Hope you enjoyed our previous BookNotes post, a hopefully energetic recommendation of a few of the very best books about the missional church. It is a topic I wrote about not only because we have a huge inventory of books about church— traditional, missional, emergent, liturgical, wee, big, deep, neighborhood, multi-site, simple, house, practicing, and every other sort—but because I’ve been thinking about these sorts of “outwardly focused” books since we worked at the Fresh Expression conference in northern Virginia last weekend. Hearing the Church of England “Fresh Expressions” guru, Graham Cray, alongside church consultants like Reggie McNeal, author of many books, including The Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass; $24.95) was energizing for us.
We are taking pre-orders, by the way, for a forthcoming book by Bishop Cray, enticingly called Fresh Expressions and the Kingdom of God: Ancient Faith Future Mission It will be published near the end of June by Canterbury Press ($24.95) and I can’t wait. Order it now and we’ll give you the 20% discount, and ship it the day it arrives.
And, we are very eager to start creating some awareness, and even taking pre-orders for a provocative book another old acquaintance—and Fresh Expressions workshop leader—is releasing from IVP perhaps by the end of the summer. Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World will be by J.R. Woodward (IVP; $16.00) and we it will be great. This will be a serious book—although the author is as cool as can be, a surfer-type dude living in Southern California who reads widely and hangs out with tons of interesting, artsy types—and it may be almost one-of-a-kind (a claim I don’t make often.) It is about new models of shared leadership for the contemporary church, ways to organize our organic life as a worshiping community that will allow for shared energy, shared vision, and shared authority for getting the missional work done. I am not kidding when I suggest that this will be intellectually stimulating, much-debated, and, I think, very, very important. We’ll have it as soon as it releases in early September 2012. You can say you first heard about it here.
JR Woodward also edited a little book that we stock called Viral Hope: Good News From the Urbs to the Burbs (and everything in between) (Ekklesia Network; $14.95.) In a nutshell, the book is a collection of pieces that were published in local newspapers, op-ed columns that shared a particular churches dream for their community. The question is at once arresting and interesting, a playful way to rethink your mission statement: what do you imagine to be the contribution you bring to help human flourishing in your town? In other words, what is good about the good news, for this particular place? Almost all of these short essays are worthy of small group conversation, inspiring ways to think through whether this vision or that hope or this dream or that call might be your own. Is this way to articulate the great news that is the gospel really helpful? If not, why not? Do you resonate with this particular congregation’s vision for their outreach? How they explained the good news? Is their hope a faithful expression of God’s dream, and if so, might you, too, embrace that vision for your own town? It isn’t prescriptive though, which is what makes it so useful–it invites prophetic and hopeful imagination, invites you to name your own sense of vocation in the world, asking how the gospel and the culture of your place interact. What you would say, if asked to put something the public paper, what you offer, how you understand your Christian witness? And can you say it in ways that are coherent and interesting for the watching world? How do you describe the gospel, what good news your church brings? What ways do the gifts and passions and strengths of your own faith community bring some particularity to the evangelon? I love this little book, was glad that a number of the contributors in it were at Fresh Expressions, and happy to have a few left to sell to you. (Some of the authors, by the way, include J.R. Briggs, Jim Belcher, Christine Sine, Jon Tyson, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Sonja Andrews, Winn Collier, and many more. The foreword is by Scot McKnight and the afterward is by a new friend, Chris Backert, of Fresh Expressions!) Order a bunch of Viral Hope for your small group or elders or leadership council at your church. I think it is pretty nifty.
HOW TO GET YOUR CONGREGATION THINKING MISSIONALLY
I believe the books I mentioned in our last post are all quite worthy. I picked good ones to get this conversation started or to help you go a bit deeper. But maybe they didn’t seem right — too much about congregational strategies or perhaps seemingly too different in rhetoric or discourse. Maybe most churches aren’t quite ready to use the “missional” moniker.
Here are three remarkable books about preaching, three very different ones, each that seem to me to be central to this process of creating a Kingdom ethos within the local parish. I bet these would help. Then, two more that are more general about preaching, but wanted to share them as they are fairly recent and I think quite useful. Forward this on to any preachers you know, if you’d like. Thanks!
Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform Al Tizon, and others (Judson Press) $16.99 Al Tizon is, quite simply, an amazing man, a fine Christian leader, an upbeat and solid leader. He did his PhD in this whole area of “wholistic” ministry and now is Associate Professor of Holistic Ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Seminar.) He is the Director of the Word & Deed Network of one of our favorite organizations, Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) founded by Ron Sider. Tizon is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church. And, he is a great thinker, a great writer, and a great preacher. So he is perfectly suited to create this important book.
