Welcoming the Future Church – A Book Review

welcoming the future churchThey have been called the most influential generation, and yet Millenials are distancing themselves more and more from the institution of the church. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, but they’ve not always found a place within the larger context of the local church, choosing instead to give their time to things that seem to be more effective.

In his latest book “Welcoming the Future Church,” Jonathan Pokluda shares his experience of watching a weekly gathering targeted at millenials grow from one hundred and fifty to tens of thousands. Pokluda shares in the introduction that, “If young adults aren’t joining and leading in your church, eventually your church will die. Or at the very least, it will miss out on an opportunity to impact and unleash the most influential generation the world has ever seen.”

Pokluda shares the things that he has seen effective at reaching this generation, things that might be surprising to those within the church who have thought that whistles and bells would be the draw that would bring Millenials into the church. He divides his book into three sections: Teach, Engage, and Deploy.

In the Teach section, Pokluda shares that drawing Millenials doesn’t involve a hiding of the truth. Instead, it involves preaching and teaching from the whole of the Bible, not just the comfortable parts. When there are areas that seem to lack clear direction, engaging in conversations about those areas, not shying away from them.

Pokluda shares his method of preparing messages and his approach to receiving feedback to be as effective as possible. He even admits that he has seen more life change come out of conversations than out of sermons, a fairly self-aware and honest assessment from a pastor. He encourages the reader to hear feedback often rather than just a few times a year. Constant feedback allows for constant change which leads to constant movement towards more effective communication.

There is no question that the church as an institution struggles with change. In the Engage section of the book, Pokluda encourages churches to hold loosely to traditions that might stand in the way of engaging the younger generation. Just as he encouraged an honest assessment of his own communication through feedback, he does the same in regards to the methods used within the church. When we base our methods on what worked then rather than what might be effective now, we arrogantly choose to idolize those methods rather than reach a new generation. It’s by design that Pokluda positions this section and discussion after his emphasis on the Bible so as not to be criticized by anyone who might suggest that he is pushing for a compromise in teaching doctrine or morality.

Pokluda encourages an environment within the church where Millenials can learn from other generations and vice versa. While they are open to instruction, they also want to be heard and valued. Relationship and authenticity are key. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver as so many churches have done. Don’t build your church on programs and attractional events only because you will soon lose those you’ve attracted through those things to another church that does them better.

One thing that Pokluda mentions that I particularly appreciated is the importance of discipleship moving beyond straight teaching concepts. If we don’t move from the “learning” aspect to the “doing” of discipleship, can we really call it discipleship? Discipleship means following and that can’t be in word alone, it needs to be accompanied by deeds.

In the last section, “Deploy,” Pokluda speaks of the importance of vision. Millenials (and everyone else in your church, for that matter) need to be given a picture of what can be. That picture needs to be compelling, energizing, and engaging. Expecting that they will come simply because you tell them it’s important is not enough. Pokluda writes, “give young adults a vision bigger than themselves. Don’t bore them by playing church, pretending to have it all together.” He goes on to say that a weak vision is the easiest way to discourage young people to live into their calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

Delegation kills two birds with one stone, it benefits the leader by not requiring them to do it all themselves and it allows others to step up to their own strengths and gifts to lead as well. Pokluda shares from his own experiences about how he has seen teams built together to the point of enjoying one another’s company. Shared experiences are essential for this team-building.

In another very helpful section, Pokluda shares his 5 “C’s” of vision casting: convincing, constant, celebrate, communicate, and call. While the section isn’t very long, it provides some good application for the way forward as you engage young people in the life and ministry of your church.

This is a good place to start for anyone struggling with how to best engage the next generation. There are other resources from places like the Fuller Youth Institute which give some additional practical and more in-depth approaches towards engaging the younger generations with spirituality and discipleship. Pokluda’s book provides some helpful measures that don’t feel too overwhelming for someone who feels like they just don’t know where to start. If you find yourself in that place, this book may be helpful to give you a boost and start you on your way towards engaging the next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Raising Resilient Disciples

faith for exilesIf you spend any time at all around the church and pay any attention to what’s going on in the western church, you know that there is a trend of younger generations leaving the church. Not only are children not being raised in the church but those children who have been raised in the church are going off to college, leaving church and sometimes faith behind.

Over the years, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, one of America’s leading research companies, has written much based upon the research that his organization has done. Together with Mark Matlock, he seeks to tackle this topic head on that research in his latest book, “Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.”

