Category Archives: Spirituality

Quick Review: Self to Lose – Self to Find

Last week I gave a quick review on the enneagram book The Road Back to YouHere is the second book I’ve read recently in my attempts to explore and understand the enneagram as a tool to help myself and others dig deeper into the heart issues that drive behavior.

Self to Lose Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil was a much shorter treatment of the Enneagram types, but had much more depth to it from a spiritual standpoint. Half of the book is presenting a theology of Spirit-filled living, unpacking a framework of spiritual formation through the paradigm of dying to self and grounding one’s identity in the person and work of Christ.  This was a solid treatment and helpful for both those who jump into these things for the quick rush of finding their “type” like its a horoscope as well as those trolls out there who are quick to try to destroy anything that feels different to what they are used to.  I still am exploring how useful the enneagram is in life and ministry, but Vancil does a great job laying a solid framework for the bigger picture of how self-awareness is in service of our journey to put off the old self and put on the new self.

Self-awareness is something we all need and most people in leadership and ministry are trying to help other people develop in as well.  But often, the foundation of why we should pursue self-awareness is shaky or fuzzy. I like the beginning of this book as a primer of self-reflection and the Enneagram stuff aside, the rest of the book unpacks a helpful framework or process for cultivating Spirit-facilitated self-awareness. Vancil entitles that process with the acronym OWNUP, which links the process of reflection with the fundamental taking of responsibility inherent to what it means to “die to self.”

The descriptions themselves of the 9 types are helpful and framed more from a Biblical perspective with some helpful categories to give insight to the types such as core sins, core fears, and several other areas helpful as a road map for personal reflection.

While the strength of the book is framing everything through a clear Biblical framework for following Jesus through putting off the old self and picking up our cross daily and embracing the new self, the cost is at more contextual content related to the specific types. I find that I need more context and content on each type to really get a handle on them, but having already read The Road Back to You and listened to some other content really helped. I am not sure this is the first book I would recommend to someone on the Enneagram for that reason. I benefitted because I already had some context.

Another disappointment was the section on wings was practically non-existent. That’s something still confusing to me and Vancil really doesn’t try to tackle that outside of making a small argument that each type is affected to some degree by each wing to the number’s left or right. That seems like a different take than some of what I’ve heard so far.

There are two unique contributions to the Enneagram as a spiritual encouragement. First, there’s a section where the author includes an “invitation” through God’s perspective to each type through a more Biblical lens and vision for what God may want for each person based on Scripture. Second, there’s a section of prayers from the perspective of each type that walk through a process of confessing core sin patterns and inviting God into the core needs and desires.  Both the invitations and the prayers were great and I think provide a helpful roadmap for people how to approach God authentically and in full surrender to His purposes and power.

So if you are into the Enneagram or are exploring it, I think this is a great resource – but its strength is in providing Biblical foundations and a framework to understand how this can be in service to God’s work of sanctifying a person. It is not the comprehensive resource for descriptions of the types themselves or other nuances, though the material that was included was helpful in what it tried to do.

I still plan to read a couple more, but will take a bit of a break from the Enneagram for a couple of months but hope to come back to it around the holidays when I have more time.

 

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: 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.