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Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: "Transformational Church"

TITLE: TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCH - Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations
AUTHOR: Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2010, (256 pages).

This book is an interesting blend of quantitative and qualitative analysis that leads to a strategic plan for churches to become a 'transformational church' or TC for short. The old scorecard for church health basically revolves around 3 Bs: "Bodies, Budgets, and Buildings." In other words, churches measure their health through numbers, dollars, and the physical structures they have. Unfortunately, many of these do not lead to real spiritual growth as depicted by the New Testament. This book contains many valuable insights for us to consider and re-consider how we can transform our own churches.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Review: "The Irresistible Church"

TITLE: The IRRESISTIBLE CHURCH - 12 Traits of a Church Heaven Applauds
AUTHOR: Wayne Cordeiro
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN, Bethany House Publishers, 2011, (176 pages)

What makes a Church irresistible to heaven? Like iron filings that are attracted to a horse-shoe magnet, a Church that possesses these 12 traits will be irresistible to heaven, and subsequently to the community it is in. The author points out that the main audience is God in heaven, and that the book is not about making the church palatable to humans, but is lived primarily for God. The author describes an irresistible church as follows:

"An irresistible church is not a perfect church. Rather it is one that is constantly aligning itself to pleasing God. It is a people who position their hearts carefully and deliberately with the tenets of the kingdom so that God is pleased to work in unrestricted ways. God is irresistibly drawn to a church where every activity, every plan, and every leadership decision clearly displays His heart." (12)

The author hopes that the 12 traits proposed will accomplish all of the following:

"When an idea enters our head, it's called information.
When it touches our heart, it's called inspiration.
But when it bleeds out our toes and fingernails, it's called incarnation." (19)
The 12 Traits of an Irresistible Church

  1. An Irresistible Church Hungers for God;
  2. An Irresistible Church Remembers Who She Is;
  3. An Irresistible Church Lives Heart First;
  4. An Irresistible Church Practices Gratefulness;
  5. An Irresistible Church Promotes Healthy Relationships;
  6. An Irresistible Church Is Always Learning;
  7. An Irresistible Church Promotes Spiritual Self-Feeding;
  8. An Irresistible Church Connects Everything to a Soul;
  9. An Irresistible Church Chooses to Love;
  10. An Irresistible Church Takes Risks;
  11. An Irresistible Church Humbles Itself;
  12. An Irresistible Church Has a Plan.

My Comments

Unlike most how-to books which talk about techniques and various methods to get things done, Cordeiro focuses on bringing insight to the idea of an irresistible Church to God first, then to people. His formula is simply this:

Experience + Reflection = Insight;

There are 5 things I like about the book. Firstly, it has an enticing title. The idea of an 'irresistible church' is in itself 'irresistible.' A good book with solid content needs a way to draw people in. Boring titles do the book, the potential reader, the publisher, book distributors, as well as the author themselves a disservice. I feel that the title and the image of a magnet is a brilliant way to invite casual browsers to pick up this book to browse.

Secondly, the content is engaging. With each point made, the author weaves in his own stories, illustrations to demonstrate the point. This keeps the reader mentally awake, often looking for more.

Thirdly, it is enabling. For example, in Trait 8, Cordeiro helps us to link what we do to the big picture of what Church is about. 'Everything connects to a soul.' With great insight, he connects simple acts of service to the overall big picture of God's mission. I especially like the encouragement he gives to the volunteer setting up the sound system, and the woman volunteering in the nursery. I have no doubt that those people having given a fresh look at their contributions to the work in the Church, will be energized and recharged to do more.

Fourthly, it is encouraging. I have read many books that focuses on church-basing and people-smashing so much that after reading them, one feels drained and guilty to the point of despondency. This book is different. It is gently encouraging. One reads the book with many a 'Aha!" followed by encouraging 'Atta-boys." At the end of each chapter, the author ends with a promise, followed by an action step. It is a way of saying that there is hope. There is an opportunity to try again. And again. And again.