The authors pull no punches in speaking truth. I the introduction, they write that it is their contention, “that today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” While the history of God’s people has shown that they can resiliently walk our their faith, they also contend that the kind of resilient faith that lasts and allows one to walk through difficulties, trials, and antagonistic culture is tougher to grow today.

While that might seem like bad news for some, the authors speak of how faith can grow deeper and stronger in unsettled times and dark places. The current climate may cause some to head for the hills and hide, but the authors are offering this book as a challenge that resilient faith can be grown, it just takes intentionality and hard work.

The authors speak of the importance of culture and its influence. They use biblical examples of characters who have walked in direct opposition to the culture surrounding them, the culture in which they have been immersed. One of the greatest examples may be Daniel and his three friends who found themselves exiles living in Babylon, a culture dramatically different and even opposed to their Jewish homeland.

Complicating our culture is the medium of technology and how it pulls us and the next generations away from productive things, particularly spiritual things. Screens demand our attention, they call us to be their disciples. Jesus himself said that we can’t serve two masters, so how do we can we be disciples of him and screens at the same time?

Matlock and Kinnaman suggest that we are exiles living in digital Babylon. While we would like to go back to Jerusalem, our home and safe haven, we don’t have that luxury and we need to find a way to live out of faith in this somewhat hostile environment. Fortunately, the story of exile isn’t limited to Daniel and his friends, it’s a story that plays out over and over again in the biblical narrative. We see God’s people living as exiles in lands that are foreign and often hostile.

The authors propose that discipleship today has the goal of developing Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit. They go on to reveal some of Barna’s research as they define four different kinds of exiles: Prodigals (ex-Christians), Nomads (unchurched), Habitual Churchgoers, and Resilient Disciples. Among 18-29 year olds today, 10% are resilient disciples, 38% are habitual churchgoers, 30% are nomads, and 22% are prodigals.

The book goes on to lay out five practices that have led to resilient faith. These practices are based on a decade of work and research. Not only are these authors experts in researching this material but they have also experienced this personally with their own children, experiencing how these practices make a difference.

The five practices that the research has shown build resilient disciples are: forming a resilient identity and experiencing intimacy with Jesus, developing muscles of cultural discernment, developing meaningful intergenerational relationships, training for vocational discipleship, and engaging in countercultural mission.

Intimacy with Jesus is about so much more than weekly worship gatherings. As the authors write, “we too easily mistake the starting point for the destination, oversimplifying Christianity to mere decionism.” This isn’t about merely following rules and habitually attending church and programs, it means creating an intimate relationship with Jesus, allowing young people to see that God speaks to us. Discipleship is growing in an understanding that one can hear and respond to the voice of Jesus in their lives.

Developing muscles of cultural discernment means combatting the easy and convenient teaching and learning that can be gained through technology.  As they define it, cultural discernment is the ability to compare the beliefs, values, customs, and creations of the world we live in (digital Babylon) to those of the world we belong to (the kingdom of God). It means we don’t bury our heads in the sand and we take a posture of learning and counterculturally speak. It’s not so much about protecting young people but preparing them for what they will face and how they will respond and live.

Developing meaningful intergenerational relationships  means being devoted to fellow believers we want to be around and become. It means mentoring and being mentored. It means to combat a culture of isolation and mistrust with deeper and spiritually significant relationships with those who have gained wisdom in experience. In digital Babylon, technology takes the place of real relationships, so those real relationships need to be forged in resilient disciples so that they won’t settle for cheap alternatives like technology.  These relationships are not forged by steamrolling questions and looking past legitimate doubts but sticking around long enough to work them out.

Vocational discipleship is about training up the next generation to know how to think about work and calling. It means finding meaning in what we do, not simply surviving. It means understanding talents and abilities, listening to God’s call, affirming those things, and being a church that enables and trains them to work this all out. Vocational discipleship does not mean full-time vocational ministry for all but it means being a full-time disciple regardless of your vocation, or even living out as a disciple through your vocation.

Finally, countercultural mission means living differently from cultural norms. We are privileged to be invited by God to join him in his mission to the world. This isn’t necessarily a safe mission, living in exile is not safe. Kinnaman and Matlock write, “Too many of our ministry efforts prepare people for a world that doesn’t exist, undercutting our witness and passing flimsy faith to the next generation.” The church needs to improve by focusing more on safe living than on faithful living. We need to help people believe and know how to express themselves and those beliefs in a spirit of love and respect.

