In our schools and workplaces, groupthink is rewarded. Those who question decisions and advocate for different ways are often ignored, ostracized, or fired. Yet without rebels, our systems, companies, schools, churches, government agencies, and healthcare organizations become rigid and sometimes even dangerous, according to Lois Kelly, Carmen Medina and Debra Cameron in their book Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.

My full review of the book is available at my business book reviews website.

Christian leaders who stay in love with God embody something that the world deeply needs; they possess an ethos characterized by love, servanthood, and sacrifice that is distinctive and more important than other skills or insights that leaders acquire; they may not have all the latest leadership techniques, but quite often people will follow them anywhere, according to Tom Berlin and Lovett Weems in their book High Yield: Seven Disciplines of the Fruitful Leader.

The seven leadership disciplines recommended by the authors are:

  • Build trust, which includes the importance of attending to people in their time of need
  • Lead the journey, including engaging the past, naming the present and envisioning the future
  • Set high standards, by insisting on excellence, expecting accountability without being controlling, and counting people carefully
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate, which includes speaking the whole truth and preaching well
  • Redeem conflict, by getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and being assertive while remaining humble
  • Cultivate leadership practices, including teamwork, appropriate delegation, and consulting wise counsel; and
  • Keep growing, by finding mentors, seeking and using feedback, and staying in love with God

Unlike many leadership books which are written from the perspective of a megachurch senior pastor, this book considers leadership from the perspective of everyday non-superstar pastors. It is a short book, easy to read, and should be a source of great encouragement to those who are called to lead a church in the current difficult times.

Like our world today, Roman citizens were bombarded with new cultures, new commerce, new foods, and new ideas, as well as new philosophies, cults, and religions; theirs was an era of massive disorientation, and at the same time, it was exactly the right environment for Christianity to emerge and thrive, according to Christine Chakoian in her book Cryptomnesia: How a Forgotten Memory Could Save the Church.

The author’s thesis is that the church today could work out how to respond to the current difficult times of change and crisis if only we could recover our memory of how the early church managed to thrive.

  • Technology is causing massive disruptions today, just as the new Roman roads and technologies were causing disruptions in the ancient world.
  • The shrinking world has brought religious pluralism, just as the Roman roads led to a melting pot of many foreign religions.
  • The early church had to decide which parts of the faith were essential and which parts were not, and we have to deal with similar questions today.
  • The early church had to struggle with finding authority in community, and we face similar struggles in today’s authority-questioning environment.
  • The early church had to find ways to reach out to a non-Christian culture, and we face a similar task.

There are plenty of interesting ideas in this fairly short book. Most readers will probably find something to disagree with, but in my view this book does a provide a helpful context for the thoughtful consideration of a number of important and controversial issues.

In order to overcome the natural resistance to change within an organization, a systematic approach must be taken; this approach must deal with the whole system, which includes people, processes, and systems; it must begin with defining the organization, developing the vision, and detailing the steps along the way, according to Greg Howes in his book Business Optimization: Six Steps to a Sustained Performance Culture.

My full review of the book is available at my business book reviews website.

Today, we continue to have a few great leaders, some pretty good leaders, and bucket loads of people in positions of authority who are mediocre, incompetent, or worse at leadership, according to Roxi Bahar Hewertson in her book Lead Like it Matters…Because it Does: Practical Leadership Tools to Inspire and Engage Your People and Create Great Results. Even though we know that leaders have a significant impact on people’s lives and well-being, we allow them to operate in their sphere of influence without having to prove that they have the skill set or the integrity to lead anyone anywhere.

My full review of the book is available at my business book reviews website.

Knowing how to connect with those who have chosen to ignore churches, how to successfully invite them to engage with a community of faith, is a challenge that eludes simple, step-by-step solutions, according to George Barna and David Kinnaman in their book Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect With Them. The authors aim to provide insights that enable churches to create deeper, more enduring relationships with unchurched people, leading to their positive introduction to and lasting relationship with a Christian community of faith.

The book is based on data from a number of surveys conducted in the US by the Barna Group between 2008 and 2014. According to the 2014 figures, 47% of American adults are “actively churched”, 8% “minimally churched”, 35% “de-churched” and 12% “purely unchurched”. Most readers will be unsurprised to learn that secularism is on the rise and churchgoing is losing its role as a normative part of American life.

What can churches to do win back the unchurched? Unfortunately the list of strategies and tactics that do not work corresponds fairly closely with what churches actually try to do: direct mail, TV advertising, unsolicited phone calls, billboard advertising, sermons on CDs, etc. The things most likely to succeed were: older adults who provide life lessons to younger adults, helping the needy in the community, and interesting public events that are hosted by the church.

To reach unchurched people, you need to understand how they think and what their priorities are, which is why this type of book is useful. However, it seems to me that cultural diversity is becoming too great to allow any particular generalisations to be drawn about the characteristics and preferences of “the unchurched”.

We all have unexamined cultural baggage that has the potential to distort the gospel message; whether we are reaching a new culture, or trying to bring the gospel to our own in a more biblically faithful way, we need to understand the nature of the gospel, learn how to interpret culture and discover how gospel and culture interact to produce a contextualised message, according to Tim Foster in his book The Suburban Captivity of the Church: Contextualising the Gospel for Post-Christian Australia.

The evangelical church in Australia has largely confined itself to ministry in the suburbs, and its gospel message has unwittingly acquired suburban middle-class cultural values. The gospel message wrapped in those values does not connect with the culture of inner-city people, who reject suburban values. Contextualisation is an important part of missiology, but how does it play out in the context of inner-city Australia?

