Lead Small by Reggie Joiner

Here at Mansfield Bible Church, we believe small groups is key to ministry. This is true for all ministries, from children’s through adult. Recently, I read Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and I believe his five aspects of leading a small group for children and youth are beneficial for all who pursue a small group model of ministry. Here is a summary of his five points:

Be Present: Kids and adults need small group leaders small group leader who show up on a routine basis. Preferably, small group leaders should commit to weekly serving because this helps to build deeper relationships, develop trust, and establishes routine. Being present means showing up physically and showing up mentally.lead-small-cover

Create a safe place: In order to create a safe place for small groups, three goals are in mind. First, people need to feel that they are accepted into a community of people. Secondly, there must be a valuing of confidentiality. Thirdly, to have s safe place in small groups we must value honesty. If honesty fails authenticity is lost.

Partner with Parents: Small Group leaders will be spending roughly one hour a week with your group while parents spend 3,000 hours with their kids per year. Parents are the primary disciplers of their children, thus a small group leaders job is to partner with parents in their child’s journey for authentic faith. Always partner with parents in a discussion and help children to follow the direction and guidance of their parents.

Make it personal: When you lead activities and talk about the lesson, it is good to make the lesson personal. The entire lesson should not be personal, but a small 2 minute personal story on how God has worked in your life with connection to the lesson of the day is good. This helps kids and youth to know that bible stories are not simply to be memorized but they are to change our lives and change who we are.

Move them out: Even though you love being a small group leader, there will come a day when you are no longer their small group leader. Move them to the next small group leader, move them to being the Church through service and evangelism, and move them on to the next stage of life.

Short Book Reviews

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I would update a few books I have completed this year. These are all great reads. The first one is not from a christian, but in fact by an atheist that I have previously reviewed. The other three are great reads, mainly historically driven. I beleive they will help you to know the faith you have inherited from a great historical past and will help you faith to proclaim the message with a multitude of people.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

My Response: This is a popular book by a well known atheist. Sam Harris simply lays out all the reasons by he has issue, not with the Christian faith, by with current American Christianity. Simply put, he is facing many false assumptions and misinformed experiences and ideas about Christianity. My response initially to Harris was, “you just need to see the real Christianity,” but then I thought maybe this is our fault. Maybe it is our fault that Same Harris looks at Christianity and comes to his conclusions. That’s what I appreciated about this book. It helped me to look in the mirror and ask myself if I am representing Christ to our culture.

Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll

My Response: One of the key historical books and a must read for all Christians. Want to know why evangelicalism is the was it is? Why our dealings with science, politics, and the seemingly manipulative culture presentations of the gospel exist? Noll’s work is an excellent read.

Retro Christianity by Michael Svigel (One of my favorite professors from DTS)

My Response: Dr. Svigel’s book is a close cousin to Noll’s. The purpose of the book is to deal with a great tension. On the one hand, churches desire to reach back into the past and retain the truth of the historical church. On the other hand, we need to be progressive and interpret the gospel in our present day context. To deny both is to stay stagnate. So, Svigel attempts to breach a proper and biblical way of handling this tension.

Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth by Alister McGrath

My Response: If you have never looked into the heresies of the past, you should. McGrath does a great job of briefly explaining and discussing the heresies of the early church. He also deals with many of the social factors and reasons why heresies arose and their origin. A great read, but if you have never heard of Arius or Marcion, you might get a little lost in the mix, so go slow.

Think

I have always enjoyed John Piper and when he released a book on the topic of “thinking” I was excited. There have been many great books on how thinking is a God honoring exercise. One such example is Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which is an excellent read. Piper’s goal is unlike many other books that venture into this same sphere. He desires to search the scriptures and give a preachers expository approach and account on thinking. Piper saysThink is “a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people” (p. 15).

Throughout the book, Piper talks about his own story of how he went from an academic setting to a pastoral pulpit. The work of Piper in Think is a good overview and read for any Christian who thinks thinking is not what God desires. It serves as a great reminder that thinking is important in a world of relativism and anti-intellectualism, which is tearing the fabric of orthodoxy in evangelical Churches. However, this is not a review of Think, but a few concerns I have deduced.

My concerns are not in chapter 1 or 5 or of any real part of the actual book. My concern comes in the highly unnecessary appendix at the end of the book. Appendix 1 serves as an example of how Think would be applied to a seminary or college setting. Sadly, this appendix has some very poor and ill implications. At the end of appendix 1, you come to a heading titled “Where we stand.” This section lists a number of “hot button” issues in order to tell us what Piper and the school believe on such issues.

So far, so good. As you make your way through the list, everything appears normal. Historical Criticism, Roman Catholicism, etc. Some of the subject list two things that are synonymous in idea and thought (coupling). One example is “Relativism and Pluralism.” Although these are not necessarily the same thing, Piper puts them together as if to say they are close enough that they have no need for distinction. This list becomes problematic in a few areas.

