My Top Books of 2017

The end of another year is the perfect time for pretentious bloggers to write their list of top reads for the year. Armed with the arrogance of knowing they’ve read more books than most of their friends, and willing to share that information publicly, puts them in a category everyone despises. Nevertheless, I’ve done it for the last three years (2014, 2015, 2016) so why not continue to reveal my own pride and let you all know what I’ve read and how much.

Here goes.

My Top Books of 2017

Because any reader worth their salt is signed up to Goodreads, which enables readers to reveal and recommend books to their friends, there is an automatic graphic created to show just what I’ve read. If you’re interested in that then feel free to have a look. The following is a list of books I’ve rated 5 out of 5 from the 27 I’ve read this year. They are in no particular order.

I couldn’t have kicked off the year with a better book. It was all about how we relate to God. Since reading the book I have found it hard to explain his idea of being ‘with’ God but it was very true and very life giving. It’s pretty much the idea that we aren’t relating to God through Christ in a way which means we are ‘over’ God, or ‘under’ God, per se. It is really trying to say that through our lives we are walking with Jesus, we are WITH God and God is WITH us. There’s a relationship thing going on. It’s a brilliant book and I’d highly recommend it. It’s become a main text for my apprenticeship program next year, it’s that good.

Peterson writes really well. Everything I’ve read of his has been great. This is no exception. Here Peterson articulates the story of his life and ministry. He doesn’t do it all in a chronological and normative fashion. However, there is much in here to listen to and chew on.

I’ve written previously about this book and have found it very stimulating. It’s mainly about how the church can be the church in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything culture. And, how Christians can be Christians in a post-everything culture. From the other books I’ve read of his I’ve found this to be his best one. This books has also made it into the hands of a few at church, which is pleasing. But as I’ve commented to them, it’s constantly full of ideas and points one wants to discuss with others. It’s really good.

I took my time reading this but was very impressed with how Keller holds social justice and his evangelical convictions so well. I’m not sure why I’m surprised through, evangelical Christians have been doing good works for centuries. Anyway, Keller articulates the biblical mandate of justice and uses the odd example to show how this might work out in a church context. He elevates this well and by the end you know this is a no-brainer. Big tick.

Just as the Australia plebiscite was in full swing I read this book. It was brilliant. I’m not even sure it matters that the writer is gay. He articulates a terrific theology of friendship, elevating the need for friendship into a status close to marriage. There is the thought of commitment ceremonies for friends, and not in a gay marriage kind of way, but in a way that highlights the need for friends to commit to one-another. It is a book that makes you think about how your church helps singles, couples, and marrieds be better friends to one-another. It’s certainly worth the read. I wrote a few more words about it here.

This is a small yet powerful book. For Christians it should be obvious that discipling others is part of what it is to be a believer. Here Dever outlines a terrific way in how to do that in the Western church and is something I believe strongly in. As I’ve written previously:

“The obvious case for making disciples is made and then the ‘how-to’s’ are provided. Because I’ve read a lot of Dever, and this kind of discipleship, then I understand how to go about it. For those who are unsure this is a good primer and will provide the foundations and the practical. It’s really as easy as meeting with someone, opening the bible with them, and simply talking and listening to one-another. This should really be a standard text for anyone wishing to disciple/mentor/coach or whatever you want to call it. If I was running an internship or ministry apprenticeship this would be on my reading list.”

I wrote a review of this book separately and outlined how many of Roos’ leadership principles relate to youth ministry. Read that for more worthwhile content.

This book follows Paul Roos’ playing days, and particularly his successful coaching career. It’s a great read if you like sports biography, AFL, or leadership.

  • Lion by Saroo Brierley

This is the true story of Saroo, who at the age of five is separated from his family in India. After jumping on a train, believing it will take him back to his family, he is lost in one of the largest and busiest cities in the world. The story is amazing, and I won’t spoil the ending. But, it’s the book made into a movie a couple of years ago. Great story. Inspiring stuff.

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and there is much to recommend about it. It’s all about youth ministry, which isn’t a surprise given its title. But, it goes into depth about the ins and out of what youth ministry is about. It talks about the culture of youth ministries and how churches are always looking for the short-term, quick fix. Instead, the author is advocating for long-term, strategic and sustainable youth ministries focussed with intention and structure. DeVries has had many years of experience in youth ministry, mainly at one church but then with an organisation that consults to other youth ministries and churches. I found it one of the better youth ministry books I’ve read. It probably makes my top 5 (youth ministry books). I have some quotes from this book in a previous post. Excellent.