There are a couple of fabulous reasons why we think so highly of this power-house of a book. Firstly, it is wonderfully and unambiguously rooted in the Word of God. Al is an evangelical, and although he is ecumenical and catholic, there is no fishy theology, nothing trendy, nothing experimental or weird. This is just good solid teaching about how God cares about all of life, is restoring His world through Christ, about how we simply must teach about justice and shalom in our congregations since the Bible is just loaded with these themes. It offers reliable reminders and fresh teaching about how to maintain high standards in preaching and teaching, especially preaching and teaching this wholistic, incarnational, radical Kingdom vision stuff.
Tizon is also pastoral—when I said he is a great guy, I mean that he is kind and fair and compassionate and wise.&nbs
p; There are some who are all about speaking “prophetically” and sometimes, frankly, they turn folks off, lead from their own partisan loyalties, maybe even turning the gospel into an ideology, whether of the left or the right. Tizon understands how true spiritual formation happens, how congregations work, how to strengthen the call to do God’s work without blowing people away with needless controversy. And how we are to be shaped by the gospel, not “use” it to beat people up or accomplish our own social agenda.
Yet, this book is, indeed, prophetic, even if it is pastoral and gospel-centered. If we are to hold up a fully Christ-like Kingdom vision, inspiring and equipping folks to serve with abandon, including in ways that embrace the poor, stand for justice, work for social change, well, then a preacher is going to have to have courage and stamina. And know the Biblical and theological basis for this whole-life discipleship approach. Tizon knows this material well, and offers wonderful insights here about how to preach the “full gospel” in effective, compelling ways.
The first part includes three fantastic chapters under the banner of “The Essentials of Missional Preaching.” It is highly recommended, good for new, younger preachers or old-timers.
Another enjoyable and very useful feature of this book comes in the very stimulating second part which lays out particular outcomes, topics, issues the missional preacher will have to address. After each chapter in the second section Tizon has found a great sermon to illustrate this exact point. The second part is called “The Goals of Missional Preaching” and, as I’ve said, it names several topics or issues or outcomes that the missional preacher will want to approach. These include things like “Preaching for Reconciliation” and “Preaching for Alternative Community” and “Preaching for Holistic Transformation” and “Preaching for Shalom: Life and Peace.” One bold chapter is on stewardship, one on justice, one on the particularity and scandal of Jesus. After each of these topical chapters, there is the sermon, which is set up briefly by Tizon, giving us a thing or two to notice about the sermon. And, wow, are these ever rich, preached by good folks who I greatly admire. (In fact, I’ve heard some of these preachers and they are good!) From Shane Claiborne to Brenda Salter McNeil, from Ron Sider to Ruth Padilla DeBorst, from Heidi Rolland Unruh to Greg Boyd, these are really great messages, designed to illustrate ways to proclaim in sermon form how to nurture a congregation’s commitment to the reign of Jesus. Just these sermons make the book worth having!
At the end, there is a little self-survey, designed to help any preacher evaluate if their sermon is adequately missional. Friends, this is important. As Christine Aroney-Sine says in the fantastic foreword, after noting how many churches have little or no engagement with the world outside of their doors, “When we learn to preach in ways that help to galvanize congregations into action, we will once again have a Body of Christ that brings transformation to our world.”
We are all called to “go, therefore, into all the world” and most of us need all the help we can get. Preaching is central to the formation of the faithful congregation, and can inspire and equip missional discipleship. This book is interesting for anyone, it really is, but it is most important for preachers and teachers. Dr. Tizon is doing good work, writing for ESA’s Prism magazine, networking churches to live out the faith through serving the needs of their communities, standing for justice, reconciliation, peacemaking and such. He is passionate and helpful. This book on how to preach all that is a rare sort, and we very highly recommend it.
The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word Walter Brueggemann (Fortress) $25.00 For years, Brueggemann has given us collections of sermons, and several books about homiletics. And, for years, he has been asked to do a sequel to his most famous book, the breath-taking The Prophetic Imagination. This new hardback is, in a manner of speaking, a sequel to The Prophetic Imagination, in the guise of how to proclaim and enhance and nurture and celebrate it. John Buchanan is a renowned mainline Presbyterian who notes that this shows “a wise sensitivity to the realities of the church and an effort to make common cause with those of us who presume to stand in pulpits on Sunday morning and say something faithful.” Well, yeah, it is and it does. And it does that by offering a view of preaching as “sustained, disciplined, emancipated, imagination.”