Having read other books by Kinnaman, I was looking forward to reading this book. Much of what the authors share coincides with research that has come out of the Fuller Youth Institute as well. That kind of consistency should be encouraging for the church and should spur her on to the mission of raising up resilient disciples.

In order to fulfill this mission of raising up resilient disciples, we can no longer settle for a church that expects everyone to come to them, seeking good to be consumed and comfortable spaces to be coddled. Instead, we should be willing to venture into sometimes unsafe places, not just physical, in order that we might live out our faith resiliently, faithfully, and effectively.

If you care about the next generation and care about the church, “Faith For Exiles” is a book to be read with a message to be heeded. Matlock and Kinnaman offer not just problems but solutions. Their ideas are not some nebulous or fantastical theories but are based on thorough research. This book is a call to action, the question is whether or not the church will heed that call.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)


Stop Telling Me, Just Show Me

show me don't tell meFor years, I had grown tired of what the church calls evangelism. It just didn’t seem right to me. It felt like an Amway session or a gathering to try to sell someone a timeshare. It didn’t feel genuine and, at times, it felt downright offensive.

Now, I know that Paul wrote in the Bible that the gospel is foolishness for those who are perishing, a stumbling block for some, offensive to others. But the offensiveness should come in the content, not the presentation.

Over the course of my life, I’ve done some of my best learning when I’ve been watching and paying attention to what’s going on around me. I learn better when you show me what to do.

My father-in-law is a contractor. When my wife and I lived close to him, I relished the times when I could work alongside him, learning new things, watching a master at work. The ease with which he would accomplish things was always astounding to me. I wished for the capability that he had and showed often.

While I was working alongside him, he wasn’t sitting there lecturing me about the different steps that he was taking. He would just go about doing the work, asking for the things that he needed along the way. As I watched and learned, questions emerged in my mind and I would ask them as they popped up. My father-in-law obliged to answer the questions, and my education continued.

As I’ve thought a lot about the church lately, I think we’ve stopped learning by doing. We’ve also stopped teaching by showing. Essentially, that’s what discipleship is all about. It’s not saying, “Let me teach you a collection of facts so that you can be smart and know how to be a disciple.” It really needs to be about saying, “Walk with me and I will show you what it means to be a disciple.”

In our errors of teaching rather than showing, we’ve also failed in our witness to the world. Instead of showing the world what it means to love Jesus and be his disciple, we’ve simply said, “You’re not living in such a way as pleases God.” Meanwhile, our lives don’t necessarily indicate anything different either. We say that Jesus changes everything and then we go on living our lives as if he makes no difference at all.

So what would it look like for us to stop telling people how to live and start showing people how to live?

Again, don’t get me wrong here, this doesn’t mean that we never share the gospel with those around us, it simply means that we earn the right to share and be heard by living in such a way that it actually matters to us. I won’t go so far as to say that we need to preach the gospel and use words if we must, but we need to let our actions model the words that we speak.

I was at a gathering not too long ago with some people who have been jaded by the church. They’ve been burned and hurt and they are slowly making their way back to faith. I had adopted a posture of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, so I was doing my best to keep my mouth shut (a fairly significant feat for me).

Finally, the hostess looked over at me and said that she was curious what I was thinking. I shared that I thought it was time for the church to remember that there is an important verse that Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15. He said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have.” Unfortunately, I said, many people had left out some significant words in there……everyone who asks you.

The church needs to do a better job of living questionable lives, lives that cause people to ask questions. We need to do a better job to not only speak about the difference that Jesus makes in us, but also to show it and live it out. In so doing, I am convinced that people will see that difference and then we can live into Peter’s words as they begin to ask us why we’re different. In responding to their questions, I think it will look and feel a little less like a pitch for a timeshare and more like the reason for the hope that lives within us and has changed our lives.

Reaching the Unreachable?

The Passion GenerationThe Christian church can get obsessed about things. Sometimes it’s a particular sin, other times it’s a particular trend, still other times it’s a particular group or subset of people.

Over the past few years, one of the subsets of people that the church has been most concerned and obsessed with is Millenials. If you’ve hung around churches at all, you’ve probably heard the statistics of how many of these Millenials are dropping out of church once they get to college. Books have been written. Studies have been done. Sermons have been preached. But what’s the answer in how to engage Millenials to get them back into the church?

Enter Grant Skeldon, a Millenial himself. Skeldon has written “The Passion Generation – The Seemingly Reckless, Definitely Disruptive, But Far From Hopeless Millenials.”

