Tag Archives: Ministry

Quick Review: The Myth of Equality

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to go through Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege and want to pass on highest recommendation if you are in the Northern American context.

Last year I read Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice and it was a good complement to this book. But The Myth of Equality is a needed book that seeks to lay out theological, historical, sociological context for both historical racism as well as contemporary racism in its various forms. I won’t give a comprehensive summary but will hit the highlights.

First, he did good Biblical and theological work, building on some of his work in Pursuing Justice. It informs the reader, especially if there’s not much Biblical or theological background, on the spiritual backdrop of the discussion.  He’s working to give the average lay church member, especially white lay church member, a context for the discussion outside of attacks and emotions. Most important to this is the question of who God is and what does God care about.

Second, he does a great job unpacking a “history of racism” that is very insightful and informative in terms of political and social develops several hundred years ago.  However, the unpacking and analysis of racism in the U.S. including slavery and then through the various post-Civil War legislation and government efforts through the 20th century is downright piercing. Even for someone who has read or studied much of what was covered in other places, to go through this history is deeply disturbing and generates a flood of emotions. But the reader is brought into the sacred space of just how much suffering has been driven by the systematic oppression and marginalization of ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

My heart started pumping midway through in an excited way because Wytsma goes into Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Prophetic Imagination to discuss the dynamics of power, leadership, change, and theology.  This book was one of the fundamental influences on me in terms of how I view leadership overall and the church’s role in the world.  To get a chapter about the “royal consciousness” was a delight. However, to do a deep analysis today on themes of racism and privilege through that lens continues to be sobering.

One of my big takeaways related to the discussion on privilege was a section where he discussed “creation stories” as a metaphor for each person’s story. Many are “birthed” into stories where they only know possibilities and freedom. Others are birthed into stories that have origins in shame, invisibility, closed doors, and a host of other atrocities. While it’s true that God can redeem every story, this was a helpful new window into understanding how people come at these discussions from very different lenses and perspectives. It’s simply very hard to connect and form relationships of equality and dignity without an awareness into how these starting points in a society impact identity.

I personally liked Wytsma’s approach to the language.  I think there is more to write on terms like privilege and white supremacy and other core terms of the modern discussion. I think Wytsma handled them well without resorting to a single story approach.  My struggles with these words over the years have primarily involved a pragmatic struggle with how hard it is to explain them to people prior to being able to have a meaningful conversation when there are so many landmines of meaning and interpretation around them that escalate emotion in often unhelpful ways. But Wytsma I think does a really good job explaining how these terms fit in the contemporary discussion and why they are appropriate even though there are all sorts of semantic and meaning issues connected to them in the journey of common understanding.

This is an important book for the church because more and more in the church want to be a part of a different story, but so many do not know the history and the reality that is often hidden from them if they’ve not leaned into cross-cultural relationships and issues of social injustice.

This is a 2017 book so it might be new to you, but I’d encourage you to go through it with some people you do life with.

 

Quick Review: The Coaching Habit

As I continue to read various things on coaching, I read Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.  The book is a fairly concise toolkit for coaching conversations along with helpful insights as to why coaching is the most effective way to come alongside others.

At the heart of the book are 7 questions that can provide a basic questions roadmap to a lot o coaching conversations. Here they are…

Stanier’s Seven Essential Coaching Questions:

  1. “What’s on your mind?” (The Kickstart Question)
  2. “And what else? (The AWE Question)
  3. “What’s the real challenge here for you?” (The Focus Question)
  4. “What do you want?” (The Foundation Question)
  5. “How can I help?” (The Lazy Question)
  6. “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” (The Strategic Question)
  7. “What was most useful to you about this conversation?” (The Learning Question)

The key for all of these questions is the coach exercising self-control and not offering advice to short-circuit the learning by discovery Stanier calls it taming the advice monster.

There was a helpful chapter here talking about the dynamics of “helping” that was helpful. He demonstrates through his “Drama Triangle” how there are 3 typical roles people find themselves in – victim, perpetrator, and rescuer. All of these work against adulthood and flourishing. Questions like the above questions help pull people out of any of those 3 roles they might be in and push them towards responsibility.

