Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: "When Better Isn't Enough"

TITLE: WHEN BETTER ISN'T ENOUGH - Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church
AUTHOR: Jill M. Hudson
PUBLISHER: Herndon, VI: The Alban Institute, 2004, (170 pages)

When Better Isn't Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21St-Century Church
This is a book about evaluating and measuring Church work and workers. It is about the need to change and to grow. Both are critical. Using 12 measurement 'tools,' Hudson helps readers to intelligently and practically put in place a template for enabling the Church and the workers to grow and to change accordingly. The two myths that are stated are helpful in setting the state for change and growth. The first is the myth that one can change without growing. Without the openness to change, congregations wrongfully assume that things can easily remain the same way, even though no growing is done. The second is the myth that one can change without conflict. This is another of those popular sentiments of measuring Christian love according to how 'nice' people are to one another.

Hudson is very aware of the postmodern climate. She describes such a climate as one that is like:
  • The belief that knowledge is certain and truth can be objectively sought; This gives rise to a higher authority given to science and technology;
  • Rise in women rights and a fight for a more level playing field;
  • Lower trust in institutions;
  • Culture is increasingly open to alternatives, like medicine, ecology, atheism,
  • Experience is the new yardstick to morals, ethics, and values;
  • The wide variety of choices.
  • 'postmoderns want to stand out, not fit-in.' (10)
  • Relative truth
Hudson proposes that the new postmodern church pastor must reflect the following 12 characteristics (p32):
  1. The ability to maintain personal, professional, and spiritual balance.
  2. The ability to guide a transformational faith experience (conversion).
  3. The ability to motivate and develop a congregation to be a 'mission outpost' (help churches reclaim their role in reaching new believers).
  4. The ability to develop and communicate a vision.
  5. The ability to interpret and lead change.
  6. The ability to promote and lead spiritual formation for church members.
  7. The ability to provide leadership for high-quality.
  8. The ability to identify, develop, and support lay leaders.
  9. The ability to build, inspire, and lead a 'team' of both staff and volunteers.
  10. The ability to manage conflict.
  11. The ability to navigate successfully the world of technology.
  12. The ability to be a lifelong learner.
Each characteristic is then followed by a set of questions for the pastor to examine himself with. There are also questions for the board or review committee to ponder about. 

My Comments
I read this book with some caution. While the book directs the 12 characteristics at the postmodern church pastor, it comes across as one that is too pastor-centric. It centers on ability more than quality. It looks like a skill driven list rather than a list to enable some kind of a fit between church, pastor, leaders, and congregation. I understand that Hudson is targeting pastors and Church leaders. After all, evaluation is usually most relevant to these people.

I think that such a book is a good kickstart to any evaluation exercise. It should not be the only tool used. I personally prefer it to be used alongside a team-directed kind of a evaluation exercise. Doing Church is a team effort. It cannot be completely thrown at any one person. The book does well on the nitty-gritty of church work. Most importantly, it requires the affirmation of the traditional facets of Christian faith, and an awareness of the changing postmodern environment. The book will be better helped with more biblical content, and the application of it. This is my main critique. How did Hudson draw from the Bible the 12 characteristics? What about the explicit preaching of the Word? What about the prayer life?

That said, this book is a certainly a book where 'better' is not quite enough.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: "Prayer" (James Houston)

TITLE: THE PRAYER - Deepening your friendship with God
AUTHOR: James M. Houston
PUBLISHER: David C. Cook, 2007, (320 pages).

The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God (Volume 3, Soul's Longing Series)This classic by the much respected co-founder of Regent-College has gone through many revisions, especially the title. It was first published under the title "Prayer: The Transforming Friendship" by Navpress in 1996. Subsequent editions come under the title: "The Transforming Power of Prayer" also by Navpress in 1999. The edition here is part 3 of a soul longing series of books by Cook Communications.

Prayer is Dr Houston's best subject on spirituality. In line with the soul longing theme, Houston argues that the core of every human soul is an intimacy with God, and this is wrought through an earnestness in developing a deep friendship with God in prayer.

