philosophy of Biblical counseling, Tripp presents this book as a resource for all believers for their personal growth as well as for the role they can play in God’s redeeming work of change in people’s lives through Christ.

There is excellent material here, including practical resources of questions to ask, key Scriptures to use, and a general process of coming alongside other people in the change process.  One of the most valuable parts of the book was one of 5 appendices, which unpacked the dynamics of spiritual blindness.  Spiritual blindness is something we all experience personally and we all observe in others, but Tripp’s teaching from the Scriptures on the topic in addition to practical questions and approaches to help people face their spiritual blindness was really helpful I thought.

I think Tripp’s approach from Scripture is a needed one and it’s a model of personal ministry that would truly be transformational.  Few in the ministry really consistently teach and talk about the heart.  Fewer still really give people the tools and build a culture around how to keep Christ’s work in the heart at the center of ministry. Tripp offers great resources and paradigms from Scripture.

My only gripe is that it presents a view that all problems can be solved just addressing sin. I think his treatment of depression falls in this category – where there are sin and belief issues involved as well as other things.   So I still see the importance of specialized counseling in some scenarios that help someone navigate complex issues, but I believe this approach to Biblical counseling would cover most scenarios pretty well. The main point is that we need to let the gospel do its work in peoples’ lives and for that to happen, we need to get at the heart and the way in which we deceive ourselves and exchange worship of Christ for tons of other things.

But again – this is not just a counseling resource. It’s a great resource for discipleship, small groups, and mentoring. I’ve walked the guys I’m mentoring through some of the foundational aspects of this change model and it’s been quite helpful.  So I recommend it as an ongoing resource that can be pulled out when you find yourself in situations where god has you in a position to help facilitate change in someone’s life. There’s not going to be much better tools to help you think about the idolatry of the heart and how to help you and others shift from false worship to authentic worship of Christ in all things.