This was definitely worth the money as there’s great nuggets throughout and it’s overly heady or verbose. It’s practical wisdom and insight that can really help someone become a better coach, leader, or supervisor. I recommend it if you haven’t done read much on coaching.

 

Quick Review: Coaching In Ministry

I wanted to pass on a quick and easy resource that was helpful. Keith Webb is one of the big names in Christian coaching and Coaching in Ministry is a short apologetic for coaching’s role in ministry and Christian leadership.

The central notion of this book and overall approach is captured in Webb’s statement that he believes that coaching is the missing ingredient in leadership development. I would probably agree with him and that’s part of why I’m starting to read a lot more and practice a more coaching approach.

The coaching industry has been a growing one that is focused on helping individuals discover next steps for themselves towards results and success instead of “telling” people solutions which don’t translate to ownership and transformation. Research overwhelmingly validates that coaching for discovery is an important and strategic approach to seeing changed lives.

This book is not very long, but he does introduce a few of the questions he has found to be most powerful, including the implementation question, “What could you to help yourself move forward in this area?”  Questions like these allow someone to think, internalize, and own the solution. It’s a higher order approach and it translates to “less work” according to Webb since leaders can use questions to stop solving problems they shouldn’t be solving for others, but to keep the responsibility on the shoulders they belong to.

I’ll post a few more books in the coming weeks related to coaching. This one is typically 99 cents on amazon and only about 80 low stress pages to read. You can probably do it in 2 hours. Webb has another book called The COACH model which I hope to get to soon that is the full treatment of his approach to coaching.

 

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: 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: 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: Strong and Weak

One of the richest and most practically helpful book I’ve read this year is Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak.  It’s the third book I’ve read by Crouch this year and all three form together what I would describe to be a trilogy related to a theology and practice of image bearing. You can see some of my thoughts on the 1st of these books Culture Making here or the more recent Playing God here.

Strong and Weak is roughly an extension of Playing God.  Playing God  is a more in depth look at power and privilege. Strong and Weak continues that, but Crouch introduces a framework for understanding social ethics, relationships, and authority among other things.  This allows for a really clear conceptual understanding of much of what he unpacks in Playing God.

Crouch builds his book around a 2 x 2 chart. The X axis is represented by the concept of vulnerability, while the Y axis is represented by the concept of authority. Crouch draws from the first couple chapters of Genesis these two significant aspects of what it means to be an image bearer. Having the authority and ability to take meaningful action on one hand, and having the posture of vulnerability and risk on the other.

In the chart there are 4 quadrants, which Crouch describes as flourishing (high authority, high vulnerability), suffering or poverty (low authority, high vulnerability), withdrawal or apathy (low authority, low vulnerability) and exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability).  The book is organized around these quadrants and their implications for relationships, community, and even leadership as well.

The simple 2 x 2 chart provides a really helpful framework to understand some really complex dynamics as well as the powerful and countercultural implications of gospel action through people in different quadrants.  It provides a helpful way of understanding servant leadership, empowerment, social responsibility, and community development all in one.

This book is about 150 pages or so, very readable. I highly recommend you read this – it has something for everyone and it serves as an incredible teaching tool to help people understand how to look at the importance of both authority and vulnerability – which cover a surprising amount of the issues leaders have in negotiating the social realities of their contexts.

This is an important and helpful resource that should help people think more theologically and responsibly about the dynamic relationship between authority and human relationships.  I really encourage you to find time to read it.

 

Quick Review: How People Change

A couple months ago I read  How People Change by Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane. I’ve already used some parts of the book in my mentoring and small group work and plan on integrating some of the content into one of my classes in the upcoming term.

There’s several books or models of change or growth out there. Many Christians prefer Tripp and Lane’s work because it’s firmly grounded in Scripture and is focused on personal sanctification.  That’s why I like this book and their Relationships:  A Mess Worth Making, which I use in my Interpersonal Relationships course.

