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Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Immeasurable" (Skye Jethani)

TITLE: Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.
AUTHOR: Skye Jethani
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

How do we measure how our organizations are doing? What are the best practices we can learn from others? How can leaders manage an increasingly diverse community in a world of complex needs? These are common questions which would be familiar to those of us in management and corporate circles. What about churches? Chances are, many church leaders would use some form of popular management paradigms and best practices to run their churches. However, are those appropriate for Church ministry? How Christlike are those strategies? Have we incorporated worldly values into our Church? Perhaps. This is something that should make every church leader sit up and ponder. In trying to make things more visible, more tangible, and more measurable, they have unwittingly missed out their focus on the invisible, the intangible, and the immeasurable things. One can truly become so materially rich but spiritually poor. Thankfully, we have this book to remind us of an alternative. We have many resources teaching us about the 'how' but relatively few on reflections on the 'why.' With the infatuation over success and worldly measurables like numbers, efficiency, visible presence, and other signs, we have fallen prey to letting the world define our ministry. Jethani reminds us of Richard Halverson's words:

"In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise."

We must take a step back and re-examine our objectives of doing ministry. Jethani provides us 24 alternative ways to do just that. More importantly, each way forces those of us who are leaders of ministries to re-examine our hearts and motives. Beginning with ambition, he questions the motives of those who want to be the next Bill Hybels or some megachurch pastor to turn even the best well-intentions into self-driven egos. In a startling comparison of Leader A and Leader B, readers are warned about letting "effectiveness" and "success" becoming an idol. He tries to explain the rising disillusionment about Christianity using the "vampire church" as the institutional church. I'm not sure if that is appropriate. Just because something is not right does not mean we should villanize it or give it such a terrible name. We are reminded that as shepherds, we must feed and tend to the sheep, and not lead them astray. In a subtle way, shepherds need to distinguish God's agenda from their agendas. It is easy to be tempted by power and to use it to satisfy one's pride. On and on, Jethani rants on the need to avoid celebrity paths; accept complexity as part of messy church; to see brevity in our sermons as a good thing; to remember that preaching is about God's beauty and not just truths; and many more. Other disciplines to remember is the discipline of reading, where reading the works of "dead people" are often more refreshing than "living people." I appreciate the way he counseled a couple who were planning to leave Church, that the best way to grow is to commit to the community. This commitment is a powerful weapon against consumerism. Also of interest is the way the author views technology. He warns us that the ever growing power and reach of technology may give us an unrealistic and unhelpful trust in ourselves rather than in God.

In one book, Jethani covers a lot of areas. There are short reflections on all kinds of topics ranging from health to wealth; witness and mission; platforms and celebrities; work and rest; ambition and purpose; plus many more. Each chapter ends with a short passage of "Reflection and Application" to give us time to think, to pray, and to put into action what we have reflected upon. There are a lot more things I could agree than disagree with. Let me offer three thoughts.

Three Thoughts
First, see this book as a wake-up call to sleepy ministry. We can get so caught up in the busyness of ministry week after week that we fail to ask good questions about why we are doing what we do. For example, in trying to do church, we often try to do things that people like. We measure our effectiveness on the basis of numbers. In doing so, we look at techniques, topics of interest, and tangible things instead of seeking after what the Spirit of God is saying to us. In such situations, the loud speakers of worldliness easily drown out the gentle whispers of the Spirit. We need to wake up and listen more before doing more. Impatience and rush are often deadly to spiritual listening.

Second, this book gives leaders and pastors to take a hard look at their inner life. Why are they so easily frustrated when things do not turn out their way?  The chapter on Rest is particularly helpful in this aspect. Workaholics are bad for spirituality. Playing music without silence between the notes will remove the beauty of music. Worse, it desensitizes us to the crescendos of God's prompting. Perhaps, one of the reasons why many people struggle about knowing their sense of calling is because they have not listened well. Taking the Sabbath is a great step forward in learning and listening to God's voice.

Finally, this book may cover a lot of topics but there is one central theme: Anti-Church Inc. It is a critique of the way many modern churches are being run nowadays. Perhaps, this has got to do with some negative experiences the author had received. It is the ever lurking presence of such institutionalization in the church that has led to disillusionment among many former church goers. Readers and leaders should take note and not underestimate such disillusionment. If readers could realign themselves back to God's purpose through any part of the book, it would be money well spent. For me, the table of contents itself is worth the price of the book.

I love this book!

Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, and ordained pastor. He has a keen interest in the intersection of faith and culture. He lives in Wheaton, Illinois with his wife and three children.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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