Not a Fan

I read Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman because my church started a series last Sunday based on the book.

He makes the case for being a follower of Jesus, as opposed to a "fan." He thoroughly contrasts the two postures, and challenges the reader in no uncertain terms to true, costly discipleship--which is, of course, the only kind there is.

I enjoyed the author's use of humor, and his readable writing style. I liked his creative outline he used in the three sections of the book: Part 1 ("fan or follower: an honest diagnosis"), Part 2 ("an invitation to follow: the unedited version"), and Part 3 ("following Jesus--wherever, whenever, whatever"). Though I found it inexplicable that he repeatedly referred to "Galilee" as a "town" (it is a region, not a town), I found little else to argue with him about. The book is strong on exhortation, weak on application; that is, he challenges the reader in nearly every conceivable way to "go all-in" as a follower of Jesus, but never seems to get into any detail as to how this is to be done.

Still, Not a Fan is a clear and timely challenge for our day, for all who have ears to hear.

Dead Sermons and Living Words

If you are a preacher, or are called to preach, or preparing to preach, or might preach sometime somewhere somehow, PLEASE read Joe McKeever's excellent blog post based on a portion of the estimable Warren Wiersbe's book, Preaching and Teaching with Imagination. If I could do so without disturbing everyone else in the coffee shop, I would give it a loud, standing ovation.

See if you agree. Read it here.

10 Signs of Evangelistic Health

Thom Rainer, one of the bloggers I read regularly, recently posted "Ten Questions to Diagnose the Evangelistic Health of Your Church."

It's a pretty good list, based on Rainer's extensive work with churches across the length and breadth of the U.S.A. It would also make a fantastic list of prayer and action priorities for any pastor or church leader. Check it out (and then read the rest of the piece on Rainer's blog):

  1. Are members more concerned about the lost than their own preferences and comfort? Listen to how church members talk to understand what their true priorities are.
  2. Is the church led to pray for lost persons? Most churches are pretty good about praying for those who have physical needs. But do they pray for those who have the greatest spiritual need, a relationship with Jesus Christ?
  3. Are the members of the church open to reaching people who don’t look or act like them? The gospel breaks all racial, ethnic, and language barriers. Do the members seek to reach others? Do they rejoice when these people become a part of the church?
  4. Do conflicts and critics zap the evangelistic energy of the church? An evangelistic church is a united church. A divided church is rarely evangelistic.
  5. Do small groups and Sunday school classes seek to reach lost persons within their groups? Sunday school was once one of the most effective evangelistic tools in the church. Are the groups in your church evangelistic?
  6. Is the leadership of the church evangelistic? The congregation will follow and emulate the priorities of the church leadership.
  7. Do the sermons regularly communicate the gospel? They may not be evangelistic sermons in the classic sense, but all sermons should point people to Jesus.
  8. Are there ministries in the church that encourage members to be involved in evangelistic outreach and lifestyle? You may be surprised to find how many members become evangelistic with a modest amount of training and equipping.
  9. Have programs become ends in themselves rather than means to reach people? Perhaps a total ministry and program audit is in order.
  10. Is there any process of accountability for members to be more evangelistic? That which is rewarded and expected becomes the priority of the congregation.

4 Rules for Preachers

Justin Taylor, on his Gospel Coalition blog, offered Phillips Brooks's Four Rules for Preachers. They're good. Here is the outline:
1. Count and rejoice to count yourself the servant of the people to whom you minister.

2. Never allow yourself to feel equal to your work.

3. Be profoundly honest.

4. Be vital, be alive, not dead.

Brooks amplifies each one, briefly but meaningfully. Click here to read the whole thing.

7 Phrases for Leaders

One of my favorite bloggers, Ron Edmondson, recently posted seven statements he says leaders should use often. I agree with him, which of course reflects well on him. Here are those seven statements.
I believe in you.

You are an asset to this team.

Let me know how I can help you.

You are doing a great job.

I need your help.

I want to help you reach your personal goals.

You are making a difference here.
What would you add or subtract? Are any of these part of your regular dialogue with your co-laborers?

Splendor of God

Every year I plan to read at least a couple biographies (read more about my annual reading plan here). One of this year's choices is Splendor of God, a 1929 effort by Honore Willsie Morrow.

It is actually a "biographical novel," though well-sourced (a "partial list" of thirty-nine sources appears in the back of the book). It traces the missionary efforts of Adonirum Judson, the father of Christian missions to Burma.

It is a fascinating and rewarding account, not only of Judson's life, but also of the strange Burmese culture, the mercurial Burmese king, the first Burmese converts, and the many brave men and women who went to Burma in the early 1800s to help Judson in his efforts. It is also engaging in its depiction of Judson as a faltering, often stumbling man of faith, to whom others looked up as a hero...but who struggled mightily to find the God he preached.

My copy of the book was given to me by a friend, in a box with many other books. I doubt that I would have found it otherwise. And I'm glad I did.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Exhortation Isn't Enough

Many preachers today seem to be reasonably adept at exhortation, telling their listeners what they should do, must do, need to do, etc. That is a key element in the preaching task (in fact, exhortation is a gift of the Spirit, according to Romans 12:8).

But exhortation alone isn't enough.

Exhortation without identification, inspiration, and application, is unlikely to produce life change in the listener. And, of course, that is the goal (or should be) of all preaching. Let me explain what I mean by each of those terms.