The strength of the book is the model which ties personal sanctification and behavior change to the Biblical themes of eternal hope, being married to Christ, and Christian community and body life.  They provide a framework that helps people evaluate how circumstances trigger behavior – either good or bad.  But what separates the model is that they use Scripture to push people the extra step into the heart areas and idolatry that lies at the foundation of the bad behavior.  They focus on both the root and the fruit of behavior.

I found a link to a summary article of the book which is a great small group tool and not too long. The link is:  https://www.ccef.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/archive/sites/default/files/2302015_0.pdf

Sometimes I hear people compare Tripp and Lane’s worth with Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s.  I see them doing different things and so I have often been using resources from both.  Tripp and Lane present a model and foundation for personal sanctification and interpersonal and spiritual maturity.  Cloud and Townsend tend to focus on human and personal development.  Sometimes there’s a lot of overlap there, but they are different enough to where it’s important to understand what the resources are meant and not meant to do.

There’s a lot pertaining to growth and development that Tripp and Lane do not attempt to cover.  I similarly do not see Cloud and Townsend offering a comprehensive model of sanctification or Spirit filled living.  I think there’s a lot of potential to use the strengths of both to do holistic and Biblical based training that impacts Spirit-filled living and character transformation with human growth and development that reflects the overall narrative of Scripture.

I found this book to be a great resource and a help personally and for me as I mentor individuals and small groups. I recommend it and I’ve noticed that around once a year it’s offered free or for a couple dollars on amazon as an e-book so keep a look out 🙂

 

Quick Review: Culture Making

I recently finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the book. I had been wanting to get to it for quite a while and some of the discussions I’ve been in recently related to ministry and education gave me cause to finally dive in.

Essentially the book presents a theology and practice of creative stewardship and work. After an exploration into what “culture” is and how it works, there is an analysis of the many ways people engage culture.  The most common expressions of how Christians engage culture are noted as condemning culture, consuming culture, critiquing culture, or copying culture.  There are some similarities to some of the categories offered by Reinhold Niebuhr as well as to more recent work by Tim Keller. But Crouch’s focus is primarily on culture as it relates to creativity and calling (thus the title) as opposed to a full-blown theology and practice of cultural engagement that includes political and social engagement. The term cultural engagement doesn’t really even capture Crouch’s thrust – he focuses rather on “culture-making” instead.

Crouch, drawing on Genesis and the Scriptures, argues for two other paradigms that are more “Biblical” in nature.  He names creating culture and cultivating culture as the two approaches to culture that are often overlooked by Christians, but that provide the greatest redemptive contribution to God’s purposes in restoring the world.  He uses the metaphors “artists and gardeners” to illustrate what is involved.  Cultivating refers to the work of stewarding the best of what humanity is and has created while creating obviously refers to the effort given to bring dreams into reality for the sake serving mankind and glorifying God.

I found the discussion incredibly helpful and enjoyable, especially because creativity and cultivation have long been overlooked. Creativity has had its champions, but I was intrigued by the role of “gardeners” in the church and in the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking about this and feel like it is a neglected aspect of the church’s engagement with culture.  Maybe the historian in me is drawn to the idea, but it feels significant to me.

There’s a lot more in the book including content related to power and other topics that are of interest, but the thrust of the book is above – helping people understand the many ways they navigate culture and to consider that the best way to impact society for good and for God is through the creation of new cultural goods. The argument being that bad or insufficient culture isn’t transformed until something better comes along to replace it. One of the incisive criticisms Crouch levies at the church is noting how most efforts to bring Christian worldview to the table in relation to culture stops in the realm of critiquing culture, falling well short of creating culture.

My final note is that Crouch gives an insight in his introduction that really stuck with me. He notes the popular maxim, “Pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on you.” I’ve always understood the kernel of truth here and the call to diligent stewardship exercised in dependence on the Lord, but something never fully felt satisfying to me.  Crouch critiques the application of this phrase, affirming that we need to learn to work as if it all does depend on God – because it does. Stewardship is implied, but the freedom of exploring vocation in the guidance of the Holy Spirit opens doors for creativity and inspiration.

I think this book gives a lot to chew on – not every person may be gifted or inspired to be a creator or a cultivator, but these are elements that every community would be wise to nurture for the sake of both worship and mission.