Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is a vibrant congregation founded in 1989 it has a tremendous influence in large part to its vision for ministry and Scriptural exposition for the 21st century articulated weekly from the pulpit. The answer to the questions, why is this pulpit ministry flourishing? and what can churches around the world learn about preaching from this congregation? are answered in the book PREACHING: Communicating Faith In An Age Of Skepticism (2015, Viking/Penguin) by its preacher Timothy Keller. In a word this book is AMAZING! It is a clear compelling cal about why our views on preaching must be fined tuned but then step by step instructions with liberal illustrations on how to answer the call to preach the gospel as the whole counsel of the Bible is declared. Keller calls on his background as a popular seminary teacher to organize the material and present it in a very interesting way leaving the footnotes (98 pages of them) as the final third of the book. It is worth noting that the 100 pages of footnotes were so interesting I read each and everyone of them with great delight and found them almost as interesting as the text of the book its self. Keller has read and includes thoughts from most of the significant books on preaching in the average seminary library. This gives the book a gravitas as well as a practical focus that is a truly winning combination. Of special note are the laser sharp focus on Preaching Christ Every Time(p.56) and Preaching To Culture(p.93) and a brief but powerful side bar on Legalism and Antinomianism utilizing quotes and insights from Reformed Theologian Sinclair Ferguson to name just a few and not even scratch the surface. My only slight complaint if I can call it that is the book at a couple of points does not seem to appreciate fully the contributions of Haddon Robinson and his book, BIBLICAL PREACHING to restoring the discussion on preaching to include “Big Ideas” and an “expository expectation when preaching a text. I see Keller’s book working very well when read and implemented side by side with Robinson’s. This book is absolutely must reading for any one preparing to preach or who is currently preaching. Its Christ centered focus and understanding of the mind of the 21st century listener give insight and correction that will make the reader more effective and Biblical in their ministry of the Word.
“In the past year, I’ve grown increasingly uneasy with the state of contemporary spirituality in the Western world. It has, to put it bluntly, the flat flavor of old ice ream and the insipid taste of tame sausage”. With these words Brennan Manning best selling author of 11 best selling books like THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL and ABBA FATHER begins his book THE WISDOM OF TENDERNESS (2004, Harper Collins). Brennan’s dissatisfaction with both the programmatic methodologies and fuzzy current teaching on Christ and the gospel shines through every one of the books 179 pages. This is not to say the book is depressive indeed it is full of hope but moving forward involves accurately understanding the issue surrounding where we are now as a church. The diagnosis on page 14 is reminiscent, “Words without poetry lack passion;words without passion lack persuasion; words without persuasion lack power. When the language of should and must predominates, both the preached and written word are a barren wasteland void of passion, persuasion and power…Solitude is the furnace of transformation and stoking the inner fire is the wisdom of silence”. Throughout the book Brennan utilizes powerful word pictures and a host of impactfull quotations from both the Scriptures, theology, literature, and his personal experience to drive home the need to use the dissatisfaction with the low levels of experienced Divine Grace to motivate a search the fierce mercy of God that transforms human life. The chapters on Christ in Others and the Ring of Truth are fairly straight forward but the chapters titled Pain and Tenderness as well as Fierce Mercy are challenging invitations to an experience of Christ that many younger followers in the faith might not recognize for the intensity and high calling of what it may mean over the course of ones life to follow Jesus by taking up ones cross. The book closes with a very creative parable featuring an exchange between “Daniel and Paul” as they seek to correct the failings of the church in North America. It can be hard to read but overall has the ring of truth. This book is not for the faint of heart it is not for someone just needing a simple dose of encouragement, it is demanding and challenging but well worth the reading and reflection if you are seeking a course correction of refreshment from an over familiar, stale view of Christ’s call on our lives.
In preparation for attending the Global Leadership Summit next week I picked up a copy of THE DIFFERENCE MAKER by John C. Maxwell (2006, Thomas Nelson) subtitled: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset. The was vintage Maxwell with great stories and illustrations in a user friendly easy to follow format. The first four chapters which explored the concept of “attitude” were solid with headings like, Where did you get your attitude, What your attitude can and can’t do for you, and How to make your attitude your greatest asset but what really set the book apart was section two titled The Five Attitude Obstacles. Dr. Maxwell begins with the issue of discouragement then moves to change, problems, fear, and failure. All of these sections are excellent but of special note is the section on fear. In 26 pages (p.121-146) the destructive effects of fear are explored as is the fear cycle I have seen so commonly in my work with students and their parents. The chapter then answers the elephant in the room “So how can a person handle fear instead of getting handled by it?”(p.133) The answers and the concluding reflective exercise are worth the price of the book based on the impact they had on refining mt thinking as I read, pondered and applied these principles in my own life this summer.If you are a long time reader and fan of John Maxwell this book makes a great addition to that portion of your library if you have not discovered his writings use this book as an entry point into a literary friendship with this leadership expert who’s years of wisdom and insight can properly you forward in life, leadership and ministry.
