Archive for Books
I’ve previously shared a couple of posts related to Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. One of the helpful sections of the book relates to the subject of fear. Tripp contends that, “The dirty secret of ministry is that much is done out of fear, not faith.” Point well taken. Common debilitating fears include fear of myself, fear of others, fear of circumstances and fear of the future. I’m sure you can think of more to add to those broad headings.
Tripp continues his section on fear by helping the reader understand how to address it. He believes that in a fallen world filled with fallen people there are legitimate reasons to be afraid. He writes, “Faith does not require you to deny reality, so there are things that should concern and sober you and cause you grief.” Even though we should acknowledge the reality of fear, at the same time we cannot be governed by fear. Even though fear is real, it can be a good and godly thing. The problem comes when a person allows fear to overshadow what we know and lose sight of who we are.
So what’s the solution? Tripp offers five things.
1. Humbly own your fears. They will never be overcome by denying their existence.
2. Confess those places in your life where fear has produced bad decisions and wrong responses.
3. Pay close attention to your thought life.
4. Preach the gospel to yourself. Tripp states, “No pit in life is so deep that Jesus isn’t deeper.”
5. Cultivate an awe for God.
The only thing that can overcome our fears, according to the author, is our awe of God. Awe of God overcomes our mediocrity and presses us to excellence. The glory of God will cause us to do things we would never expect of ourselves.
I have a Pastor friend that claims that once a year he likes to preach a sermon or a short series of sermons that is way over the heads of his congregation. His purpose is not to impress them with his theological knowledge or to show off his education. It’s not intended to be condescending. His purpose is to simply cause his congregation to spiritually strain at the content.
Now that sounds somewhat counter productive, given that modern preaching tends to be results oriented. But when I think of it, its really not a bad idea at all. I think congregations need to be challenged, or at least to have their safe assumptions challenged. I think its healthy every now and then to take our common assumptions and create questions that challenge the status quo. Especially if they lead us to deeper places in our faith journey.
This year I’m doing that with a new series titled “What is the Gospel?” My purpose is to challenge our basic assumptions about what the gospel is, and in so doing, hope to create positive conversations about a familiar yet often misrepresented subject. The idea came to me last year as I read Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. I wrote a REVIEW on McKnight’s book but haven’t been able to put it away. I’m using his book to frame my series over five weekends. I hope you’ll check it out.
One of the helpful sections of Paul David’s Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling was his insightful list of signs that a Pastor is losing his or her way. Here it is:
1. You ignore clear evidence of problems and are defensive.
2. You become blind to the issues of your own heart.
3. Your ministry lacks personal devotion and private confession.
4. You are not preaching the gospel to yourself.
5. You stop listening to the people closest to you.
6. The acts of ministry become burdensome.
7. You begin to live in silence due to fear of becoming known.
8. You begin to question your calling.
9. You start looking for a way out.
I think people are surprised when pastors have emotional meltdowns, morally fail or just plain quit. Tripp’s point is well taken. Pastors never just lose it, or sin, or quit suddenly. Something began to erode privately long before the issue(s) became public. Before a pastor loses their ministry they first lose themselves. It’s not like falling off a ladder where one slight misstep leads to sudden catastrophe. It’s more like drifting. No one ever drifts all at once. Its a slow and subtle process. Neither does one drift closer. One always drifts away.
Every now and then you come across a book that stops you in your tracks. My most recent read, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp is without reservation the best book I read in 2012. Tripp spent the early years of his ministry career in pastoral ministry in the local church. Today he serves the Body of Christ through consulting and counseling pastors and people with the goal of helping them develop healthier lives and ministries.
Over the course of the next several weeks I want to interact with some of the provocative material he presents for a couple of reasons. For one, it helps me work through it personally. Every vocation has a dark side, filled with subtle temptations and challenges. Pastoral ministry is no different. Interacting with Tripp’s book as you look over my shoulder will help keep me from sticking it on a shelf alongside a multitude of other books I’ve read.
The other reason I want to do this is to help those of you who are faithful to Christ and his church understand a little more about your pastor. While this book is by a pastor for pastors, I believe some of the best support a pastor can receive from the congregation he or she serves is understanding; the proverbial mile in my moccasins, if you will. Maybe you will be so inspired that you would even consider purchasing a copy for your pastor. It could be a gift that your pastor would find to be life changing, if not life saving.
