New from James Bryan Smith: The Magnificent Story Is a Great Addition

My review copy of The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith arrived a few days ago and I’ve been spending some great time with it. A new book from Smith is something I can’t wait to see and regularly come back to. I read and give away a lot of books. I never part with one of these.

James Bryan Smith is Associate Professor in the Religion and Humanities Department at Friends University and the author of The Apprentice Series (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community). A part of the Renovaré community, his writing has a Dallas Willard feel to it with a healthy dose of John Ortberg readability.

The Magnificent Story: Uncovering the Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth is anchored by a simple idea, a simple thesis:

“There is a magnificent story, which is the most important thing happening on this earth. It is our only hope as individuals, communities, countries, and a species. But for a variety of reasons the gospel message we often hear, the story often told, is shrunken and distorted. This is why we see so many frustrated, disappointed Christians. It is not that they are bad people, but they have never heard the magnificent story in its fullness (p. 13).”

Like Smith’s previous books, The Magnificent Story is a book to be experienced with a group. Every chapter is a rich experience, exploring an important element of the overall idea (the magnificent story) and is followed by a soul training exercise.  The exercise is designed to “deepen the ideas and narratives you will be learning.” A well-written set of discussion questions for each chapter are included in the built-in study guide.

Every chapter is an exploration of an underlying narrative; A false narrative told by many, if not all. And a true narrative at the essence of the magnificent story. Smith’s style is quite readable, interspersed with story and reference to illustration. And at the same time, I find myself reading paragraphs again in an attempt to squeeze every last idea from them. Most chapters end up quite marked up, underlined, and starred, because I know I’ll want to come back and revisit a number of ideas.

I like the reading pattern Smith encourages. Spend a week with each chapter, journaling your insights. Read and engage in the soul training exercise. Then come and discuss with your group.

If you’re looking for a book to hand to some of your more reflective and contemplative groups (we all have them), I highly recommend The Magnificent Story. If you can’t think of groups that have this flavor, consider starting one with this book. You will definitely find people who will savor this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Must-Read: Add Gospel Fluency to Your Discipleship Resource List

Spent some time over the last couple weeks with a new book from Jeff Vanderstelt. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to make more and better disciples…you’re going to want to read this one. Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truth of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life is the latest book from Vanderstelt, the visionary leader for Saturate, the Soma Family of Churches and a teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. The key for me, he is very much a practitioner and not a theorist.

What I really like about Gospel Fluency is its very basic approach in training us “to become more fluent in the gospel, so that together [we] will be able to lead others to find hope and help in Jesus in every part of [our] lives (p. 24).” In fact, like is not a strong enough word. I love that about this book.

I also like the fact that Gospel Fluency assumes the need for a primer and doesn’t assume that I know much beyond the very simplest things about the gospel, how to explain it. and certainly not how to live it. I don’t know about you, but so often I wish for resources that deliver the basics in a way that is transferable and portable.

This book is not a difficult read. Interspersed with very relatable stories, I found the toughest thing was slowing down long enough to mark a section or a quote that I know I’ll want to circle back and look over more slowly and carefully.

Gospel Fluency is packed with great nuggets, ideas and practices that will no doubt make it into my personal ministry. Too many to share well here, suffice it to say that I discovered a great set of questions, a good way of thinking about the big picture themes of the gospel, and several very memorable tools that will make their way into our group launch strategies.

If you’re looking for a resource to add to your disciple-making set, do not miss Gospel Fluency. I highly recommend it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Add The Culture Engine to Your Personal Development List

I’ve been spending some time this month with The Culture Engine by S. Chris Edmonds. Edmonds is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group and the best selling author or co-author of seven books, including his latest book, The Culture Engine, and Ken Blanchard’s Leading at a Higher Level.

I picked The Culture Engine up because this summer I plan to do a little bit of a deep dive into transforming corporate cultures and developing healthy corporate cultures.

What I discovered was The Culture Engine is a gold mine!  In addition to a very nice set of tools designed to help organizations drive results, inspire employees and transform workplaces, a very robust look at applying the same tools in an effort to transform yourself is included in chapter two.

As I’ve worked my way through the book, I found it to be an easy and inspiring read. Interwoven with great stories about how various practices have played out in the companies with which Edmonds has consulted. It’s also been a challenging read as I’ve paused at many points to work through an exercise myself (and think through how it would play in some of the churches with which I am consulting.

