ARMADA by Ernest Cline – Book ReviewAL

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Not long ago I read the book by Ernest Cline, READY PLAYER ONE. Admittedly, the reason I read it was because the movie was announced to come out later that year. I did talk to a few people before I dived in and man, was I ever glad I did. I ended up enjoying the book immensely (truly better than the movie).

Early this fall, I was talking to a friend in our small group about the book and he asked if I had read ARMADA. As this book was also written by Ernest Cline, he assured me I was likely to enjoy it and he was right. Now, it takes a bit for me to read fiction books. Reading is still a bit of a chore for me so I usually leave the entertainment to the moving pictures and delegate books for more professional and academic purposes. However, I still have a soft spot for almost all forms of science fiction.

ARMADA was a fun ride! Many will quickly pick up on the similarities between this plot and that of Ender’s Game and/or “The Last Starfighter”. In short, it’s about a kid who plays video games obsessively and it turns out his skills are needed to save the world! Sound familiar?

However, despite the plot points seeming familiar the story still felt fresh and had plenty of nostalgic gamer references woven into the book. It seemed a little short but because of the nature of the story I thought that was actually a good thing. I listened to the audiobook and started to get a little tired of Wil Wheaton’s voice (same guy who voiced Ready Player One) but overall really enjoyed this book.

Next time I review the book I recently finished, BECOMING US: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel-Centered Marriage by Beth and Jeff McCord.

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THE REASON FOR GOD – Book ReviewAL

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The ongoing debate on the existence of God and specifically the Christian God has always fascinated me, for obvious reasons. Being a Christian for 17 years and a minister for 7, I pay pretty close attention when I see headlines or clickbait in the vein of “Scientist finally find proof for/against the existence of God.” While in the back of my mind I know that definitive proof will never likely come until the return of Christ, my interest still gets piqued.

Being a minister to students I am no stranger to having conversations about why we believe in a God and where the clues are we can find to only begin to understand his nature. Most prominently, I point them towards the Bible but there are times where we (including myself in this) long for a more objective and reason-based conversation concerning the question, “Must there be a God?”

I’ve only read a few books that handle this question directly and that are willing to at least attempt to be objective. “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” does a superb job of addressing the skeptic where he/she is and walks with them through some of their most common and profound questions and objections. Here are the chapter headings…

  1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity Is a Straitjacket
  4. The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science Has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally
  8. The Clues of God
  9. The Knowledge of God
  10. The Problem of Sin
  11. Religion and the Gospel
  12. The (True) Story of the Cross
  13. The Reality of the Resurrection
  14. The Dance of God
  15. Epilogue: Where Do We Go From Here?

Timothy Keller is a preacher and he does write this book as someone who wants people to come to know that there is a God and that he is worth getting to know. However, Keller’s context as the founding preacher of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York gives him a particular voice. Keller is used to preaching the gospel in the midst of our country’s zenith of secularism. He preaches to people from very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. With this experience, his approach to the argument for the existence of God is done a way that appeals to logic and reason. For some of us, being able to be analytical and intellectualize some of our beliefs is especially important. As I’ve told my students and here often, “God doesn’t just want your heart, he wants your head too.”

I would highly recommend this book. It was particularly encouraging to me to read. I just recently also invested in the DVD and discussion guide to try out for either a small group or Bible study. I’ll review that later. If you are a minister of any kind, I’d keep this book (and an extra to let someone borrow) on your shelf to stay prepared for those who will come to you with questions and doubts about God. It is a powerful tool to keep on hand and a great exercise for any Christian to read through. Some teens could handle it but in general, I’d encourage walking through it with them.

Next time, I’ll be reviewing a fun book I recently read, “ARMADA” by Ernest Cline

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THE ROAD BACK TO YOU – BOOK REVIEW AL

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My first introduction to the enneagram was a couple years ago at a youth ministry conference I attend. The enneagram is an introspective tool designed to provide 9 different ways of relating to your self. Admittedly, I was and have been pretty suspicious of its merits beyond it being a simple personality test that assigns you a label with which you can justify your bad decision and behaviors. As incredulous as that may make me seem, I still hold there may still be an ounce of truth to that suspicion. However, I have come to see more value in this personality-typing tool after reading The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. BTW, not my favorite book title.