Rather than just proclaiming the need for contextualisation, the author provides his own analysis of two different inner-city cultures, the “Urbanites” and the “Battlers”, and he describes what he considers to be a suitably contextualised way of presenting the good news to each group. Key gospel themes for the Urbanites include the environment, the marginalised, social justice, peace and reconciliation. Key gospel themes for the Battlers include: Jesus is one of us, a world for the rest of us, and security.

I found this to be a very interesting and helpful book. Most churches in Australia are not doing well in connecting with their local communities, but they fail to notice that their lack of success is at least partially attributable to unnecessary cultural baggage which repels the people with whom they are trying to connect. This book provides some very useful cultural keys and fully worked examples which will be of great assistance to local churches.

“The legitimate goal of the U.S. government (or any proper government) is to protect, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, an individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” claims John Allison in his book The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I decided to read this book in the mistaken belief that it would be about poor leadership in corporations and other institutions, and it might have some ideas on how to fix this. Instead, the author’s “leadership crisis” seems to be big government led by someone who is not a white male Republican, and his solution seems to involve getting rid of that government. The first half of the book is essentially an overview of the author’s political philosophy, and the second half contains reminiscences from his career as a banker.

US politics can be somewhat confusing to the 95.6% of people who do not live in the US. The author, an avid follower of the atheist novelist Ayn Rand, sees himself as a libertarian, although unlike traditional libertarians he is not a socialist. He is a classical liberalist, but he sees liberalism as a bad thing. He considers progress to be good but progressives to be bad. He strongly supports individuals’ rights to use guns, but complains that government intervention constitutes “using guns”. The author’s views are more fully explained in the following quotes from the book:

  • The environmentally correct progressive/liberal elites cause the most harm to the poverty stricken of the world.
  • Sometimes humility is defined as a virtue. I have never met a truly humble successful leader.
  • Egalitarianism is an attack on the best based on the destructive psychology of envy, rationalized as justice.
  • Altruism is another related destructive concept.
  • Love is the ultimate expression of selfishness.
  • Genuine love is very selfish. You want someone because that person is of enormous value to you.
  • What if everybody acted in her rational, long-term self-interest, properly understood—what if everybody was selfish? The vast majority of the world’s problems would be solved in a short period of time.
  • One of the causes of low self-esteem is the societal reframe that you should be an altruist. However, you cannot be a true altruist and survive. Therefore, for most people the belief they should be altruistic simply is a guilt trip that reduces their self-worth.
  • The free-rider problem is an excuse to use force to accomplish goals that more effectively and efficiently can be achieved through voluntary relationships.
  • Any time markets do not work, it is because of the heavy hand (the “gun”) of the government. Market failure is another myth to justify expanding government.
  • The United States is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic based on the protection of individual rights.
  • Those that argue that America is not special are ignorant of human history or dishonest or have a deep malevolent sense of life.
  • We are engaged in a deep philosophical battle for the future of Western civilization.

The author’s political beliefs are obviously incompatible with my faith as a Christian, so I cannot recommend the book.

The major reason so many churches are plateaued or in decline is that they’ve either lost their vision or adopted the wrong vision; the key to re-envisioning churches that are able to plant healthy, robust churches is visionary leadership, especially on the part of the senior pastor, according to Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold in their book Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church. The problem is that church re-envisioning is a fairly new solution and most know very little about it.

The book is based on survey research which compares the DiSC and Myers-Briggs personality profiles of pastors of churches which have experienced at least a particular level of numerical attendance growth over a particular period of time with the profiles of pastors whose churches have not experienced the same level of numerical growth. Pastors of churches which have experienced the qualifying level of growth are assumed to be re-envisioning pastors. Based on the survey results, the authors draw particular conclusions as to desired personality traits for re-envisioning pastors.

The results actually showed that re-envisioning pastors had a range of different personality types. There were some predominant types, but correlation does not equal causation, and the survey methodology does not appear to have ruled out some form of selection bias. More importantly, I suspect that the authors have over-estimated the relationship between numerical growth and the personality characteristics of a church’s senior pastor. I suspect that effective church leadership is done by teams, not individuals, so the success of a church is more dependent on the team the senior pastor leads rather than on particular personality traits of the senior pastor.

In my view, personality tests are helpful for the purpose of understanding your default behaviours and weaknesses, but they are unhelpful if used as the sole means of determining whether you “have what it takes” to lead a church. No one person “has what it takes” to lead a church in his or her own strength. The best leaders are those who understand their weaknesses and make sure that other members of their team can cover for them.

Notwithstanding my issues with the survey’s methodology, the book does in my opinion point the reader in the right direction. It is critical for church leaders to create and cast a compelling vision which clarifies the direction of the church, motivates the people, creates energy and sustains ministry. It is also critical to create a culture which is aligned with the vision.

The purpose of a church board is ultimately to mind the “bottom line” of the church—to make sure the church is operating in such a way as to accomplish its mission; but the bottom line sometimes looks different to different people, according to Stan Toler in his book Stan Toler’s Practical Guide to Leading Church Boards. Even if all board members agree that the church’s purpose is to fulfill the Great Commission, the board members still may interpret success differently.

Thus it is necessary to reach at least broad agreement on the board’s purpose, roles and expectations. This book provides a useful guide to those three things in its first three chapters, and then goes on to discuss how to run effective board meetings, how to use the board to stimulate progress, how to conduct strategic planning and develop long-term strategies, how to manage conflict, and how to equip new board members.

Unfortunately the people who put themselves forward and get elected to church board positions often are not the best candidates for the roles. This short book provides some useful suggestions for proactive ways in which pastors can help to get the right people on the board and then help to get them aligned and working as a team. Church boards will always be imperfect, but there are nearly always ways in which their current level of functioning can be improved.