Now, I hate it when people talk things up so much that when you finally experience it for yourself, you are extremely disappointed as you find out that something has been oversold to you. At the risk of overselling “The Passion Generation,” I have to say that this book was one of the best books that I have read this year. The clarifier of that statement is that I have read more than sixty books this year, so I think that my opinion matters.

When it comes to Millenials, Skeldon seems wise beyond his years. This wisdom, he claims, has come from the countless mentors whom he has had pouring into him.

Skeldon is not afraid to admit some of the faults of his generation. At the same time, he isn’t afraid to point to those who are older who have caused some of the reactions that we see among Millenials. He speaks truthfully and honestly here, and if those of us who are older are really honest, it gets a little uncomfortable at times. For instance, he poses the question of why the most cause-oriented generation in the world (Millenials) are neglecting the most cause-oriented organization in the world (the church).

The primary means by which Skeldon believes the generation gap can be bridged is through discipleship. Discipleship has become a buzzword of late within the church, but the discipleship of which he speaks is not what most churches have embraced as discipleship. When he says discipleship, he doesn’t mean sitting down one on one with someone and going through a book together. Instead, he means discipleship like Jesus did: spending time investing in people and living life together.

Skeldon believes that Millenials are avoiding the church not because the church is asking too much of them, but rather because the church is asking too little of them. Their fear of commitment is outweighed, he says, by their fear of missing out.

All that being said, Skeldon splits the book into two parts: Discipling Millenials and What Millenials Look For In A Church. He has good practical information in here, but he never claims to have a quick fix. In fact, there isn’t a quick fix. The process of discipleship, regardless of age, is a commitment that’s about relationships which take time.

At the end of each chapter, there are visual representations of some of the key points highlighted within the chapter. For the visual learners among us, this is very helpful. It emphasizes the things that Skeldon sees as most important.

As I read this book, I found myself agreeing with so much of what Skeldon had written. My own experience with Millenials has shown me that much of what he writes in here is true. Many in this generation that has been given a bad rap have not materialized out of thin air the way that they are. Instead, they’ve been discipled to act the way they do, maybe not so much intentionally, but unintentionally.

When I was growing up, my parents had a little plaque on the wall of my room. On that plaque was written a poem called “Children Live What They Learn.” The premise was that the things that children learn by watching, they will do for themselves when the time comes.

I think we are seeing a generation that has learned not what we’ve wanted them to learn, but what we have shown them, and what we’ve shown them hasn’t been the best. So there is a dual ownership here that led to this problem and there will need to be a dual ownership of said problem to move us away from it.

If you are a leader in the church or you simply have a heart for the next generation, I would highly recommend “The Passion Generation” to you. It’s a practical resource full of wisdom, insight, and advice that, if heeded, could go along way in engaging a generation that has been unfairly judged.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Imperfect Disciple – A Book Review

The Imperfect DiscipleOn the last page of “The Imperfect Disciple” Jared Wilson writes, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that makes us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.” And if we start with the ending, reading this page first, it really gives us a synopsis of “The Imperfect Disciple.”

Wilson’s sub-title for the book is, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that discipleship is not just working harder, better, or more efficiently. We can only get to where we need to go through Jesus, not through our own efforts. Jesus is not looking for people who have it all together, Jesus is actually looking for people who can’t get their act together. It is those of us who don’t seem to be able to get our acts together that understand better that we are unable to get to where we need to get on our own.

Jared Wilson shares stories from his own experiences in ministry as he walks through what discipleship really can look like. We cannot simply manage our sin and think that’s enough to make us good disciples. In fact, if all we are doing is sin management, then we’ve missed the gospel and the essence of discipleship as it goes so much further than simply outward appearance and action. The essence of discipleship and the gospel penetrates to our hearts and souls, changing us from the inside out. That kind of change is not something that we are able to achieve on our own and the harder we try, the more frustrated we will become.

We cannot think that discipleship is all about us fitting God into the nooks and crannies of our lives. But Wilson says, “…God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not us. So God shouldn’t be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.”

Wilson explores sabbath rest, worship, and other key areas of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He challenges those of us who think we can achieve and encourages those of us who feel like we will never measure up. While there was nothing here that was earth shattering to me, Wilson’s writing style and delivery made this book a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for encouragement after having tried to measure up to impossible standards, the message of grace that is presented here could be salve for your soul and encouragement for the way forward.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Into the Fray – A Book Review

Into the FrayIn his previous book, “The First Time We Saw Him,” Matt Mikalatos retold some of the stories from the Gospels in modern language. His gift for storytelling and narrative was evident as he wove and reimagined these stories together, putting them into a language and context that makes sense in a modern setting.