The most important takeaway for me was Edmonds thinking about the importance of developing an organizational constitution; “a living, breathing document that outlines clear agreements on the team or company’s purposes and the values and behaviors that all team leaders and members believe in and commit to (p. 17).”

The rest of The Culture Engine includes the work that will help you develop an organizational constitution. Clarifying your organization’s purpose, defining values in behavioral terms (where they can be observed), and planning strategies and goals for the coming year are just a few of the very valuable aspects covered and they all play into the development of an organizational constitution.

If you’re involved at all in the development or stewardship of a culture, The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace is a must read in my opinion. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Must-Read: Add 4 Chair Discipling to Your Disciple-Making Resource List

I spent some time this week with 4 Chair Discipling: Growing a Movement of Disciple-Makers by Dann Spader. Published in 2014, this one began hitting my radar a couple years ago, but is just now making it onto my reading stack (one of the books on my 2017 Summer Reading List).

Dann Spader is the founder of Sonlife Ministries, a training organization that trains, coaches and mentors leaders, providing a fresh encounter with Jesus as our model for making and multiplying disciples. Spader is currently serving as a training consultant for Southeast Christian Church in Louisville KY, helping them develop their disciple-making strategy.

4 Chair Discipling looks at the life of Christ through the lens of a new person who wants to become a Christ-follower (p. 143).” I really like the way Spader looks carefully at the sequential steps Jesus took with his closest followers. So helpful, a chronological examination is eye-opening in terms of understanding Jesus’ model.

The essence of Jesus’ model or strategy is outlined in “four challenges He posed to His followers: ‘come and see’ (John 1:39), ‘follow me’ (John 1:43), ‘follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:39), and ‘go and bear much fruit’ (John 15:16) (p. 13).”

Spader provides a very readable examination of Jesus’ model. I’d probably call it a page-turner if it weren’t also packed with insights that demand reflection. My copy is marked and highlighted extensively (so I can circle back and think more about these implications and applications).

Well-organized, 4 Chair Discipling offers a very clear example (and numerous personal illustrations) of how Jesus’ model can be applied in the 21st century. Like me, I think you’ll come away with a number of unforgettable insights.

The book also includes two important chapters on the sticking points and barriers between “chairs.” Further, the appendices provide a helpful overview of how to build a disciple-making ministry.

If you’re looking for a fresh understanding of how to make disciples the way Jesus did, 4 Chair Discipling is a must-read. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Don’t Miss The Disciple Maker’s Handbook! A Great Addition

Worked my way through a new book by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick. The Disciple Maker’s Handbook: Seven Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle is Harrington’s latest contribution to the relational disciple-making conversation.

Harrington is the lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, TN, and also the founder of Discipleship.org (along with Todd Wilson of Exponential).

Although I found The Disciple Maker’s Handbook to be easy to read, there were many sections that I re-read to make sure I took in everything intended. My copy is pretty marked up, as there is a lot here that will come in handy again and again.

A brief introduction sets up part one of the book which makes a compelling case for disciple making as the priority of the Church. The aim of the book “is to help you understand what Jesus did and how he did it–and how you can emulate his commitment to reach people and make disciples (p. 13).”

“The Disciple Maker’s Handbook includes some key tools:

  • A simple, clear picture of what it means to be a disciple and make disciples
  • A practical model for disciple making that you could use right away
  • The seven elements of disciple making taken from the life of Jesus
  • Inspiration and real-life stories to help you apply these teachings
  • An explicit invitation to join the discipleship-first revolution
  • An appendix with key insights for pastors and leaders (p. 14)”

I found part two particularly helpful with its detailed look at the seven elements of a discipleship lifestyle. Harrington presents a simple model that is very transferable and could easily be incorporated into most churches and most ministries.

Most helpful to me was Harrington’s emphasis on a relational disciple making model. By carefully observing Jesus’ own method, we learn that “disciple making is a relational process, one build on trust.”

I came away with many practical applications and an excellent overview of a very transferable model and method. The Disciple Maker’s Handbook is a must-read and I highly recommend it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Don’t Miss Exponential Groups! (New from Allen White)

exponential groupsThere’s a new book on the small group scene you should know about. Allen White’s, Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential is a great addition to my recommended list for both small group pastors and senior pastors trying to figure out small group ministry.

Although I always include a disclosure when I review a book, Exponential Groups deserves a special disclosure. Far more than an acquaintance, Allen is a friend of mine as well as a co-conspirator in the great laboratory of small group strategy. His experience places him on a very short list as very few people have his deep experience in helping small group ministries grow exponentially.

