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Two Bearded Preachers

Listen as Justin Larkin and Martin Bender talk about everything without researching anything! We discuss life, ministry, and family from a uniquely Christian perspective without getting all preachy. Like the Two Bearded Preachers facebook page and follow us on Instagram @twobeardedpreachers.
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Now displaying: Category: book reviews

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Feb 2, 2017

Martin W. Bender

Fusion is an explanation of the assimilation program Nelson Searcy utilizes in his local church. It has many practical suggestions on how a congregation can be more effective at interacting with guests and engaging them outside the walls of the church facility. The book is all about function and encouraging the reader to be intentional about moving the first-time guest into fully engaged member of the church.

Fusion is not a book on ecclesiology. In fact, the greatest frustration I had with the book was the lack of clarity concerning what the responsibilities and privileges of church membership are for the individual. He does make the point very clear that membership is for believers, but it saddens me that such a point must be made in a book discussing how to appropriately assimilate people into the church. When a congregation lacks a clear understanding of the nature of the church any assimilation program will resort to pragmatism. How pragmatic were the first Christians in the establishment and building of the church?

In my congregation, we need to do a better job of listening to our membership. The systems that have been effective in the past are no longer working due to societal shifts. With this in mind, we will begin using some of the ideas presented in the book, but at the same time, we are developing and teaching a thorough ecclesiology in order to ensure our methodology is consistent with scripture.

 

Searcy, Nelson with Jennifer Dykes Henson. Fusion: Turning first-time guests into fully-engaged members of your church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Jan 11, 2017

Martin W. Bender

Within the first few pages of Ignite, I knew where the book was going to go. Searcy references Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church by sharing the all too familiar target analogy. The idea is simple: move people from the community into the core of the congregation. This book focuses on how to bring people from the community into the crowd of folks attending so they can later move closer and closer to the center of the target: the core.

The genius of the book is that it has sequels built in. The outline is already set, all one must do is write out a methodology for moving from one group to the next, add some fictitious examples, and blammo! Book deal.

Don’t get me wrong, the book isn’t terrible. In fact, it has some good ideas in it, but it seems like a rehashing of Warren’s uber popular church growth book and I had already read that one. Anywho… let’s get on with the good stuff.

The basic gist of Searcy’s method is to have a big event that is built up for several weeks, supported through marketing channels, executed with a high degree of professionalism, and actively followed up upon. Most ministers know the days where they will have higher than average attendance. Emphasize these days, plan well for them in the preaching plan, encourage the congregation to invite folks, challenge the whole congregation to something greater on those days, and follow up with guests. That’s the whole book.

The best idea to take from Ignite is the idea of consistency in communication. Searcy seems to argue that the best boot to ground measure to take in developing an evangelistic spirit with the congregation is to continuously communicate the need of the people to evangelize. He recommends peppering all the functions of the church evangelism as a value so that people are more likely to engage in the activity. When the people internalize this oft-repeated message they will naturally begin bringing others into the crowd gathering for worship.

The worst part of the book is Searcy’s rather flippant understanding of evangelism. He tends to use the word as if it means inviting people to church. That isn’t evangelism. Evangelism is the communication of the Gospel to the nonbeliever. In the system described, the work of the church member isn’t evangelism, but an invitation to be evangelized by another. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a mistake to call something evangelism that’s really promotion. Maybe I’m just being a snob here, but it seems like a problem to me.

Ignite reads quick and has some good methods for making the most out of big days in the life of the congregation. It heavily relies upon Rick Warren and the Saddleback methodology for church growth. It has been proven effective in numerous locations around the US and may just work in your area as well. There’s nothing ground breaking in the book making it required reading, but it isn’t a waste of time either. If you hate Rick Warren, and I know some of you do, don’t bother with this one.

Searcy, Nelson with Jennifer Dykes Henson. Ignite: How to spark immediate growth in your church.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009.

Jan 4, 2017

Martin W. Bender

Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but it seems like Thom Rainer only writes one book. As I read through Who Moved My Pulpit I couldn’t help but be reminded of I am a Church Member and The Unexpected Journey. It might be because all these books share similar content (they all deal with church leadership, something Rainer certainly knows a lot about) or maybe there is a higher level of repetition in his writing than I’m used to, but it will probably be a while before I crack open another of his works. With that little caveat in mind, let’s talk about why you should always lift with your legs when moving a pulpit.

