Archive for category: Book Reviews (Page 2)

The 90-Day Fitness Challenge (review)

06 Jan
January 6, 2013

parham bookBack in 2010, former Biggest Loser contestants and inspiring Christian speakers, Phil and Amy Parham released a book called ‘The 90-Day Fitness Challenge.’ They had asked me (as well as a bunch of others) to write a blurb for the inside cover, which I was excited to do after I read their book. Anyway, I was looking through it the other day, saw my blurb and realized I never posted it, so here it is:

Being on the Biggest Loser was one of the most significant times in my Christian life. God designed and desires us to be spiritually and physically healthy, and the impact on our lives is huge. Phil and Amy Parham are the only ones to have put into writing what so many former contestants now know – that weight loss, pursuing health, and becoming the person God intended us to be is not just an exercise program, but a faith journey as well. As a pastor and weight-loss group leader, I love that The 90-Day Fitness Challenge is a complete program, tying together amazing teaching and resources on changing to a healthy lifestyle while honoring and involving our Creator. This is THE book to get for individuals or groups looking to change their lives for the long term!

If you want to grab a copy, you can find it here.


A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media (review)

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

So far I am loving the new ‘Simply for Parents’ line of books from Simply Youth Ministry. This particular one, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, by Mark Oestreicher and Adam McLane, is one that I have been looking forward to for some time now. It is a much needed primer on social media to help parents guide their children through our changing world.

At only 72 pages, it is SHORT … but this is actually one the book’s strengths. From my experience, many parents are overwhelmed with all of the technologies their children seem to know instinctively, but this book is able to package solid, practical advice in a very non-intimidating package. Based on a seminar McLane has been teaching for some time now, he and Oestreicher walk parents through the basic forms of social media (both online, like Facebook & Twitter, and portable devices, like cell phones). They do a good job of painting the risks and the benefits, as well as great advice on how to communicate with your child in a way that points them towards wise usage.

The authors do a fantastic job of writing in a way that’s approachable both to the parent with no experience whatsoever in social media and the parent who is very immersed in it. Clear, simple explanations are done in such a way that I found myself taking notes to help with my own communication on the topic to parents. I loved the advice on social media usage, interacting with your teen online, how to set safe boundaries, and how to be a part of guiding them into being wise adults in this arena.

All in all, in this day and age this is a MUST for parents. Short, so it’s a quick read. Full of critical information directly impacting their children (whether they realize it or not). And at a great price. Personally, I think it’s great for parents of adolescents, but it’s an even stronger tool for the parents of pre-adolescents. Thinking through this topic BEFORE your child starts asking for a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, etc., is a far better place to be than scrambling with decisions on the fly. My intent is to order a stack of them to have available for parents to purchase at my church. You can find the book in physical and Kindle format here, or at the Youth Cartel.

Man of Vision

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

I recently read Man of Vision, by Marilee Pierce Dunker. It’s the story of her parents, specifically Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. Ultimately, it’s a tragic story of a man so focused and driven by the mission that he ends up losing his wife and family along the way.

The book description reads,

Rarely is anything accomplished for the Kingdom of God without a very real spiritual battle proportionate to the magnitude of the work being done. God honored the faith of Bob and Lorraine Pierce by enabling them to give birth to two ministries – World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse – that have reached around the world and literally transformed the lives of millions in the name of Jesus. Consequently the personal warfare they faced was unusually intense and vicious. To talk about the thrilling, positive things God did in their lives without showing the satanic attacks and wilderness experiences they went through would present a distorted picture of how God works. For nothing of any real value or lasting significance comes without a price.

As a pastor’s kid, I appreciated the challenge it must have been for Marilee, Bob Pierce’s daughter, to write such a candid book. While celebrating the amazing accomplishments for God’s kingdom, she also gave the reader intimate looks into the troubled and painful experience that was their family life. Ultimately, what it boiled down to was an incredibly unhealthy balance between ministry and family. On the one hand, he accomplished so much good, but at the same time his own drive for control and his singular vision tarnished that legacy. If I’m honest, there was a lot in the story I identified with, which had me reacting to his bad decisions more strongly than most readers probably would.