Recently Read: October 2017

I’ve ploughed through a few books recently. I was hoping to write more detailed reflections on them, but alas, I’ll have to do with these summaries for the moment.

Recently Read - Oct 2017

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love In The Church As A Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

This is an excellent book. It really outlines a clear and attractive theology of Christian friendship. Friendship, true Christian friendship, and what that means and looks like, is not often talked about in church. This book does a great job describing a vision for friendship that is separate to small talk and serving together in some form of ministry. It is about hospitality, love for the other, and the elevating of friendship to a similar level as we evangelicals enjoy elevating marriage. It really is a profound book with plenty of ideas about how we can be better friends and provide opportunities for friendship in the life of the Christian. Unfortunately, some readers will be put off by the author being gay, celibate, or Christian. In some respects it doesn’t matter how he labels himself, he gives a good treatise on friendship and is a valuable read.

Here I would love to include a couple of quotes, as I underlined heaps of the book, but it was so good that I gave the book away to a close friend. Ironic.

Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

This seems to be the best I’ve read from Sayers. He pinpoints culture, analyses the way churches have sought to be relevant to culture, and then calls for a coming back to Word and prayer for the Christian and the Christian church. It is excellent in its cultural analysis and provides plenty of food for thought in how to live in a post-Christian, secular society. His main point is that we should be seeking to have a resilient faith, built upon understanding the Word and seeking God in prayer. You can read a more detailed reflection on Disappearing Church here.

The Glue: Relationship As The Connection For Effective Youth Ministry by Mike Stevens

Read this post for a fuller reflection on the book.

As I wrote in an endorsement for the book:

“Whether you are leading a youth ministry in a small or large church The Glue is worth reading and reflecting on. Mike helps you understand the bigger picture of relational discipleship as well as providing detailed ideas to help your youth ministry move forward. This balance is fleshed out further through focussed questions at the end of each chapter, which were certainly helpful for me in processing what I was reading. The Glue is definitely worth reading.”

Discipleship by Mark Dever

Here’s a little book that helps anyone wishing to improve their discipling of others. The obvious case for making disciples is made and then the ‘how-to’s’ are provided. Because I’ve read a lot of Dever, and this kind of discipleship, then I understand how to go about it. For those who are unsure this is a good primer and will provide the foundations and the practical. It’s really as easy as meeting with someone, opening the bible with them, and simply talking and listening to one-another. This should really be a standard text for anyone wishing to disciple/mentor/coach or whatever you want to call it. If I was running an internship or ministry apprenticeship this would be on my reading list.

Here It Is: Coaching, Leadership and Life by Paul Roos

This was a fantastic biography by Paul Roos and gives insight into his coaching and leadership principles as an AFL coach. The fact that I enjoy sport and listening to Roosy on the radio helped me to buy the book in the first place. I kept seeing clear applications to youth ministry in much of his approach so I wrote a little something on that too. Go there for further details about the book.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

I made it through to the 100 page mark and called it quits. It is a well regarded memoir, highlighting the racism and casual racism of Australians in the 1980s to today. I’ve got no criticism of the book, I just didn’t enjoy it and wondered where it was heading.

Strange Days: Life In The Spirit by Mark Sayers

This was full of cultural analysis, as per usual from Sayers. Strange Days is more about living in the tension of the world but seeking to be set apart from the world as a believer. The book examines the biblical text of what it means to live in exile, what it looks like to live in the world today, and then how to think as a Christian in these tension-heightened days. Like Disappearing Church, which I preferred, it is full of ideas, analysis, and application.

Lion by Saroo Brierley

What a memoir! This is the story of Saroo, who became separated from his mother at five years of age. He became lost in Calcutta and was eventually adopted by an Australia couple in Hobart. The story is just phenomenal. It’s an emotional rollercoaster at times, but written in a very positive and encouraging way. It’s a must read. You may have already seen the movie. I haven’t.

What have you read recently?

Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.

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Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,

“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)

The book is broken into two parts.

The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.

In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,

“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)

This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.

I would highly recommend the read.