Who Moved My Pulpit is a book about how to lead change in a congregation. It may surprise some to hear that good leaders are always interested in change, but it’s the truth. Leadership is moving others toward a preferable future – notice all the change language in that statement. There is movement, that movement is directive, the destination is superior to the current location, and it is forward in time. Those are four change terms used in defining leadership. I bring all this up because the readers of this article are most likely members of the congregation I pastor and might be interested to know how I define successful leadership.

Rainer doesn’t make any incredible observations in this book. It is primarily a reminder that making changes in a congregation should be done slowly. He emphasizes prayer as the starting point and continues to repeat the need for prayer throughout the book. He also leaves the nature of the changes that need to be made up to the reader. This is very positive considering all the advice flying around the internet about church growth methodologies. Rainer assumes the reader understands the nature of the changes that ought to be made and outlines the ideal way to make it happen.

My favorite line is one he lifted from an earlier book: you make changes in a congregation the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time (it’s a paraphrase). At Glennville First Christian Church there are so many changes I’d like to make the task seems overwhelming. I make the joke that we are going to change everything twice before I’m done, but the reality is that I’d like to develop a love for change in the congregation so that it is one of our core values.

I may use Who Moved My Pulpit again, but it will likely be for the illustrations or to point congregants to an easily accessible book on leading through change.

 

Rainer, Thom S. Who Moved My Pulpit: Leading change in the church. (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2016).

Dec 6, 2016

Trigger Warning: I will always assume your gender.

 

 

The American expression of Christianity is predominantly feminine. At least that’s the premise David Murrow bases his argument on in his church growth book Why Men Hate Going to Church. As I type this in the pastor’s study at my church, a study decorated by the ladies of the church, I can see his point. The furniture is decidedly girly with weird window treatments and Thomas Kincaid looking prints on the walls… I’m picking up what he’s putting down. The décor is symptomatic of a larger cultural phenomenon taking place where I minister, the ladies run the show.

 

This picture used to hang in my office. I replaced it with A New Hope poster Leia got me for Christmas a few years ago. You can see Ms. Anne's reflection in the bottom left corner.

 

At the risk of being called a He-man-woman-hater yet again by Leia (don’t worry, she’s joking, I think), it’s high time the church exhibit an equivalent amount of masculinity as femininity. Murrow draws attention to the fact that in America, the church has become increasingly influenced by women over the years. In an ever-feminizing environment, men feel increasingly out of place resulting in poor attendance, low interest, and lagging participation on the part of men. His assessment is that the decline in participation by men has inevitably led to a decline in overall attendance at church pointing specifically to mainline denominations to prove his point.

Now, it’s important to point out that correlation is not the same as causation. Yes, the mainline denominations are more feminized than evangelical congregations. Yes, the mainline is losing membership faster than their evangelical counterparts. That does not necessarily mean the one has caused the other. I would argue that theology, particularly whether a group holds to a high view of scripture, is more likely to be the cause of decline, but as neither Murrow nor I have studied that relationship we are left to disagree. Where I do agree with the author is in the need for churches to be more intentional about engaging men with the Gospel.

The heart of the book is pointing out the areas where men are marginalized in America’s churches and suggesting ways to shift toward gender neutral appeal. This is perhaps the most surprising part of the book. Murrow never says to hang up a deer head (although I don’t see the harm in it), but to take down the doilies, cross stitched last suppers (I took one of these down in my church), and images of Jesus depicting him as soft. He recommends removing the things that are overtly feminine and begin to offer ministry opportunities where men can shine.

 

I took this down from the fellowship hall. I know someone put a ton of time into making it, but come on, people! This thing is just weird.

 

Men like a challenge, competition, and accomplishment. Too much of church language fails to communicate the challenge inherent in the gospel message. The Great Commission says to make disciples, but there is precious little discipline in today’s church. The standards have been relaxed to make sure people’s feelings aren’t hurt, completely neglecting the fact that some people deserve to have their feelings hurt. The wishy-washy results are congregations with no standards, goals, or momentum. No wonder men have lost interest, too many churches just aren’t trying to do anything. Maybe a swift kick in the pants is in order?

To reference a slightly less practical book (Fight Club), Murrow took what was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and gave it a name. Most of what he writes resonates strongly with me as my church is very much the feminized group he describes. It’s almost as if he was walking through sanctuary here in Glennville. I’ve already begun shifting to a more male friendly approach and have seen the beginning of positive results. My concern is to make this transition without alienating the ladies who have worked very hard in their ministries but have unintentionally made the church less accessible to men.