Fifthly, the book is enjoyable. The stories are nice. The quotes are captivating. The testimony is heartening. The main ideas in the book are well enforced with highlights reinforced throughout the chapters.

I like this book primarily because it is focused more on 'being church' rather than 'doing church.' He knows that busyness and frantic activities can easily drain a church. By orientating the church toward becoming pleasing to God first, we will naturally become irresistible to all. When one comes back to the basics of being the Church God wants, people will feel energized and charged up to be the irresistible church. Great book!

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: "Netcasters"

TITLE: NETCASTERS - using the Internet to make fishers of men
Author: Craig von Buseck
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, (192 pages).

This is a book that bridges the Christian's biblical mandate to reach the world for God, with the new opportunities and avenues of outreach. It shows readers the way to make evangelism methods relevant. In a nutshell, the author believes that Internet Evangelism (IE) is the new normal as far as evangelism is concerned. IE is here to stay. One needs to meet the people where they are. The Church needs to speak the language of the modern population. The Christian needs to be adept and versatile in an environment that is heavily influence by technology and new social media.

'Netcasting' is essentially reaching people for Christ using the Internet. The author describes netcasters as:
"people who share Christ on the Internet - are part of the air forces, which include bloggers, people with affinity sites, people who work on chat and message board forums, television ministries, radio ministries and so on." (102)

The book is structured with 12 chapters. Beginning with a call to 'cast an electronic net,' the author then works on explaining his premise for the call to do more, not less of IE. He then works on the biblical case for doing evangelism on the Internet, saying that it is a 'calling' for the modern Church to do. One needs to harness the opportunities of the Internet (21). He provides tips for equipping one for IE (32). He suggests IE methods to meet people (42). He goes through a wide range of tools, from Conversations 1.0 (Email, message boards), Conversations 2.0 (chats, online mentoring), to modern Social Media networks. There are loads of material here and readers will find many rich offerings of all kinds. The author weaves in both the old technologies and the new. He ends with a call for the Christians to be equipped for the new era, to become Netcasters via the 'fishing village.'

My Comments
This is an important book for the Christian public. It is also a crucial read for Church leaders who downplay Internet evangelism. Anyone who misses the IE opportunity will be missing not only new ways to reach out, but leaving out a big chance to touch all lives in new ways. IE allows one to connect both local and global. It has a wide reach. The author gives readers a lot of tools and tips to learn from. It is a treasure cove of information, of IE resources, of primers in social networking, and Internet usage. The author is an expert in media and information for the masses. He understands how information is flowing, and the mind of the up and coming generation. The old is past. The new has come.

I believe that Netcasters need to 'connect' first and move toward a 'conversation' before even dreaming about conversion. The tools in the book provide a welcome primer for anyone desiring to venture into IE. It is not enough just to know how to use the tools. One needs to exercise discernment when and when NOT to use the new media. For this reason, the author appear much too optimistic to the point of elevating IE beyond its realistic level. I understand his excitement and passion about the opportunities the Internet has afforded. However, the downsides of IE have not been covered as much. As I read the book, it appears more like a passing mention rather than a sustained argument for practicing discernment. I can understand the convictions of the author. Perhaps, the book will present a more balanced perspective if there is a co-author, a newbie or someone who holds conventional outreach on one hand, and preparing to use IE on the other hand.

Ratings: 3.75 stars of 5.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: "Disconnect"

AUTHOR: Devra Davis
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton, 2010, (274 pages).