The Glue by Mike Stevens

Mike Stevens recently self-published a youth ministry book for youth pastors and youth ministry leaders. “The Glue: Relationship As The Connection For Effective Youth Ministry” is a helpful volume in thinking through the practicalities of youth ministry. It is a good addition to the youth ministry literature, and terrific to have another youth ministry resource produced here in Australia. Here are a few of my reflections on the book after reading it recently.

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In this book, Mike seeks to put his ideas about youth ministry leadership onto paper. He gives us a view into the way he thinks about youth ministry and its leadership, suggesting what might be most useful for us as youth pastors, leaders, and churches.

What I found most beneficial in this book was to be reminded again of the importance of relationship in leadership, and in the developing of leaders. The relational element of the leadership development process is what stood out to me the most. While there is much to think through practically, which Mike outlines throughout, it is relationships that make youth ministry an actual ministry. Relationship is central to any youth ministry, both relationship with God and with one-another. And so, the main aim of this book is to remind us that youth ministry is relational ministry. This is front and centre throughout, and is the core of each chapter (or section).

Clearly the book is focussed on being practical. There are sections and sub-sections on being a disciple, personal development, developing others, youth ministry foundations and the like. But within each chapter there are also short and sharp tips for anyone in youth ministry. This includes, how to communicate with leaders and parents, why camps are important, what questions to ask in beginning at a new church, how to finish a role well etc. The book aims at being practical and it does just that. This is opposed to being more theological in nature. There is brief mention of theological principles and foundations, which is quite common in youth ministry literature, and 99% of the word count is spent on application and concrete youth work. It’s clearly a practical youth ministry book.

A unique aspect to this book is the reflection section at the end of each chapter. These reflection pieces enable the reader to dig deeper into the content and see how it applies to their context. I found these reflection sections a worthwhile addition to this book, with good questions asked of the reader. I think is particularly useful for youth leadership teams who may work through this book together and make the content specific to their ministry or church.

I liked the reminder about relationship being central to youth ministry. Often we can quickly lose sight of the relationships we are building as we plan and prepare for the upcoming youth group event or small group. But, I also appreciated the sub-section on “The Four Big Asks of Youth Leadership” (p87-100). Here Mike outlines the clarity in which we need to communicate to our youth leaders. After all, what exactly are we asking them to do, say, on a Friday night? Mike summarises his answer to this in four parts: (1) Lead from your growing relationship with Jesus, (2) Follow up young people, (3) Prepare for Game Time (i.e. a youth group night or event), and (4) Deliver on Game Time (i.e. be punctual, present, willing to serve, and take initiative). This is not only an example of the practical nature of this book but also highlights the thinking and clarity we should be seeking to lead from.

The Glue is a very easy read and is written like a series of blog posts, which I believe some of these chapters were originally. As I mentioned earlier, I think this is a good addition to the numerous books on youth ministry, particularly for us here in Australia. It is more for youth pastors and youth ministry leaders, but would be helpful for parents and the wider church too. Unless you’re already across the basics of a theology of youth ministry then I’d recommend reading this alongside “Gospel-Centred Youth Ministry” or Andrew Root’s “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” series.


It would be worth me disclosing that I do in fact know Mike! We have been colleagues for a few years now within the wider Baptist movement here in Australia. But even though I do know him, alas, I was not paid or given any sort of favour for this reflection! If you’re considering buying this book I’d recommend you get it directly from his website, as that’ll help him cover his self-publishing costs. Enjoy.

Growing Young – Final Reflections

This is post nine in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfivesixseven, and eight.


Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.

This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.

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From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.

At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.

However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.

Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.

In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.

I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.

First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’

Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.

The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.

I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?

This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.

So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?

  • This book has provided excellent food for thought.
  • It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
  • The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
  • The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
  • It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.

Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.

Further Resources:

The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.

Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials

Book reflection by Trevin Wax


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections

My Top Books of 2016

This is the week in the blogosphere where all bloggers release those awful list posts, humbly bragging about what they read this year. It’s an easy post to write, tickles the ego, and promotes faux intelligence. It also makes you feel bad for not achieving your own reading goals, and a reminder of all those other goals you failed to complete this year.

Well, here’s another.

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For me, 2016 was a horrendous reading year. I only finished 11 books. I won’t give you my excuses but will put reading back into its rightful position in 2017.

