Thursday, March 30, 2017

Church Newsletter for April

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review of the Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

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The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
by Ian Michael Cron and Suzanne Stabile
ISBN 978-0-8308-4619-1
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I read this book about 6 months ago, and it has been marinating in my mind since then.

Prior to reading this book, I was never a big fan of the enneagram. The first reason for this aversion was I associated "enneagram" with "pentagram". The second was the way the enneagram was used in circles that were spiritually insightful, but had no adherence to Christian teaching.

After reading The Road Back to You by Cron and Stabile, I have both an educated understanding of the true history of the enneagram, and greater knowledge of the enneagram's usefulness to personal development. The enneagram was developed by a Christian teacher named Evagrius, whose development of the enneagram corresponded to helping people avoid one of the seven deadly sins that was most closely related to their personality type. Since then, this tool has been used by spiritual seekers across faiths and around the world. Lately, social scientists have begun to do their own work with this inventory of personality analysis. Some of their work has been fruitful.

So the enneagram journey teaches you to own your strengths, while also acknowledging that one's gifts and strengths have a "dark-side" that requires growth and work to overcome. The internet tests and some of my friends I trust say they believe I am a 5. That may be correct, perhaps with a 6 wing.

If this is correct, it would mean that I would have to confront the fact that some people think of me as more detached, that often I will experience my emotional responses hours or even days after the emotional trigger has been pulled by someone (I had an employee I supervised who referred to this as being a "crock-pot" thinker). Also, I may have a tendency toward a "scarcity" mentality.

This book has some growth steps and helpful description of each personality type. It also has some helpful anecdotes that will give readers a mental picture of what each personality type may look like in real life situations.

All in all, I thought Cron and Stabile were both intelligent and down to earth, informative and engaging. I am eager to hear what others I know of think of this text.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Testing the Waters: Haphazardly intentional preaching in a new place

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These first few months at North Platte, as in most churches, I am trying to get a read for the congregation, the community, and my fit here. Most churches think most other churches are the same as them. The truth is, each pastorate, each pastor, each congregation, and each congregational culture are a lot different. And, while there are some common skills that transfer across settings, each church ministry is unique. Each church I have served had a different way of doing accounting, a different leadership structure, a different facility for worship with different resources. 

As most of my regular readers know, I think of ministry as more of an art than a technology. So while there are disciplines to effective ministry, it is also a matter of improvisation, feel, connection, expression, and relationship. 

Right now, in North Platte, I am working through a sermon plan that may be a little haphazard, but is also thoughtful, intentional, and purposeful. I am testing the waters as I sure up some foundational matters of life together and of faith in Christ.

For the first month, I preached a series called "Coming Home". It was based on a series I worked through before, but with a lot of modifications. The plan through this series was to lay the groundwork for some core principles for doing church well. Through this series I reminded the congregation that they were to be a congregation of radical grace and forgiveness, that they were to be a "family" on a mission for Christ, and that in order to fulfill that mission and grow in their journey with Christ they needed to stay connected to him.

This month, I have been preaching through the Lord's Prayer. This has a multi-pronged goal. First, I want to have something practical to connect with folks. I want them to reclaim their heritage as a praying church. I want to remind the church of the kingdom values that they have. And, in a more practical sense, I want to have a sermon series that is both topical and exegetical.

After Easter, I am looking at crafting a sermon series based on the book of Ephesians. This continues the themes of a church on mission, and of victorious Christian living, but also allows the church to experience a series that is strictly "bible to life". Ephesians calls us to resurrection living, but also reminds us that we are living in a spiritual struggle between darkness and light, and that our loyalties, commitments, and decisions have not only personal implications, but implications beyond what we can think of imagine.

This allows me to continue to "sure up the foundations" through preaching, but also allows me to develop three sermon series' of different types to see how the church hears and responds to the gospel most effectively.

What about you? How do you approach the preaching task in new settings? What expectations of and aspirations of others do you come with?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Book Review of To the Cross by Christopher J. H. Wright

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To The Cross: Proclaiming the Gospel from the Upper Room to Calvary
by Christopher J. H. Wright
ISBN 978-0-8308-4499-9
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a simple, yet beautiful book. It takes us on a journey from the Lord's Supper, through the events leading up to the crucifixion, and the crucifixion itself. There is also some mention of the resurrection that is coming, especially in helping us understand the human longing for ultimate grace and forgiveness.

To the Cross is a collection of sermons preached to one congregation in England by Christopher J. H. Wright, who is both a pastor and a scholar. In his book, he uses current, everyday examples to explain what is going on, but he also cuts to the point about what is going on during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Each chapter is both readable, and yet brings new insights and clearer communication about Holy Week and the message of the good news of Jesus.

This book would make a great Lenten or Holy Week read. It would also be a great resource for a group study.

Book Review of Jesus Behaving Badly by Mark L. Strauss

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Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee
by Mark L. Strauss
ISBN 978-0-8308-2466-3
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Sometimes the popular picture of Jesus is not the most accurate depiction of who the Christ really was. If we are not careful, we can buy into some version of "South Park Jesus" who wants to help us with self-esteem enhancement, is more interested in being nice than be in being true, and who comes across as a needy, whiny fellow in a sweater vest who wants to be everyone's buddy.

The truth is, Jesus was far more tough, surprising, and unpredictable than we would anticipate at first glance. Mark Strauss argues in Jesus Behaving Badly that at first glance many of Jesus's actions and ideas may come across as offensive and politically incorrect in today's culture. With chapter titles such as "Environmentalist or Earth Scorcher: Killing Pigs and Cursing Trees" or "Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd: Scaring the Hell Out of You", Strauss brings modern concerns into conversation with the ancient text. In doing so, he shows that the Bible is more relevant than many folks think, and Christ is more interesting than many people give him credit for.