This book is essentially about the dangers of cell phone radiation. The author, a scientist herself with a PhD in Science studies is currently involved in the toxicology and environmental studies board at the US National Academy of Sciences. In a compelling book that argues against the existing widespread nonchalance about the dangers of cell-phone usage, she highlights several 'disconnects' that lead to the beginning of a long-term demise of our mental and physical health. Some of her concerns include:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book Review: "Max on Life"

TITLE: MAX ON LIFE - answers and insights to your most important questions
AUTHOR: Max Lucado
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (260 pages)

This is a book of wisdom given via short snippets in a style that is truly Lucado. The question and answer format makes this book highly readable. With gentle and calming answers to some of the most difficult questions of life, Max comes across like a wise man, a friend, a pastor, and a dear brother in Christ. His words are convicted but not controlling. His insights are served with a dose of imaginative prose that proves again why Lucado is one of the evangelical world's favourite writers.

Lucado uses alliteration to express 7 kinds of questions. Under HOPE, he addresses issues surrounding faith in God, salvation, purpose, and grace. Under HURT, he deals with the tough issues of pain, suffering, and different conflicts people face. Under HELP, Lucado gives his take about Church, Christian disciplines, and Christian practices like prayer. Under HIM/HER, he deals with relationships, sex, adultery, romance, marriage, divorce and others. Under HOME, he tackles the tough issues surrounding parenting. Under HAVES/HAVE-NOTs, he talks about work matters, financial stuff, and dealing with the modern pressures of work life. Under HEARAFTER, he writes about the future, aging and the afterlife.

What I like about this book is the pastoral tone throughout. Lucado manifests understanding of the layperson. He is not easily swayed by worldliness in the world, and encourages readers to hang on to hope in God. At the same time, Lucado is never shallow theologically. While the writings display a high degree of readability, it does not mean Lucado is uninformed about theological doctrines and scholarship. Some scholars may mistakenly assume that Lucado's writings are geared more to the popular audience in mind. I beg to differ. Truth and wisdom can be dispensed in both easy-to-read snippets, as well as heavy and bulky theological compendiums. This book may look like snippets, but then, isn't our life filled with snippets too?

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review: "A Promise of Forever Love"

AUTHOR: Vanessa Miller
PUBLISHER: New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2011, (144 pages)

This is a novel of love being given a second chance. Beginning with the key characters like Pastor Yvonne Milner, and co-pastor Thomas Reed, the novel highlights the role of grace during a time of disgrace, hope during moments of despair, and love that meanders through the ups and downs of various relationships. In all of these, there is a strong recognition that because God has given the human race a second chance, we all need to give one another a second chance.

Author Vanessa Miller weaves a beautiful story of love being given a second chance. Yvonne and Reed, who have both lost their spouses were given a second chance at love. Yvonne's rebellious daughter, Tia, got a second chance to redeem her life, despite her unwed pregnancy. Even Tia's shotgun marriage which failes to take place as schedule was given a second chance. The same also applies to Toya, whose romance with Marvel Williams took a sinister turn for the worse. She too got her second chance.

The twists and turns in the story make this book a compelling read. The surprises keeps the reader interested. Though this is a Christian novel, the shared themes of forgiveness, grace, love, courage, and many meaningful themes are applicable to all. Non-Christians should not feel too left out.

Good story.

Ratings: 4 of 5


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: "Killing Cockroaches"

TITLE: Killing Cockroaches - And other Scattered Musings on Leadership
AUTHOR: Tony Morgan
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2009, (256 pages).

This is a clever book with an interesting title. The cover looks like an introduction to methods on how to eradicate an ugly insect. (My family literally hates this bug.) The introduction looks like an Index column that normally appears at the back of a typical book. The main text in the book looks like snippets of blog posts on the Internet put together. While the structure of the book, the cover, the table of contents, and the chapter snippets are somewhat unconventional, the advice given out are brilliant and creative. Tony Morgan does have a way with words. Many contain flashes of innovation and remarkable insight.

Written in point forms, with quick hits on important observations and ideas, the author manages to make this book one that is quick to read, easy to understand, and convenient to pick up where one has left. Due to the brevity of the chapters, one can finish a chapter quickly, and then ponder on the thoughts slowly. Written with a Christian leader in mind, Morgan, himself a pastor, begins by using the cockroach metaphor. Too many well-intentioned leaders spend their time addressing the symptoms (killing cockroaches) instead of dealing with the source. For the fun of it, the author puts in some standard advice on how to actually get rid of cockroaches. On the serious side, the author has important things to say about a wide range of things.