So for the third year in a row, and in no particular order, here are my top books of 2016:

Do More Better: A Practical Guide To Productivity by Tim Challies

Here’s a little gem, at just over 100 pages, which helps you think through your own productivity system. Much of the advice given can be applied to the different spheres in which you find yourself – work, family, personal, recreation etc. It just helps having a good system and the one by Challies’ outlined here is a good fit for me.

Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide by Cameron Cole and Jon Nielson

If you want a good primer on youth ministry, giving theological grounding and practical outworking of that theology, then this is a good book. Every Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor should read this. If you’re in youth ministry as a volunteer it will give you a good idea of the foundational thinking your Youth Pastor should be thinking through, as well as providing you with excellent training in the process.

Each chapter is about a particular topic: making disciples in youth ministry, teaching the Bible, building relationships, forming a gospel-community, partnering with parents, how to make youth ministry inter-generational, small groups, leadership training, music and worship, retreats and events, evangelism, serving the poor, and short-term missions. There’s a lot there and it’s all very solid.

This book would now make my Top 3 Books for Youth Ministry.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: His Life And Relevance For The 21st Century by Christopher Catherwood

There is something about Martyn Lloyd-Jones that draws me to read about his life and ministry. His own writings and sermons are invaluable themselves, but so are the reflections of others about his life. In this book Lloyd-Jones’s eldest grandson gives a brief precis about his life before delving into topics missed by other biographers. There are the chapters to expect, one on preaching and another on the centrality of Scripture. But, there are also chapters on home life, and how he is relevant and appealing to Millennials and the 21st century.

It’s not a long book and is easy to digest. It’s worth the read.

Luther on The Christian Life: Cross & Freedom by Carl R. Trueman

The ‘On The Christian Life‘ series is a terrific series for those of us that enjoy biography and historical theology. Bringing this together with Martin Luther, one of the most significant figures in Christian history, Carl Trueman does an exceptional job. Albeit I’m a bit of a Trueman fanboy, but he does do a great job in outlining Luther’s life and theological growth, centred on his theology of the cross.

Chapters cover Luther’s life, the Word, liturgy, baptism and mass, righteousness, and living and dying in the world.

Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin

I can’t really go through this list without mentioning Growing Young. This is the book I’ve spent the most time in this year, thinking it through and reflecting upon it. To get a better idea of the book you can read all nine reflection posts on this blog if you’re so inclined!

The main premise of this volume is what keeps young people in church. Much has been written about why young people are leaving the church, but this is a piece of research summarised into six core reasons why young people stay.

This is a book for anyone who works with young people in churches. From senior leadership to volunteer leaders to parents and grandparents, this is a good resource to help you think through how to integrate young people in your church.


Well, that’s the top 5 for 2016. If you’d like to read 2014 and 2015 then go ahead and do so.

I hope you’re 2016 reading was better than mine, but if it wasn’t then why not try this awesome reading challenge for 2017?

reading-challenge-2017

My Top Books of 2015

At the start of each year I set out to read, on average, one book per fortnight. By the end of the year I’ve usually achieved this goal. What can I say? I enjoy reading. There’s usually a mix of fiction (40%) and non-fiction (60%), this year is no different. The list of books I read don’t include those I simply dip into here and there. These are the ones I read right through. If you’d like to see every book I’ve read this year then head here. Otherwise, below is a list of the top books I read. These all achieved 5-stars in my subjective rating system. 🙂

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Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Few books I read significantly shape me. The last would’ve been around a decade ago. Yet, in January one more was added to that elite list, this biographical account of the life of Adoniram Judson. Perhaps it was the timing, just before our miscarriage and a rather painful time for us as a family. It was helpful for that period but also for deeper reflection in what it means to live a life following Jesus and making him known to others.

The book was so good I had to review it. The review gives you a better outline and idea of the book than I can give here. I also quoted him a little in some previous posts. It’s a great read and was significant to me at the time and as I’ve continued to reflect on it.