The opening pages of the book begin with the author sharing his personal struggles in ministry. I anticipated that he was going to unpack a series of stories about some terrible sin he committed and then write about other pastors who committed scarlet letter sins. But the book isn’t about those pastors we hear about on the news that got caught stealing money or violating their marriage vows or trapped in the snare of addiction or substance abuse.
To the contrary, Tripp didn’t focus on the gross public sins of pastors. He went to the heart of the matter, dealing with the private, personal issues that fester deep within. Yes, sometimes those personal challenges do manifest themselves into public scandal. But they also can slowly simmer, causing pastors to wither away in spiritual atrophy. How does this occur? As Tripp sees it, the major problem pastor’s face is the disconnect that exists between their public ministry and their private life. How does this occur? According to Tripp, the problem develops because three temptations are not dealt with.
Temptation #1: Allowing ministry to define one’s identity.
Pastors face the ongoing challenge of differentiating their profession from their personhood. When pastors see their profession and their personhood as one in the same, they begin to neglect applying the truth they offer to others to themselves. Pastor’s offer grace to others without seeing their own need for the same.
Temptation #2: Allowing biblical literacy and theological knowledge to define the depth of one’s ministry. According to Tripp, “Maturity is not about what you know it’s about how you live your life. There’s a difference between growing up and growing old.” If pastors are not careful, the truth they affirm with their brains will cease to impact their hearts.
Temptation #3: Confusing ministry success with God’s endorsement of one’s life.
Or, in everyday language, “How can I be so bad? Look at how God is blessing my ministry?” Obviously this line of logic has led and continues to lead many down slippery slopes toward self-destruction. Pastors can never forget that God will always honor his word and advance his own kingdom and often does so in spite of His human servants. God is first and foremost bound to honor his Kingdom and advance its purposes. He is not obligated to advance my kingdom or anyone else’s for that matter. Therefore large does not equal legitimate.
I’m a book junkie, but unfortunately my 2012 reading habits did not keep pace with my purchases. I keep a stack of purchased but unread books sitting on a shelf in my library. In years past this stack was never more than three or four deep. This year it grew to ten or twelve. I had to reprimand myself, solemnly promising that there will be no more purchases until the stack is at a manageable level. Right.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you or not, but occasionally I’ll purchase a book and pass over it time and time again until I finally pick it up and read it. Then, having read it, I close the cover in frustration because the book would have been very helpful in a timely way had I read it when I purchased it. The name of the book I reference is Buy In by business consultant and Harvard Professor John Kotter.
Buy In is a leadership book that explains how to gain the buy in necessary to implement your great idea. According to the author, there are four basic attack strategies that any presenter of catalytic change needs to be aware of and prepared to counter. Those four basic attacks are:
1. To create confusion around the idea;
2. To kill the energy of the idea through delay tactics;
3. To ridicule the idea and/or the presenter; and,
4. To foster fear through fear mongering.
So what does the presenter need to know or understand to be able to effectively deal with challenges that can cripple his or her good idea?
First, Kotter strongly encourages that any challenges should be welcomed. By this he means there should be no secret or stacked meetings that eliminate dissenters. Rather, all should be welcomed and invited to ask hard questions and provide feedback. Responses to the questions raised by the challengers should be simple and full of common sense versus long, drawn out answers that are filled with statistics and hard data. Respect must be shown to all who show opposition regardless of how nasty they behave. Most importantly, all answers should be addressed to the silent majority of those in the room versus the one who raises objections. Why is that so important?
Here’s my big takeaway from the book. Most good ideas can secure a simple majority, say 51%, to get permission to proceed with the initiative. The problem is that while 51% may win the day, it may hamper the idea from actually getting off the drawing board into full implementation. Seldom is it reasonable to achieve 100% support because there will always be some who castigate the idea for one reason or another. But the 5-10% of those who speak against it aren’t the ones who will keep the idea from getting off the ground. The difference between permission giving decisions and supporting decisions swings in the balance between the 51% and the 85-90%. In other words, the presenter isn’t trying to sway a few naysayers. He or she is trying to sway the silent 40%.
So when you address challenges and opposition, the goal isn’t to win the consensus of the whole. The goal is to win the lion’s share of the room, which is usually the difference between gaining the permission to go it alone and getting the help you need to get the job done.
I like Patrick Lencioni, and have read the majority of the books he’s published. Two of them have been extremely helpful: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. His latest work is titled, The Advantage—How to Develop Organizational Health. The short of it is that the most important metric for measuring ongoing organizational success is its health. While organizational health is not as snazzy as sales figures and other more discernable data, health is extremely important for an organization if it is going to remain viable and withstand the rapid shifts in our culture and economy. And, as the title suggests, healthy organizations maintain a strong advantage over those that are not healthy.