Identification - Preacher, in the first few minutes of your sermon, your listener needs a compelling reason to pay attention, and there is no more compelling reason than for you to identify with his or her need. What John Watson (pen name: Ian MacLaren) wrote is true of church-goers, too: "Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." They enter your church with many needs, some of them huge: a faltering marriage, a wayward child, unemployment, a scary diagnosis, etc. The preacher's earliest task is to identify with a person's need in such a way that holds out a promise that he or she may just be better off in some way by the time the preacher concludes.

Inspiration - Another often neglected task in contemporary preaching is inspiration. That is, the preacher neglects to touch my emotions. It is good to smile or laugh, but it is better to feel my eyes water, my heart leap, or my soul shout. I'm not talking about emotionalism, but inspiration. The former is empty, the latter is critical for the preacher who wants to see lives changed.

Application - Finally, preacher, please give your listeners a helpful, practical way to put your exhortation into action. If you preached on loving one's neighbor, challenge me to show that love in some practical way today or this week--perhaps by learning my neighbor's name or mowing a neighbor's lawn. If you preached on prayer, invite me to pray for ten minutes each morning this week. If you preached on baptism, have the baptismal full and ready for a response. Urge an action on me. Give me a tool to live out your message through the coming week. Call it homework. Call it life application. Call it whatever you like, but please don't let me leave church without having at least one answer to the question, "What am I supposed to do with this information?"

To Be a Shepherd

R. C. Sproul, Jr., writes on the Ligonier blog about how he learned what it means to be a shepherd. HINT: It involves sheep.
I had already failed my first test in becoming a gentleman farmer. Three years and roughly 200 chickens produced eggs for my family at a rate of roughly $1… each. A few years had passed though since my experiment in folly, and I was ready to try again. I purchased three recently weaned lambs, set up portable fencing on my land and became a shepherd.

Things went rather smoothly, until they didn’t. Two weeks into the experiment I looked out into my field and saw a third of the fencing was down. I raced outside to find two of the lambs safe and content, still eating grass. The third also had not run off. No, she had managed to turn the downed fence into a straight jacket. She had gotten herself hopelessly entangled, was on her side and kicking about wildly, tangling herself all the more. I remember grabbing one of the rubber “posts” and pushing the pointed metal end into the lamb’s side, trying to pin her down so I could begin to untangle her. She just kicked all the more. I was sweating, frustrated, and a smidge frightened, and screamed to this little one, my voice echoing across the valley, “Be still. I’m trying to help you.” That’s when I learned what it means to be a shepherd.
Read the rest here.

Jesus Killed My Church

I really liked Randy Bohlender's book, Jesus Killed My Church. And it wasn't just because I consider the author a friend. Neither was it only that there seemed to be so many correspondences between his journey and mine (group home parent, starting ministry in denominational churches, church planting, in the Cincinnati area, encountering and benefiting greatly from the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, becoming friends with and being coached by Steve Sjogren, etc.). It was also because it was thoroughly interesting, honest, and helpful.

Bohlender tells the story of the many twists and turns his and his wife's life of ministry has taken. He tells it honestly and with a self-deprecating humor that makes it an easy and entertaining read (I read it in under 24 hours). I especially enjoyed his account of attending Burning Man and its effects on his life and ministry, and the tale of the drunk Santa who showed up for Christmas Eve service. I read portions to my wife and daughter. And I identified intensely with him at almost every step of his quest, especially when he writes, "There is a kiss from God for those who recklessly throw themselves at Him."

I hope you'll buy and read Jesus Killed My Church. And I would love it if through it you'd learn--or have confirmed--what Randy Bohlender is saying. I did.

"This Is Who We Are" v. "This Is Where We're Going"

Tony Morgan, on his blog, recently shared a quote from Shimon Peres, and then said this:

There’s a subtle gap between vision and position that leaders can’t neglect.
Position says, “This is who we are.” Vision says, “This is where we’re going.”

Position says, “These are standards we follow.” Vision says, “These are the opportunities to embrace.”

Position says, “This is how we do it.” Vision says, “We can create a better way.”

Position says, “We need to honor our past.” Vision says, “We need to explore the future.”
Both are essential to leadership. Not all leaders know how to craft messages that address both.

Mondays with My Old Pastor

Mondays with My Old Pastor by Jose Luis Navajo is the story of a discouraged young pastor and his regular Monday "wisdom sessions" with his eighty-three-year-old former pastor. Through the course of fifteen weeks, the old pastor encourages the younger man with numerous stories, reminders, comforts, and insights, imparting along the way fifteen principles that ought to form the foundation of any pastor's--or any Christ-follower's--spiritual life.

It is a nicely crafted book, and while the old pastor's insights are not particularly earth-shaking, they are effectively and memorably imparted. Some of the portions I underlined include:

For fifty-five years we have spoken to people about God. Now we long to speak to God about people. (p. xxiii)

It is an abomination to turn the altar into a stage. (22)

You have two options: serve the Lord or work in the church. They are not the same. (44)

One of the things that can kill a congregation is to be led by people who have miles of influence but only inches of depth. Trials and adversities make us mature. (81)

Marriage is the ministry. (92)

Don't be a gourmet chef at the altar of the church. Be decisive in the kitchen, and to do that the fundamental ingredients must be the Bible, study, and prayer. (106)

[In preaching,] Don't focus on what astonishes, but rather what transforms. (116)

Dream using God's heart as a pillow. (137)

Knowledge is just an idling motor. What makes it move is attitude. (137)

It is a book well worth reading, and one that can re-orient--even rescue--a pastor's life and ministry. While at times the narrative got a bit too melodramatic or hyperbolic for my taste (which may possibly be attributed to cultural differences), it was an unfailingly interesting and helpful read.