Key Themes
  • Prayer is 'keeping company with God.'  (Clement of Alexandria)
  • Prayer is more of a relationship rather than a performance
  • Prayer is 'profoundly guided by what we believe and by how we behave'
  • Prayer is both right living and right thinking;
  • It is because we have been born again, we need to learn to live again;
  • Our whole lives are shaped by the 'life and spirit of prayer'

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: "Doing God's Business"

TITLE: DOING GOD's BUSINESS - Meaning and Motivation in the Workplace
AUTHOR: R. Paul Stevens
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Doing God's Business: Meaning and Motivation for the MarketplaceThis is a book that deals more with the meaning and motivation of work, rather than method. The premise that if we understand the ‘why’ we will naturally find ways to learn the ‘how.’ Meaning is grounded in theology. By this, it means the core foundations of business to be seen as a calling, ministry, community building, mission and globalization. Motivation explores a marketplace spirituality that search for wholeness, inspiration and integration that empower us to give one’s best.

The author weaves in a lot of material into this book. Using his experience as a businessman, a clergy, as well as well-read educator, Stevens shares his perspective of work as "God's Business." The book attempts to do 6 things:

  1. It provides a theological framework for marketplace activity;
  2. It highlights the importance of understanding corporate culture, and how to cultivate it;
  3. It explains how faith is linked to vocation, work, and ministry toward meaningfulness;
  4. It says that spirituality is not about cranking up motivation for tired workers, but is in itself a source of creativity and entrepreneurship;
  5. It helps us to deal with awkward ethical dilemmas;
  6. It suggests a plan to practice contemplation amid a demanding environment.
Part One of the Book deals with MEANING, which calls readers toward developing and cultivating a marketplace theology. Whether it is a for-profit business, or a non-profit ministry, the meaning is understood in terms of calling, not career. Part Two deals with MOTIVATION. Here, Stevens provides lots of examples and illustrations that spirituality rightly understood and practiced, is by itself a source of integrity, creativity, and holy. 

I like this book because of the simplicity of meaning and motivation. Both are important. Both inform each other. Both points to the essence of marketplace theology and practice. Having said that, I find that the book does not have a lot of new ideas from Stevens' previous books on marketplace theology. At times, some of the ideas appear to be 'forced-in' rather than 'eased-out.' For instance, we have local matters as well as globalization. We have ancient spirituality as well as modern technology. This is one of the downsides of encapsulating too many different topics in one word: "Marketplace."

For that, to be fair to Stevens, 'marketplace' can mean so many things to so many people. Perhaps, the topic in itself is too multifaceted for developing any single idea. 

I still recommend this book for your benefit as it is still a well-written book. 


Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: "Naming the Silences"

TITLE: NAMING THE SILENCES - God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering
AUTHOR Stanley Hauerwas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1990, (154 pages).

While many books talk about pain, suffering, evil, and the existence of God, Hauerwas takes a different tack. While most people seem fixated on questions such as: "When or Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?" Hauerwas questions the question. He points out the faulty thinking behind the question surrounding pain and suffering. That is why the author makes no attempt to try to explain away evil and suffering. The book is a way to question this question in such a way to show that theodicy and the problem of suffering is not to be explained but named.

According to Hauerwas, while he recognizes that there is a legitimate need for sufferers, and people in pain to find an explanation for life's pressing questions, he is more interested to tackle the 'question' behind the question, made famous by Harold Kushner.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book: "Why Revival Tarries"

AUTHOR: Leonard Ravenhill
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2004.

Why Revival TarriesThis book is a classic book on prayer and revival.Written back in 1959, it has gone through many reprints by different publishers. That era boasts of fiery preachers like A W Tozer. They preach without compromise. They teach without fear of offending the world. Leonard Ravenhill's is a gift to the evangelical world to call them to the fundamentals of revival: Prayer and Unction from the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the book, the author blasts prayer apathy. He attacks the prayerlessness in churches. He lambasts the preachers who get by the pulpit with their own manmade intelligence rather than the spiritual power of God. Above all, why revival tarries is because people do not pray well. Preaching needs the unction of the Holy Spirit. Eternity needs to be grasped. People need the fullest vision of hope in the midst of helplessness, holiness of heaven despite the hellishness of hell. The Church needs strong men of God. All of these are necessarily tied to prayer and prayerfulness. Without prayer, one depends more on self instead of on God.

Prayer precedes all manner of Christian work. Without prayer, preaching is but a place to showcase one's oratorical talent. Without prayer, preaching turns from soul-hot to dead-cold. Without prayer, bones remain dry. Prayerlessness breeds unbelief. Prayerlessness douses courage. Prayerlessness builds empire for self rather than God.

This is perhaps one of the best books to stir us to pray more, and to depend on God. It is a laserlike focus to rev the Church to take God more seriously in prayer. As I read this book, I feel the temperature in my heart rise. It is not a book to be trifled with. If you pick this book up and read, be prepared to be changed. Be prepared to be moved. Most importantly, be prepared to pray.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.