Sep 19, 2016

Martin W. Bender

The question of what the church ought to be doing is on the minds of Christians. Should the focus of the church’s actions be on evangelism? Discipleship? Helping the needy? All have a scriptural warrant, but which takes precedence? This is the question Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert attempt to answer in What is the Mission of the Church?

Their answer to the question is the Great Commission. The church ought to focus its attention on the communication of the Gospel to both itself and to the greater world. This seems like the obvious answer, but many see the church as God's means to demonstrates his benevolence. They are careful to point out that the church does have a responsibility to care for those who are in need. This is a common idea that pervades the Bible. When the church focuses on social justice to the exclusion of the Great Commission trouble occurs. 

Moral proximity is the concept that most resonated with me. It is the idea that an individual’s responsibility to help another person is limited by their relationship to that individual as relationship, time, ability, and location. One of the members of my congregation asked me how she should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. I looked her in the eye and said, “Nothing.” It wasn’t the answer she was looking for, but there was nothing physical for her to do. Outside of prayer and sending cash there were no other options. Her moral proximity to the situation was so far removed there was no way for her meet this pressing need. Herein lies the problem for today’s Christian. There is no lack of opportunity for good moral action, but there are physical limitations.

My friend Todd is working daily to help flooding victims in Louisiana. Jeremy, an old army buddy of mine, was able to drive from Florida to Louisiana to do the same. They both have an incredible opportunity to help people in need and work for the good of others. Meanwhile, I sit in Georgia doing nothing physical to help their efforts. Should I feel guilty about this? Is my church failing in their God-given task of helping others by not responding to this disaster? I think not. We live in a particular context with real limitations on how to carry out God’s work in the world. The work of the church is the communication of the Gospel. Sometimes the best way to do that is by helping flood victims but for most of us, the best way is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

This book is good if you are questioning what the church should be doing. It will be helpful for me as I attempt to move my congregation from a mainline, social justice mentality toward a Gospel focused evangelical paradigm. It reads quick and has many resources listed for further study. I did find it funny that on the same page where they said the book would not be footnote heavy there was half a page of footnotes. I liked the book and will recommend it to some of my congregants.

Sep 10, 2016

Martin W. Bender

I have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll not be finishing 100 books this year. I kept up the pace for the first few months, but Spring and Summer took a drastic toll on the number of pages I was getting through. I’ve not given up on reading entirely, though. In fact, I just finished a book I received free from Ligonier Ministries: R.C. Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian. I’ve got to say, I do enjoy a free book.

Everyone’s a Theologian is one of those short works of systematics specifically written to introduce the reader to the idea of organizing the whole of scripture topically. My favorite work in this little genre is John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord, but you probably knew that since I’m a Frame fanboy. R.C. Sproul uses his time in much the same way as Frame, sharing just a little bit of information on the main categories of systematics without getting terribly deep at any point. The book is easily accessible to adult readers but is probably a little advanced for high school students. I’ll likely use it for quick reference here and there but will look to larger systematic works for deeper study.

Dr. Sproul writes from a Reformed perspective (he is Presbyterian after all) and EaT follows that line of thinking very closely. Unsurprisingly, there are references to the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms as well as the Westminster Confession along with regular scripture references to support his theological positions. Those antagonistic to the Reformed tradition will find Sproul unapologetic and likely will find this book lacking sufficient grounds to support its claims. To them, I would point out that the book isn’t attempting to defend the Reformed perspective, but systematics as a way of understanding the Bible. In this it succeeds, but for those seeking a defense of the Reformed faith I’d steer toward another work.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book. I think it will work well for what it intends and accomplishes the goal of getting the reader to think about Christianity in terms of systematics. It would be a good tool to lead an adult Bible study through provided the readers understand the specific perspective from which the author comes. For the price I paid, I couldn’t be happier with the book.

Aug 10, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Jacob Needleman asks a timeless question in his book Why Can’t We Be Good? Namely, why do all people fail in doing good and avoiding evil. The problem of wickedness in the world is identified by everyone from the philosopher to the kindergartener. Every person sees in others and in themselves a fundamental flaw: we don’t live up to our moral standards (let alone God’s). Needleman attempts to explain this problem in light of philosophy and religion and offers up a response which on the surface seems plausible, but ultimately fails when applied.

