NoBA Book Reviews

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Monkey and the Fish

The Monkey and the Fish by Dave Gibbons. Grand Rapids: Zondervan (2009), 218 pp, $16.99 paper

Dave Gibbons builds a model of being and doing church that embraces global cultural blending and universal suffering, inviting church leaders to adopt a “Third Culture”. This vision soars off the page with J. J. Brazil’s brilliantly articulated forward before taking a nose-dive to preacher talk, charging the traditional church with the missional crime of cultural disengagement.

Gibbons describes the primary church culture in North America today as “First Culture”, that is, one ordered and understood through the dominant homogeneous culture. The “Second Culture” emerges in distinction of and opposition to First Culture, a counter-culture. Gibbons calls the Church to live among both the dominant and dominated cultures by embracing “a mindset and will to love, learn, and serve in any culture, even in the midst of pain and discomfort (p.38).”

Jesus is the incarnate Gospel and calls His followers to be salt and light in a world filled with pain and conflict. To Gibbons, “Third Culture” focuses outward, embraces diversity, and redefines norms. Third Culture churches, small by design, promote creativity in their focus to penetrate the world with compassionate service. The author advocates a question-driven ministry: Where is Nazareth? What is my pain? What is in my hand? Ministry aims to transcend the alleviation of suffering, rising to restore humanity to the sufferer.

The Monkey and the Fish illustrates this ministry approach with stories of transformation. Such communities have effectively reached into the art community, empowering new believers to use art as expressions of the Gospel. These churches have made impact among individuals in poverty, modeling how to be and do church by tangible reflections of God’s love and grace in action.

Reading this book lifts the reader’s awareness to “Matthew 25” ministries in expressing love for Jesus through serving others. Community mercy projects become more than simply helping others because “they” need it. We need it. Christian compassion is spiritual worship that restores those made in God’s own image to dignity to those serving and being served. Third Culture churches do represent one expression of church but (in my view) should not be confused as the expression of genuine community faith, as the book seems to suggest.

Hal Andre Bilbo, Missionary
Stanly Baptist Association
Albemarle, NC

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. Publisher: Porfolio, 2008, 147 pp., $19.95
Tribes is a “must read” for today’s leader! You’re probably asking, “What in the world is a tribe and why in the world does it matter?” A tribe is a group of people who are connected to one another, with a leader and with an idea. It is human nature to belong to a tribe. Tribes come in all shapes and sizes. Tribes gather around many different ideas or causes, such as political, religious, social, business, consumer, ethnic, etc.
So what? How does understanding tribes help us in our ministries or congregations? In simple terms, knowing how tribes function, and how they need and respond to leadership, is an invaluable key for effective leadership. You might call it the secret to great leadership.
If the book does nothing else, it will make you think, really think. Tribes are about connections, the kind of connections that bring people together and connect them with a leader and with a cause bigger than the tribe itself. This sounds like what we hope happens in our local churches doesn’t it? Our goal is not just to gather a crowd every Sunday. It must be about connecting and communicating. As Godin points out, “A crowd is a tribe without a leader. A crowd is a tribe without communication.” What is missing many times in churches today is the depth of commitment and inter-connection between individuals. Gathering a crowd won’t get it! Assembling the Tribe will!
A tribe has three elements: a leader, a cause and fans (tribe members who are committed and engaged with the cause). Great tribes also have genuine connectedness built on consistent communication. There are tribes committed to protecting and preserving the status quo, and others on a mission bring about change. Can you guess which tribe is thriving and which is barely surviving?
In which of these two camps do you find your tribe (your church)? Is your congregation spending more of their time, energy and resources preserving the past or creating the future? If you desire to lead your church into the latter, you’ll want to read this book. The key to an exciting, effective tribe is leadership.
In fact, this book is more about leadership than tribes and movements. It is a book that encourages and stirs up potential leaders. Tribes can’t bring about change without leaders. In fact, they aren’t really a tribe without a leader. The secret of leading a tribe is simple. “Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” We urgently need leaders today, leaders who care about change, about making a difference, and who are willing to gather a tribe and take them into the future.

Dr. Larry S. Doyle, Director of Missions
Piedmont Baptist Association
Greensboro, NC

ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church.

ReJesus:  A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church.  By Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost

Publisher, Hendrickson Publishers, 2009, pp. 204. $19.95 Paper back.

            Here is a frank, honest assessment of the Christian religion today in light of the biblical revelation of Jesus.  ReJesus is much more than just a catchy, or to some, offensive title.   It is an exploration of the connection, or lack of it, between the "way of Jesus" and the religion of Christianity as it has evolved over these 2000 plus years.  I think we could all agree that Christianity today is much different than the Christianity of Jesus’ day, or of the first three centuries.

Hirsch and Frost have written a book that is all about Jesus, about bringing Him back as the central core of discipleship, of congregational polity, of individual spirituality, of evangelism - in short, of every aspect of our lives as followers of Jesus.

Unlike the "quest for the historical Jesus" of the last century, this work is solidly based on a highly-respected view of the Scriptures.  The authors insist on returning to the primitive, original movement Jesus set in motion; a movement squarely based on the "wild and radical" life of Jesus during the first century.