In brief Judson was the first American Baptist missionary sent out, ever. He had a great impact on current day Burma/Myanmar, fruit which continues to be seen today. He endured so much personal and ministerial hardship, including the deaths of many of his children and two of three wives. He seems like an amazing man and very much worth the read.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Ronald Lazenby

Michael Jordan was the most iconic sportsman while I was growing up. Probably still is. He’d certainly be the best basketballer the world has ever seen. This biography is a comprehensive outline of his life and family. Lazenby begins generations before MJ was born and makes his way through the family tree before spending much of the 720 pages talking about his career. The Life outlines Jordan’s relationship with his father, family, coaches and team mates. It is a great read and even more so if you remember the glory days of Jordan and his Bulls.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Another biography makes the list here too. Can you tell the stories of others interest me?

Bonhoeffer was a pastor during the time of Hitler-led Germany and into World War II. He was one of few who saw Hitler for what he was and went against the traditional German church at the time. This leads him to be a main player in seeking to assassinate Hitler during the war, which he is consequently imprisoned for. Metaxas is a great writer and gives a detailed account of Bonhoeffer’s life. It took longer than I would’ve liked reading this on Kindle but it was still worth the 5-stars.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert

As part of my role with Global Interaction I have had the privilege of facilitating and leading short-term mission or exposure teams. This involves preparing people to engage in missions in another culture and with other religions. At the same time questions are often raised as to the validity and method of these trips, quite often seen as a waste of money with little help to others. I have my own thoughts on this of course but this book helps put many of these things in perspective.

This is a good primer on poverty and dealing with people who are impoverished. It also has some good chapters on what non-profits can do to safe guard themselves in dealing with the poor, whether that be processes or programs or finances etc. I was particularly interested in how they approached short-term teams and there is a whole chapter dedicated to that. Consequently they have elaborated that chapter into and entire book now too. In any case, this one was excellent and gave me a real insight into dealing with things regarding the poor and social justice.

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

So in January I become an Associate Pastor. I thought it worthwhile to read up on what some of this may entail. This book was rightly recommended to me and very much worth the read. It is written by two guys with much experience in associate roles and delves into three particular tensions those who lead from the second chair may face. It gives a good picture of the realities of this role, whether it be in a church or other place of work.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Knowing God is a Christian classic and remains so today. This is a re-read for me but it had been 10 years since I last picked it up. Packer outlines the Christian faith and the central aspects of it. As the title suggests, it helps us in getting to know God, who he is and what he is like. As I read this it reminded me of how ‘lite’ the Christian Living books are today. If you’d like something of substance to read this coming year then give this one a go.

This time of year often produces ‘best of’ type lists on various websites. I mainly stick with books and you can read 2014’s list too if you like.

Book Review: Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Judson bookThe last book I can remember reading that had such an impact on me was in my later university years. I read a young adult version of the biography of Jim Elliot, a missionary martyr to Ecuador. His life and faith were an inspiration as I worked out my faith during my university years and spurred me into the world of missions.

That was over 10 years ago now.

So it seems very few books I read spur me into greater action and reflection. Most books invite me into the story and may give good information about a particular person or period. But I can’t think of more than a handful of books I’ve read that spur me into action and greater obedience to God.

But the book Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesing, is one of those books.

This book isn’t written by one author. We could say it’s a collection of essays combined to give an excellent picture of Judson’s life and ministry. The book goes deep into his early life, his Christian life, his missionary life, his married life, and the influential life he led.

It is a wonder as to why I hadn’t previously read a book about Judson. He is highly esteemed, particularly by those in America and the missions world. He is recognised as the father of American missions. The little I previously knew was from John Piper’s biographical message on the man from 2003. Yet in this written volume, with references to his and his wives’ journals and letters, there is a terrific account of this “mighty man”.

Three main areas I saw highlighted in the book were Judson’s faith in the sovereignty of God, endurance through suffering, and commitment to long-term missions service.

Sovereignty
The faith Judson and his wives’ had in God is simply an inspiration.

I say wives because Judson ended up having three. Ann and Sarah, his first two, died during his lifetime and Emily passed away only a few years after Judson himself died. I feel this needs to be clarified so there is no miscommunication. 🙂

But all four individuals were wholeheartedly followers of Jesus Christ and sought to be obedient to His call, wherever that led. This begins with the conversion of Adoniram Judson soon after hearing one of his good friends from university die in the room next to him. He literally heard this man passing away during the night and upon finding out who it was the next morning was thrown into turmoil about his own soul.