I did have one disagreement with the author; it almost seemed as though she attributed the great family cost to the reality of the great ministry achievement. In other words, because Bob Pierce did so much, it was inevitable that he would fall prey to great spiritual attack. While I agree there must have been tremendous spiritual struggle, it was his fallen, sinful nature that brought about the destruction. It was NOT an unavoidable price that had to be paid to accomplish such good. Either way, it was a story that started with such hope and vision that ended tragically. Definitely a story all ministry leaders could learn and benefit from.

#GoingSocial by Terrace Crawford

18 Oct
October 18, 2012

I just finished reading Terrace Crawford’s new book on using social media in ministry, #GoingSocial. It’s a great book, and while it’s just under 200 pages, it’s a quick read – I did it in one sitting.

Crawford does a great job of introducing the concept of using social media for ministry, the value in doing so, and the cultural relevance. He also does a great job of tackling some of the concerns people have that hold them back. The book is ideal for people with little to no social media experience or knowledge, as he carefully walks people through how to start using the major social media outlets out there.

He also gives some great practical advice on how to take advantage of the many outlets out there; blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. I actually found myself putting down the book as I was reading it to make some immediate changes to some of the social media outlets our student ministry uses, and then jumping back into the book.

I liked his writing style; easy to read, good pacing, informative but written in a way that those inexperienced wouldn’t be intimidated. At the same time, as someone who has been using all of those tools for years, I still felt like there was some solid advice and direction for me to act on as well. I came away from it feeling good about how we’ve been using Facebook for our student ministry and Twitter, but with a lot of great thoughts on how I could be more effective with YouTube – I’m definitely missing some opportunities there.

All in all, #GoingSocial is a must have for church leaders. It’s a great book, and one that I will be passing on to the other leaders in my church to take a look at. You can find it at the best price here.

College Ministry From Scratch (review)

17 Aug
August 17, 2012

While on vacation I checked out Chuck Bomar’s book ‘College Ministry From Scratch: A Practical Guide to Start and Sustain a Successful College Ministry.’ If you’re not familiar with Bomar, he’s kind of the college ministry expert in the ministry world at the moment.

I actually liked the book for several reasons:

  • It’s not intimidating. It’s not short, but it’s definitely not as long as his ‘College Ministry 101‘ book. In other words, I can see myself handing this to volunteers and seeing them use it.
  • I love that the first half of the book really condenses a lot of his teachings from College Ministry 101. It gives a great overview of the basics of college ministry, the vision and heart behind it, and the urgency/importance of it.
  • The second half was incredibly practical with a lot of step by step guides walking the reader through various pieces of college ministry.

Whether you’re a veteran college ministry leader or a rookie, this really was an all around valuable book to have. We’re currently in the midst of some leadership transition in our college ministry at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church and at this point I’m planning on getting a bunch of copies to give to leaders to help equip them going forward, as well as get us all on the same page.

So, to sum up: Fantastic book. Easy to read. Great balance of big picture purpose stuff as well as hands on practical ideas and tools.

Sustainable Youth Ministry

16 Aug
August 16, 2012

Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries has had the most significant impact on me as a youth pastor since I read Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields thirteen years ago.

Over the last year and a half I have read through it twice; the first time simply to check it out. By the end of it I knew there was more to take and away and apply from it then I could possibly remember on my own. I grabbed the Kindle version and reread it, highlighting my way through and using the Kindle print function to end up with about 14 pages of highlights and notes, as well as a two page checklist of how I’m going to apply the principles in the book to the youth ministry I’ve been called to.

Basically, DeVries gives the administrative and foundational tools needed to set up a youth ministry structure designed for longevity and sustainability. I love that he acknowledges from the outset that most youth pastors, by virtue of the gifting necessary to connect with teens and families tend to not be wired in ways needed to manage the significant and often times unexpected administrative side to student ministry. Because of that, he approaches it in a very easy to understand style, walking the reader step by step through recruiting, training volunteers, building teams, delegating, setting up a structure that enables growth and longevity independent of the personalities. He teaches the reader how to create key documents, vision statements, how to set goals and revisit those goals. He also gives valuable insight on the budgeting process, staffing needs and ratios to students, and more.

To be honest, it was a lot of the critical tools and lessons I needed to be able to speak the language of the professionals that fill my church.