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Before I became acquainted with the enneagram, I had been familiarized with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. In comparison, the Myers-Brigs is a wholly more psychological self-assessment tool while the enneagram could be said to be more emotionally and even spiritually focused. But don’t go comparing it to your horoscope sign just yet. There is some real depth and uncanny insights to the enneagram system. An example of the 9 different personality types that the enneagram identifies can be seen below.

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If you’d like to find out which type you are or see descriptions of each type you can visit https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

The Road Back To You is a great introduction to the enneagram. The stories are very helpful and the tone is friendly and open. However, if your goal is to really hash out where you fit in all of this, there is much more intensive and involved work to be done. After reading this book and taking a simple online survey I thought for sure that most of the attributes of the 7, “The Enthusiast”, fit me perfectly. However, on another day and on another online survey, I came out to be a strong 3, “The Achiever”. Is one of these a facade? To they work together? Are they in conflict with one another? As you’ll read in this book and find in other sources, each personality type can also come with their own “wing” personality type and even indicate with personality traits you tend to take on in stress and which you tend to take on in security.

I think knowing yourself is important. “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves,” – John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.1) However, I’ve seen people become so wrapped up in analyzing themselves that it can become a drive towards a type of self-obsession. It seems to me that the goal of understanding myself better is to make me a better servant of others. This to me is intrinsic in Jesus’ words, “Love others as well as you love yourself.” – Mark 12:31 (MSG)

Next week I’ll be reviewing The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.

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WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH – BOOK REVIEW AL

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Why, hello there!

Book for this past week was WHY MEN HATE GOING TO CHURCH by David Murrow. This book was recommended to me about 18 months ago by another friend and youth minister and I immediately bought it because I was intrigued by its premise despite not knowing David Murrow at all. Turns out he’s written a couple other books like, HOW WOMAN HELP MEN FIND GOD, WHAT YOUR HUSBAND ISN’T TELLING YOU, and THE MAP: THE WAY OF ALL GREAT MEN. I’m sensing a theme. But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book.

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Murrow spent little time focusing on the general feminizing of our Western culture or the demonizing of masculinity. He focuses on the church and her history of being largely a place that celebrates people with more feminine qualities. As an example of this, he points to many things but one of which that stood out to me was how we tend to characterize Jesus himself. He presented two lists of attributes… I’ll just go ahead and put them below.

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He then asks which of these columns we’d be more likely to attribute to Jesus. Almost everyone affirms that Set B carries the more accurate picture of what we think of when we think of Jesus. Then Murrow reveals that he pulled these two sets of attributes straight from the book MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS  obviously indicating that Set A is meant to describe men’s characteristics and Set B, women’s. Well, no wonder men don’t always relate to this feminine Jesus. He goes to indicate that Jesus did often exhibit masculine characteristics but they are rarely highlighted in church.

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Another point Murrow makes that stood out was about current worship services. Take out the fact that singing for 20 minutes at a time is not necessarily every man’s forte, megachurches and community churches have started utilizing praise and worship songs that use romantic, even borderline lustful, lyrics towards Jesus. It’s not hard to imagine why some men wouldn’t be very comfortable with that.

Murrow goes from church decor to Bible class expectations for students, to the bulk of most church’s ministries that always seem to prefer those with more feminine characteristics. This is why we often seem our women thrive in the church and the few men who more often than not have more feminine qualities become clergy. A church exhibiting a gender gap with women outnumbering men is often the sign of a shrinking church. Conversely, the church with a healthy male membership is almost always the sign of a thriving church. So why then do churches do so little to intentionally engage their men?

