Guardrails–a book about chaos and order in discipleship

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Those familiar with church planting and missions probably have several books on their shelves about movements in church planting (CPM) and making disciples (DMM). However, I had not read a book that I felt capable of successfully communicating the principles of multiplication to the broader evangelical community. Alan Briggs’s Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church may become the first to do so. Briggs is director of Frontline Church Planting and multiplying pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs.

Movements are somewhat controversial. Many assume that movements are out-of-control incubators of heresy where leaders are left ignorant of the Bible and its doctrines. I have another book about this subject on my shelf that I bought used. The previous owner filled it with the notes revealing that he approached the subject with skepticism at best and antagonism at worst. Through Guardrails, Briggs challenges those negative assumptions and shows that in reality, a movement benefits from a structure that keeps it on the right path of expanding God’s kingdom.

Briggs begins with the concept of chaordic: the idea that a movement is a combination of chaos and order. Providing order to the disciple making movements are six principles if what discipleship must be. It must be simple, holistic, adaptable, regular, reproducible, and positive. Missionaries and church planters will be familiar with many of these.What I Appreciated

What I Appreciated

Briggs focuses on principles and not methodology. Too many church planting and discipleship books focus on methods that work well only in certain contexts. Another debate common among those who make disciples is the balance between obedience based discipleship and information based discipleship. Briggs achieves balance by not emphasizing one and discounting the value of the other. Briggs sees discipleship with emphasis on both but is clear that formal discipleship that occurs in a classroom type setting must translate into practice. I also appreciated Briggs repeated statements that one must follow the Spirit in their context.

What I Wished Had Been

I wish Briggs had fleshed out the principles more, particularly by showing how they work in practice. Briggs avoided this for the sake of preventing the book becoming about methodology. However, I think he could have avoided it by giving a variety of examples from different settings showing that people apply them in diverse ways.

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book to church planters and church leaders. We are in need of Disciple Making Movement in our world today. This book provides guardrails guiding our path toward it.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale Blog Network. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Perry Noble’s The Most Excellent Way to Lead

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The Most Excellent Way To Lead by mega-church pastor Perry Noble is  a short book asserting that 1 Corinthians 12, the Love Chapter, guides leaders to find the best way to lead others—through loving them.

Strengths

The premise is what drew me to this book. Many leadership books, including Christian books on the subject, focus on the leader or give “how-to” steps to getting people to follow or be on board. Noble asserts correctly that it all begins with love. People are more likely to support someone who sincerely loves them. Therefore, the first goal of every leader should be to love his people. This assertion is the greatest strength of the book.

Noble and the publisher recognize that the book’s target audience (mainly other pastors) is composed of very busy people. The book is a quick read. Perry and the editors balance the length of chapters. The print is large. Chapter summaries are succinct and easily referenced. The language and content are accessible to the average church leaders.

Weaknesses

Noble writes in much the same style as one of his mentor’s John Maxwell, which means that the book has many quotable statements and personal illustrations. By personal, I mean that Perry Noble is the main figure in most of those illustrations. To his credit, he does not always present himself as a good example. For many this pattern will make the book more personal and compelling. However, for me, it makes the book choppy in language and more dependent on the stories of the author than the story of Scripture.

Conclusion

Though the style is not what I prefer, the book is worthwhile to read. For task minded and goal oriented people such as myself, the reminder to love and to value people above other things is important to hear and even more important, to put into practice. I can see myself referring to the lessons found in this book often in the future.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Review of Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ

TheWholeChristcover

I did not expect to enjoy reading The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson. After all how exciting is a theological debate from centuries ago among Scottish Presbyterians involving Thomas Boston and arguments over a forgotten book called The Marrow of Modern Divinity? As a 21st century Southern Baptist, I have enough problems and disputes without borrowing from the past. Instead of being disappointed, I very much enjoyed a timeless discussion of grace, the place of the Law in the Christian life, and what freedom from the law means.

Strengths

Ferguson, a well-known Reformed theologian and pastor, writes in a very readable style making the complex simple for those who lack an extensive background in these issues. One often hears people say that a book is written with pastoral care, but this book seems to flow with such concern.

I speculate that the timing of this book relates to recent arguments in Reformed circles regarding if the Law has a role in the Christian life or not. Even if one does not fall into the Reformed Calvinist camp (and I am among those who do not quite fit there), the book still provides valuable insights and truth to consider. Ferguson, convincingly, in my opinion, argues for the place of the moral law in the Christian life. Even more interesting for me was his explanation of assurance of salvation. I was particularly impressed as explained the balance between the work of Christ, faith, and obedience as sources of assurance.

Weaknesses

For the nit-picky, parts of the book may seem repetitious, but one may argue they are not unnecessarily so. Ferguson repeats ideas as he places others upon them. How one feels about the repetition probably depends upon if one feels they grasped them adequately the first time they were stated. For the most part, I found that the repetition helped me as a reader, but I can understand if others do not.

Valuable Insights Gained

The primary insight gained is the importance of preaching Christ and his work on the cross as sufficient for our salvation and as a sufficient warrant for believing in Him. Ferguson emphasizes that our response does not make us more meritorious of salvation.

As a Baptist, assurance of salvation is a major concern for me. The cliché “once saved, always saved,” while on one hand correct, is an inadequate statement of what it means that all saints persevere to the end. Ferguson covers the topic thoroughly. The next time I have the opportunity to teach on the subject, I will have deeper and more biblical insights to share.

