Churches, like schools, are back in swing and even though our last several passionate posts were about eloquent and profound culture-making books by the likes of James K.A. Smith, Andy Crouch, Os Guinness, and a new worldview shaping book by N.T. Wright — not to mention that huge bibliography on calling, work and vocation — we do love telling about more prosaic and practical tools for the church leaders toolkit. If you want a book on church revitalization, spiritual renewal, church conflict, small groups, Christian education, youth ministry, or preaching, sacraments and worship, we most likely have it (or can order it easily.) Here is a quick, random sampling of some new books for enhancing congregational life that we recommend. Many, are, actually, very interesting and truly quite inspiring.
The Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ By Sharing Ourselves Andrew Root (IVP) $18.00 Another excellent resource in the Praxis line, this is a book that (sorry, friends) I think many a minister needs. It certainly should be obvious that relationship skills are an essential aspect of effective ministry (and some, well… you know.) But this is more than “relational intelligence” but a mature and interesting rumination on the motivations and textures of various relationships, and what we mean by “relational” ministry. Rev. Landon Whitsitt (hip youngish author of The Open Source Church) said to me that he thought it was one of the best books for pastors he’s ever read. More than one reviewer comments on the “robust theology of pastoral ministry” that Root offers, and how he helps us realize how relationships can reveal the present Christ. Very thoughtful, provocative, insightful.
Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman and Donald Guthrie (IVP) $17.00 It isn’t brand new and I have reviewed it before, but simply must list this again — this documents, from extensive research, what it takes to have fruitful ministry over the long haul. Pastors can and should thrive and effective ministry must be resilient (cuz it ain’t easy out there, folks.) There are moving stories about strength and success in ministry, about overcoming hardships, about keeping wise and healthy boundaries (and maintaining strong family lives with recreation and rest.) I have often noted how it documents that multi-cultural intelligence is a factor shown to ensure ministry resilience. The best thing I’ve read of this sort, by far — if your pastor doesn’t have it, why not give it as a gift?
Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church Caleb Breakey (Harvest House) $11.99 I have heard already this fall some folks say they are giving up on their local church, moving on, dropping out; this book may help folks like that gain new resolve to be gracious and helpful instead of giving up on their local congregation. Called to Stay, however helpful it would be for anyone who is disillusioned or “church-hopping” is more specifically about younger adults — millennials — leaving the church and what brave and good work could happen if they committed to stay. Breakey is himself young (but has the good sense to cite Life Together alongside the contemporary research by Stetzer, Rainer, et al.) Most folks, even the older and the contented, need an occasional reminder of the role of Christ’s church and the importance of the local congregation. And if you know jaded younger Christians, this could be a life-saver. Check it out, please!
See, Know & Serve The People Within Your Reach Thomas Bandy (Abingdon) $19.99 Bandy made quite a splash a decade or so ago with a bunch of books shaking up his United Methodist associates (and others) insisting we get busy with vibrant, relevant and transformational ministry in local congregations. This is the most important work he has done in years, and it is a motivating and practical guide for moving the local church outside itself. As Paul Borden says “Highly effective congregations know their communities well. But most congregations are abysmally ignorant of their communities and are therefore ineffective…” This will help,I am sure — with ideas about demographic research to hospitality opportunities to various models, options, and strategies. If those who need it will only pick up and read. Maybe you could share it within your congregation. A great cover, too.
The Missional Quest: Becoming a Church of the Long Run Lance Ford & Brad Brisco (IVP) $17.00 This bears the imprint of both Praxis and Forge and that should almost be “enough said” to show it’s theological quality and practical usability. That it bears rave, rave reviews from Alan Hirsch, Reggie McNeal, Dave Ferguson, and Ed Stetzer should clearly put it on the map as a helpful contribution to missional outreach. A real guide to getting every member on board, for “everyday Christians to be on everyday mission.” A strong Kingdom vision, based in the local church, for the life of the world. Each chapter ends with exercises and discussion assignments called “Steps on the Quest.”
7 Creative Models for Community Ministry Joy F. Skjegstad (Judson) $16.99 Wow. Every church should have this around to spark new imagination, realize options, consider how best to take up new ministries. Joy is a seasoned church-based community organizer and understands “mercy ministry” and other classic sorts of social services. She has written some very helpful and specialized books on this stuff for the Alban Institute and here she takes the best models she’s seen and describes ways to do service, volunteerism and advocacy in the community (and how to fund them.) There is nothing like this in print — very, very useful.
STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships Mindy Caliguire (Zondervan) $16.99 If you are like me and eschew books whose titles are drawn from acronyms, please (please) give this cleverly-titled work a chance. I love this new book by a very fine author of spiritual formation titles. In clear and upbeat prose it offers a fresh approach to inner formation — an approach that I’d say is a “must read” for ministry leaders. It seems that the backstory of this vision includes the serious self-reflection that Willow Creek went through as they examined their “one size fits all” small group discipleship programs. Caliguire helped them uncover the notion of faith unfolding, developing along three distinct and sequential stages — and the need for different sorts of relationships to support growth through those different seasons. STIR describes those stages (learning, journeying and following together) and hows how relationships form the essential context for maturity of the soul. John Ortberg has a very compelling foreword, saying that the author ha;s “discovered how real people learn deep wisdom and bring healing to their minds and hearts and wills.” Wow, this is very impressive and very nicely done.
Discovering the Other: Asset-Based Approaches for Building Community Together Cameron Harder (Alban Institute) $18.00 Just last week a local Lutheran pastor exclaimed to me how much he liked this book, finding it very, very useful. It is thoughtful and refreshing but is simple to explain: it “integrates two soul mates: Appreciative Inquiry and Asset Mapping.” As Rob Voyle (director of the Clergy Leadership Institute) writes, this includes “a foundation of theological reflection which provides a life-giving gospel way for congregation to be agents of transformation in their communities.” Harder not only offers a robust Trinitarian theology, but he applies this (and the detailed practices of AI and Asset Mapping) within rural and small town settings. (Hence, the rave review from Shannon Jung, renowned professor of town and country ministries at Saint Paul School of Theology in KC.) It’s ecumenically cool, too, I think, that the back has a great blurb from a Christian & Missionary Alliance denominational exec, too.
Imagining the Small Church: Celebrating a Simpler Path Steve Willis (Alban Institute) $17.00 We are glad for the on-going publishing program of the Alban Institute and value their important contribution to research-based, theologically centrist, helpful books that are usually wonderfully written and exceptionally practical. This is written by a great storyteller, inviting us into an alternative world not guided by the “bigger, faster, snazzier” ethos of the modern world but to a slower, less auspicious culture. This book does not intend to “fix” the small church or mourn its limitations, but affirms that there is much good about the quirky, human-scale small church. Willis has pastored both Presbyterian(USA) and UCC congregations. He now pastors in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.
Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance & Bear More Fruit Lovett H. Weems Jr. & Tom Berlin (Abingdon) $13.99 I assume you know from our regular posts and the sorts of things we recommend that we do not necessarily think that “church growth” is a faithful measure of Biblical fidelity in the world. We think churches need help nurturing the vocation of folks in the world, and, of course, think most parishes need deeper conversations about the whole missional thing. However, when an esteemed and moderate mainline theologian (Weems is Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership and Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary) offers a practical book on increasing worship attendance, helping us learn to improve it so that our congregations bear more fruit, then I think it is worth reading. Of course our congregations exist in order to glorify God and to serve God’s purposes in the world. This book is thoughtful and has a bit of a “workbook” feel so could be very useful to study together for those congregations seeking revitalization. Highly recommended.
Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word with DVD Jeffrey Arthurs (Kregal Academic) $19.99 I heard an esteemed professor of homiletics not long ago and by far the most moving part of the message was the astoundingly clear, dramatic (but not over-done) reading of the Bible text. You most likely have been there — after such a powerful, well-rehearsed and appropriate reading one could just say “The Word of the Lord: thanks be to God” and go home. As one reviewer says of this handy resource “God created the universes with the power of his spoken word and continues to refashion lives where his Word is heard today. Jeffrey Arthurs serves the church well by showing us why and how to read God’s powerful words.” It is excellently done, eminently helpful. It includes a DVD with tutorials. I am glad for this important help and am sure that if you use it with others in your congregation, your worship life will deepen and mature with beauty and power.
Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year A Volume 1 with Companion CD-ROM edited by Kimberly Bracken Long (WJK) $35.00 You should know the spectacularly rich, varied, and extensive multi-volumed Feasting on the Word preaching commentaries that follow the Revised Standard Lectionary. (There are four large, hardback volumes for preaching the lections of each church year.) Last year (Year C) saw the release of the first pair of these new, related, liturgical aids, drawing on the same insights and authors as the commentaries, offering calls to worship, confessions, prayers and collects and the like. The Worship Companion uses a rich and eloquent rhetoric but is yet creatively contemporary. It is ideal for most mainline congregations, lovely and mature. Year A, Volume 1 offers worship resources from Advent Through Pentecost. Volume 2 from Pentecost on will be released in 2014.
The Worship Sourcebook Second Edition with Companion CD-ROM compiled by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship (Baker Books) $44.99 I hope you know the extraordinary interdenominational work of the Calvin Institute. I have not heard of anyone who uses this who does not love it, finding it exceptionally helpful. This sturdy and handsome, thick hardback contains — as it says on the back cover, “over 2,500 prayers, litanies and spoken texts for every element of worship service held throughout the seasons of the church year. It has teaching notes (to offer guidance in planning each element of the service) and thought-provoking perspectives on the meaning and purpose of worship to help stimulate discussion and reflection among worship planners. The CD-ROM contains the entire text of the book for easy cutting and pasting into bulletins, PowerPoint slides, etc. This new edition includes revised liturgies and additional prayers for challenging situations facing today’s church.” I know one person who had the first edition and had to have this new updated one. If you don’t have it, it could be very useful for anyone that uses any sorts of litanies or written prayers, etc. (And if you don’t, well, may I suggest learning about the somewhat more liturgical tradition of the historic church by getting this volume as an occasional resource, at least.)