One of the reasons I like this book is that the author is a genuine practitioner. The strategies he details are not theory. They’re also far more than recollections of instances when a wild experiment worked. Exponential Groups offers a well-written account of the strategies that have helped over 1500 churches grow their small group ministries exponentially.

In addition to benefitting from Allen’s experience, you’ll also find the organization of the book very helpful. Taking the reader logically from beginning to end-in-mind, you’ll both appreciate his expertise and come to appreciate the wry tone that finds its way into many of the sections. Again, this is not theory. These are the wise words of a very seasoned practitioner.

An aspect I think you’ll find particularly helpful is that Exponential Groups lays its strategies and tactics out in a step-by-step manner. As I see it, there are no missing elements or logic leaps. And it really does feel like you’ve scored an uninterrupted conversation with a legitimate expert who knows how to explain things in a language you actually understand.

I’m sent a lot of books in hopes that I’ll review them here (and maybe help promote them). Very few make it from the stack to my recommended list. Exponential Groups is on the short list of small group ministry books that I’ll recommend this year. If you’re small group ministry is stuck or needs to grow exponentially, don’t miss this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

MUST-Read: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World

Meet Generation ZGot my hands on a copy of Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World a couple days ago. Honestly…couldn’t put it down. The newest book by James Emery White, the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church,  Meet Generation Z takes an important look at the generation that follows the Millennials (born approximately 1995 to 2010).

Along with the writing of Ed Stetzer, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, I’ve found what James Emery White writes to fall in the must-read category. Typically, if it’s important to know where culture is going, how it will affect the Church and what might be done to impact culture…you’ve got to read James Emery White.

Meet Generation Z doesn’t disappoint. As always, referencing a rich array of sociologists, demographic researchers, and historians, White links together a fascinating set of observations to paint a picture of Generation Z. He doesn’t stop there, however, but includes an equally compelling analysis of “the model Christian leaders must adopt and adapt if we are to reach members of Generation Z with the gospel (from the cover).”

“Generation Z will come to typify the new reality of a post-Christian world. As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West and the heart of the missional challenge facing the Christian church (p. 11).”

Part One of Meet Generation Z establishes some important understandings necessary to fully grasp the generational moment. Chapter 1 provides an updated look at the research White referenced in his award-winning 2014 book, The Rise of the Nones. We meet Generation Z in chapters 2 and 3, providing insightful understandings with 5 key characteristics and a look into the impact of a generation being raised by the generation most likely to be a none.

If possible, Part Two is more important. Moving beyond understanding the generation and the impact they will have, White takes a look at the ideas and practices that will engage a post-Christian culture. He finds his thesis beginning in a line from John Stott,

“If the church realistically accepted His standards and values…and lived by them, it would be the alternative society he always intended it to be, and would offer the world an authentic Christian counter-culture.” John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture

Part Two wrestles with culture and what it means to be counter-cultural, the importance of finding your voice (and what to do when you find your voice), as well as rethinking evangelism and apologetics for a post-Christian culture. Against the backdrop of everything preceding it, chapter 8 details an important set of decisions that must be made in order “to be effective at reaching not only the unchurched but also the unchurched nones, and, even at this early stage, Generation Z (p. 145).”

Meet Generation Z concludes with a fascinating set of Appendices reflecting “three talks delivered at Mecklenburg Community Church that reflect issues related to reaching Generation Z. The first is an example of how to address a controversial issue–in this case, gay marriage. The second explores the world of the occult (and our culture’s fascination with it) by mapping out the spiritual world. And the third is an example of how one might build an apologetic bridge for the sake of pre-evangelism using science (p. 12).”

If you want to understand the emerging post-Christian culture and see it through the eyes of the largest generation, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World is must-read. Put off wrestling with this content at the risk of ineffectiveness and irrelevance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Most Important Book I’ve Read This Year: The 4 Disciplines of Execution

4-disciplinesI’ve been working my way through The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney over the last few weeks. Can I tell you something? This book, the ideas and practices in this book, truly have game-changing qualities. You need to drop what you’re doing and order it right now.

I really think, whether you lead a team (or are leading up to make things happen), reading and applying the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution ought to be on your daily to do list. Just set time in your schedule and get it going.

Why am I so high on this one? Here’s the bottom line: All of us are working hard to get from where we are to the preferred future we’ve identified. Right? Most of us have done the hard work of identifying the problems and organizational junk cluttering our present and we’ve at least begun teasing out the shape of the preferred future. We might have even begun charting a course and laying out the first few milestones we need to reach. And what’s standing in the way? Actually doing the things that will get us from where we are to where we need to go.