            As the authors say, their desire is to "reJesus" the church - to bring everything back to the One who began the movement.  Readers are challenged to reinstate Jesus as the foundational center of their lives both individually and corporately, as a community of faith.   

"If the heart of Christian spirituality is to increasingly become like our founder, then an authentic comprehension of Jesus is critical."  It is this comprehension of Jesus that becomes the dominate theme of the entire book. 

While the book is not an "easy-read," it will challenge the reader to rethink what it means to be a "Christian" in the biblical sense of the word.  The book will challenge you to peel back the layers of tradition that, for far too long have hidden the real heart of our faith - Jesus. 

Personally, I loved the book.  But, of course, I'm a lot more missional in my thinking these days.  Whether or not you agree with everything presented in the book, you'll appreciate the desire to return to the historical roots of our faith.  It will compel you to wrestle with the meaning of Jesus outside of our cultural trappings. 


Dr. Larry S. Doyle

Director of Missions

Piedmont Baptist Association

Greensboro, NC


Monday, July 21, 2008

Effective Evangelistic Churches, Rainer

I have recently completed reading Effective Evangelistic Churches by Thom Rainer (Broadman & Holman, 1996). I’ve had this book in my stack of books to read, and finally got around to reading it. I wish I had read it sooner. I want to share with you some highlights from this book, in the hope that you will be led to read deeper on what Rainer discusses.

This book focuses on churches that have experienced evangelistic growth, not just church growth, and Rainer gained some surprising new insights from the churches surveyed. Rainer and his associates were most surprised that three factors were consistently rated as most important by the leaders of churches which were experiencing evangelistic growth. Repeatedly the leaders of the effective evangelistic churches surveyed reported that preaching was one of the most effective means of reaching people for Christ. The spoken word from the written Word is critically important in evangelism. The pulpit is powerful!

Rainer’s survey results ranked prayer ministries second only to preaching as the most important methodology in evangelistic effectiveness. Rainer reports that across our nation a powerful movement of God’s Spirit is transforming many churches from near-death to new life with evangelistic zeal. Prior to the visible manifestations of God’s Spirit through repentance, brokenness, and people coming to Christ, a new emphasis on prayer and prayer ministries touches these churches. Rarely are a majority of the church members involved, but the minority who do participate see their lives radically changed. This core of Christians provides the spark in the church that ignites an unprecedented evangelistic emphasis.

Rainer also reports that if any program-based methodology proved to be a dynamic tool for these evangelistic churches, it was the Sunday School program. Although many have pronounced the demise of Sunday School, the leaders of these growing evangelistic churches have said that the failure in Sunday School is not the program itself, but a failure to use the program as an intentional evangelistic tool. It was for this that Sunday School was designed.

Rainer reported that in addition to these top three methodologies, four others emerged as major instruments of evangelism in growing evangelistic churches. Relationship evangelism, often through Sunday School classes, but also apart from them, is the fourth most effective tool in reaching people for Christ. In relationship evangelism, Christians share Christ with those with whom they have developed a relationship, which enables them to have a hearing from those with whom they are sharing Christ.

In spite of other studies of growing churches which made the conclusion that traditional outreach is on the decline, over half of the leaders of growing evangelistic churches reported that one of their most effective evangelistic tools is a weekly outreach program. Only four other methodologies fared better that a weekly outreach program. One associate pastor stated, “People have been resistant to the gospel for 2000 years. It’s not a new phenomenon. But the responses of the lost should not determine the obedience or lack of obedience of the saved” to fulfill the Great Commission by going to the unsaved and presenting Christ.

A large number of growing evangelistic churches also use intentional youth evangelism, not just youth programs, as one of their primary evangelistic methodologies. In these churches both staff and lay leaders seek ways to reach teenagers for Christ in everything they do.

The seventh significant conclusion Rainer deduced from his survey of effective evangelistic churches is that music can be an effective evangelistic tool. They discovered that no single music or worship style predominates in the growing evangelistic churches, but a formal, liturgical style was unlikely in most of the churches. They were also surprised to learn that in these churches surveyed there was a general aversion to services designed explicitly for seekers.

While several other methodologies were given by various growing evangelistic churches, these top seven were the most commonly mentioned. If you would like to see what other methodologies were given, or would like to learn more about what Rainer and his team learned by surveying the leaders of effective, growing evangelistic churches, I recommend borrowing or buying this book and reading it in depth yourself. It is an easy read and worth the investment of time and/or money.

Jim Marcus, DoM
Gennesse Baptist Association

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope

Author: Brian D. McLaren
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2007

Before you read this book review, let me ask you something. Do you enjoy reading books that make you think; the ones that make you uncomfortable, and lead you to face difficult questions and answers? If not, this book is not for you, because it will definitely take you out of your comfort zone.

If, on the other hand, you are challenged by people who are bold enough to ask the tough questions, discuss the sometimes, uncomfortable answers, and who challenge you to rethink everything you believe, then, this book is for you. If you feel that way, I highly recommend Brian McLaren’s latest book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.