Judson sees the light and the graciousness of God through his Son and clings to the cross for forgiveness and salvation. He realises that it is only the cross that can bring true salvation. The trust he has in God at this early stage is evident. The way God’s hand guided him from being the son of a Congregationalist minister into atheism through university and then into a living, vibrant, and heartfelt faith when he was 20 years old is clearly seen. God’s sovereignty is at work.

With this as the banner of his life he pursues a life that will count. He seeks to see others come to know God through his Son, so that they too may see salvation through the cross.

He trusts God in his studies, as he heads to theological college without an active faith. Over the course of his studies he converts and has an unrivaled desire to be a missionary is Asia. He trusts God as he seeks a wife and proposes to Ann Hasseltine, loving her and trusting she will be willing to come with him to Burma and the East. In a letter to her parents, seeking to begin a relationship with her, he very early on describes his intentions for life and what that will mean for them and their daughter. In July, 1810, he writes,

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for fer and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

As they travel he trusts God’s plans as they make the controversial but convicted decision to become Baptists after studying the scriptures. In the four months from leaving the American shores he and his wife Ann see the truth in Believer’s Baptism and are baptised themselves by colleagues of William Carey in India.

In his first marriage with Ann, and consequently the ones following, the sovereignty of God is central to their faith and obedience.

Suffering
Judson and his wives’ suffered immensely. He saw the death of two wives, the death of over five children, and the death of colleagues in the mission work. He was imprisoned for nearly two years by the brutal regime in Burma at the time. When he lost his firstborn son he wrote:

Our little Roger died last Saturday morning. We looked at him through the day, and on the approach of night we laid him in the grave. This is the fourth day, and we just begin [sic] to think, What can we do for the heathen? But yet it seems hard to forget little Roger so soon, to force off our thoughts from the attractive, painful subject, and to return to our usual employments. O may we not suffer in vain! May this bereavement be sanctified to our souls! and for this I hope we have your prayers. (p88)

Ann experienced the same difficulty. In a letter to her parents, she expressed her confidence in God’s sovereign goodness, even in the death of her child:

We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish rather to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error and strip us of our little all. Oh may it not be in vain that he has done it. May we so improve that he will stay his hand and say, ‘It is enough’. (p88)

What inspiration and trust in the Lord!

Added to this is the ridicule he received from the local Burmese. It took seven years into the work before the Judson’s saw a convert. The constant health issues and lack of ‘success’ in the conversion of the people he sought to reach, and the death and disease he saw drove him to leave the main town he was living in and live by himself, in the jungle, sitting and staring into a shallow grave he had dug.

Thankfully it was the years after this that Judson saw the fruit of his work but the suffering had an effect, as one could expect.

Service
The commitment of Judson and his wives’ have had a lasting impact on the lives and ministry of those who have gone after him. Their service of nearly 40 years, with one furlough back to America, is something to behold in the modern day. I understand that this was a different era, but the long lasting commitment of Judson and his wives attest to the fruit from long-term service.

As mentioned, they didn’t see a convert for seven years. They experienced great suffering in their own lives and also saw it among the people they served. Yet, they continued to work in building relationships and translating the Bible into the native tongue of the Burmese. To this end Judson had a commitment to being contextual in everything and learn the culture well.

The Judson’s immediately set about learning the Burmese language. Understanding Burmese was crucial for personal evangelism and Bible translation, both of which were necessary if the gospel was to gain a foothold in Burma. It was not enough to learn the language; the Judsons also had to learn how to live and minister in a Burmese context. Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants describes the centrality of this learning for the Judsons’ mission:

“The Judsons recognised that they had to be learners before they would be able to teach anything. They were persistent in learning from the Burmese [sic], their entire lives in order to communicate the gospel authentically in ways natural to the Burmese instead of trying to make the Burmese American so they could understand the gospel. More than learning the language from their teachers, the Judsons learned what it meant to be Burmese.”

Learning the Burmese language and being immersed in Burman culture were critical components in providing a contextually appropriate Christian witness. The Judsons eventually excelled at both. (p81)

This led Judson to be a communicator in word and deed. Alongside the work of translation was the contextual approach to being a witness for Christ.

We agree in the opinion that our sole object on earth is to introduce the Religion of Jesus Christ into the empire of Burmah; and that the means by which we hope to effect this are translating, printing, and distributing the Holy Scriptures, preaching the Gospel, circulating religious tracts, and promoting the instruction of native children.

Cross-cultural communication of the gospel was the Judsons’ heartbeat.