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Father’s Day sermons do more to scathe and rebuke men, men’s bible studies are often avoided for the fear of sitting in circles and talking about emotions, men’s breakfasts at least have manly man food but are often scheduled to what suits the more elderly men of the congregation. Try sitting down right now and write out a list of all ministries your church has and decide how many are suited for your women and how many for your men? Chances are that the women’s ministry blows away whatever 2-3 men’s ministries your church has.

So Murrow does much to show how this imbalance is a detriment to the church’s health and how intentionality towards our men in every ministry, especially the Sunday morning service, is imperative. I love how he offers up the idea of a “Sports Sunday” (and I’m not a sports guy in the least) where everyone sports their favorite team’s jersey or colors and instead of a traditional potluck there’s a church-wide tailgate party. What’s great about ideas like this is that women can jump on board while it’s much tougher for men to cooperate with anything that makes them look too “girly”.

Highly recommend this book for church and ministry leaders, male and female!

Next book I’ll be reviewing is THE ROAD BACK TO YOU: AN ENNEAGRAM JOURNEY TO SELF-DISCOVERY  by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

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C.S. LEWIS AND DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE – BOOK REVIEW AL

Summer has come and now almost gone and taken with it almost all motivation and discipline I may have possessed to keep up with my reading. But now that I find myself near the end of summer and the business of summer youth events, it’s time to get back to it. I managed to finish 2 books in the past couple months. First was the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and the second was C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath. While I might refer to some crossover between these two works, know that I did not and do not intend to make any kind of pointed commentary on the life of C.S. Lewis by reviewing these books together. That being said, let’s get into it!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

First, let’s talk about Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. I have always enjoyed this story since I was a young boy. I remember reading a Great Illustrated Classics version of this tale of duality and enjoyed different Hollywood iterations. I recall watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and thinking (wrongly) that Jekyll and Hyde were a type of superhero team; the brains and the brawn something in the vein of The Incredible Hulk. I learned later in life that The Incredible Hulk was indeed inspired by this story and in the comic book’s earlier beginnings, there were more similarities between the two. For instance, Bruce Banner used to seemingly turn into the Hulk at night and not necessarily when he was angry.

Both The Incredible Hulk and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde hit on themes of duality and primal releases of repressed aggression that seem to resonate with me. I don’t consider myself an angry person in the least but the Hulk has always been one of my favorite superheroes. However, I do find I love the idea of the repressed, or rather, the disciplined and reigned in savage nature that resides in someone that could suddenly be released if they are pushed too far. The idea of an inner strength that is held back due to its lack of civility and the very real strength required to keep that uncivilized strength at bay really strikes a chord with me. Most forms of stoicism do I suppose. The quiet strength.

I enjoyed getting to take in this familiar story in its original form and rediscovering the themes within that are more human than superhero.

C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet

I’ve only read a handful of C.S. Lewis’ works. I’ve read Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Problem of Pain. I’ve taught from The Four Loves and I’ve had The Chronicle of Narnia books read to me since I was a child. I always liked The Lord of the Rings series better but I might have been guilty of holding that position because I liked the LOTR movies better. In any case, I certainly have a deep respect for C.S. Lewis and I look forward to delving deeper into his other celebrated works I have yet to enjoy such as Surprised By Joy, The Great Divorce, and Till We Have Faces.

I had been pretty ignorant as to who C.S. Lewis was and mostly knew him from reputation and his more popular works. Alister McGrath does a great job of laying out a thorough chronological account of Lewis’ life. McGrath unapologetically points out the things that we can’t know for certain about Lewis but does a fine job of laying out the narrative of Lewis’ life from what we do know from his writings, letters, journal entries, and other written accounts.

McGrath’s account helped me appreciate the humanness of Lewis or “Jack” as was his nickname. He made mistakes, even questionable decisions. Despite these, it can’t be denied the literary genius that he was. It was impressive to read how he’d have students test his memory in a game where they’d take books at random from his library, recite a random passage and Lewis would then identify the book and often finish the passage from memory. Learning about his father and brother and his relationship with both was very revealing as was his childhood in Ireland. You can almost imagine Lewis stepping through the magical wardrobe of his childhood memories and returning to the green Irish landscapes in his descriptions of Narnia. And his strong emphasis on the importance of the imagination was striking, though I’d wager I’ll see more of that in his works I have yet to read.