Needleman’s answer to the ethical dilemma demonstrated daily in human living is that people have to potentiality to be good, but fail to do so because they are not yet fully human. He sees a difference between humanity as it is and what it is becoming. Man’s morality is, in essence, a glimpse of what we are in the process of becoming and tragically, part of that process is failing in the ideals that formulate our ethical standards. He traces this idea in history by linking it to values displayed in the Abrahamic religions. In doing so he demonstrates a fundamental flaw in his understanding of Christian anthropology.

Christianity’s view of mankind is that it is by nature evil. This is a result of Adam’s sin in the garden and as a consequence, the nature of man has fundamentally been changed from innocence to guilt. It is this gross misunderstanding of the Christian teaching on human nature that leads me to doubt his application of Jewish and Muslim thought as well. Needleman glosses over the concept of original sin completely, dismissing the explanations of Moses, Jesus, and Paul about human nature leaning instead upon humanistic optimism loosely tied to the traditions of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed.

Why Can’t We Be Good? Seeks to place the love an individual has for God, others, and themselves as the root of all moral behavior. Such a thought doesn’t seem terrible at face value, but fails to see that love, as a source for morality is rooted in God’s love for his people rather than the individual’s love for him. The Creator is primary in all things thus morality is rooted in the triune God rather than the perceived potentiality for goodness in man. Each individual is not on a path toward becoming good, rather some are proclaimed good on the basis of Jesus’ undeserved death.

The idea of love for the Other Needleman uses to argue for the eventual goodness of humanity did spur a thought I believe will be helpful in another area. In the soteriological argument between human free will and divine determinism (Arminianism and Calvinism, Pelagianism and Augustinianism, Monergism and Synergism, etc.) frequently the question of the individual’s love for God arises. The challenge being that love that isn’t freely given (from man to God) is meaningless. The problem with this objection is that it places the creature’s love for his Creator above the Creator’s love for his creature. Meaning that God’s love for his people is somehow secondary to their love for him. Such a thought seems ridiculous in light of passages like Galatians 2:20 and 1 John 4:19.[1]

Back to the book, Needleman provokes deep thinking on the nature of man, the interaction of individuals within society, as well as what could prompt a person to endeavor to become this idealized person who is morally good. His misuse of Christian themes due to his gross misunderstanding of Christian anthropology is unsettling and could cause immature believers to adopt a humanistic understanding of morality. In light of this, I don’t recommend Why Can’t We Be Good? Unless one has a good understanding of the biblical teaching on the nature of man.


[1] Now, before you go all crazy on me understand that I am still thinking this argument through. It came to me last night while finishing the book.

Jun 29, 2016

Martin W. Bender

When one thinks of Presbyterians evangelism doesn’t exactly come quickly to mind. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by R. C. Sproul’s little book answering the question “What is the Great Commission?” In just a few pages Sproul communicates the joys of sharing the gospel with others and how evangelism ought to be done.

This isn’t one of those instruction manuals on church growth, or organizational success. In fact, it is about as far from that as one can get. In this book evangelism is described simply, told in a simple style in an effort to relate a simple truth: sharing the gospel is something anyone can do and all who are in Christ are commanded to do. And that is the point. People seem to want a system, a checklist, and an approved method for making swift and sure converts to Christianity, but that isn’t the command. The command is to share the gospel. One doesn’t necessarily need a system for that.

Communicating the gospel to another person can be a simple as telling the story of what Jesus has done. It requires neither exhaustive knowledge of theology nor academic credentials. The only requirement is a personal experience with the gospel itself. Sproul points out the difference between education and evangelism, a difference that often gets lost in conversations about discipleship. Evangelism is sharing the wonder of Christ’s work in salvation, education is explaining the details of what has, is, and will happen. Evangelism speaks to the man where education speaks to the mind. Both are necessary, but evangelism is logically first between the two.

“What is the Great Commission” shares very briefly how the communication of the gospel is a vital part of the Christian life, Christian worship, and Christian joy.