In “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos reimagines the Book of Acts. He asks the question about the Gospel, a term that is taken from the Middle English word that means, “good news.” While some claim to be able to describe and tell the Gospel in a nutshell, Mikalatos says that the full gospel, “can’t be presented in fifteen minutes or in a sermon or in a series of sermons.” In fact, he says, “Every new understanding we gain about the person and character of Jesus is the good news, and he is an infinite being.” If the Gospel is really the good news about Jesus and what he has done and offered to us, then we might be doing something wrong as many who aren’t part of the church don’t really know just what it is that we are trying to offer to them. If it’s good news, we might need to present it in such a way that lets it be distinguishable as such.

“Into the Fray” is the retelling of the Acts of the Apostles, which Mikalatos believes to be a terrible name. After all, the stories told throughout Luke’s book are not so much about the acts that were accomplished by the apostles but the acts accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts tells stories about people who are ordinary rather than extraordinary. The only way that these people become extraordinary and accomplish the astonishing is through the receiving and the power of the Holy Spirit. As one of the characters retelling the stories puts it, “It’s not the people who are extraordinary. It’s what’s inside them.”

In the stories and in his own narrative throughout “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos pushes against some of the preconceived notions and accepted norms of evangelicalism. Who is in and who is out? What does a “real” Christian look like? He reminds the reader of the apostle Paul’s words that our fight and battle is not against flesh and blood. People are not the enemy. He calls us to question the things that we have called to be sacred just as Peter was given a vision of eating the very things that had been off-limits according to the old covenant.

Mikalatos reminds his readers that we are called, as followers of Christ, to make pure Jesus followers, “people who come close to Jesus and become more like him.” He says, “As we become more like Jesus, we behave more like him, thus naturally stopping sinful behavior and embracing pure, beautiful, godly behavior.” Considering that the Book of Acts is full of stories of people who have been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and an encounter with the living God, it’s a good reminder that we aren’t called to change people or get them to act a certain way, we’re simply called to introduce them to Jesus and teach them all that we have been taught about him.

We enter into conversations with those who are far from Jesus by finding connection points. Sometimes those connect points are cultural or musical while other times they are spiritual. Sometimes, we find common points, points of discussion and conversation around another religion that someone has chosen to follow. Those can act as starting points, springboards into other conversations. Mikalatos write, “It’s not that the conversation ends there or that we’re allowing other religions to dictate our own. It’s that we’re sorting through two belief systems and finding the places they overlap and starting the conversation there.”

Throughout the book, Mikalatos admits to the reader that he is in process himself. He admits his own tendencies towards Pharisaism and judgment. He writes, “Whether I look at my own heart or at Christian culture, I see evidence of areas where we refuse to interact with others because, at the heart of it, we see ourselves as better, more clean, more correct, more holy, more spiritual, more righteous, more dedicated, more committed, more insightful, more innovative, or more traditional.” He reminds us that God has admitted those into his kingdom that didn’t necessarily meet the standards that were expected or even called for.

Mikalatos pushes just enough to be provocative but not so much that he becomes antagonistic or belligerent. His provocation isn’t simply for provocation’s sake, but with the intent of helping the reader to reimagine some of the stories from the Bible. He has a knack for taking them out of the context in which they were written them and transplanting them into our own context, staying true to the essence of the stories while retelling them in such a way that they are easily understandable.

“Into the Fray” ends with a discussion about story, the parts of story that matter, and how we tell our story. Mikalatos writes, “Our stories matter. We all know that a witness is someone who saw something. And as John said, our story is the story of what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have looked at, and what our hands have touched.” We tell our stories to let others know just what God has done in our lives. We come to the place in our stories and say, “That’s when God showed up,” and that’s when all the change took place. Sometimes, as followers of Christ, we make our stories simply about what happened up until our meeting Jesus, but we can’t forget that’s only the beginning of the story.