All that to say, I’ve been setting into motion a lot of the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve been in conversation with my senior pastor about it as I’ve been developing goals and he’s excited about the directions we’re headed in as well. In short:

  • We’re restructuring our volunteer teams in a way that will better prepare us for growth and help us do what we’re currently doing better
  • We’ve been finalizing work on various control documents (job descriptions for volunteers, vision statements, covenants, org charts, seven year teaching plans, etc)
  • Setting realistic and specific goals for this year, the next three years and the next five years

A lot of what is being applied is below the surface and not necessarily immediately noticeable. But the long term effect should be profound and I’m excited about it. One of the advantages of having my senior pastor on board is the prospect of bringing Mark DeVries organization, Youth Ministry Architects, out here in the next couple years to do a comprehensive evaluation of our progress and give us direction on how we can continue to become a sustainable youth ministry. He likes the goals and the value of what we’re pursuing, and voicing the intent for an evaluation now helps prepare the budget needs for it to happen down the road.

All that to say, if you’re in youth ministry and you haven’t read Sustainable Youth Ministry yet, it’s a must.

A Beautiful Mess | Mark Oestricher

10 May
May 10, 2012

I finished reading Mark Oestricher’s new book, ‘A Beautiful Mess,’ this afternoon. It’s not huge, so it really only took an hour or so to read, but I really love it. In a lot of ways, it felt like a natural progression from his book ‘Youth Ministry 3.0’, which I also love.

I found myself highlighting my way through the book, saving quotes to use for later.

I appreciated his affirmation of smaller, under resourced church youth groups. I agree with his observation that too many fall into the trap of thinking a showy program with expensive toys is somehow better. The reality is – we’ll never be able to compete with the glitzy stuff the rest of the world is putting together. It will always be cooler, hipper, and more incredibly cool to young people than what we can pull off, no matter the budget. Relationships truly are where it’s at. Being those loving adults in a young person’s life that they hunger for.

I think one of the strengths of the book, as opposed to so many books that identify the problems in youth ministry and come up with fixes, Oesstricher instead focuses on what he sees working throughout the country. It’s simple. It’s solid. And it’s affirming, both to the calling of youth ministry and that there are great things happening all over the place whether we realize it or not.

One quote that I am grabbing and using in my youth leader training was this:

Let me be clear about the thre three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:

  • You like teenagers.
  • You are a growing follower of Jesus.
  • You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like.

I love it. It sums it all up so eloquently and simply. It’s easy to remember, easy to pass on, and opens the door to a lot of great training conversations. You can find the book in both digital and physical formats here; and for a limited time, the digital versions are FREE. Grab it!

The Hunger Games

23 Nov
November 23, 2011

So this past weekend I read ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. Mostly out of curiosity resulting from the frenzy of interest teens I know have about the upcoming movie. Am I so out of it I no longer know about hit young adult books until the movies come out? Twilight was totally off my radar until the film came out, and now the same is true of this series.

Here’s the deal. The story is fast paced, completely pulled me in, made it incredibly hard to put my phone down (yup, read the ebook), and had some great characters in it. Basically, it was Mad Max’s Thunderdome, but with kids. Post apocalyptic future, cruel and disturbing government, and an arena where 24 adolescents fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses. Which for me made the book feel a lot more adult than young adult.

What makes me incredibly uncomfortable is the shift in content that books for kids features. When I was an adolescent, I read a TON of books – I typically averaged one or two a week. Seriously. I don’t remember ever reading anything with the violent content kids’ books feature today – I was stunned when kids started getting killed in the Harry Potter series. Profanity, violence, kids being murdered – it shocked me. Then the Twilight series. Definitely amped up the adult content for a series aimed at young teens. But both of those pale in comparison to a story that features 24 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 being thrown into an arena and graphically murdering each other with a wide range of weapons.

So here’s where I’m torn. I enjoyed the book. In fact, since last weekend I’ve already finished the second book in the series, ‘Catching Fire.’ The part of me that has enjoyed stories like ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Book of Eli’ loved them both. But those stories, while violent and graphic, were aimed directly at an adult audience. It’s just strange to me how stories have changed so dramatically in content since I was a teen, and that troubles me.

Francis Chan’s ‘Erasing Hell’

05 Aug
August 5, 2011

I just finished reading Francis Chan’s and Preston Sprinkle’s new book, ‘Erasing Hell.’ Basically, it is an exploration of what the Bible has to say about hell and the afterlife triggered by Rob Bell’s controversial book, ‘Love Wins’ (read my review of Bell’s book here).