Jusdon understood that translation work could commence more quickly in Burma that in some settings because, as Wayland surmised from Judson’s letters, “The Burmans are reading people. They have their religious books, and possess the teachings of Gaudama in their own language.’ However, Judson prioritised proclamation, “The press can never supplant the pulpit’.

Language acquisition came gradually with parallel cultural knowledge, giving them the ability to interpret nuanced Burmese meanings, and worldview complexes of belief and practice. One of Judson’s first forays in adapting his technique to the culture was to stop building a zayat, a speaking point at the end of his house where passersby would stop to inquire this foreigner and his teaching. Eventually it became a place to hold public worship. Even though he borrowed the zayat idea from Buddhist priests, he clearly distinguished his zayat from theirs. His diary described the design and function of the building and recorded that it ‘is whitewashed, to distinguish it from the other zayats around us’. (p139)

Conclusion

Much more could be said. The book is well worth a read and some days spent in reflection of it. It was an inspiring read and one that made me think about my commitment to Christ and the way in which missions is currently done.

Book Review: The Pastor’s Kid

the pastors kid bookMy father is a Pastor.

My grandfather was a Pastor.

My great grandfather was a Pastor too.

When I was a boy I lay on top of my bed one night balling my eyes out.

The reason?

I didn’t want to be a Pastor.

Because of the heritage of my family I thought that to be a ‘Coombs’ meant you had to be a Pastor. I looked down the generations and saw that the first born son turned out to be a Pastor. Something at the age of twelve I didn’t want to be.

This was one of many unique challenges I can remember growing up as a Pastor’s kid (PK). Granted, this was more a phenomenon of our family’s rich Christian tradition. Yet, there are other challenges of living with the forever abbreviated title of ‘PK’ that others don’t face. And these challenges are the reason I find the book, ‘The Pastor’s Kid’ by Barnabas Piper an excellent book.

Piper has recently published this book about PKs for PKs, Pastors and churches. A book that “describes the unique challenges PKs have faced being the children of ministers”.

Throughout the book Piper seeks to serve individuals and churches by highlighting the challenges that come from being a child with a Pastor as parent. Through his own experience as a PK, and conversations with others, Piper gives insight into these challenges. As he puts it,

“The constant pressure to be something, do something, and believe something creates enormous confusion for PKs. And one of the main confusions is about who we are…”

After all, nobody chooses to be a PK, you’re either born into it or brought into it through the calling of your parents.

On one hand it is a privilege. The constant meeting of new people from different parts of the world. The hearing of what God is doing in different countries and places. The unconscious absorption of biblical teaching. And the community of people that you’re surrounded by. All these things provide the PK with tremendous opportunity to hear about God, what He has done, and what He continues to do.

On the other hand, it is a situation where the fishbowl of the local church can strangle the life out of you. Where there is an ambivalence to the truth because you’ve heard the stories so often. Church becomes a place where everyone knows of you, but no one actually knows you. Where expectations are laid on thick, from parents to congregation. And, of course, where you get to see the ugliness of sinners dealing with sinners from the front row.

Therefore, PKs turn out differently as they seek to find themselves within the life of the church and the world around them. Some stay within the faith, following in the steps of their parents. Others rebel, leaving the church behind for a life apart from God. And others end up finding God and their place in the world in a way that is their own.

Piper rightly highlights the need for grace for the PK, as they seek to grow from within the all-encompassing nature of church ministry. Grace that is experienced and shown, not just told. Grace that recognises that legalism and rules won’t help. Grace that recognises the PK has their own journey of faith-discovery and self-discovery. Grace that is therefore holistic, unassuming, respectful and full of hope for the PK as a person. Grace that comes from Jesus Christ, shown through the Pastor and the church.

A PK isn’t anyone special. They are as special as everyone else. But they do have unique challenges.

This book is a great conversation starter for you and your family. I’d strongly recommend you buy this book – read it and talk about it. It’ll help you as a PK. It’ll help you as a Pastor. And it’ll help you as a church member.


This book review was also posted on the Baptist Union of Victoria’s ‘Witness Blog’ on the 22/09/2014. 

Book Review: The Road Trip by Mark Sayers

theroadtripHere is a travel book with a difference.