There is stuff here about loss and grief, about “a lingering place of relinquishment” and “the burst of newness amid waiting.” It is rich and dense and must, like its name-sake book, be read carefully, more than once. But if you believe that attending to the “world-disrupting Word” is essential as we become congregations fit for God’s Kingdom, this may be worth studying, pondering, and, yes, imagining.
By the way, we will be selling books at a very special Biblical studies conference, Making Sense of the God of the Old Testament: Examining God’s Sacred Story with Walter Brueggemann, Peter Enns, and Carolyn Sharp, and you should come if you can. It is on April 27-28th at St Thomas Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, (Fort Washington, PA, near Philadelphia.) Let us know if we can send you a brochure, or contact the church for more information.
Choosing the Kingdom: Missional Preaching for the Household of God John Addison Dally (Alban Institute) $17.00 This provocative work is part of the “Vital Worship, Healthy Congregations” series co-published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Here, Dally–a professor at Seabury-Western in Evanston–wonders what preaching looks like “as a post-Christian church reorients itself toward the mission of God.” The back cover puts it with punch: “Do we speak as bureaucrats in an imperial hierarchy or as servants of the reign of God? Is the announcement of the gospel a demand for submission or an invitation to wisdom?” It gets practical, though, too, even offering ideas about sermon preparation. As Lucy Lind Hogan of Wesley Seminary says, as she raves about it, “preachers are sent not to perform, but to proclaim; not to inform but to invite. Before we undertake our exegesis and investigations, preachers must understand what it means to be those who are sent to proclaim the reign of God.” Thought-provoking, offering both pretty serious theology and “how-to” guidance for rethinking not only the content but the form of preaching.
Preaching for Church Transformation Bill Easum (Abingdon) $13.00 Easum has been a church consultant for decades now, it seems, and is serious about change, sometimes pushy, with books that are full of energy and hope and insistence that the typical church can raise the bar on outreach and growth. One may not need to apply all his ideas about congregational revitalization to appreciate that he has seen a lot of different kind of churches and is really experienced in this sort of work. I was struck by Reggie McNeal’s big endorsement on the back, indicating he has long wanted a simple book that will help pastors figure out how to fast-forward their missional engagement with the community. “Preaching for Church Transformation is for those of you who have something to say every seven days, and want that ‘something’ to help your congregation be the church God intended — partnering with Him in his redemptive mission in the world.”
Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers Simon Vibert (IVP) $16.00 Let’s face it. Many pastors are frankly not that good at communication. They aren’t that inspiring as preachers. And many homiletics books—and we have dozens and dozens of them here at the shop—just aren’t able to teach how to be more interesting in the pulpit. There have been other books like this, and this one looks great. It is a survey of some of the best evangelical preachers (in the U.S. and England) holding up something they do really well, and ways in which more ordinary preachers can learn that attribute, skill or notion. I like that it uses the language of craft, which indicates that there is stuff that can be learned, but it isn’t merely a technique or simple skill. I like most of the preachers the author studies, and the things he draws from them are presently clearly. It does not say that you should copy them, of course, but only that you can learn from their techniques and passions and strengths. The author is vice principal and director of the School of Preaching at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University. He has taught preaching (through John Stott’s global ministry) to preachers all over the world. Vibert’s study of twelve strengths from these twelve preachers just might help you improve in your communication style, which surely won’t hurt. The preachers VIbert studies includes Tim Keller, John Piper, John Ortberg, Nicky Gumble, Vaughn Roberts, J. John. All are men, all are evangelicals. Oh, and one chapter on Jesus. Marshall Shelly writes, “Vibert identifies elements that are transferable from these marquee pulpiteers to the rest of us. Excellence in Preaching gives us ‘ears to hear’ what we wouldn’t have heard otherwise.” Interesting.
Preaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church Michael J. Quicke (Baker) $17.99 Do you know his book 360 Degree Preaching? It’s good. This newer one is a fascinating, thorough study of how to move your church from “small-picture to big picture worship.” I love this “big picture” image… Part of this must include reconsidering and perhaps understanding afresh the role of the sermon within the broader work of the people’s worship of the Triune God. As Bryan Chapell of Covenant Theological Seminary puts it, “Quicke’s winsome and insightful exploration of preaching as an intregal component and reflection of Trinitarian worship is a welcome contribution to thoughtful literature on both preaching and worship. For too long, one has been viewed as simply a prelude or culmination of the other. Quicke helps us understand how worship and preaching function organically….” Very well put —how can we see preachomg as worship, and the sermon as an integrated aspect of the full worship service? Important stuff.
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