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Worth More Than A Cup Of Coffee

I admit it…I am a big fan of Max Lucado’s devotional writings but sometimes I find his brilliance work as a  wordsmith most impact fully in smaller “bite sized” selections. That is why I am such a fan  of MOCHA WITH MAX: Friendly Thoughts & Simple Truths by Max Lucado (J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson, 2005). The 190 pages are full of sort devotional segments organized around the 11 chapter themes that include, Joy and Music, Love, Patience and Endurance, Hope, Life, People and faith. The pages are interspersed with Biblical passages framed into art built around a coffee/Java motif. Max uses illusions to literature as in his reference to John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday on Page 14, personal stories like his daughter Andres’s learning to ride a bike on page 77 and penetrating questions like “What’s your definition of hope? on page 97. This constant variety keeps the book engaging page after page. And when you have quotations filling pages like the one on page 34 which reads, ” Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then when this day is done I will place my head on my pillow and rest:” you have a feast for the soul. If you have read Max in the past rediscover the impact his words can have to refresh your heart, if you have not read Max give him a try. You and your souls well being will not be sorry.

A “Must Read” On Leadership

Every so often a new book appears on the topic of leadership that adds significantly to ongoing thought and conversation. LEADING WITHOUT POWER: 9 Steps Toward Non-Coersive Ministry Leadership by Mark Oestreicher (The Youth Cartel, 2017) is such a book. Its small size, only 129 pages is deceiving in terms of insights,impact and application points.

Drawing on decades of youth ministry experiences in local churches as well as his high level leadership of Youth Specialties and The Youth Cartel Mark utilizes the power of story to underline and illustrate his nine “metaphysical job titles, including Competency Facilitator, Champion of Hope, Contextualization Czar and Collaboration Guide. The book begins with two essential questions, “In What Ways Do I Have Power In My Role? and In What Ways Do I Lack Power?” (p. 17) These questions are the foundation of the thesis of the book ,  We like power most of our collective understanding of leadership is hierarchical and authoritative  and ministry leadership should be marked by leading with out power. The remainder of the book unpacks what this looks like in all ministry contexts but especially in youth ministry.

For too long ministry has simply uncritically accepted cultural definitions and practices that have impeded the testimony of the gospel. Under the prophetic call to rethink our basic assumptions people like Mark Oestreicher can point the way to a better future. Read This Book!

Creating Colleagues From Competitors

As a great fan of Patrick Lencioni books on management, meetings, team building, and the 5 temptations of a CEO I was delighted to find the volume SILOS, POLITICS and TURF WARS by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2006). Utilizing the familiar pattern of starting with a made-up but realistic fable this time about “Jude Cousins” who leaves his employment to begin a consulting business called Cousins Consulting. The fable dissect the process of  helping different types of companies and the specific politics, silos and turf wars inherent with each of the organizations.. Following the fables is a section titled THE THEORY which included specific chapters on the key issues, followed by the the model and its components and concludes with a variety of case studies. The key ideas center around 4 key ideas:

  1. A Thematic Goal
  2. A Set of Defining Objectives
  3. A Set of Ongoing Operating Objectives
  4.  Metrics

As always the story is interesting the concepts well explained and the case studies clearly illustrative of the principles at work in a variety of organizational specific contexts, This is a powerful book that can make one a more valuable employee and a better manager and leader of people. The issues in the book are real as are the solutions in this excellent book!

Called To Shepherd

I have always found great value in utilizing devotional books aimed at a general audience but this January I decided to try an additional weekly devotional with the specific focus of those in Christian ministry and pastors. I selected CALLED TO SHEPHERD by John Crosby (Ambassador International Books, 2012. This collection contains 52 weekly devotional thoughts ranging from topics like prayer and family as well as ministry calling and handling conflicts and pressure. The readings are all short, focused on a specific text and geared toward ministry applications. My biggest problem was limiting myself to just one devotional reading per setting as my writing this review in late April after starting the 52 weeks of devotionals in January of 2017 🙂

I would encourage any one in ministry to pursue a specific devotional focused on pastors at least every so often to re-calibrate the specific ministry touch points of their lives as well as encouragment in the broader applications of the Christian Life.

