Monday, February 3, 2020

Highlight from The Worship Pastor

Zac Hicks proposes the use of the term "church lover" instead of "churchman" to describe a faithful person who stays on a church despites the many painful experiences in between. He goes on to list a few characteristics of such a person; one of which struck right in my heart and is quoted below. It is helpful to remember not to take such attacks personally but to ask for God's love to minister to these wounding people...

From The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams

A church lover willingly enters into their church's wounded and wounding nature. As worship leaders [ministers also], we are ever tempted to wander into the temporary comforts of bitterness to cope with the perpetual pain the church inflicts on us. The criticisms are endless-from sound levels to song selection, from intolerable theology to inappropriate outfits. Our church is always wounding us. Many a wise counsellor has said, "Hurt people hurt people." ...The wounds that the church inflicts on you can become the very vehicle for your ministry to her woundedness. A pastorally oriented worship leader embraces this counterintuitive dynamic out of raw, Spirit-borne, gospel-rooted love for the church.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Review: God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places

God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Krish Kandiah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Krish's strength is his ability to contextualize obscure biblical motifs with modern-day metaphors that would ring the light bulb in every reader's mind; biblical theologians will appreciate (and possibly pick up) how he simply presents and illustrates complicated theological terms. I also really loved how he would compare similar scenarios that multiple biblical characters face, and how his careful exposition of Scripture was highly accessible to novice theologians.

Reading the bio on the book's rear cover, I wondered if he would proof-text Scripture with hermeneutical lenses of justice and mercy, and I am glad to discover that he did not force it especially in the first few chapters of the book. Towards the end of the book, the passages he chose to expound on increasingly covered the theme of loving the poor, the stranger and one's neighbour.

While I recognise that this book is excellent in many ways, it does not qualify a spot on my bookshelf of truly exceptional 6-star books. I felt that the editor could use a stronger hand and make the book a 250 or even a 200 page book, because of the many times I got lost in certain long-winded and off-tangent sections. Although I struggled to retain interest, I soldiered onto the end because I was determined to write this review, and I suspect that many other readers would have given up. Thankfully these problems were observed in only a few chapters that could have done with better brevity and clarity; the rest of the book was flawless.

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Review: Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins

Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I felt that the authors could afford more depth and elaboration in certain chapters, I understood the brevity of the text was to maintain its accessibility. The summaries at the end of each chapter were super useful in helping readers (like me) who are new to this topic consolidate their thoughts. I would, however, have appreciated a suggested bibliography at the end of each chapter for further reading.

This book is like a free sample given out at a supermarket, meant to tempt one into getting sucked into the product. John Walton's The Lost World of Adam and Eve and The Lost World of Genesis One, also from IVP, would fit nicely into the category of further reading.

For me, an exceptional book would be concise (150-200 pages), accessible, engaging, theologically faithful and causes introspection. This title achieves all the abovementioned attributes; hence, for all these reasons, I heartily recommend this book!

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Review: Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again

Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again by Darrin Patrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, the book is great. While there are sections I felt that too much information was provided, at the end I can conclude that it was superbly edited, with as little narration provided as necessary to allow readers to understand the unfolding journey. The story is highly engaging and I managed to read it cover to cover in about three short sittings, all within the same day. That illustrates that it provided an interesting read.

However, as many other reviewers have pointed out, the narrative/content is actually different from the title. If you can get past the misleading title, I nevertheless still would recommend this title. It is useful for a leader/pastor of a deceased/dying church, because of many principles and journey that are highly applicable to their situation, even if the desired end result is not a merger/takeover by a larger church. Quoting from the authors' desired outcome of the book:
We hope to inspire you to take risks for God's glory, to raise your gaze to what's possible, to challenge what is comfortable, so that God's plan A-the local church-advances.

My takeaway was how even if the situation was terribly bleak and the nails were in the coffin for the dying church, the steely resolve and wise leading of the interim pastor was deeply rooted in seeking God's direction, and eventually seeing the church rise from the ashes and thrive even more than it had been throughout any time of its 150 year history.

The authors also recommended a few other books that I would like to include here and will review some of these in due time:
1. Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too (Stetzer and Dodson)
2. Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work (Tomberlin and Bird)
3. Vital Merger: A New Church Start Approach that Joins Church Families Together (Elliot)

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Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Book of Esther and Theistic Evolution

I am introduced to one of the most interesting categories to date - Theistic Evolutionists - in layman's terms, Christians who believe that God employed evolution as a means of creation. Tremper Longman III cites the well-known theme of God's clear sovereign hand overseeing the impossibly coincidental events in the book of Esther to defend the Theistic Evolution.

