Here are the second five of my top ten books for 2013. They are not always religious books but they are interesting and helpful. With each book I enclose information provided by Amazon.com followed by my comments: “Why I recommend this book.”
“Emergence Christianity: What it Is. Where it’s Going and Why it Matters” by Phyllis Tickle. Whatever else one might say about Emergence Christianity, says Phyllis Tickle, one must agree it is shifting and re-configuring itself in such a prodigious way as to defy any final assessments or absolute pronouncements. Yet the insightful and well-read Tickle offers us a dispatch from the field to keep us informed of where Emergence Christianity now stands, where it may be going, and how it is aligning itself with other parts of God’s church. Through her careful study and culture-watching, Tickle invites readers to join this investigation and conversation as open-minded explorers rather than fearful opponents. Anyone involved in an emergence church or a traditional one will find here a thorough and well-written account of where things are–and where they are going.
Why I recommend this book: Through a careful study of historic trends, Phyllis Tickle is able to describe where the church universal is today and what our likely future is. For example, in Chapter 5: “It was between the two great world wars that European Christians first began to evidence documentable movement away from attendance at or involvement with, established church in whatever form it appeared. Concomitantly and somewhat paradoxically, however, there was the beginning of the so-called house church form of worship that had been the norm for the early church of the first and second centuries.” This linking of historical trends paints an interesting and compelling story of the church.
“Not A Fan: Becoming A Completely Committed Follower of Jesus” by Kyle Idleman. Are you a follower of Jesus? Don’t answer too quickly. In fact, you may want to read this book before you answer at all. Consider it a ‘Define the Relationship’ conversation to determine exactly where you stand. You may indeed be a passionate, fully devoted follower of Jesus. Or, you may be just a fan who admires Jesus but isn’t ready to let him cramp your style. Not a Fan calls you to consider the demands and rewards of being a true disciple. With frankness sprinkled with humor, Idleman invites you to live the way Jesus lived, love the way he loved, pray the way he prayed, and never give up living for the One who gave his all for you.
Why I recommend this book: How committed are you as a follower of Jesus? You may not like this book if you are comfortable but if you desire something more, this is a must read. For example, in Chapter three: “In the Bible, we read about a group of religious leader’s known as the Pharisees The Pharisees knew a lot about God. When someone wanted to play “Bible Trivial Pursuit,” “God-opoly,” or “Bible Baseball” they would dominate. They knew about God but what we discover is they really didn’t know him.” If you read this book, be prepared for a life changing challenge.
“Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World” by Jorge Acevedo. What behaviors do highly vital congregations have in common? How can all congregations move toward greater vitality? In Vital, Jorge Acevedo passionately and effectively reveals how Grace Church in Cape Coral, Florida, has developed behaviors that result in vital and fruitful ministry. Focusing on spiritual pastoral leadership, lay leadership development, worship, small groups, and service and mission, Acevedo both inspires and coaches. He helps leaders of congregations act in their own contexts to develop behaviors essential to vitality, as identified by the recent study of 32,000 United Methodist congregations.
Why I recommend this book: Jorge Acevedo is a pastor who personally experienced and led a “Vital Congregation” and is willing to share those experiences with you. In chapter four on small groups, Jorge writes: “The first followers of Jesus experienced a community of faith together more vivid than any High Def IMAX, 3D movie watched alone. The missing fuel for many Christ-followers spiritual growth is not just a crowd but the awe that comes when the Holy Spirit unites us. The result among the first followers of Jesus was that they grew spiritually. They had in mind the common good over their personal gain. They were generous with their resources and experienced joy together.” If you are serious about being part of a Vital Congregation then you will appreciate Jorge Acevedo and this book.
“Lord, I Love the Church and We Need Help” by Virginia O. Bassford. Do we ask too much? No, we’ve asked too little. Change, chaos, confusion – how can a pastor make sense of it all? The tap root of United Methodism goes deep into fertile soil – firmly planted in Scripture and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Our theology is rich and grounded into the depths of community and accountability, but the way we live out that theology is wide and deep– both bane and blessing. United Methodists are neither blown away like chaff nor root-bound. Our calling is still to strive to be methodically faithful and alive in Spirit. This is our heritage and our vision. But will we dare to lean into the winds of change and be strengthened by the challenges we find? Only with God’s help.
Why I recommend this book: Reading, “Lord, I Love the Church and We Need Help” by Virginia Bassford is like reading about a church down the street. Virginia describes experiences that are so personal and easy to understand that you feel as if you are there with her. But don’t be fooled by her wonderful stories. This is a serious book about the struggles we face as churches, more specifically United Methodist churches. Virginia writes: “Leadership is an art. Leadership is not a position in rank. In fact, as I’ve experienced it, leadership happens in moments of time, not in great spans of forty years.” As a fellow pastor, I especially appreciate the stories and the insight Virginia O. Bassford provides.
“Effective Staffing for Vital Churches” by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny Brittian. Well-staffed churches grow. But how do churches staff for growth in these rapidly changing times when budgets are tight, mission opportunities abound, and there is a growing shortage of qualified pastors, staff members, and church leaders? Two veteran pastors and church growth consultants offer workable solutions that focus on the four core processes vital to church health and growth: bringing people to Christ and the church, retaining them, discipling them, and sending them back out into the world. They also show pastors how to navigate the leadership transitions they must make to become increasingly effective as the church grows. Pastors will learn how to be leaders who multiply leaders and develop a mission-minded staff that does the same.
Why I recommend this book: Unless you are a pastor or will be actively working with, hiring or evaluating staff, this is not a book you would likely want to read. For that reason, “Effective Staffing for Vital Churches” almost didn’t make the list. Here is why it did make the list: the advice is so valuable whether you are leading small, medium or large churches. “We believe every church is missional, or it isn’t a church. We believe every true church is focused more on transforming the world than on building up its own membership. We also believe churches that sit around waiting for people to come to them have stopped being a church.” (Chapter one)
Am I at ten books already? What a shame, there are so many more that I would love to suggest. Oh well, this summer I hope to recommend ten more. Meanwhile, happy and blessed reading. More importantly, may your reading lead to deeper understanding and may your understanding be guided by the Holy Spirit toward becoming a more deeply committed disciple of Jesus Christ ready and able to transform the world.