Ideas For Better Teaching

As a long time fan of the self-help classic The One Minute Manager book and series I was delighted to find THE ONE MINUTE TEACHER: How To Teach Others To Teach Themselves by Spencer Johnson and Constance Johnson (William Morrow, 1986). This short volume running a mere 108 pages takes the general ideal of the one minute manager and applies them in the realm of education. Using the familiar parable technique followed up by summaries and charts for review and clarification the book focuses first on applying to the concepts for the student and then moves to the perspective of the teacher.

The basic outline is One Minute Goals, One Minute Praising, and One Minute Recoveries. These general principles are fleshed out with short, pithy reminders like ” I know I am not mt behavior” (p.96) and “We are at our best when we each teach ourselves what we need to learn” (p. 14) This book is designed for those who have a clear philosophy of teaching in mind and who will be encouraged to fine tine their practice, it is not a teaching text in and of itself.  I personally found a bit of over emphasis on the concept of “Good Feeling” but found the book helpful over all. If we view different teaching strategies like tools in a tool box to be used as appropriate to a particular student/classroom situation will find this not a “hammer or screwdriver” but a very useful wrench for a very specific task. This book was so well received by leading advocates for teachers including a U.S. Secretary of Education, the head of a university teacher training program and president of the American Foundation of Teachers that even if you disagree with some of the assumptions it is worth reading to be able to acquire the vocabulary and background to join the conversation.

The Snakebite Letters

As a great fan of C.S. Lewis and especially The Screwtape Letters it was a joy to find East Coast philosopher and C.S. Lewis expert Peter Kreeft had taken pen in hand and written additional insights from “the tempters training school”. The book THE SNAKEBITE LETTERS by Peter Kreeft (1993, Ignatius Press) contains 14 letters dealing with such diabolical topics as “How To Sabotage Worship” and “How To Shoot Chastity In The Head”. In addition the book closes with a chapter akin to “Screwtape Proposes A Toast” titled “Rethinking 199-: A revisionist View. The book is full of insights and brilliant satire. It reads like letters written in the 1990’s rather than during World War 2 so a modern audience can relate completely to the contemporary issues discussed as context for the acts of temptation. One major difference between Kreeft and Lewis is a focus on the challenges of Roman Catholic Higher Education which Kreeft dedicates 4 chapters and Lewis doesn’t mention. Lewis and his focus on “Mere Christianity” and those doctrines and  temptations common to all followers of Christ is missing a bit as Snakebite the Demon is intentionally vocal about his anti-catholic convictions. Even with this being true the book is full of “revelations of demonic strategy”for the culture, public and private morality and even basic Theology that had me constantly nodding my head in complete agreement and wondering why I had never articulated it with that level of clarity before. I recommend reading and reflecting on this helpful book of social/ecclesiastical criticism for the spiritual insights you will gain on temptation, The broader understanding of Roman Catholic similarities and differences with Protestant thought as well as put a smile on your face.

Understanding and Leading Change

John Kotter is perhaps the worlds leading authority on understanding organizational and by extension ministry change. His position as long time professor at Harvard Business School and author of best selling book LEADING CHANGE have given him a perspective on observing the growing body of literature and research on how to lead change.

In the book THE ICE BERG IS MELTING (St. Martins Press, 2005) Dr. Kotter and co author Holger Rathgeber take the 8 principles of LEADING CHANGE and weave them into a fable in the same vein of THE ONE MINUTE MANAGER featuring a colony of Imperial penguins living in Antarctica who speak and act a lot like the people we are trying to lead in changing times. The fable is cute and makes important ideas accessible to all ages and educational backgrounds. The slightly off beat story of Fred, Alice, Louis and NoNo is easy to remember and provides a common vocabulary for discussing complex ideas. For those not constantly enamored with cute stories the book also includes a section on pages 130-134 thee eight step process of leading successful change and understanding the roles of both “thinking and feeling” in the process.

The goal of the book is not to “dumb down” these original concepts but place them in a story to ta[ into the power of narrative to influence behavior throughout an entire organization with a smile on their face. Having read Dr. Kotter’s other works I wish I had discovered this book before, it would have been a great additional tool for leading ministry change. Get and read a copy of this book it will help you communicate growth and change as you lead into the future.