Though a longer book for this amateur reader, I enjoyed getting to know Lewis better through McGrath’s work.

Next Time…

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll be reviewing next time but whatever it is it will be shorter. 🙂

HEARING GOD – Book Review AL

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I am way behind on my pace for reading 52 books this year. I just finished book 10 and I should be on book 20. I definitely shot myself in the foot a bit by tackling “The Count of Monte Cristo” so be prepared to see some shorter books being read and reviewed this summer.

Dallas Willard is one of those authors that I feel I must be disciplined to read. He’s authored some amazing Christian works that one might consider classics such as “The Divine Conspiracy” and “Knowing Christ Today” (neither of which I’ve read yet). It was my father who first put me on to Dallas Willard and who actually bought his book “Hearing God” for me to read because of how powerfully the book spoke to him. Admittedly, it has taken me some years to pick it up. I’m glad I finally did.

While it could be said that “Hearing God” is a book that discusses the topic of prayer, that would fall short of the breadth and depth of communication with God that Willard addresses. His systematic and concrete way of discussing a seemingly abstract topic of hearing the messages of the divine is helpful, indeed! Willard writes to the truth I’ve long desired but contemplated little perhaps out of fear that we should not resolve to have a one-way conversation with God but that he indeed desires to speak back and does so in ways we are often not properly attuned to listen for. This is not to say that a physical voice will come to you from God although that can and does happen. Instead, he focuses on the inner voice that comes to us without marring of our own agendas but in harmony with what we know to be true about God in scripture.

Willard readily addresses those who use a false “hearing of God” for their own dishonest gain or pride and gently addresses the righteous and humble who discouragingly feel they’ve heard little to nothing from God. Willard has set me on a path that I believe will change the way I listen for God in my daily life and how I endeavor to hear him in my intentional times with him.

This book was not an easy read. At only just over 200 pages, it wasn’t a long read but it was one I had to take in slowly to appreciate. I have been using Audible regularly to take in many of the books I’ve been reading this year and this one, in particular, I struggled to only listen to because of it’s depth and density. I often listened while having my hardcopy in front of me to follow along with and highlight and I did a fair amount of highlighting in this book. This book requires a prominent place on my bookshelf.

Next time I review the Gothic fiction, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”.

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Letters to the Church – BOOK REVIEW AL

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My first interaction with Francis Chan’s works was, like most people, Crazy Love. I like the uncompromising manner in which he writes and was certainly challenged by some aspects of that book. However, I must admit that now that I’ve had a couple years to digest that book before I got into this book I feel that my overall opinion about his works are starting to wane.

I want to get this out of the way first so I can go on to talk about what I really like about his new book, Letters to the Church. I’ve started to feel that part of why Chan’s works are so well-liked is because he’s good at convicting. He’s particularly adept at pointing at a certain aspect common to the Christian faith and say, “This shouldn’t be this way.” What’s unfortunate about this fact is I don’t think he presents a clear way from “This shouldn’t be this way.” to “This is the way it should be.” He’s certainly good at pointing out the difference between the two but offers few practical ways on how to get from one to the other.

For example, in Letters to the Church, Chan points to the corporate nature of the modern church and challenges it outright. Why should we have professional ministers? Why should we have a big building? Why should we have any type of programmed ministry? He goes on to say that we’ve enabled consumeristic Christianity with our current church model and paints the 1st-century church “small group house church” as the ideal. I take issue with this stance on a couple points.

Firstly (and maybe most controversially), I don’t believe that every aspect of the 1st-century church that we read about in the New Testament represents the ideal for what the church should look like today. I could say more here but suffice to say that the church has progressed in some ways that I think God is pleased with and that the “how” of church should change as culture changes.