Lencioni offers four practical suggestions on how to develop organizational health that is beneficial to for profits and not for profits like churches.
The first discipline is to build a cohesive leadership team. Healthy teams are characterized as those where trust is forged through vulnerability and conflict is tolerated around important issues. Team members hold one another accountable for commitments as well as behaviors. Above all, each team member must place the organization above their own private interests.
The second discipline of the healthy organization is to create clarity so that everyone in unified around purposes, values, strategies, and goals. Clarity allows the leadership team to hold in common the significant matters of the organization and to align themselves accordingly. Communication is free because each member of the team is on the same page.
Once clarity is created the team works to over-communicate clarity. Clarity is not achieved until information is thoroughly passed along from the leadership team to the rest of the organization. Each member of the team must leave leadership team meetings with the intent to accurately articulate the six aspects of clarity to each employee.
Finally, clarity is reinforced by communicating the values, goals, purposes, and strategies of the organization to new employees. Those who don’t fit the mold are either coached up or moved out. Compensation and rewards are built around the values and goals of the organization.
I mentioned at the front of this post that I like Lencioni. His common sense approach and simple style make his coaching accessible to those of us who have yet to earn that M.B.A. Church leaders can benefit from The Advantage. His emphasis on communication within the framework of an organization is worth the price of the book.
Those of you who know me are aware that I am an avid reader. I try to read broadly across many subjects including those that inform my work in pastoral ministry. At any given time I’ll have two to four books going in addition to the materials I read for sermon preparation. As my wife would say to her kindergarten class, “Books are our friends,” and in my experience, the authors of those books become counselors who challenge my thinking and provide wisdom for decisions that I face.
The most influential book I read last year (2011) is a book by Edwin Friedman titled Failure of Nerve. This book came to me at a particular time when I was facing some significant decisions. His work, published posthumously, continues to speak to me in 2012. Among the leadership lessons I learned from Friedman, I cite the following as most helpful:
1. Those who wish to disrupt leadership will always frame the problem in terms of liberty and order, while those in leadership will always see the problem as one of order and chaos.
2. Sabotage comes with the territory of leadership.
3. A society cannot evolve, no matter how much freedom is guaranteed, when the citizenry is more focused on one another than on their own beliefs and values.
4. Consensus will always be sought by those who value “we” over what is “right.”
5. Just because the page is torn off the calendar does not mean that unit of time has ceased to exist.
6. It’s always easier to be the least functional person in a high functioning society than to be a high functioning person in a dysfunctional society.
7. Well differentiated leadership (charting one’s own way by means of one’s own internal guidance system rather than perpetually eyeing the “scope” to see where others are at) is the solution to chronically anxious relationship systems.
These seven take-aways are a brief sampling of the content of the book. If you find any number of them compelling, the text as a whole will fill in any gaps or provide further detail. If you’re a leader of an organization, group, club, or team of any size or shape, I’d recommend Friedman’s book. His wisdom and insights will give you the perspective your need to make.
N.T. Wright has proven to be one of the most prolific writers on the subject of theology in the 21st century. His latest book, How God Became King, tackles the problem of how we read the gospels. Wright correctly points out a common problem among modern evangelicals. There are those, on one hand, who read the gospels through the lens of Christmas and Easter to the neglect of Jesus’ three year itinerant ministry of reaching out to the poor and marginalized. On the other hand there are those who read the gospel through the lens of Jesus’ three year ministry to the poor and marginalized to the neglect of the incarnation and the cross/resurrection event. Additional problems are born out of reading the gospels to the neglect of the larger canon of Scripture, overlooking the broader role of Jesus with regards to Israel, the Kingdom of God and the birth of the Christian movement in the world. Wright’s book is a fine proposal on how to read the gospels with balance without excluding the broader subject of God’s redemptive plan for the world. So if you find that compelling to any degree, this book will hold your attention. If not, I’m afraid you’ll not survive the first few pages. But then again, you may not fully appreciate what the gospels are really all about.
Few books have impacted my thinking about ministry any more than George Barna’s book titled, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. I recently pulled this book off the shelf to see if it would still make the same impression, and of course, it did. Check out some of the demographical information cited:
One out of every eight children under age 13 is overweight.
One out of every ten children has had sexual intercourse before their 13th birthday.
One out of every ten eighth graders smoke daily, and one out of five in that grade has tried drugs.