Jun 8, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Donald Miller’s best-selling book Blue Like Jazz isn’t the type of book I’m typically interested in. It’s a diary of sorts, telling of the author’s shift from generic American evangelicalism into what seems like an “emergent” expression of the faith. For some reason the book reminded me of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. It may be the underlying criticism of the church or the crunchy granola tone, but there is definitely a sense of subtle west coast superiority that makes this southeastern feller want to bless Don’s heart.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly better than mine with a smooth conversational pace. Reading it is a lot like how I imagine the talks in the book went since reading is just another form of listening. This is probably intentional. One of the themes in the book is that Christians need to listen, that Jesus himself was a listener, and in reading one is beginning the practice Don is encouraging us to do: listen to others.

Don has some good insights. American evangelicalism is certainly far too beholden to political conservatism. Hypocrisy does exist within the church. Pat answers to critics of Christianity abound and are frequently dispensed without the slightest concern for spiritual condition of the listener. His answers to these issues, however, seem to be to tune out rather than improve the situation (another indication of his friendliness to emergent thought). He assumes the problems within Christianity are insurmountable until he finds a church that happens to agree with his alternative practice of Christian spirituality.

The book also has some theological problems. Sin is not dealt with as a serious issue. Don comments that he did not perceive the community at the college he attended as immoral, although they engaged in continual immorality. He does, however, intone that conservative Christians are immoral because they do not embrace the same moral relativism he witnessed and seems to promote. This is problematic because Christianity is built upon the notion that a holy God will not leave sin unpunished. In a book on Christian spirituality the author ignores the very reason Christian spirituality exists.

I’m not saying to avoid the book. Remember, I enjoyed it. I am saying that theologically there is a fundamental problem with the author’s understanding of the human condition and the reasons for the incarnation. It would be a good idea to combine this book with John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin to ensure one remains balanced in their understanding of sin and Christian practice.

May 20, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is an ancient minister’s manual that reflects much of what continues to be taught to those seeking pastoral positions in local congregations. Augustine essentially takes the basics of pastoral ministry and communicates to his readers methods for interpreting scripture, composing sermons, and delivering messages. He extols the use of the original languages whenever possible and emphasizes the importance of effective communication while preaching the gospel.

Perhaps the most surprising element of Augustine’s work is its similarity to modern ministerial training. He explains the great importance of rightly interpreting the text, bringing out the technique of allowing the simpler passages of scripture to explain the more difficult. This, of course, remains one the primary building blocks of biblical exegesis.

In the construction of sermons or lessons, Augustine argues in favor of the use of logical argumentation. He posits that logic is essentially an observable characteristic of God’s nature and as such should be embraced and fully utilized in the presentation of the gospel. For those familiar with Augustine’s other writings this should come as no surprise as he builds clear arguments in his sermons following a logical progression of thought.

Despite this reliance on the use of logic in developing messages, Augustine also recognizes the necessity to vary the style of delivery based on the audience, the message, and the text from which the message is derived. He sees that there is a place for different types of sermons as well as the use of another’s sermon in order to best communicate the gospel to a particular audience. In this area he takes on a very pragmatic attitude encouraging his readers to use the method that is most likely to produce the desired results. Funny how a man writing in the fifth century can be so very contemporary.

This book was difficult to get through. For all those who lament the difficulties of John Owen I’d suggest reading a little Augustine and getting over it. I’d happily read On the Mortification of Sin again before On Christian Doctrine. That being said, Augustine’s Confessions ought to be read by every Christian and will probably make it onto my reading shelf this year, but OCD was somehow brutal to me and made me hate reading for three months. I’d avoid this one unless you’re planning on going into vocational ministry. Read some of his sermons instead and you’ll be much better served.

Having read a little of “Mr. Orthodox” (that’s what one of my seminary professors called Augustine) I’m moving now to the charred remains of the emergent movement to see if there is anything left to salvage in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.

May 20, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Nothing is as it seems in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the previous books there was a clear sense of whimsy pervading the story, but entering into Harry’s fourth year there are far darker forces at play than we have seen thus far in the wizarding world. This is probably a good thing.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the happy antics of Harry and his friends in the first three novels, but coming into the Goblet of Fire I was definitely hoping for higher stakes. I didn’t really care if Gryffindor won at quidditch and I’m not concerned if Harry and Malfoy have another brouhaha over some nonsense. In this book, though, there is a much more malevolent force working behind the scenes.

My biggest gripe about the first half of the series is the lack of peril. With an enemy so terrible people refrain from even speaking his name one would think there’d be greater danger than oversized snakes and bad versions of He-Man villains. Finally, in the fourth book, we see Voldemort as his intimidating, murderous self. It’s the slow burn reveal of Harry’s enemies that make the series work for me.