From page 75 of Confronting Old Testament Controversies

Many... make much of what they think is a contradiction within the idea of evolutionary creationism. That is, if God is involved as evolutionary creationists insist, then how can the process of natural selection be random as the theory of evolution claims? However, we should not think that though the process of creation appears to us to be random, this means that it is actually random. Remember what we said about the book of Esther. It sure seems "random" or pure chance that on a sleepless night Xerxes had his people read about Mordecai's efforts to foil an assassination plot, but we all know that a deeper plan was at work. These critics of "randomness" in evolution again show an anemic view of providence.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review: Seven Myths about Small Groups: How to Keep from Falling Into Common Traps

Seven Myths about Small Groups: How to Keep from Falling Into Common Traps Seven Myths about Small Groups: How to Keep from Falling Into Common Traps by Dan Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a serial reviewer, I try to keep my online (and especially offline) libraries small. It is only the truly exceptional books that I will seek to purchase both physical and electronic copies for easy access. This is one such title that I regard to be 6 stars. For me, a book is great when it compels me to reconsider my existing practice or theology (in this case the former) - specifically using a leader-led open group style for a small group. Now I am exploring and considering the utilised of (i) a closed group and (ii) a facilitative method (in contrast to the lecture style). The resources provided at the end of the book are a mine of gems. Do check it out!

I have had the privilege of being in small groups for a good two decades of my life, which range from the two-year short term ones, to indefinite ones whose members will vehemently oppose any leadership attempts to split them apart. I therefore am able to understand the pros and cons of each extreme. The author communicates in an easy to understand and engaging tone, providing many helpful methodological tips honed from years of experience (and trial and error). These practical and wise suggestions are a must for every small group leader, church leader and pastor to evaluate and consider! The many real-life anecdotes provide the reader with a pleasant read and illustrate the concepts presented.

Chapter 2 provided this super extroverted social butterfly a sombre reminder that closed groups (whereby visitors do not haphazardly drop in) is paramount for our introverted friends who find it hard to open up their hearts. By default, our cell groups are open in nature, as the venues and timings are openly publicised, but I am compelled to reconsider how we can care for friends who find it difficult to be vulnerable and be accountable in the presence of strangers. He also points out and addresses concerns about closed groups being self-serving etc. I am definitely going to have read up more on consider the purposes and benefits of such closed groups!

At first, I am baffled as to why a book this good is not a best seller or even got a revision... Then it occurred to me that megachurches would not want to promote the message of Chapter 3 (Bigger is not better), and the touch and go engagement with bible passages would raise eyebrows of reformed pastors; quotes from the leading commentators would improve its biblical credibility. Also, while all the other chapters were extremely well written, chapter 5 was less clear and slightly confused; an editor perhaps to help improve the clarity and message of that chapter.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: Small Group Idea Book: Resources to Enrich Community, Worship, Prayer, Study, Outreach

Small Group Idea Book: Resources to Enrich Community, Worship, Prayer, Study, Outreach Small Group Idea Book: Resources to Enrich Community, Worship, Prayer, Study, Outreach by Cindy Bunch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I gave the earlier 1996 edition 3 stars, I'm mightily impressed with the improvements made in this revised 2004 edition! Kudos to the authors for the additional material and the editors for a job well done!

My main complaint (that the Chapter 1 "Community Resources" had only 15 good ice breakers and activities); the new edition's collection is vastly expanded. The references to the IVCF (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) were also vastly reduced and so the general audience would not feel as annoyed. I also appreciated while it still exists, many duplicated activities (with only very slight variations) were removed.

This book is targeted at novice and first-time small group leaders. The minefield of ideas and activities would provide a few months' worth. It is also great for planning activities for youth or church camps; some of the ice breakers and activities could be used for secular settings as well, maybe with a bit of tweaking. Maybe because this is an entry level book, the bible study segments are very simple and experienced small group leaders will likely find that it wanting in terms of depth. But using it for its intended purpose, the cell leader would do well to remember to include the occasional relationship-building or relationship-deepening activity when the small group meets. I nevertheless recommend this book!

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