Mikalatos talks about his experience with creative writing. His ability to craft stories is evident throughout “Into the Fray” and he sticks with this strength. It might not be everyone’s style, to rethink and reimagine stories from the Bible that already seem perfectly understandable just the way that they are. If that’s your thoughts, this book is probably not for you. If you want to stretch your imagination about how some of these stories may have played out in a modern context, then “Into the Fray” is a worthwhile read. You will be challenged and stretched to think outside of the comfortable places where you’ve come to reside. If you let yourself, Mikalatos and his ability to tell stories may just help you see just how much the Holy Spirit is capable of doing as you experience some heart and life change of your own through these stories.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Emotionally Healthy Leader – A Book Review

emotionally healthy leaderPeter Scazzero and his church, New Life Fellowship, have emerged in the past decade as models of how to navigate through the world of church, leadership, and spirituality in an emotionally healthy manner. Scazzero started with “The Emotionally Healthy Church” back in 2003 and followed up with “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” in 2006. In the midst of his sharing about his own experience, in 2010, his wife wrote “I Quit,” the story of how she had drawn the line when she could no longer put up with the emotional unhealthy ways of her husband’s approach to life and ministry.

Now Scazzero has written “The Emotionally Healthy Leader.” In this book, Scazzero shares his experience of understanding and embracing limitations (your shadow), of finding ways to lessen stress and tension, and of moving towards allowing yourself to experience better emotional health. Early on in “The Emotionally Healthy Leader, “ Peter Scazzero writes about a time in his life where he, “always seemed to have too much to do and too little time to do it,” a place that many of us have probably come to in our own lives. Scazzero shares not only out of his successes but, more importantly, out of his failures.

Scazzero shares examples of emotionally healthy and unhealthy leaders both through biblical examples as well as examples that he has encountered along the way. According to Scazzero, unhealthy leaders are those who have low self-awareness, who prioritize ministry over marriage/singleness, who do more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, and who lack a work/Sabbath rhythm. These four characteristics frame the rest of the book as Scazzero asks the reader to answer questions about facing their shadow, leading out of their marriage/singleness, slowing down for loving union with God, and practicing Sabbath delight.

It’s important and essential for leaders to practice emotionally healthy leadership by allowing themselves to be transformed in order that they can help in the spiritual transformation of those whom they lead. Scazzero emphasizes the need for analyzing success properly, not embracing a “bigger is better” model but pushing for deeper and more significant success. He writes, “When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count.” Scazzero stresses the importance of who you are rather than what you do and how being with God improves your emotional health more than doing for God does.

A key point that Scazzero highlights is the need to address and face conflict rather than sweeping it under the rug. Too often, leaders (especially spiritual leaders) will adopt a “don’t rock the boat” approach as long as things are moving along. Scazzero points out the need to ask painful and difficult questions for the sake of everyone involved. If the “elephants in the room” are not addressed, the church and its leaders will need to pay a significantly higher price later on.

Scazzero takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery towards emotional health. He discusses the idea of facing your shadow. As Scazzero describes it, the shadow is, “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors.” Scazzero talks of the shadow side of some of the gifts that we have, things that most of us use to our advantage that can easily be used to the detriment of others if we are unaware of them. Scazzero says that, ““…we have a stewardship responsibility to honestly face our shadow.”

Throughout the book are various exercises designed to help the leaders move through these various areas towards emotional health. He talks about the importance of establishing a rule of life, a means by which one can stay consistent and maintain a healthy balance between life and work. One of those things that he sees as essential is the establishment of a weekly Sabbath to incorporate necessary rest into one’s schedule. The surveys and assessments include questions that can help the reader move towards healthiness in the areas of facing and addressing their shadow, leading out of their singleness/marriage, growing in their oneness with God, and practicing Sabbath rest.

The book is divided into two halves: the inner life and the outer life. After walking through the four essential questions that Scazzero lays out regarding your shadow, your singleness/marriage, your loving union with God, and your Sabbath, Scazzero moves on to how these things play out in ministry. He discusses the importance of planning and decision making, of culture and team building, of power and wise boundaries, and of endings and beginnings.

2/3 of the way through The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero writes, “We share openly about what God is teaching us – in sermons, staff meetings, private conversations, and with members of our small group.” I would say that may very well be the secret of his success: his humility. Scazzero leads from his strengths but is not afraid to confront, identify, and share his weaknesses and limitations. His humility is evident and he never comes across as a “know-it-all” but rather as one who wants to share his own struggles in order that others can avoid the same ones. He shares from his heart out of a desire to see others avoid some of the same mistakes that he has made in his life.

Since Scazzero has been writing books for the last decade, the honest and reflective insights that he shares have been incredibly helpful to me. Having grown up in the home of a pastor and now being a pastor myself, what Scazzero shares is not something you can get in a basic seminary course, although it should be. Learning and embracing what Scazzero shares is essential and life-giving for those who are willing to take the time.

