A good friend, a pastor of a church in another state, was wisely wanting to work through a book this coming year with the deacons in his congregation. He had hoped to use the now out of print Cup of Water, Bread of Life by Ronald Sider, and emailed me for advice. Ron, of course, is well respected in these parts for his clear and fully Biblical call to be multi-faceted and equally commited to social action, verbal evangelism, political advocacy and vibrant spirituality, all rooted in an open-minded but orthodox theology.
So here are some books I recommended to this pastor, knowing a bit of what he had hoped for (something brief, not to demanding, something that could be done each month over a year.) This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does offer some suggestions that would be readable and useful for his group. Please read along as we make some recommendations. If you want, send the list to the leadership of your church. What kind of books do they read?
…There may be some other options, but I haven’t exactly thought of just the right thing for your setting. Some are too academic, some too simplistic, some too evangelical, some kinda weird; some are more political or only about urban outreach and others are more about lay counseling (Stephen’s Ministry kind of things.) I am sure you know the dilemmas…There are some I like, though, a lot, actually, and given what you’ve said, they may work well for your leaders. Thanks so much for asking. It is a pleasure to serve you in this way—let us know what we might do further.
Doing Evangelism Jesus’ Way: How Christians Demonstrate the Good News Ron Sider (Evangel Press) $12.95 This may be as close to the one you wanted as anything out there. Great sermons from Ron on wholistic service, peace, justice, service, holiness and so forth. Seven fairly short chapters, good stories, a compelling call to living radically, sharing good news and good works. The deeper (and very important) work behind all this is what used to be entitled One Sided Christianity and has been re-released as Good News and Good Works which, although a bit more serious, is still one of my all time favorite books.
Living Like Jesus: Eleven Essentials for Growing a Genuine Faith Ron Sider (Baker) $12.99 You may know this by its previous title, Genuine Christianity where Sider gives his list of the traits of growing faith, the stuff Christians are committed to. It is just a delight to see a chapter on working for social justice next to one on having strong marriages and high sexual ethics; a great chapter on prayer next to a chapter on ecological concern; a teaching on servanthood next to a lesson on the Christian mind. He calls for radical action infused with grace. Whole-life discipleship made commonplace for everyone. This surely has Ron’s special emphasis on concern for the poor and forming churches that stand for justice, but it really is a book on basic, Christian growth, wholistically expressed. Fabulous. Eleven chapters, plus a very moving introduction.
God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World Greg Paul (Shaw) $10.99 My, my, what fine writing, as this guy tells of being Christ to others, and seeing Christ in others, set in his inner city mission in Toronto. Powerful stories, compelling teaching, wonderful book. Seven or eight short chapters, easily read and discussed.
Radical Outreach: The Recovery of Apostolic Ministry and Evangelism George Hunter (Abingdon) $18.00 You probably know Hunter’s very good and really helpful other books on evangelism; this tells how the contemporary church can reclaim its ancient witness through hands-on ministries with the unchurched. Fabulous analysis, lots of stories, a good mixture of inspiration, history, Biblical study and wise coaching. Eleven chapters, although a few (well, most) are pretty thorough. Fascinating.
Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road Tim Keller (Presbyterian & Reformed) $10.99 What a wonderful and solid study of mercy, the need for mercy ministries, and how to mobilize a church around social outreach. Keller, of course, is a very popular and innovative PCA pastor in Manhattan, who has done very effective ministry in many settings. This is a must-have handbook for any church wanting to expand the ministry into community involvement.
Standing in the Margin: How Your Congregation Can Minister With the Poor (and perhaps recover its soul in the process) Mary Alice Mulligan & Rufus Burrow (Pilgrim) $16.00 Although there are six chapters, it is arranged to be used in 12 small group sessions, With a powerful little forward by David Buttrick, this book helps define what is meant by the margin, how to be more inclusive, seems to share a liberationist vibe, and calls on the church to stand with the marginalized in ways that is more than mere charity. Very provocative.
Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development John Perkins (Baker) $12.99 This is one of those extraordinarily popular books that has been so influential in the lives of many evangelical (mostly) to help them actually see how to do wholistic ministry, respecting the dignity of the poor, understanding the call to racial reconciliation and leadership development among the disadvantaged. A wonderful rich book by a true hero.
Help: The Original Human Dilemma Garret Keizer (Harper) $14.95 This may be a bit more serious and thorough-going reflection that you had in mind, but with your literary background (am I remembering correctly?) you might find this masterful writing both tender and thoughtful. Keizer writes in the Christian Century sometimes and is highly regarded in mainline ecumenical circles. His excellent and helpful earlier book that got a lot of attention a few years back–also a deep reflection well worthy of a slow reading–was Anger. His absolutely lovely meditation on the call and vocation of pastoring is beautiful and brief, A Dresser of Sycamore Trees. I think he lives in Vermont…
Yours Are the Hands of Christ: The Practice of Faith James Howell (Upper Room) $9.95 Again, this is a rather reflective and spiritually enriching meditation on the image of “hands” and what it means that we are to service Christ well. It really is a fine reflection on the ministry of Christ, what it means to partake in His journey, and how to be like Him. Twelve very nice chapters.
Churches That Make A Difference: Reaching Your Community With Good Words and Good News Ronald J. Sider, Heidi Unruh, Philip Olson (Baker) $19.99 While this may be more than my friend’s deacons might want to tackle, it is the definitive book on how effective wholistic ministry can be done, based on good case studies. I have blogged before on the new Oxford University Press book by Ron & Heidi that more academically studies these wholistic outreaches of these diverse churches. That scholarly work is called Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding The Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry. It sure would be great if some of the church folk reading this got their people reading Churhes That Make a DIfference. Or any of the other great books listed above. It is a good time of year to be thinking about study groups for next year. Maybe these kind of resources would help keep your care-givers alert to those with the most serious needs.
Not long ago was the feast day of Saint Nicholas, after all. He knew what Christmas was all about, eh? Do we?