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.

Engagement is powerful; it simply requires the right keys to unlock that power; the organization that gives its people the tools, encouragement, and freedom to become the best people they can be—to really, truly engage—will also find itself rising to unimagined heights of success, according to Tracy Maylett and Paul Warner in their book MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement.

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

When the four biggest advertisers in the Toad Hollow Gazette band together to demand a big cut to the newspaper’s advertising rates, the newspaper’s publisher, Hedgehog, is left with an awkward dilemma of the type faced by many business leaders in the face of digital disruption and the other forces which are making it harder to run a profitable business. The outcome of Hedgehog’s dilemma is described in the allegory by Jen Lawrence and Larry Chester,Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team.

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

Most businesspeople know how to manage their business down to the last product requirement and decimal place, but they don’t know how to lead their people with the same degree of sophistication, according to Timothy Thomas and Charles Tilden in their book Leading on Purpose: Sage Advice and Practical Tools for Becoming the Complete Leader. Star performers often race ahead of the people problems they leave in their wake, until they reach a point where their continued success depends on leadership skills they do not possess.

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

Moxie is the essence of what makes a leader tough on the inside and soft on the outside; these people know what it means to get knocked down, but better still they know how to get back up;  they also stick up for others, especially when the chips are down, and you want them on your side, and lucky for you, they most often are, according to John Baldoni in his book Moxie: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.

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

If you’re an owner or manager of a small business, it is not enough just to offer high quality products or services; you have to do something to make potential customers or clients notice you. Jennefer Witter provides a wealth of ideas on how to attract an “unfair share” of attention in her book The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed.

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

How does one become a better and faster learner, and how does one build an organization that is more adaptable and learns better and faster than the competition? Those are the questions which Edward Hess aims to answer in his book Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization. The book aspires to synthesise recent developments in the understanding of how people learn, the role of emotions, and environmental factors which can assist or inhibit learning.

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