Secondly, there are very few who would disagree that any large church can benefit from facilitating small groups but to transfer entirely to this model (which Chan offers no insight into what this type of transfer could look like) is simply not the best move for every church. I don’t think Chan intended this at all but I can’t help feel a sense of arrogance in how he asserts that the current model for church isn’t the best way. It seems just as feasible to me to assert that if every church was a small group it also would not be the best way. The best way will always elude the church because it’s made up of people who are striving to do what’s best but will come up short more often than not. Hence, Jesus.

I really did like a lot of what Chan had to see about some of the inherent problems with the corporate church. Even with his disclaimers, his blanket statements as they apply to all churches seemed to be made in a way that will sell books and will benefit churches as they are very little. That may seem too scathing but it was just my take. Again, I know Chan is doing good things and has done good things for many people. There’s no book he could write that’d say the things every church, ministers, and Christian needed to hear about what’s best. I’m glad he tried anyway. A good read that provoked some good thoughts and discussions in my context.

Next time I review the late Dallas Willard’s Hearing God. 

The Count of Monte Cristo – BOOK REVIEW AL

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Haven’t written in a while. Mostly because I was trying to finish this monster. 52 hours on audible, 117 chapters. Pro tip, if you want to read a book a week for a year, choose shorter books! Joking aside, I’m trying to make sure that all my reading isn’t relegated to the realm of ministry only. A couple of classics sprinkled in with some fiction and maybe even something specific to my interests is probably a good thing. I’m terribly lacking in the are of literary classics and I chose Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo due to my love for the recent film directed by Kevin Reynolds.

I know this will be blasphemous to some but quite frankly, I preferred the movie. While I’m neither a professional critic for film nor literature, I couldn’t help but appreciate some of the choices Reynolds made in adapting the story to film. The “Hollywooding” of Dumas’ story actually created some cleaner lines to follow in Edmond Dantès’ character arc. Dumas painted beautiful pictures with his words but at times gave a superfluous amount of detail in regards to what everyone wore and the decor of every room. Not my cup of tea.

While I’m thrilled to add this classic work to my stack of read books, I doubt I will be revisiting it in the foreseeable future.

Next time I will review Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church.

THE CASE FOR A CREATOR – BOOK REVIEW AL

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I’m not smart enough to review this book…

That being said, let’s dive into it.

I’ve never been one who particularly exceeded at science in school. Science was more of a burden for me in my right-brained, imaginative youth. I appreciated its methodological power but mostly felt shackled by it. Now, in adulthood, I’ve come to appreciate science more as a useful lens for viewing the physical world. Now, I marvel at documentaries on the cosmos, the subatomic, and even the theories behind the set laws that govern our universe.

I also often enjoy a podcast from time to time called, “Unbelievable?” where the host, Justin Brierly, facilitates friendly debates between qualified academics and professionals that find themselves on either side of a particular theological or deistic issue. I’ve written a review on his book, UNBELIEVABLE?, and have formerly applauded him for his more objective facilitation of these arguments on his radio program.

The more of those science documentaries that I watched the more it became evident to me that the world of science seems to have a reverence for our world and the universe. While it would be rare that they’d ever invoke a creator or even intelligent design, they could not help but marvel at the order and beauty of it all. Math, physics, biology, subatomic particles, pulsars, gravity, time & space, they all seem to reflect a kind of secular deity to the awestruck scientists who describe these phenomena with zeal.

Now, part of me always felt that this “reverence” for the observable sciences in our universe was partly so that the scientist could point to a remarkable universe that has no need for a remarkable designer. But in truth, and maybe predictably so, it always seemed to have the opposite effect on me. “The earth is possibly how old? Wow! I wonder why God did it that way!” “The universe is how big? There are how many galaxies with how many stars? Wow! I wonder why God made it so big!” “They found what kind of fossils? Wow! What incredible creatures God created!” Each one of these discoveries often gets twisted by people with the agenda to render the Divine extinct but each they try to stamp out the fire of belief in God, sparks seem to fly out and start other fires.