More than ten years ago, McLaren identified two penetrating questions. He wanted to know, “What are the biggest problems in the world?” and “What does Jesus have to say about these problems?” McLaren saw these two questions as a huge challenge to the church, and sought to answer them. These two questions and their answers, became McLaren’s obsession for ten years, and were the impetus for writing the book. What you find in this work is, in a very real sense of the word, a personal quest for answers, a journey that took him literally, around the world.

His travels through Africa, Asia and Latin America brought him face to face with the manifestations of the broken, dysfunctional, and suicidal systems that have created these crises.

The author spends much of the first seven chapters identifying the "systems" that contribute to the global crises we face today: the prosperity crisis, the equity crisis, the security crisis, and the spirituality crisis.

Even though I did not always agree with his assumptions and conclusions, I could not avoid asking myself this question, "Does our interpretation of Jesus' message honestly address, and deal with the urgent issues mankind faces today?" More importantly, "Do we even understand the issues?"

Reading this book did one thing for me. It challenged me to be more cognizant of the "here and now"; to be more in the moment.

The bottom line of this book is the revolutionary hope found in the message of Christ. He insists, "Jesus offers a new way of life and it changes everything."

What Jesus offers is not just a new system of beliefs, nor is it just a promise of eternal life after death. The message of Jesus Christ impacts every area of human existence, and its significance should not be reduced. It is a “revolution of hope,” demanding radical commitment and response.

The best use of this book would be in a small group setting for pastors or leaders. It is not a book for everyone, and certainly is not for those who only want easy answers. Nothing about this book is easy. It will make you take a second look at how you see the role of Christians in the world today. It is a fresh, provocative approach to the message of Jesus Christ, and how the message addresses the economic, environmental, military, political and social dysfunction plaguing our world today. I learned a lot.

Reviewed by
Dr. Larry S. Doyle,
Director of Missions
Greensboro, NC

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Get A Life! It Is All About You

Author: Reggie McNeal

Publisher: B&H Publishing, June 2007

When I've felt like telling someone to, "Get a life!" I wasn't necessarily thinking about helping them discover purpose and meaning in their life. Reggie McNeal, on the other hand, is thinking just that! This book was written for those who are searching for a reason to live, for those who have felt like giving up on life, and for those who just feel in their gut there must be more to life than what they have experienced. To those of us who have struggled with issues like these, he says, "Get a Life!" McNeal invites his reader into an interactive dialogue centered on five penetrating questions:

  • Why am I here?
  • What is really important to me?
  • What is my scorecard?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I need to learn?

Going against a popular sound bite that continues to echo through many Christian circles today, McNeal insists, "It really is all about you." He invites you to take a look at you, to have an honest conversation with you, to take time for you, and to ultimately make sure you "get a life while you are hanging around on this planet."

You can read the book through as I did. You'll find a ton of great ideas that will inspire and motivate you to think about how you might get more out of life. However, I suggest you use the book as a workbook and journal. Throughout each chapter, the author pauses to allow you an opportunity to reflect on what you've read, to interact with the ideas he has presented, and then to record any actions you will take to put these ideas into practice. It becomes something of a personal journal of discovery. It would also be great to use with a small group, or as a couple.

My heart resonates with the information McNeal presents in chapter three, "What is my scorecard?" In many ways, the discussion on keeping score, is the heart of the book. Learning how to "keep score", means learning how to accept responsibility for whether or not we "get a life", and with what that life looks like. Like the old adage says, "If you have no target, you can't miss it."

The book would be a great conversation starter with un-churched people. It is written in a manner and a vocabulary that is understandable to people without a religious/church background. The last chapter invites the reader to address the question of his or her relationship with God. McNeal then ends with these words, "If you don't get a life, you don't become the you God had in mind when he created you." (p. 166).

Well-written and thought-provoking ... it is one you shouldn't miss.

Reviewed by
Dr. Larry S. Doyle, Director of Missions
Piedmont Baptist Association
North Carolina

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without

Author: Tom Rath
Publisher: Gallup Press, 2006

Friendship is the most fundamental of all human needs. Jesus said, “Greater love has not man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The words, “friend” and “friendship,” have lost some of their meaning today, however. If you were to ask ten people to define “friend” or even “best friend,” you’d get ten different answers. Yet, everyone acknowledges the importance of friends.

But, do we know just how vital friends really are?

I was intrigued by the title of this book, “Vital Friends” because the word vital carries the idea of something this is essential, indispensable, or something you cannot live without. Based on decades of research, this author explores the basic characteristics of friendships that add value to relationships, and then organizes them into eight descriptive categories.

With the purchase of the book, you are given access to a web-based assessment tool that helps you identify the distinct roles that your friends play in your life on a daily basis. The measurement-based language helps you describe and build upon what is right in your interpersonal relationships. The assessment takes about five minutes per friend. When the assessment is completed, you are provided a report that lists the top three vital roles that each friend plays in your life. With this information, you will be able to focus attention on the roles these friends play, and identify the opportunities for true growth in your relationships.

A great book! This is an amazing assessment tool that can help us recognize the positive potential in our friendships!

Reviewed by:
Dr. Larry S. Doyle, Director of Missions
Piedmont Baptist Association
Greensboro, NC.