Francis Chan is just one of a dozen or more authors to write a rebuttal to ‘Love Wins,’ and this is clearly a rebuttal, with Chan directly referring to, or quoting, Bell’s book in just about every chapter. What makes ‘Erasing Hell’ jump out of the growing number of books on the subject for me is his prominence as a communicator – he and Bell in many ways are similar when it comes to being amazing communicators in person, on video and in their books. The two are often compared, so it was fascinating to see Chan come out strong in contrast to Bell – not that it was surprising that Chan would have an opposing viewpoint.

One of the things I loved about the book is that Chan brought in scholars to help him research the topic. Combining his gifts of communication with their resources made for a very thorough exploration on hell. Where Bell was vague, paraphrased, and used verses out of context, Chan went to the opposite extreme of using a ton of scripture to back up his points.

I only had one negative response to ‘Erasing Hell.’ From time to time Chan would paint the picture that he was just passing on what the Bible says, as though Bell gave opinion, but Chan is giving the inside scoop on what God actually thinks. The reality is, as thoroughly researched and well presented as the book is, it is still man’s interpretation of scripture – he’s not passing on what God says, simply trying to relay his impression of what God says. He used a LOT of scripture, which was awesome – but it was still his presentation of scripture, his ordering of scripture, and his explanation of scripture.

That being said, I agree with it 100%. It’s incredibly well written – especially given the time frame in which he did it.  His heart in communicating this message about hell is always present, and it’s done in such a loving way – not the heavy handed, doom and gloom that so many ‘turn or burn’ preachers use. And of course, his reputation as a brilliant communicator holds true in this book. It’s definitely one that I would recommend for anyone to read on the topic of hell in general, and a must read for anyone who has read ‘Love Wins.’

Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’

02 May
May 2, 2011

I finished Rob Bell’s controversial book, ‘Love Wins,’ this last week.  The man really is an incredible writer and speaker – he is able to weave a narrative in a compelling way.  I’m not sure it’s a book I would recommend, though.  His vague rewording of scriptures and use of passages out of their original context for critical points in his theology negates the message he uses them for (Tony Jones commented on this as well on his blog, although not to the same degree I would).  But he does it so well it’s easy to miss or catch.  I don’t feel like recapping the book, or even giving a summary of it – enough people have done that already.  I don’t need to comment on his writing skill or style – it’s brilliant.  Here are the points that sum up my reaction to the content of ‘Love Wins’:

  • I absolutely resonate with Bell’s frustration over a gospel that often times is preached that is only about saving people from hell.  I love his comment that if that’s the case, it’s like we need Jesus to save us from God.  We share the good news because it’s just that, good news – not some sort of escape message.  We hold a joyful truth, not a fearful one.
  • I am intrigued by his speculation that heaven will be on earth.  I’ve always wondered why God speaks of remaking our world if we’re all moving on from it after death.  I don’t know that I’m sold on it, but it gave a lot of my own wonderings about end times prophecy something new to chew on.
  • I disagree with his view that people can be saved/accept Christ/choose God after death.  This is where I thought he started playing loose with scripture, taking snippets out of context to make his points.  I understand why he would want to; it would be comforting to think of, but it also lessens the urgency.  Why bother spreading the message now if people can choose God after death?  Once they’ve been exposed to Him in all His glory?  Who wouldn’t change their mind in that scenario?
  • I was alarmed with one of his closing theological statements.  After quoting Jesus’s words in John 14, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,’ Bell makes a startling statement:  ‘What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.  He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.’ In other words, even if you think you’re getting to heaven through another way, it’s actually happening through Christ.  My immediate reaction was shock, could he actually be claiming that people could get to heaven thinking they are being saved by other gods or religions and Christ saves them without them knowing it?  Sure enough, as he goes on to explain over the next few paragraphs, he actually references Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and ‘Baptists from Cleveland,’ as being included in this view.

For me, that fourth point is where the book became dangerous.  Bell is a powerful writer and speaker, and it sounds so good, but that kind of teaching, as well as the lessening of the urgency of the gospel makes this something I would rather not see getting passed around to those who don’t know the scriptures well enough to recognize when they are being misused.