Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

I suspect, every year, thousands of people give up on their attempted bible reading plan because they’ve fallen so far behind they don’t believe they’ll ever catch up, and they feel guilty about it.

You know the situation, I’m sure. You start off the new year with a plan to follow. You’re aiming to achieve what seems like the impossible–finish the whole bible in one year. But by the time the third week of January comes to a close you find yourself three days behind, the equivalent of 12-15 chapters to catch up on. The doubt about actually doing this in the first place creeps in. The guilt of not doing what you said you’d do piles up. And suddenly you find yourself questioning whether your relationship with God is actually where you thought it was.

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading_

From a young age, in church or in a Christian home, we are taught that reading the bible and praying are simply parts of the Christian identity and rhythm. I’m not going to disagree with that. I think the bible itself speaks of the need to read God’s words and be active in prayer with him. This is vital to any relationship with God.

When God gives Moses his words in Exodus 24 there is the understanding that his people are to respond and obey it. Then as part of the words God gives Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, there is the command to have them on repeat.

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

A bible reading habit is about having God’s words on repeat.

Yet, while this is vital, helpful, and beneficial for us as believers we often feel guilty if we skip a day or fall too far back on a bible reading plan.

The point of a bible reading plan is not to make us feel guilty.

It’s to help us in our worship of God. It is to help us hear from him.

It is to help us understand the story we are part of.

It is to help us know more of our identity as the people of God.

When we do fall behind in our bible reading our response doesn’t need to be guilt. We aren’t saved or made right with God because of our bible reading. We are made right with God because of what Jesus has done. The Good News. Instead, when we do fall behind, we just continue reading where we were up to.

You see, there are no explicit rules around reading the bible. No one is restricting or demanding or making it a law to read a certain part or certain amount of the bible. The important thing is to read it. If you read a verse or read a whole book, whatever it is, the aim is to read it.

I was talking with someone a month or two ago who had a 100-day streak in their bible reading. Things then came up and they didn’t do it for about a week. Instead of just picking it up from where they left off, they gave up. They felt they were too far behind that they couldn’t catch up. Therefore, they didn’t see much of a point to continue reading.

But that’s not the point!

It’s an awesome achievement to read 100 days in a row, but the point isn’t how many days in a row you can read your bible. There’s no competition going on (unless it’s self-imposed, and that’ll probably raise questions around ‘heart’). It’s about connecting and engaging with God through his words. The point is that reading the bible is helpful for our relationship and understanding and worship of God. It’s vital.

I like bible reading plans because they actual help me work through scripture systematically. They help me have a goal and show me where I’m going. But at the end of the day they are just that, a plan. If I didn’t have a plan then I reckon I’d be flip-flopping through the bible and never really achieve anything in my reading. Instead, a plan gives structure in my bible reading and shows me what I have actually read.

I’d always encourage a bible reading plan to anyone (this one is a good one). What I wouldn’t encourage is feeling guilty about not meeting someone else’s bible reading requirements. Read what you can, work through a plan at your own pace, and worship God in the process.

Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

If you’re a Christian who likes to make New Year’s resolutions then I suspect you may have the classic, “Read the Bible in a year” on the list.

Maybe.

As is my usual practice, I commit to this goal on January 1 and often come up short by the time I’m halfway through Leviticus. What’s that, mid-February?

Maybe you have the same issue as I do.

LP-BibleProject

Some suggest that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result”. That might not be its true definition but it can often be the experience of those of us who have the goal to read the whole bible and don’t achieve it, year after year after year. And it is not a bad goal–to read all 66 books of the bible in a year. In fact, it is a SMART goal. It’s specific, measurable, achievable, results-focussed and time-bound. SMART.

This year, rather than advocating for the Glenn McGrath approach to bible reading, I’ve come across The Bible Project’s ‘Read Scripture’ plan. This plan includes videos and other good resources to help people read and understand the scriptures as a whole. I often watch The Bible Project videos and listen to their podcast and find them extremely helpful in understanding the bible as a unified whole. They seek to tell the stories of the bible in fresh ways, and bring a wealth of knowledge and help in understanding and interpreting the scriptures.

As part of their ‘Read Scripture’ plan they have produced an app, which incorporates their videos and selected readings for each day of the year. If you’re like me, and enjoying ticking off what you’ve read each day then you also have the option of downloading the readings as a PDF to stick into your bible.