I think that “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” is not just a good resource, but an essential resource for any pastor or ministry leader who wants to really see the kind of transformative growth to which God calls us in both ourselves and the people we lead. If you are serious about seeking out emotional health and aren’t afraid of embarking on a journey of renewal and restoration, then you need to get a copy of this book.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Net Galley. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Faith of Our Fathers

When people ask me about my faith journey, I talk to them about my upbringing, growing up in the church, the son of a pastor. I talk about trusting Jesus at an early age, being baptized, and doing the things that I thought that I was supposed to do as I grew older, physically and spiritually.

But the story doesn’t end there. That early faith journey was not clear and simple, it was actually full of confusion as well as I tried to understand just what it meant to live out my faith and to hold on to something that seemed to have been inherited from my parents.

As I grew older, I realized how much that I had been relying on what had been handed down to me rather than allowing the seeds that had been planted to take root in me. I realized that a true and genuine faith is authentic, real, and personal, it can’t be simply duplicated by copying what someone else does but it needs to be something that shapes and forms you, changing and transforming you to be who God has called you to be.

While my prodigal journey away from the church was not long-lived or extreme, it was there. I came to the stark realization in college that my faith seemed to be a sham, simply a carbon copy of what I had received.

My journey away ended after about a year when I began to see my faith as my own rather than that of my parents.

Faith is much more than religion, it’s much more than rules and regulations. If it is to be genuine and personal, it needs to be experienced firsthand. Secondhand faith is no good, it is not genuine.

As I was reading in my daily Bible reading the other day, I came upon the end of Judges 8. If you aren’t familiar with the book of Judges, it’s one of the books in the Bible that would ensure any movie made from the Bible would receive at least a PG-13 rating, if not an R rating. It’s encouraging, frustrating, violent, and gracious, all at the same time.

At the end of Judges 8, Gideon has died. This same Gideon is the one who had led the Israelites to victory and then was ensnared by pride and the love of the people to create an idol that the people eventually worshipped.

Gideon dies and this is how the passage reads:

Judges 8:33-35

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

As I read these verses, my heart sank.

If I’m completely honest, one of the biggest fears that I have is that my children’s journey of faith will cease or diverge from my own. I fear that I will fail in my example of what true faith is for them. I fear that they might reject the very thing that has been such a pillar and cornerstone of my life.

These verses are heartbreaking to me because the faith of the Israelites was based solely on who was leading them rather than on what was actually going on in their own hearts. They had sacrificed the real thing for secondhand faith.

I don’t ever want my children to believe simply to make me happy. I don’t want to feel that their faith is just a carbon copy of what I have handed them, a cheap substitute for the real thing. I want it to be real and authentic.

Part of my faith needs to be that God will hold my children in his hand, that he will grow the seeds of faith that have been planted in them. I can only pray that my wife and I can fan the flame of faith that has been started in them, to pray that their faith will be firsthand faith.

No one ever said that it was easy, if it was, wouldn’t everyone have faith?

I am grateful that it all doesn’t lie in my hands, but at the same time, this is why I pray the words of the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9 who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I am grateful for the grace of God who meets me where I am, increasing my faith daily, but walking beside me and putting up with my unbelief.

Under Construction

under constructionAbout six months ago (if not longer), a project began by my house to add a turning lane and widen the road to remedy the traffic issues that were plaguing the area due to a FedEx distribution center being constructed. The project began and it was clear that something was going on, it just wasn’t clear exactly what was happening, when it was happening, and when it would be finished.

About a half mile down the street, a new WalMart Neighborhood Market was being constructed. The road was impacted, a new signal was installed, and there were signs of the major construction. Driving past this every day, it was interesting to watch the progress. The site was cleared, the site was graded, the building was constructed, and it all happened fairly quickly. Before I knew it, the building was up and ready to open.

Meanwhile, just down the road, it would seem that the road expansion had halted or even gone backwards. There was no evidence of what had caused the holdup. I drove by the same project on many a sunny day and wondered what on earth had caused this kind of delay. I would see workers out there on site but at the end of the day, I couldn’t tell what kind of progress had been made.

Never being one to shy away from complaining, I took to social media to vent and complain. I was hoping that some of my local friends might have had more insight than I as to what was actually going on with the project. No dice. The project continued…….at a snail’s pace.

The other day, a friend of mine sent me a text as a wonderful reminder to me. She wrote, “We’re all “under construction” by God and sometimes we can’t see why it’s taking so long to get thru the construction project. It may involve detours & delays & a big mess we didn’t see coming, but in the end, the road project is done & looks all pretty & all the mess was worth it. Consider the road construction pure joy!”