“Feminism and Egalitarianism!” This coupling is outrageous! Feminism is a far cry from Egalitarianism (at least the Christian form). Feminism is a group of movements that started in the nineteen hundreds and has many shapes and forms. For the most general, it is a movement that strives for equal political, social, and economic rights for women. Concerning Egalitarianism, I assume Piper means Christian Egalitarianism and not the political aspect of it because he compares this coupling with Complementarianism, which is a Christian viewpoint of the marriage roles of men and women. Egalitarianism and Feminism share similar ideology in the sense that they both recognize equality among men and women. Christian Egalitarianism is a very new perspective on the roles of men and women. Christian Egalitarianism is held in deep conviction by a number of respectful Christians and should not be placed on the same level as Feminism.

“Arminianism and Open Theism!” This is perhaps the strangest and most egregious coupling I have ever seen. For anyone that doesn’t know, Arminianism is a Christian view mainly dealing with salvation that is generally seen as an alternative to Calvinism (please note that Calvin and Arminius clearly agreed in many areas. See my blog on Arminian Theology.) Open Theism is a recent unchristian understanding that believes God does not know the future. Now, you see how these two are nothing alike. To akin a non-Christian belief to Arminianism simply shows how much John Piper isn’t thinking.

My hope is that Piper will clear up this matter in Think and simply come to better understanding of these topics that he clearly does not understand. I will continue to read and listen to Piper, so I am not saying that one shouldn’t. I simply was so surprised at these errors on a book and area that I thought he would hit a home run.

Your Church in Rhythm

Your Church In Rhythm: The Forgotten Dimensions of Seasons and Cycles. By Bruce Miller. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. xxvii + 194 pp. $24.95.

Miller proposes a paradigm shift to help address the issues of pastoral burnout and loss of joy in the pastorate in this book. Rather than a focus on keeping everything in balance, Miller proposes that churches and pastors adopt another approach, rhythm. He argues that the pursuit of balance usually results in guilt and unhealthiness. Instead, rhythm creates a greater focus, more effectiveness, and increased strength.

At first it might appear that Miller is presenting another church model, but the author calls this a “metaconcept” that transcends all models and can be applied to any already existing church model. Ultimately, Miller wants his readers to “see six rhythm strategies for wisely leading our churches so that we are more fruitful in ministry and ministry has more joy” (xvii). “The intent of this book,” writes Miller, “is to offer you concepts and tools to make your church more effective and more enjoyable” (xxiv).

Rhythm is viewed through the lens of two Greek concepts of time: karios and chronos. Miller believes that rhythm is a better metaphor because it fits the natural progression of life cycles. Not only is rhythm seen in the cycles of nature but he also provides biblical support from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Often pastors are blindsided by unexpected events and circumstances. The balance approach may dismiss these as growth opportunities, but the rhythm approach welcomes new seasons, even if they appear to be an interruption. Miller also uses the scientific study of time (Chronobiology) that reveals natural rhythms in living things, such as heartbeats and temperature.

Miller observes kairos and chronos through three lens: language (two distinct Greek usages), theology (God is the creator of rhythm), and experience (both individual and corporate). In chapter three, “Discerning Your Organizational Stage,” Miller examines how to identify and discern stages of life in churches. He reflects on the predictability of natural stages of life and makes the same application to the church. Problems in the church find a context within rhythm, which can help the pastor “effectively manage transitions, and monitor warning signs of decline” (p. 31). The next chapter gives some guidelines to be used to evaluate a church’s life stages. Usually the seasons come through difficult and unexpected life experiences, such as a youth pastor’s resignation, a lawsuit by an unruly parent, or grief that strikes the church at the loss of a loved member.

In the next section, Miller outlines three karios rhythm strategies; releasing expectations, seizing opportunities, and anticipating what’s next. In the first strategy, Miller challenges pastors to have realistic expectations and to be willing to release them when life change occurs. The second strategy, seizing opportunities, allows for pastors to be proactive, to be on the lookout for organizational stages and ministry opportunities. The final karios rhythm, anticipate what’s next, encourages churches to view slow or limited growth as a season of preparation for the next stage of life.  Once a church gives credence to rhythm, Miller concludes, “You coast more peacefully by releasing false expectations that don’t fit your current rhythm; you rise with more impact and joy by seizing unique opportunities this kairos season offers you; and you find more hope in anticipating the waves that still lie ahead of you” (p. 104).

The next section introduces four aspects of chronos rhythm in the church: pace, oscillate, build mission-enhancing rituals, and intensify and renewal. Chronos rhythm is based on seasons as seen in the calendar. Instead of keeping everything in balance or operating always at a highly intense level, Miller proposes that a church should pace itself. Not doing everything at once allows leadership to spread out major events throughout the year. The second aspect promotes rituals, but rituals that enhance the mission of Christ such as a discipleship study for a sermon series. Finally, in order to protect church leadership from overexertion, Miller suggests oscillation between intensity and renewal. With oscillation, churches experience “the joy of maximum exertion or the joy of deep relaxation” (p.145). Miller recommends making a yearly, monthly, and daily intensity graph to identify times or high and low intensity. By implementing the four chronos rhythms, he says, pastors will help their churches decrease the chances of burnout and “will advance Christ’s mission further with more joy” (p. 152).