Strobel addresses many of these findings and much more in his book. His interviews with respected experts range from evolution to astronomy, from biochemistry to physics, and from cosmology to consciousness. The novelty that he uses in being a journalist looking for the truth wears thin pretty quickly (A similar literary formula that he uses in A Case For Christ and presumably his numerous other “A Case For…” books). Even so, I found the information he teases out to be fascinating. He discusses topics with these scientists that I have to agree to seem to make more since pointing to an intelligent designer behind the intelligent design. Some of his most persuasive arguments were in the section covering DNA.

However, I discussed this book at length with a childhood friend of mine who ended up getting a Master’s in the field of raptor biology (transitional fossils relating birds to dinosaurs was a major section of the book) helped temper some of my enthusiasm. Strobel doesn’t even come close to trying to objectively approach these arguments. He pits his preconceived notions about Darwinism based on what he learned in public school growing up against a pretty specific thinktank that is heavily biased. The book might’ve benefited with some interviews done with some folks from the scientific community on the other side of the intelligent design argument. While they mention specific arguments, some by specific people, against intelligent design, Strobel ends up coming off hell-bent on making sure there are no scientific reasons to ever doubt God.

Now it’s fair to concede that Strobel is writing to a very specific audience. However, I found myself more than a little disappointed that he didn’t let some of the arguments stand on their own squarely against the opposing arguments. Instead, he pulls on the reader’s reasoning bridle and leads forcefully to the waters of intelligent design and forces them to drink. While I certainly benefited from reading this book and I feel a little more informed about some of the arguments for creative design, it left me thirsty to hear a more objective take.

I listened to Strobel’s book on Audible, which Strobel narrates himself (with a somewhat annoying voice, unfortunately) but I also bought a used copy of his book because I like having something physical to hold as well. I enjoyed the read and will keep it on my shelf but I doubt I’ll return to it any time soon. I’d refer to this book to my students or any adult looking for an introduction into the intelligent design arguments but would warn them to be wary of its one-sided bias in the midst of a much larger conversation.

I’ll end with this quote, “It is not my aim to introduce doubts and fears into your mind; no, but I do hope self-examination may help to drive them away. It is not security, but false security, which we would kill; not confidence, but false confidence, which we would overthrow; not peace, but false peace, which we would destroy.”

– Charles Spurgeon

 

Have you read The Case For a Creator? Have you read other works on the arguments for or against intelligent design? Let me know!

LEAD SMALL & CREATING A LEAD SMALL CULTURE – BOOK REVIEW AL

I attend a conference on youth ministry every year called NCYM, National Conference on Youth Ministries. This year I attended a session given by a youth minister friend of mine who recommended these two books. The session he taught was on transitioning your church’s traditional Sunday Bible class format to a Sunday Small Groups format. Intriguing right?

When I first heard about this model for Small Groups that they were utilizing on Sunday mornings I thought, “Aren’t small groups for Sunday nights? Don’t they happen at people’s houses? How can you make small groups work for Sunday morning?” I’ve since then come around to the notion that this format may, in fact, be way more effective than our traditional classroom format.

After attending this session, engaging in several conversations, and reading these two books, our student ministry has initiated our first Small Group Sunday format for this spring quarter. We are attempting a test drive of this format to learn more about it and see if it’s something we feel we might want to commit to on a more long-term basis. I’ll tell you all about how we did it but first, here’s the 411 on these books.

“Lead Small: Five Big Ideas Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know” is the first of these two books and is the ideal book to put in the hands of your small group leaders (or, as the book calls them, SGLs). It’s a quick and fun read but it’s also packed with extremely applicable and important stuff you’d want your SGLs to know. The 5 big ideas the book focuses on for SGLs are…

  1. Be Present
  2. Create A Safe Place
  3. Partner With Parents
  4. Make It Personal
  5. Move Them Out

“Creating A Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church A Place Where Kids Belong” is the second book and this one is intended more for the staff member(s) and/or church leader(s) that would be the champion & mastermind of your small group ministry. This book is all about how to create a culture in your church that supports it’s small group leaders and their few (their small groups). It goes from how to recruit your leaders (emphasizing strongly going after the best of the best) to how to empower them to be more than “volunteers” by being the mentoring, authentic, superhero of their few.