I just finished reading a small volume of sermons collected and published from the Episcopalian tradition. It was titled,SERMONS THAT WORK III (Forward Movement Publications, 1993). The book consists of prize winning sermons that had been delivered in local congregations across the country and addresses delivered at the Preaching Excellence Conference which included sessions from academic professors of preaching as well. I enjoyed the different flavor of the sermons and there was never a “temptation” to borrow a sermon because they were structured from the lexionary and not in the expositional family of sermon preparation that is a part of my sermonic practice. But with that said the majority of the sermons had something new I could think about and take away to reflect upon and even apply in my walk with Christ on the pilgrimage of faith. As is often true the sermons were uneven with the gospel messages stronger than the doctrinal ones especially the ones focused on the “Trinity” but there was still something of value. This brings me to the “take away” for me= I need to set up a schedule to be consistently reading sermons through the end of 2016 and into 2017. I want to read some classics like those of C.H. Spurgeon and Luther but I am also going to seek out lesser known collections from various periods of history and various traditions for both the good of my soul and spice for my personal sermon preparation. I invite you to join me and not only listen to sermons but read them as well. My favorite quote in the book worth sharing was from Dr, Herold Cook Philips who delivered the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching who was asked by a young star struck student what he was going to preach during his ivy league chapel sermon at Yale. “Charlie boy”, he answered “If you are going to be a preacher, you have to remember that people every where are just people” (p.122)Amen!!
As regular readers of this blog well know the focus is almost entirely on books and resources related to general ministry,leadership, Biblical Studies, Theology or most specifically youth ministry. Today’s post featuring THE NATIONAL PARKS:America’s Best Idea a 12.5 hour documentary by the legendary Ken Burns seems not to fit the above categories but I believe it does even if it is in a bit of a round about way. The six part series is a wonderful series of beautiful photography combined with the compelling stories of how the national parks were created and what people and issues had to be overcome to create the parks. The series is both chronological and topical with a host of very interesting special features that feature majestic pictures, biographical information on key people and the broader cultural and historical context that places the people and events in the flow of American history. I found every minute fascinating and captivating none more than the story of the history of Yellowstone National Perk with its native american history, natural/geothermal history, pioneer and army history and even the transformation of park policy over the years. For any individual or family interested in knowing more about the parks they hope to visit or see pictures that will stir memories of past adventures this is must viewing. From a leadership perspective the stories of the development of the National Park Service and its administrators was fertile ground for reflection and application of transferable personal applications. Youth Workers will better understand the impact “nature” and “wilderness” can have on students of all ages as we plan camps, hikes and outdoor activities in ministry schedules. For ministry there were abundant sermon and teaching illustrations throughout the series as well as glorious quotations that I will use for years to come. View this series and I promise you that you will begin making plans to visit a national park as soon as you can and perhaps even make a series of local hikes as well!
Recently I came across Three autographed volumes by Mark Sanborn at a small used book story, The Fred Factor (Doubleday, 2004), You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader (Doubleday, 2006), and The Encore Effect (Doubleday, 2008). It was a treat to read them is close sequence and learn some great new illustrations and be reminded about important principles I know but need reminding of frequently. I was not familiar with Mark Sanborn before reading the books although we frequent some common sports in the Denver/Littleton area. The Fred Factor is the story/parable of his neighborhood mailman and his incredible customer service. The thesis is “there are no insignificant or ordinary jobs when they are performed by significant or extraordinary people”. It is motivation to its core! The second book The Encore Effect is about personal growth and increased performance and goal attainment. The third book, Is about leading from the middle of the pack without official title while still impacting others and the organization positively. All the books break things down into manageable steps of sequential ideas fully illustrated with personal stories and quotations. The books small size of about 100 pages make it ideal for purse, backpack or brief case. A “value Added” are the online assessments and other resources available for those purchasing the volumes. These books are great refreshers or solid introductions to these important ideas for our children, interns and new employees.
Years ago John Stott rector at All Souls Church in London England was invited to present a series of lectures to young leaders in Latin America, During his life time the brilliant content was “lost” but after his death transcripts of the lectures delivered during the height of his powers were found and published in the remarkable volume and audio book PROBLEMS OF CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP (John Stott, IVP(Christianaudio) 2013) The lectures focused on themes of Paul [resented in the pastoral epistles and focus on discouragement, self-discipline, relationships and the issue of leading while young. Using all the tools at his disposal including extensive Biblical Greek exegesis, personal stories, illustrations from history and from Scripture Stott presents a mature compelling reflection on leadership issues for the young and those older who like myself always need realignment to make sure my leadership compass remains set at the “true north” of Christ through out all the distractions of life and ministry. In addition to the main content the audio version includes two reflections on lessons from John’s life from two of his former study assistance. The one focused on John Stott’s greatest sermon was worth the price of the cds and was at once heart warming, challenging and inspiring. The second reflection containing the phrase “I’m not worthy” has continued to be in my thoughts and reflections days after hearing it. These are leadership principles presented to be lived and presented to Christ as a gift of worship. There are many good leadership books out there but few that come close to this level of theological, Biblical and ministry maturity. You will not be sorry you invest time and reflection in this book!