Most travel books give information about a certain place. The good and bad hotels, the best restaurants, the sites to see. In The Road Trip Mark Sayers travels through the last 50 years of culture enlightening us on what’s happened to the West. Following the travels of Jack Kerouac, writer and experiential junkie of the 1950s, Sayers shows how Kerouac’s journey across America is now mainstream for the life of a Western young adult.

The book is in two parts. The first, offers a critique of young adult life in the 21st Century. The themes, illustrations, and connections between the journey of Kerouac and journey of today’s millennials resonates strongly. The second, turns toward the cross and gives broad examples of what the church must do to re-engage with young adults today. Following the journey of Abraham and centred of the cross Sayers describes how young adults can find true meaning for their lives.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

(1) The Cultural Analysis

In many ways Sayers depicts young adult culture; its aims, its experiences, its lack of meaning, its search for something better, its hopelessness, with compelling accuracy.

(2) The Writing

Sayers pulls you along with him. It’s hard to put the book down. There are illustrations, quotes, stories, and his own ideas, which keep you reading and reading. It’s a very well written book that enables you to travel the cultural contours with him.

(3) The Gospel

In part-two Sayers turns to how Christianity is to deal with this “culture of the road” that young adults seek to travel. The central answer to this ‘issue’ is the Gospel, which “reconciles us to God, others, and creation”. It is only through Christ’s death on the cross that gives meaning to this world and to this life. Therefore, it is this reality that provides the necessary answer to this “culture of the road”. It is an encouragement to see the explicitness of the Gospel within this book, and how it is the basis for further application.

(4) Morality and Covenant

These are two themes, among others, are tackled by Sayers toward the end of the book. They are themes put on the agenda for Christians and wider Western society to think through. Morality and covenant have both been thrown out the metaphorical window in recent time and so it is a good reminder to again reflect on these issues.

Here’s what could be improved:

I should say that I liked everything in the book. It was very good. There is much to take away and dwell on, particularly for those in youth and young adult ministry. It’s hard to come up with much in terms of critique or growth areas. However, when I put the book down I did feel there was something missing.

A couple of caveats:

First, I opened the book expecting big things. Maybe bigger than Sayers could deliver. I’ll name that.

Second, I recognise I’m involved in young adult ministry. I get to see the culture first-hand and affirm almost everything Sayers said about it. I believe these two factors affect my thoughts here.

However, toward the end I was wanting to know more. I was wanting to know what was next. I was wanting to know how to connect the young adult world of experience, journey, and meaninglessness to the worldview of the Bible.

I know I was offered suggestions; to bring back the transcendent, to bring back covenant, to bring back sacredness, to bring back commitment. In other words, to show that living the Christian life actually means giving up what the world offers and travelling the journey of God into full discipleship and devotion. This was made clear, I don’t want to deny that. Yet, this still leaves me hanging for more as I try to connect and apply these themes back to culture.

Since finishing the book I’ve worked out what I’m really asking. It’s the “How?” question.

How do we bring these themes back in a way that enables young adults to have a big vision of God and involved in His mission in the whole of life?

Maybe that’s not Sayer’s task here but mine as the practitioner. In any case, it’s left me pondering that task and something all of us should be pondering as we reach out to the young adults of today.


After writing this review Mark was kind enough to go back and forth on some of my thoughts. Below is an excerpt from our conversation and a reply to the “how” question. Many thanks to Mark Sayers for his time and willingness for this.

Mark’s response:

“…As I get around across the evangelical/charismatic/pente scene I notice that there is no one programmatic thing that is reaching young adults. Rather, it is the simple stuff in the book which I think is important e.g. covenant, living at the foot of the cross etc. I think because western young adult culture at the beginning of 21st Century seems so shiny and powerful we expect the answer to be so as well, but again I think that the answer is simple, humble obedience to Christ, simple non-sexy stuff that we already know. I have positioned our whole Church around this idea – no show, just less of us, and excitingly over time it is incredibly transformational…

…The other thing is that I often notice after workshops and talks that I do, describing western cultures journey to secularism and now post-secularism, that people become overwhelmed and want quick and easy answers. However, how do you reverse 500 years of this stuff in some simple ministry tips? I don’t think you can, it is going to take generations to turn things around in my opinion. No one likes to think of it this way but the questions of today’s young adults are essentially Hamlet’s questions at the dawn of the modern. We have a lot of work to do.”