He dispenses advice on traditional topics like leadership, agreeing on God's will, getting people to be more involved in decision making, generating ideas to make church services more interesting, and so on. At the same time, he gives good tips on building up good church web sites, how to blog, anticipating and encouraging change, communications, making church more inviting, and so on. This book seems to hit on so many things that it is quite difficult to hem the book down into any one genre. Perhaps, the 'a fresh new kind of church movement' may seem like a more appropriate label.

My Comments
Personally, I find the book filled with starts and stops. There is not much of a narrative to follow. Neither is there a central teaching theme to adopt. The more I read it, while there is much to learn from Morgan about his thoughts, and brilliant ideas, I have the strangest feeling that this book is itself a victim of the cockroach killing paradigm. In other words, all the individual chapters are by themselves various methods of killing various cockroaches. For a book that tries to teach people to get out of the killing cockroach paradigm, there is a sense that the book is itself unwittingly doing that. In this manner, the book is an oxymoron.

I will read this book cautiously, (especially for young Christians) because of the lack of explicit biblical references. I am not sure if it is a deliberate exclusion, to garner a wider readership. Thus, I will hesitate to recommend this as a Christian book. It is more a book written by a Christ-following pastor. It is a book of good ideas rather than a book on godly behaviour.

Here is how I will suggest the book be read. Use the chapter headings well. When there is a need to get fresh ideas on any topic, read the appropriate chapter. Then consider the ideas with an open mind. Brew the thoughts. Compare the ideas with the Bible as a guide. Always let the Bible have the final say. If you need to eliminate scattered 'cockroaches' in your organization, this book seems like a good spray.

Ratings: 3 out of 5.


This book is supplied to me free by B&H Publishing and NetGalley without financial compensation. I am not obliged to give a positive review, and all opinions expressed are freely mine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book: "Faith - Visual Edition"

TITLE: Faith (Visual Edition)
AUTHOR: Lee Strobel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, (160 pages).

This is a pictorial album containing excerpts from Lee Strobel's two other books on Christian apologetics: The Case for Christ and the Case for Faith. With lavish photographs and powerful snippets from his two books, the book is a compelling take on the most popular and challenging questions pertaining to the Christian faith. It addresses questions like:
  • Why is Christianity claiming to be exclusive?
  • Where is the place of doubt?
  • How is the Resurrection believable?
  • Is Jesus a hypnotist?
  • Is Jesus God?
  • What about suffering?
My Comments
Firstly, I find the book an oxymoron. On the one hand, it speaks of 'faith is not an argument, but evidence of things not seen.' Yet, the title of the book is FAITH - A Visual Edition. If faith is something not seen, where and how does the 'visual' component fit in?

Secondly, it seems to me that the publisher is doing some new re-packaging of an old idea. Moreover, when excerpts are made, they come at a sacrifice of losing the contexts from which these excerpts come from. The pictures may speak a thousand words, but the associated captions on the pages can at times be misleading.

Thirdly, the biggest criticism I have is the use of images of suffering that comes with the words:

"He is not far from anyone of us." (Acts 17:27)

I feel strongly that in the midst of pain and suffering, the pictures alone suffice. Maybe, the explanation of what the picture represents can be included. However, anything more can make us sound like the three friends of Job, who make a mess of themselves through words inserted foolishly. In fact, for such cases, suffering needs an element of silence. Perhaps, if there is a re-print, remove any words and let the pictures speak for themselves.

That said, I think this book is a huge step toward creative storytelling. It gives the reader an experience beyond words. If the original books of Strobel are 2-dimensional, this book makes it a three-dimensional experience. This book will captivate the attention of the young. It will stimulate old minds. It will challenge the seeker to seek more.