This book would be great for a Sunday School class or small group. If used, the result will be to know the person and message of Jesus better, and to dig into the Word of God in ways people perhaps had not considered before.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Book Review of Lincoln on Leadership for Today

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Lincoln on Leadership for Today: Abraham Lincoln's Approach to 21st Century Issues
by Donald T. Phillips
ISBN 978-0-544-81464-6
HMH Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Donald T. Phillips has written several enjoyable biographical leadership books. Many of them glean principles of leadership from well-known American political leaders from history, and well-regarded sports figures. I particularly enjoyed Phillip's book on Vince Lombardi and leadership. One of the great things about his previous books is that Phillips takes examples from these folks' lives, and then shows how the principles that they lived by can help guide us as leaders today as well.

Lincoln on Leadership for Today expands its range from the focus of previous books. In this book, Phillips has some chapters that focus in on leadership issues in our culture today and how to address them, but this book seems to also address how Lincoln's political attitudes may have been expressed in a 21st century political setting. How would Lincoln deal with globalization? What would Lincoln say about the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina? Gun Control?

While I think that applying Lincoln's wisdom is somewhat helpful in our world today, I think Phillip's attempt to make Lincoln answer political hot button issues from the 21st Century, while creative is fraught with difficulty. Some issues have more direct relevance than others. All in all, I find that the project comes up with some pretty simplistic answers for some pretty complex issues, and this is disappointing to me. This is a fun read, but not something that will stick with me for years to come.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Savoring the Sweet Hour of Prayer

One of the challenges that pastors face that most people do not consider is the pressure to produce. At one point in the last church I served I was leading a Sunday school class, two midweek bible studies, a young adult study, preparing the youth lesson for the youth team, and preaching two sermons. Now, to some teachers in public schools this may sound like a lot. To which I would counter, for the most part you have a set curriculum to use, while teaching in the ministry often has a mandate of uniqueness and creativity that is unique to the ministerial profession. Either way, the point is, there are many times when one is called upon to go into one's study and find a unique word, not just for the congregational meeting of one hundred or so, but also for the faithful gathering of handful of faithful souls who attend a Bible Study.

This pressure to produce can lead to the temptation to use one's devotional time as grist for the mill of one's teaching time. This is all the more the case today in the age of social media, where one should also produce insightful and thoughtful words and information for one's flock. But, in my opinion this is not a healthy practice.

To explain why this is not healthy, let me describe how a healthy pastor integrates their personal life and their teaching and preaching. There are many things from my personal life that I might share from the pulpit or with people I am teaching. However, when I do so I usually ask permission to share with others from my wife, or sometimes my kids. This is because there are somethings that are best for our relationship if we keep to among ourselves instead of sharing with everyone. Healthy relational intimacy requires intimate conversations and experience that is not shared with others. Even my children have come to understand this. There is a song my oldest daughter sings to comfort my youngest daughter. And, they have a very clear understanding that this song is not to be shared with others outside the home. It is just for them as sisters.

The same guidelines for intimate conversation apply to our relationship with God. While some things you learn in your quiet time may be appropriate to share with teaching and leading others, there needs to be some boundaries in one's prayer and study. Some moments where we savor the sweet hour of prayer, and not peddle our intimate moment with the Savior to advance our ministry.

Just my thoughts.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review of the Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple by Greg Ogden

Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple

The Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship
by Greg Ogden
ISBN 978-0-8308-1149-6
IVP Connect
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Greg Ogden is passionate about discipleship. And, he has a methodology that has worked for him. I have used his book Discipleship Essentials in both mentoring and small group discipleship, and found that if people are invested in the process, the curriculum can be profitable and enjoyable for students and teachers alike. Now, Ogden has written The Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple which is a simpler, smaller guide to kick start the mentoring/discipleship process based upon Jesus' Great Commission to his disciples in the gospel of Matthew.

This is an eight-session curriculum, although Ogden freely admits it may take more than eight meetings to get through the study. Each session begins with a core truth, then has a brief bible study, an article to read, and then some discussion/life application questions. The process really makes the participants think through what they believe, and begin to process what Jesus has commanded his people to do and who he has commanded them to be as disciples.

I am going to get this curriculum, gather together two or three people, and get started learning and growing with some of them about the basics of being a disciple of Jesus.

Book Review of Ministry Mantras by J.R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt


Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture
by J. R. Briggs and Bob Hyatt
ISBN 978-0-8308-4136-3
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Don't let the cover fool you. When I read the title and looked at the cover of this book, I wondered for a brief moment if it was a book for Bible-believing Christian churches, or if it was some syncretism of eastern spirituality and Christian teaching. However, after spending a few minutes looking through this book I discovered that this is a great new book, deserving to be in church libraries and pastor's desks across the country.

The word "mantra" has been adopted into the English lexicon decades ago. In religious practice, it was a word or phrase that was repeated to aid in an experience of the divine. In our modern time, it is a slogan or a truism. Briggs and Hyatt use the term to speak of slogans and proverbs that are easily remembered and memorized with summarize truths of life and ministry for churches and church leaders.

The book is divided into several sets of sayings. The topics of the mantras range from teaching stewardship to placing one's attention in the right place while offering pastoral care. Each slogan has a brief teaching and explanation of its meaning. I think the book could be read in bite size chunks, or read in fewer sittings. I recommend both however. Read it all the way through, then use certain sayings at certain times, re-reading the book like a devotional, perhaps sharing in meetings that require a devotional thought or two.

I will have this book on my desk and in my bag for a while, pondering the words that are said.