This may be why J. K. Rowling’s books have been so appealing. Harry’s innocence is slowly stripped away as he becomes increasingly aware of the world around him. As children, we believe the world to be safe provided there’s enough light in the room and our parents are around. As we grow older and experience more and more of the evil in the world we recognize there are far worse things on earth than the monsters we image lurk under our beds. This is precisely what happens to Harry as he is rushed into the wizarding world with all its wonders, but then is shown the dangers that so often come along with greater power. It reminds me of Vision’s assessment of the inevitable increase in supervillains with the rise superheroes in Captain America: Civil War.

I’m a little nervous about book five. My daughter Anna has been very clear that The Order of the Phoenix is the worst of all the books, but that it is a necessary step in understanding The Deathly Hallows (her favorite). I’m trying to keep her opinion from affecting me, but it took me months to get through book four which is supposed to be one of the very best. Hopefully I’ll get through book five fast and get back into the habit of reading regularly.

Mar 4, 2016

Martin W. Bender

Tell it Slant is a discussion of the language used by Jesus to talk to the people around him and to his Father in heaven. He used everyday language, common language, the language of bedtime stories and business meetings, the language of the classroom and the playground. Jesus spoke like a regular guy, because in some ways, many ways, that’s exactly who he was. It would be a mistake, though, to think of Jesus as just a regular guy, because he was so much more than some spiritual feller with a beard reshaping the Hebrew religion.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem Tell all the truth but tell it slant speaking cryptically is the way to tell the truth. She likens the truth to lightning which is fast, bright, and powerful, but is seldom gathered in. People are startled by it, caught off guard, and occasionally crushed by its fury. This is why we soften the blow of the truth. We teach children the glories of ethics and morality in fairy tales and fables because they make the truth more palatable, they slow and dim the lightning so everyone can take a good long look at the truth. “The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.” This is precisely how Jesus spoke.

Peterson’s Tell it Slant explains how Jesus’ speech was so wonderfully different from what one might expect. His ability to teach meant he was welcome in the synagogues and the temple, but he didn’t talk like the other teachers of his day. While his colleagues constantly sourced their material in a flood of verbal citations to establish authority, Jesus spoke authoritatively. Like those first papers written freshman year, full of fire but lacking footnotes, Jesus spoke the truth and the people listened.

Stories are a language all their own. It was in this language Jesus did much of his teaching. So often parable favored lecture even when the people asked for a graduate course. At one point Jesus shares his motivation for teaching in this way. He does it so people can be ever hearing, but never understanding. What kind of teacher teaches that way? Jesus does.

Jesus’ style forces participation or frustration. The listener either dwells in the story with the shepherd, woman, and father seeking what is lost or they become lost themselves. Jesus invites those around him to join in celebration, but too often they are seeking something more familiar than the rejoicing of angels. They desire the esoteric and high over the common and lowly. Think about how ridiculous that would be to Jesus, who left the highest position in favor of the lowliest. Ever hearing, never understanding sums it up pretty well.

Tell it Slant is a walk through the parables of Luke and the prayers of Jesus. The walk isn’t rushed though. Like Jesus and his story telling style, Peterson slows the pace down, inviting the reader to look around and explore like when hiking. There is a destination, but it’s ancillary, the point is the journey. Out and back, out and back. Rehashing the same stories over and over, but they never become stale. They are always fresh because they are always true and we enjoy them over and over.

- - -

On the shelf

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling

On Christian Doctrine, Augustine

Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller

11 books down

Feb 17, 2016

Martin W. Bender

So after a few weeks of being distracted by the Next Level Leadership Conference and Valentine’s Day I’m getting back on track with my goal of reading 100 books and writing 100 blogs to go with them. Most of the books I’ve read so far have dealt with theological issues or wizards, but this post is dedicated to an entirely practical book for my work at church: George Barna’s The Power of Vision.

At Glennville First Christian Church we are in the process of developing long term plans for the future of the congregation. In order to be effective in this goal, I’ve decided to do a little reading on the importance of vision within organizations. Since it’s a church, the majority of the goals are already set in place. Ideas like preach the gospel, serve others, and worship together are in place and being practiced, but in order to have a greater impact on the community we need to become more focused on what we hope to accomplish through our efforts. Thus, a clear vision of the future is necessary.