Your Church in Rhythm makes a compelling and challenging case for church leaders to reconsider their approach to ministry. Readers will enjoy the practical applications and examples, exercises at the end of each chapter, interactive charts, and an intriguing subject matter. Bruce Miller concludes his work by encouraging his readers to embrace rhythmic living and implement rhythmic paradigm into their churches. Church leaders and pastors are encouraged to take these ideas and build on them. The author believes this will create a church leadership life with less stress and guilt and filled with more joy and peace.

Kevin Ewton with Glenn R. Kreider

Your Life in Rhythm

Your Life in Rhythm: Less Stress, More Peace, Less Frustration, More Fulfillment, Less Discouragement, More Hope. By Bruce Miller. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009. xi + 260 pp. $12.99.

People from all social backgrounds, religious perspectives, and economic situations struggle to achieve the goal of a balanced life. Bruce Miller, a pastor in McKinney, Texas, believes that the attempt to live a balanced life is the problem. Miller proposes that if someone wants live with less stress, frustration, and discouragement, adopting rhythmic living is a better solution. Living in rhythm as opposed to balance provides more peace, fulfillment, and hope.

Miller’s work proceeds through three movements: overview of rhythm living, kairos strategy, and chronos strategy. The author openly and honestly writes about his frustration in trying to live a balanced life and his own discovery of the rhythmic living approach. In his overview, Miller’s argument is intuitively sensible (exampled by sports seasons, celebration, grief, life’s seasons, and business cycles), and is practical and realistic because it is based on the notion that one’s environment, the world, and even the universe move in rhythm. Miller identifies two ways of living in rhythm, which gives the structure to the rest of the book: kairos and chronos. Kairos is characterized by seasons and chronos by cycles. He explains the difference between the two in a variety of ways. For example, “Chronos cycles describe the temporal context of our environment on planet Earth, whereas kairos seasons describe patterns in the flow of our human lives” (p. 39).

In part 2 Miller begins a more detailed discussion of rhythmic living by identifying expressions of kairos time as personal seasons and life stages (p. 46). Personal seasons are characterized by grief, recovery, crisis, harvest, celebration, business, beginnings, and endings. To begin living rhythmically with a kairos strategy is to identify and study personal seasons of life, such as school age, teen years, adulthood, and empty-nester years. Miller explains, “Identify your current life stage so you can apply rhythm strategies to your present life, and then identify the next stage you will likely enter” (p. 63). The author formulates three strategies in making the most of kairos: releasing expectations, seizing opportunities, and anticipating what’s next. In releasing expectations, Miller bravely deals with difficult areas of life, such as a miscarriage, divorce, and cancer, and readers will appreciate his openness in sharing stories about his own family. The author’s second strategy is to seize opportunities by not overextending yourself, which helps to keep one from burnout. In this section Miller demonstrates the rhythm of stages of life, from one’s own childhood through raising of children through the hope of seeing grandchildren pass through the same cycles. Third, the author wants his readers to anticipate their next life stage. Miller writes, “When you anticipate what’s coming ahead, that expectation fuels the hope that gives you a better life.” (107) His arguments are clear and well defended with biblical support.

The third section of Miller’s work maintains that “Chronos rhythms are measured times, which happen in predictable patterns.” (122) The author’s foundational theme is based on the patterns seen in the cosmos, such as the earth’s annual orbit of 365 days and the 24 hours of the earth’s rotation. These provide evidence from creation that rhythmic living is preferred over balanced living. Miller believes that one’s life should follow these patterns seen in creation. Particularly intriguing is his section on “Chronobiology,” the study of “life’s structure in time” (p. 128).

Miller encourages his readers to live in chronos rhythm by pacing themselves in life, building rituals, and oscillating between work and rest. Pacing oneself is ever important in the frantic pace of American life. Miller describes a common hectic busyness in family lives and provides practical and simple ways to establish new patterns that are less stressful. A second recommendation in chronos rhythm is to build rituals, which are important because they help build the community and family stability. The author shows that personal and family lives will be greatly enhanced through participation in long-term ritual patterns, such as birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. The third aspect of developing chromos-rhythum living is to oscillate between work and family. Oscillation is encouraged when one realizes that “Life is not a marathon but a series of sprints and rests” (p. 173). At first glance this seems like balanced living, but instead Miller encourages his audience to find times to work with intensity and to counter that with times of rest, like a power nap or a summer vacation.

In this book Miller proposes that by living a life of rhythm as opposed to seeking to “balance” ones’ life will be less stressful and frustrated and filled with more peace and fulfillment. Miller includes a number of real-life examples of living rhythmically, many from his own experiences. He also includes various charts, worksheets, and life exercises so that the reader can apply the books message. Your life in Rhythm makes a compelling case for living in rhythm and is recommended for anyone who recognizes the need to simplify and decrease the hectic pace of life.

Kevin Ewton with Glenn R. Kreider

Published in Bibliotheca Sarca, Ed. Roy Zuck, Vol. 168 Number 670, April-June 2011.