The book sells this idea that circles are more powerful learning environments than rows. It advocates for discussions in circles over a concert or classroom format; not demonizing classrooms & concerts but aptly pointing out how those formats alone can come up short. As a youth minister, I know that they are right. Meaningful conversations fueling mentoring relationships is our most powerful tool for discipling students. Students need to feel know and that they belong and utilizing small groups in our ministry is a great way to accomplish those two things. “Every kid needs a PERSON and they need a PLACE.” – p24.

So, how did we go about trying this Small Group Sunday format? We started with a lot of prayer. Using this format was going to be thinking outside the box for us and we knew there was potential for causing some ripples with this kind of dramatic change. We also knew that small groups had the potential to bless our students immeasurably. Plus, it started to make sense that something that could be that effective at giving our students a sense of belonging would be important for our fringe students as well as our core group. Because we have the most students in our church building on Sunday morning, using small groups for Sunday morning class time started to make more and more sense. So once we decided we’d give it the old college try, we started praying for our future small group leaders that we needed.

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To me, this was one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, getting enough volunteers. In deciding how many small group leaders we needed we first decided how to split up the groups. For our context, we had enough number on Sunday morning to give each grade, 7-12, a small group (boys and girls, together). So that’s 6 small groups with an average of 8-10 students in each group. Your own context is unique so don’t think this is the only way. Plus, after this spring quarter we may decide to change things up. So 6 small group with boys and girls means we are looking for 6 adult men and 6 adult women to lead these groups. It made sense to us to recruit couples. Furthermore, we decided that it’d help our small group leaders if they could share this responsibility with another couple so that being gone for a Sunday and help facilitate a conversation when students are sometimes not feeling like talking would be good. So we needed 12 couples who were willing to commit to 14 Sundays. We reached out to 28 couples, not just anyone but those couples who we knew would do well. To our surprise, 12 couples said yes. Prayers answered!

We got the 12 couples together to lay out the plan, do a little small group training, answer questions and eat dinner together. I made out curriculum for the whole quarter available on a shareable google drive and included a roster of the name of every student that would be a part of their small group. Then we got started!

For this spring quarter on Sunday mornings, we start with about 5 minutes worth of announcements and an opening prayer. From there I teach a “primer lesson” to tease up some of the content that their small group will be discussing that morning. I try to keep it concise, engaging, and leave them with a question. From there they split up into their small groups in different rooms (or half rooms) for about 35 minutes. They always start by going around the room and asking everyone the ups and downs of the past week (Something we call pows and wows. You might call them happys and crappys). Usually during this time one of the small group leaders will text me who all showed up to small group that day so I can keep attendance records for our students in a nonintrusive way. They then read scripture together and talk through 5 different discussion questions. In the end, I always insist the small group leaders take prayer requests and end each small group in prayer. I encourage them to write these requests down so they can ask about them the following week.

And that is pretty much it. I try to email or text our small group leaders every week to let them know when I’ve typed up the discussion questions and maybe include a video or short article from one of these two books on leading small to encourage, educate, or challenge them. We’ve only just completed our 3rd Small Group Sunday but our SGLs are starting to hit their stride and I’m very encouraged by some of the initial feedback I’ve gotten from the students, SGLs, and even parents! Not everything is perfect, we’ve had to tweak some things already. Not only that but it’s taken a ton of work. Much more than just setting up a teacher or two with a curriculum. But I’m hopeful for what Small Group Sundays could do for our student ministry.

Now I realize that this post has been more or a review on small group ministry than the two books but I wanted to give the context for why I read the two books. I highly recommend them both! If you have any questions about the books or our Small Group Sundays feel free to comment below or email me at Alanlmiddleton@gmail.com.

Next time I’ll be reviewing Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator”.

strobel