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from Crossway Books through the Beyond the Page review program. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

 

 

A Review of Growing God’s Church

Growing God’s Church: How People Are Actually Coming to Faith Today by Gary L. McIntosh will be written off by some as a throwback to the nineties, the days when the Church Growth Movement ruled discussions among evangelicals. That conclusion is unfortunate. Church growth experts still have much to teach us.

Strengths

The first part of the book reviews the biblical basis for evangelism. McIntosh reminds us that presentation of the gospel should call for a verdict, a decision to accept or to reject the gospel. Recently, evangelicals have lost this emphasis. The conversion of individuals is lost under the concept of being missional. McIntosh does not say we must choose one over the other but encourages us to call for a verdict and to disciple believers to be missional.

The research is useful (though dated–more on that later). Most useful is the breakdown of results by context and age of those who responded. McIntosh also includes data related to responses from transfer growth and new converts.  The separation of the data allows church leaders to apply the findings to their context.

Weaknesses

One weakness is that the data dates to 2010. Six years may not seem like long, but we live in very volatile and changing society. The church is dealing with shifts and changes in society that were not on the horizon in 2010. Nevertheless, it is a helpful update to similar data collected in the nineties.

Also, the charts that accompany the data in the second part of the book are nearly unreadable. The greyscale printing is hard to distinguish, and there are not clear markings on the charts.

Final Analysis

I would recommend this book to pastors and those responsible for outreach and assimilation local churches. Church planters would also benefit from its insights. Church leaders should still listen to the findings of church growth experts such a Gary L. McIntosh. I appreciate his consideration of verdict as a part of evangelism. However, I cannot rate the book as high as I might otherwise due to the poor visuals in the second part.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

A Review of Steve Addison’s Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches

Pioneering Movements

Steve Addison is a well-known expert on Christian movements. He has written two other books on the subject, Movements That Change The World and What Jesus Started in which he described the nature of dynamic movements and how Jesus’ ministry began a movement. In this Pioneering Movements, he looks at the present day people known as the pioneers of church planting and discipleship movements. Steve Addison leave MOVE, an Australia-based ministry that seeks to multiply disciples and churches.

Addison explains that movement pioneers do what Jesus did: they see the end, they connect with people, they share the gospel, they train disciples, they gather communities, and they multiply disciples. Addison describes the vision of the leaders with the phrase, “No Place Left.” This phrase means that they leaders have a vision for a people group or geographical region to have no place left that someone has not shared the Gospel. The book expands on these themes through explanations and case studies. The organization and structure of the book are typical of missiological texts on movements. Principles are described and demonstrated through case studies.

There are no glaring weaknesses in the book. In my opinion, Addison does not overstate his case, which is an easy trap to fall into when writing about movements. Addison is a good writer who knows how to structure sentences and paragraphs.

Addison’s work will be useful to church planters, church planting team leaders, and pastors. The book is not just focused on church planting, but on disciple-making in general as well. As such, it has practical application in any local church, both traditional and non-traditional. The book contains simple and reproducible strategies for connecting with people and involving them in obedience-based discipleship and Bible studies.

Addison’s book point to significant implications regarding the types of leaders that church planting teams need and the kinds of leaders they should seek to develop. His observation that most movement pioneers are cultural insiders rather outsiders trying to be insiders, highlights strategic decisions regarding the appropriate role of cross-cultural workers. Addison also points out several models of movements taking place in the West. Speaking only from personal observation, most church planting models that I have seen in the United States are models that add but do not multiply.

If multiplication of churches and disciples is the goal of your team or church staff, then Pioneering Movements along with Addison’s other books are important ones to read together.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from IVP for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Lay It Down by Bill Tell

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Review of Bill Tell’s Lay It Down

The backstory of Lay It Down is what drew me to read this book. Bill Tell was a leader of an important and large ministry whose driven nature and desire to please others led to burnout. The theological truths of this book helped him to break the cycle of bad habits. However, it would be wrong to consider this a pop psychology book with a loose connection to biblical principles. Burnout is not the central theme of the book. This book is about basic discipleship and living in the freedom of the gospel.

Summary

The flow of Tell’s argument is as follows. Our performance does not make God loves us more. Rather, God loves us and by His grace, saves us and makes us new creatures. However, God does not oppose effort. Rather, He opposes our attempts to earn His favor. Obedience is not the result of our willpower. Rather obedience is the result of maturing as the new creatures God has made us. It is living out what God has already done. The Holy Spirit empowers the maturing process. God adopts us as His children. He accepts us unconditionally and puts us in community with others. It is worth the time to read how Tell explains these points biblically.

Strengths

Tell organizes his book well, building one point upon the other. Just when I found myself asking, “Yeah, but what about…?”, he would have a section in the chapter with the heading, “Yeah, but…” He anticipates questions and answers them. Many of his points remind me of Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker. Unlike Anderson, Tell does not fall into presenting methods. Rather, he points to theological truth and encourages the reader to read it out.

Weaknesses

Tell was able to break the habits of a people-pleaser through the truths he discovered that led to this book. I am not sure it is that easy for all people. Many can accept God’s unconditional love while still struggling to obtain the respect and admiration of others. Other poor habitual ways of thinking have to be confronted. A book such as When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Whelch would be helpful for those facing that struggle.

Conclusion

I would encourage anyone working with new believers to read this book and teach the principles found there to them so that they can avoid the pits into which other Christians have fallen. Having several copies on a shelf and ready to give out to those struggling to have freedom in Christ is a good idea.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review from Tyndale House Publishers. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)