I read her text over and over again and sat there with a mix of awe and shame. I was amazed at the insight (not who had given it, you’re a wise woman, Mary) and ashamed that I hadn’t taken more of a step back to really think through what I could learn from it. The shame didn’t last long, I’ve moved past the place in my life where I beat myself up over and over again.

I began to think about just how right my friend was and how true it is. In fact, the Apostle Paul even wrote encouragement to this very end to the church in Philippi when he said, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

We’re all under construction. The only plans that we have are that we need to look more like Christ. There are delays and detours, just as my friend said. Oftentimes, we can’t see the progress, maybe because it’s subtle, maybe because it’s beneath the surface, but when we don’t see progress, noticeable progress, we get frustrated and wonder what’s going on.

All the while, God is at work, striving and moving ahead to complete a work that has been started in us that will one day be complete. When we get to completion, it will all be worth it, but in the meantime, we do our best to wait…..patiently……hoping that it is worth it in the end and hoping that we begin to see the kind of progress that we’ve been hoping and waiting for!philippians 1.6

Look and Live – A Book Review

look and live papaWe all worship something, we all give glory to something. It’s just a matter of what that “something” is and whether or not it can really bear the weight of the worship and glory that we give to it. Author, speaker, and musician Matt Papa says that the triune God, “is the only thing large enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of glory, and ultimately worship. Anything else will break your heart.” He then proceeds to unpack that within his book, “Look and Live.”

Papa suggests that we are all giving glory to something but if it isn’t the one, true God, then we are committing the equivalent of Esau, selling off our birthright for a bowl of beans. We are sacrificing the real thing for a cheap imitation. In order to fully understand what it means to glorify God, to worship him, we need to actually gaze upon his glory. When we gaze upon his glory and set our eyes on who he is, then we begin to understand how to glorify him. As one is amazed at an artist by looking upon their artistry, so we can look upon the artistry of God to begin to see his glory.

There are two types of glory, Papa writes, glory within and glory given. Glory given results when one experiences the glory within. Glory within is the internal excellence that we see in things, but it is only God who can give us the full picture of glory, That is why, Papa says, that everyone who encounters the glory of God within the Bible nearly falls dead. We cannot encounter the glory of God and remain unchanged.

As G.K. Chesteron wrote, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing. We worship anything.” “Look and Live” explores what we as humans so often do, glorifying things that simply point to the glory of God, things that cannot bear the weight of that glory without crumbling. We create idols in our lives that outweigh and replace God in order to find happiness, but those things all fall short of providing the promised result. They all fail us.

Even in our encounter of God’s glory, we fail to understand our approach to it. Rather than saying that we must behave in order to encounter it, we must actually behold it in order to fully experience it and be changed. We cannot enter into the spiritual process of sanctification and experience the transformation of becoming more and more like Christ unless we behold the glory of God. That is the only thing that can bring us lasting change.

Throughout the books, Papa aims straight at many of the things that plague us as Christians, our sin and idolatry. He makes his case for looking upon Jesus to fully experience the glory of God, showing uncanny insights and wisdom beyond his years. He pulls no punches in addressing the sin and idolatry issue that many of us have come to embrace in exchange for the glory of God, sin and idolatry that often emerge our of good things that end up being ends in and of themselves rather than means for looking upon the glory of God.

When we truly experience and look upon the glory of God, not only are we changed, but we also want to share that glory with everyone we meet. So, as Papa shares, “if you aren’t sharing God, then you aren’t enjoying God.”

At the outset, “Look and Live” didn’t seem like a very different book from so much else that is in the “Christian” market. As I dove into it, I felt like, while everything Papa was saying was true, it sounded so familiar that it seemed, in a way, dull and repetitive. I had to push on through the beginning to really see the insights that Papa had to offer. Could he have arrived there sooner in the book, probably, but that’s not always the writer’s fault. It could be blamed on editing.

Although it took me a little effort to push through what I felt like was a slow beginning to “Look and Live,” once I moved past it, the effort was worth it. “Look and Live” is a worthwhile reminder of the good things that can easily entangle us from experiencing the greatness and glory of God. While there were many things that I’ve read in various other places, Papa’s ability to cut to the heart of the issue and simplify it, making it a matter of our need for looking upon Jesus, helps both those who are familiar with the ideas and concepts about which he is writing as well as those who are encountering them for the first time.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)