Applying the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution will help you get from where you are to where you want to be. Period.

Broken into three sections, the book lays out very practically an overview, how to install 4DX with your team, and how to install 4DX with your organization. If you’ll dig in, I promise you your copy will be just as marked up, underlined, starred, and dog-eared as mine. There is real gold in here!

The essence of the book? It really is as simple as 4 disciplines:

  1. Focus on the wildly important: Discipline 1 is the discipline of focus. You choose 1 (or at most 2) “extremely important goals” and focus on them instead of trying to improve everything at one. This will take resolve and determination. But it will change the game.
  2. Act on the lead measures: This is the discipline of leverage. By focusing on the lead measures, the actions that have the greatest impact on achieving the goals you’ve identified, you will see progress in the right direction.
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard: This is the discipline of engagement. “People play differently when they are keeping score.”
  4. Create a cadence of accountability: This is the discipline of accountability. “The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal.”

If you are like most of us, you are already thinking about the goals you’ve identified (or that have been handed to you). You may have taken multiple runs at achieving the goals. And it may be a single goal or a long list of goals. But heres what I can tell you. I think digging in to the principles and practices of The 4 Disciplines of Execution will finally make a difference. I hope you’ll take this step today.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do NOT Miss Designed to Lead: The Latest from Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck

designed-to-leadSpent some time this week with Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development, a new book from Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck. If Geiger’s name sounds familiar it’s because he is the co-author (with Thom Rainer) of best-seller Simple Church, one of the most influential ministry books in the last decade. If you’re unfamiliar with Peck it’s because he is Lead Pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church (where Matt Carter is Pastor of Preaching and Vision). Can I begin by saying, “these two might know a thing or two about leadership development and the church?”

I love the thesis of Designed to Lead: “The center of leadership development must be the Church–meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church (p. 4).” Far beyond developing an inspiring thesis, the authors do an excellent job of both laying the theological foundation and delivering “a framework for developing leaders in your church.”

Like several of Geiger’s previous books, Designed to Lead is organized in a very logical and understandable way. Making the argument that “churches that consistently produce leaders have strong conviction to develop leaders, a healthy culture for leadership development, and helpful constructs to systematically and intentionally build leaders (from the cover),” Designed to Lead illustrates convincingly demonstrates the why and the what. Most importantly (to me), the book is made complete with numerous examples of implementable constructs.

If you’re looking for help in building a leadership development pipeline, the chapter on discipleship and leadership development is easily worth the price of the book. At the same time, the chapter on pipelines and pathways will definitely end up not only underlined, starred, annotated, and dog-eared…but also end up in what you practice.

Finally, I’ve made a single pass through Designed to Lead and can see that just like Simple Church made it into church-growth lingo, the constructs here will provide a better way of thinking about leadership development and the Church’s role, your church’s role, in transforming your community.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mike Foster’s People of the Second Chance Is a MUST-READ

people-of-the-second-chanceSpent some time this week with the newest resource from Mike Foster. Very powerful and one you definitely will want to take a look at yourself. Not exactly sure how I should say this, but People of the Second Chance: A Guide to Bringing Life-Saving Love to the World feels like Bob Goff’s Love Does, only more motivating.

I love it that Bob Goff wrote the forward and had a lot of fun imagining these two hanging out together.

This snippet from the forward will tell you what you need to know:

“This isn’t a self-help book about just being happy; it’s about being aware of the beauty of becoming whole. It’s not about finding meaning in our lives by looking perfect; instead, it’s about realizing that we are perfectly loved and allowing this to give our lives meaning. This is a book for messed-up overcomers, for religious rebels, for the broken but resilient. It’s not about taking a knee in the end zone when you win; it’s about taking both when you don’t.”

People of the Second Chance is an easy read in one sense and a very challenging one in another. Filled with very personal stories and written in a rhythm that immediately pulls you in, this is a special book. And at the same time, it pulls you steadily toward action; not the need for action…personal action.

My recurring thought as I read People of the Second Chance was that this will provoke a powerful conversation in small groups, ministry teams and book clubs. I’ve already suggested that including a few discussion questions for each chapter would make it even more accessible, but I really think that the content itself will grab readers hard enough to naturally compel dynamic conversations.

I love this book! If you’re looking for a great book suggestion for groups, do your groups a favor and add  People of the Second Chance to your recommended list!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”