Monday, August 31, 2015

St. Augustine's thoughts on wealth and poverty

I love the way St. Augustine uses a reversal motif to entreat the rich to allow the poor to help them by unburdening them of some of their wealth.

He says, "Both of you are travelling the same road; you are companions on the journey. Lighly laden are the poor man's shoulders, but yours are burdened with heavy luggage. Give away some of the load that is weighing you down; give away some of your luggage to the needy man--and you will thus afford relief for both yourself and your companion. (Sermon 11.6--In Ancient Christian Devotional Year B, p. 209)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review of Fail by J.R. Briggs

Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure
by J.R. Briggs
ISBN 978-0-8308-4111-0
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I suppose I am a glutton for emotional punishment. My wife sighed when she saw me with this book. And rightfully so. I have been feeling like a failure lately. I have especially felt down about my ministry work, but because I tie so much of my self-value to how successful I am as a pastor, it cannot help but also find its way into how I feel about who I am as a father, husband, friend, and human being. I feel like their is a big "L" for loser on my forehead at this point in my life, and try as hard as I may to feel different, I struggle to overcome it.

J.R. Briggs, in his book Fail,  talks about the sense of failure that many pastors experience and/or feel, and sees that sense of failure at the very least as not fatal in life or ministry, and at best perhaps fertile ground for growth as a disciple of Christ and perhaps as a minister.

Briggs discusses all sorts of failure that a minister can experience. He speaks of failure in the ministry that is the result of sin. He shares about ministry failures that are a result of a lack of wisdom, or perhaps a series of poor communication patterns between the pastor and the congregation or congregational leadership.

Perhaps, what Briggs really grabs onto that is helpful is a study about amoral ministry failure. He describes in detail how that process comes about, how it wounds the soul of the Christian leader, and healthy ways of recovering from such a failure. I found this section of the book worth the price of the entire text.

Another thing Briggs does that is helpful, however is that he describes the landscape of the modern American church and the modern pastor's ministry. Using Eugene Peterson as a foil against the modern business and success model of doing church, he then borrows statistics that speak to the scene of pastoral ministry on pages 46-47 of this text. These include:

  • 40 percent of pastors seriously considered leaving ministry in the last three months
  • 25 percent of pastors have been forced out or fired from their church at least once
  • 45 percent of pastors experience depression or burnout to the point where they express a need to take a leave of absence.
  • 70 percent of pastors report not having a single close friend
  • Pastors who work less than 50 hours a week are 35 percent more likely to be terminated
David Hansen put it correctly in his book The Art of Pastoring; Ministry Without All the Answers. Ministry is a journey to the cross, or at least of taking up your cross and following Jesus. It is not supposed to be easy. But, there are points when you really wonder if God wants you on his ministry team anymore. Briggs gets this. He acknowledges this sense of failure as part of ministry, and then he leads ministers, not necessary out of failure, but to a place of healing and perhaps hope. Praise the Lord.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Book Review of Entreprenurial Leadership by Richard Goosen and R. Paul Stevens

Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference
by Richard Goosen and R. Paul Stevens
ISBN 978-0-8308-3773-1
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I come to this book with a different attitude than most I am sure. I am not really an entrepreneur--yet. At least in the classical sense. I am not one who goes out on new ventures and starts new things and takes fantastic risks. Nor do I really have a lot of experience in the business world. To be honest, I went "all in" with ministry in college and really never looked back.

On the other hand, there are some things I do, even in ministry that people would find entrepreneurial. I try to innovate, and enjoy doing so. I work to help the congregations I serve as a pastor to transition from being internally focused to being externally focused. I try to look toward the future instead of simply preserving the gains of the past.

At the same time, the theme both in a colleague's blog, conversations with members of my church, as well as some reading I have been doing seem to endorse what is often called the "side hustle". That is, attempting to have an entrepreneurial venture that compliments the current work I am doing. I am not sure what that is yet, unless it has to do with writing, but it is something I am thinking about.

What this book on entrepreneurial leadership does is show you how to develop innovative business ventures that get you in touch with your calling, help you take steps toward fulfilling that calling, and helping you take those steps grounded in your Christian faith.

The authors encourage reading the book a little bit at a time. Read one chapter a week, they advise, putting the principles you learn into practice. I can attest to this, this book gives you lots to consider and practically apply.

Book Review of Ten by Sean Gladding

Ten: Words of Life for An Addictive, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn-Out Culture
by Sean Gladding
ISBN 978-0-8308-3656-7
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Ten is a book about the spiritual importance of the Ten Commandments. Written in a format that Brian McLaren called "creative non-fiction", Sean Gladding sets his discussion of Scripture in the middle of a modern day story. The characters are a small group of friends that gather in a coffee shop each week, and begin an extended discussion on the Decalogue. The discussion begins as one of the characters sees a debate in the news about whether or not the public display of the Ten Commandments is important, and moves on from there.

Gladding says this book was inspired by the people he was working with in a ministry that focused on reaching out with the grace of God to people struggling with addictions in Houston. And in fact, the back cover has a quote from the book that shares "We've been shaped by the things we've become enslaved to."

The study carefully goes from the tenth commandment to the first, clearing up misconceptions about what the Scripture says, bringing in helpful modern scholarship, and showing that God through the Ten Commandments is showing his people a way to health and freedom in a way that they have never experienced, and in a way that many of us rarely experience either. Too often we gloss over this familiar part of Scripture, and don't consider it closely. Gladding lets the Scripture speak to us in new ways in this fine book, and shows how the Ancient Word is as contemporary as yesterday's news.

A good book for the shelves of teachers, pastors, and lay persons alike.

Thanks Sean!

Book Review of Summoned by Daniel Allen Jr.

Summoned: Stepping Up to Live and Lead with Jesus
by Daniel Allen
ISBN 978-0-8308-3687-1
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

With enthusiasm and energy that comes leaping of the page, Daniel Allen has written a book that is in equal measure a battle cry, a pep-talk, and a practical guide to Christian leadership both inside and outside of the church. Summoned is a passionate plea for people, especially men, to step up as leaders and leave a meaningful life that has true power in building the kingdom of God here on earth.

There are several appealing things about this book. First, most of the chapters are fairly short. They have good practical exercises and steps to grow as a Christian and as a leader. So, as one seeks to walk through this book, they can take each little section step by step over a period of time. As a matter of fact, this would be a great book to do with a group of men wanting to learn about living their faith with true meaning and passion.

Second, it has a well-thought out process for addressing the movement toward being a Christian that has influence on the world around them for Jesus. The book is divided into four sections. The first section is about "waking up" to the possibilities of what God could do with your life if accepted his call on your life. The second section seeks to form the leader in issues of character, which is an often neglected area of true leadership development. The third section gives practical ways that the reader can "step-up" and serve. Finally, Allen addresses the need for believers, and especially leaders, to develop a meaningful support team to help them grow.

My favorite chapter in this book was about addressing blind spots. We all have them, but rarely does anyone teaching on leadership give their students a process for addressing those blind spots.

This is a great book! I encourage a number of you to pick this up, read it, and share it within a small group.


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