Barna’s book on vision helps to articulate just what a vision statement is, what it should do, and how it benefits the congregation. Much of the argument for the use of vision statements in the religious world is based upon the success of similar ideas in business, but the concepts are easily applied to congregations as well. The general idea is that without a clear focus on specific outcomes it is highly unlikely such results will be achieved. Since congregations desire a particular set of outcomes having a well-conceived vision statement is both wise and helpful.

As the elders of GFCC work to establish a clear vision for the congregation I realize we are violating Barna’s advice. He clearly indicates that creating a vision for a congregation can only be done by the pastor over that congregation. He minimizes the effectiveness of consensus and directs the pastoral professional to take this task upon themselves. I respectfully disagree. If vision is in fact produced by God, as Barna repeats throughout the book, then the vision established by a plurality of elders is just as possible. The Holy Spirit can certainly work through a collection of leaders just as effectively as through one individual. At the same time, I agree with much of what the author shares in the book.

Having a clear vision allows the congregation to embrace some ministry opportunities while allowing others to pass by. One of the greater challenges my congregation faces is choosing an area in which to focus attention. As our vision statement is developed, it will become increasingly clear which areas we need to focus on and which opportunities are met by other groups.

A clear vision promotes forward thinking. As a congregation that has existed for nearly ninety years, we do a lot out of organizational muscle memory rather than from the perceived benefits that could result. This means time, energy, and money are being spent on ministries and programs that are ineffective or unnecessary. By focusing on a specific vision a congregation like mine can break out of its ruts and move in a new direction.

It is obvious from the style of this post that I’m thinking of the implications of creating a vision for GFCC rather than talking about the book itself. That is probably greater praise than I could articulate. If you a leader and would like a well thought out examination of the value of clearly communicated vision The Power of Vision: Discover and Apply God’s Plan for Your Life and Ministry by George Barna is a great place to start.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of The Power of Vision consider doing so through the Two Bearded Preachers affiliate link. It won’t make a difference in the price you pay, but it will help to support our podcasting endeavors. Thank you so much.

On the Shelf

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling

Tell it Slant, by Eugene H. Peterson

On Christian Doctrine, by Augustine

Feb 15, 2016

Martin W. Bender

This is Martin, half of the Two Bearded Preachers, taking this opportunity to move my reading blog to the podcast site. If you’ve been reading my posts on Medium you can expect more of the same except now all the posts will be hosted here. It’s an elaborate plan to get more people exposed to the show. If you haven’t heard an episode of the Two Bearded Preachers yet take a quick minute to start one while you’re reading this response to the ninth book I’ve finished this year: King’s Cross by Timothy Keller.

I have a confession to make, I’m a huge Tim Keller fanboy. I’ve listened to hours upon hours of his sermons, interviews, and lessons and even made it a point to go to The Gospel Coalition conference in 2015 just to hear him speak (I also benefitted from the other lecturers, but my motivation was mainly to see Tim). With that in mind, you’ll not be surprised that I absolutely loved this brief treatment of the Gospel of Mark.

Tim walks through Mark’s gospel sharing observation on the humanity, divinity, and wonder of the person of Jesus. He takes time to point out the differences between the ancient culture Jesus participated in and our own while showing Jesus’ presence on earth was a profound act of love on the part of our Heavenly Father. The content of the book is similar to much that is available on the life of Jesus, but presented with Tim’s pastoral and accessible writing style making the book ideal for the seeker and seasoned believer alike.

Of particular note in the book is the treatment of Jesus’ time on the cross. As Jesus is dying he cries out some of the lines from Psalm 22. He may have even recited the entire poem. It is here that the reader of Mark’s gospel, and Keller’s recounting of it, comes into contact with how Jesus viewed himself. Jesus is despised by men, seemingly abandoned by God, yet speaks of a time when the Lord is glorified. It is here, right at this moment, the moment of his death, that Jesus is most in tune with the will of God and is crushed under the burden of our sin. Tim brings this idea to the forefront and shows how great a savior we have found in Christ Jesus.

King’s Cross is a devotional on the book of Mark. It is neither heavy intellectually nor academic, but at the same time remains profound in the simple truths it communicates about the greatness of Christ. If you are looking for something pastoral in nature I highly recommend the book.

If you are interested in purchasing King's Cross please consider using our Amazon Affiliate link below. Your price stays the same, but it's a huge help to Justin and I as we use the revenue to promote the podcast. Thanks so much.

King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller (also published as Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God)

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