A Celtic Liturgy for Every Season Elizabeth Lovett Grover (Infinity) $11.45 We are very grateful that this multi-talented author (who earned a degree in Russian from Duke!) befriended us, allowing us to learn of her lovely little book of new celtic liturgies for many different occasions. She became interested in Celtic spirituality while traveling with Philip Newell to the holy island of Iona. Some of these are thematic (sound, wind, light, peace) and some are specific, innovative services for different seasons of the church year. Elizabeth explains that she is a cradle Episcopalian who started writing prayers while on staff at Church of the Redeemer. 115 pages.
Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary Year: Preaching Year A edited by Paul Scott Wilson (Abingdon) $28.99 I sometimes jokingly call this the “poor pastor’s Feasting on the Word” which, I know, isn’t quite fair. It is very comprehensive and arranged similarly, but in just one paperback volume (making it an excellent value.) Each week provides several different angles of vision on each lectionary text. One can read a good scholar or working pastor offering textual comment for the lessons of the week offering a theme sentence, a key theological question, a pastoral need, ethical implications and gospel implications. Wilson is Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto and surely one of the most respect teachers of preaching in North America. I like him a lot.
This edition, of course, starts with the first Sunday of Advent 2013 and goes into next year. We have the current one (Year C) as well.
The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch (WJK) $25.00 We already sold a few of these from announcing it at the Hearts & Minds facebook group; one good friend linked an article from Christian Century. This is surely one of the best books of the year, eagerly anticipated and, well, simply stunning. As you should know, Mr. Lynch is a poet and undertaker (his award-winning The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade and Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality are among my all time favorite books; his memoir about traveling to Ireland and his poems and short stories are pretty amazing too!) And then there is the prolific Dr. Long, a great communicator and spokesperson for thoughtful, mainline denominational congregational life. His acclaimed Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral is one of the best books on doing funerals ever done and a best seller for us!) Well, here, the dynamic duo joins their insight and energy and wit and it is spectacular — a book as much for the grieving (or soon to be grieving, which is, yes, all of us) as the professional clergy, caregivers and funeral planners. As Lillian Daniel writes, “In the rough terrain of death and loss, I can think of no more trusted advisors than Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch. This book can be read as wise preparation for the losses we all will inevitably experience. It is a gift to those who grieve and to those who care for those who grieve.” You have been to some dumb and awkward funerals and you have hopefully been to some that are wondrous, beautiful, weighty, and real. This good book helps answer the controversial question” What makes a funeral good?”
Dwelling: Helping Kids Find a Place in God’s Story Jessie Schut (Faith Alive) $5.99 We named this as one of the “Best Books of 2012” last year, explaining that it is simple, brief, comprehensive, wise, winsome and useful. It was designed to help volunteer teachers use the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) Dwell curriculum, but I assured readers that it only mentions this in passing a time or two. I think every Sunday School of any sort should have a few of these around as it offers guidance and sane help for nearly any problem, question, or spiritual need that arises in the church’s ministry with children. From multiple intelligences to special needs, from praying with children to involving parents, this offers wonderful insight, helping explained, with care and great love for God’s children. Very nice, meeting a need I bet your church has. We have tons of kids books, children’s Bibles and can advise on all kinds of curriculum questions. Drop us a line if we can be of service.
Youth Ministry: What’s Gone Wrong and How To Get It Right David Olshine (Abingdon) $18.99 This book was, as they say, “30 years in the making” as the author is a long-term youth worker, a leader beloved by almost everyone in the field. He is the Director of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia Internaitonal University in Columbia SC and the author of oodles of books and even more oodles of articles. He is the co-founder of Youth Ministry Coaches and in this book it seems that he is sharing all the basics, updating and refreshing anyone who cares about youth culture, teen ministry, congregational life and healthy mission among and with our youth. Chap Clark notes that “this book brings together the best of what David as taught and led for years.” Duffy Robbins writes in a very moving forward that even though we will continue to make mistakes — as they obviously did in their earliest days, before their really was much of an art or science to this emerging field of youth ministry — “this book will help cultivate cool heads, steady hands, and strong hearts so that the next generation of youth workers is prepared for a lifetime of fruitful ministry.” If you have kids in your church, if you are a parent, teacher, or friend of teeangers, get this book. We have tons of othres, but this is a great starter, a good overview with just the right balance of theory, theology, inspiration, fun and great strategics and objectives. Highly recommended.
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