During a typical school year, one out of every fourteen elementary school students is threatened or injured at school with a weapon.
In a given year in America, one million children will miss at least one day of school for fear of physical violence.
One out of every eight children under age 13 has no health insurance.
Approximately 7% of children in America between the ages of 6 and 11 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
As many as 17% of children live at or below the poverty line.
One out of every three children born each year in America is born to an unwed mother.
One out of every four children lives with a single parent.
Three out of every five mothers of infants are in the American labor force.
Children between the ages of 2 and 7 consume nearly 25 hours of mass media/technology per week.
Children between the ages of 8 and 13 consume almost 48 hours of mass media/technology per week.
44% of preteens admit to not having any role models in life. For those who do, only one in three name their father or mother as their role model.
Looking at those numbers brings to mind a couple of thoughts. For one, life is extremely messy. Gone are the days when children were sheltered from “adult” problems and issues. Kids today understand the difficult realities of life and are painfully aware of life’s challenges. Second, it is harder today to be a kid today than it was for most of us yesterday. There are more problems, more complexities, and more readily available temptations. There is less structure, less supervision, and less consistency.
But while those statistics are certainly troubling, they aren’t the ones that give cause for alarm. When the same age groups were surveyed and studied, it was discovered that children under the age of 13 were statistically no different that adults regarding spirituality. In short, Barna Research concluded that by the age of 13, a child’s spiritual worldview is largely set in place.
Let me put that into a context that my generation can understand. When I was young, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (and others, for that matter) recognized the value of investing in the spiritual development of teenagers, citing that the likelihood of a person coming to faith in Christ significantly diminished after a person’s 18th birthday. Churches of all denominations responded to that information by investing their programming dollars and resources in youth programs. Youth ministers were trained and hired and provided the financial resources to perform ministry to junior and senior high students. That was then, this is now. In today’s spiritual economy, 13 is the new 18. Youth ministry is still viable and important in our congregations, but wisdom would indicate that today’s church must invest as much if not more in children’s ministry if we’re going to make a difference in future generations.
I’m turning 50 in four months. Two of my children are in college now, and the third will graduate in 2015. I must confess, however, that I have a greater sense of urgency about children’s ministry than at any time in my (nearly) 30 year career. Children’s ministry must be a priority for our churches. It can’t be just another good thing we do among the host of other good things we do. As the adage goes, “When everything is important, nothing is important.” With passion and intent we must rise to the challenge and see it as the greatest Kingdom opportunity that we have before us.
I did my doctoral studies in the field of preaching. In my personal library reside some 75 volumes written by preachers for preachers. I took every course my seminary offered on the topic and still have the notes. I have verbatims that I’ve written and typed from interviews that I conducted with some of America’s greatest pulpiteers. Yet one of the most helpful resources that I maintain in my collection is a documentary on Jerry Seinfeld titled, The Comedian.
The Comedian is an 87 minute DVD that chronicles Jerry Seinfeld’s return to stand up comedy following his successful television career. Seinfeld determined to return to comedy from the ground up. He tossed all of his material and committed to begin with all new, never performed material. I appreciate the honesty of the work which reveals Seinfeld’s struggles and even his failures.
It’s definitely entertaining, especially if you’re a fan of stand up comedy or Seinfeld’s brand of humor. But to the eye of those who have to do any form of public speaking, the documentary holds several insightful lessons.
For example, it was interesting to see the stand ups struggle with ego, insecurity, and vulnerability. One would think that these experienced entertainers would be numb to audience opinion, but they were surprisingly sensitive to audience response. Some were very open to feedback from peers, while others worked as lone rangers, rejecting any feedback, including positive comments.
I admired their passion and single focus shared among members of the comedy circuit. They ate, slept, and drank comedy. Their lives off stage were intertwined with their craft.
Their work ethic was impressive. Far from the fun and games one might imagine, they described their work as “the daily grind.” Like preaching, the performance was the “fun” part. But the good ones shared one thing in common: the daily practice of writing, rehearsing, and evaluating.
My favorite part, though, was to see the struggle they shared when it came to developing new material. At one point, Seinfeld is congratulated for having accrued eight minutes of brand new material in his first three months of work. As I listened to this section, I laughed at the thought that pastors are routinely required to develop between 20-25 minutes of new material each week, atop the rest of their pastoral duties.
If you preach or teach with any regularity, The Comedian will serve as an insightful and encouraging word. If you view it through the lens of your pulpit ministry, you might even find yourself helped in a hopeful kind of way.