Good luck with any of your New Year’s resolutions, whatever they might be. But may I encourage you to think about attempting the ‘read scripture’ plan and have a go at reading the whole bible in a year.

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.

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Quotes

I’m currently reading Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. It’s a book published in 2008 and I can’t actually believe I haven’t read it yet. Anyway, while it’s been resting on my shelf since last Christmas I thought it worth bringing it out at years end. At the 70 page mark I can certainly tell it’s a zinger, with a number of challenging quotes and comments. Here are three that have stood out to me thus far.

From page 13:

“The short-term, high-number, razzle-dazzle, success of your current youth ministry might blind you to the fact that success in youth ministry is measured in decades, not in year-to-date comparisons with last year’s mediocre youth staffer who, quite honestly, just didn’t have your gifts.”

From Thomas G. Bandy quoted on page 16:

“The declining church always assumes that the solution to youth ministry is programmatic. If only they could get a good leader! If only they could find a great curriculum! If only they could renovate a room in the building for youth meetings! They fail to recognise that the solutions to youth ministry, like the solution to decline in general, is systematic.”

Quoting Roland Martinson on page 29:

“The history of primary calling inexperienced and inadequately trained young people to do youth ministry reflects the myth that youth ministry is a beginner’s job that doesn’t require much education, experience or skill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Youth ministry is one of the most demanding ministries–so demanding and frustrating that many pastors and congregational leaders don’t know what to do.”

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?

Here It Is: Paul Roos, Leadership, And Youth Ministry

I recently finished reading the latest book by Paul Roos, “Here It Is: Coaching, Leadership and Life.” Paul Roos is a very successful AFL coach and highly sought after for his man-management and leadership coaching. This year I’ve enjoyed listening to him in the commentary box and was intrigued to read how he approached coaching and working with teams.

I often wonder how closely coaching an elite sporting team and being involved in Christian ministry align. Obviously, there are significant differences, and the markers of success are worlds apart. However, leadership is still leadership and so part of reading this book was to gain insights for youth ministry. As I read the book I was constantly thinking how his principles for leadership applied to youth ministry. I found much of what he talked about helpful because (1) I enjoy sport and AFL, and (2) I could see his approach being similar to other things I’ve read or heard regarding ministry.

Below are 10 ideas I found helpful. I wonder if they impact the way we approach youth ministry ourselves?

Here it is

(1) The Importance Of Relationships

Roos emphasises relationships as the key to success at a football club. He played at a time where it was ‘old school’ football. A time where the players would simply train, turn up to play, and do whatever the coach would ask. Often there was little relationship between players, coach, and other staff. After observing this as a player he decided to approach things differently and have a focus on positive inter-club relationships.

In youth ministry (and church ministry) it’s all about relationships. I’ve been reminded by this in other ways recently, and will hopefully elaborate on that in coming posts. But, needless to say, everything in youth ministry is about relationships. It’s about relationship with God and relationship between people. It’s about relationship with pastoral staff, it’s about relationship with leaders, and between leaders. It’s about relationship with young people and the relationships they have between themselves. It’s about relationship with everyone. Youth ministry is about relationships.

(2) The 25-points

Within a month of finishing up as a player Roos wrote down 25-points that were essentially values and standards he would articulate and live out as a coach. These 25-points include the majority of the points I am drawing out here, but the point is he actually wrote down the values he wanted to keep to and they helped guide him in his coaching.

I wonder whether we as youth ministry write down standards and values that guide us in our leadership? It is worth considering what is most important to you, and where you believe leadership in youth ministry should be focussed on. When being interviewed for the role I currently have I took with me a sheet of paper that had some key scriptures for the way I approached ministry and also seven, what I called, ‘Pastoral Pillars’ that would be my guide as a Youth Pastor. The headings for each of these were: (1) Relational, (2) Disciple Development, (3) De-Program, (4) Leader Development, (5) Mission Posture, (6) Framed Risk, (7) Grey OK. This helped me articulate where I was at and also informed the committee who they were getting. I found it helpful. I think they did too. Do you have something similar?

(3) The Calm Leader

Roos played in an era where coaches going off their head was common practice. Giving a good dressing down, dragging the players off the field and onto the bench when they made a mistake, and generally trying to motivate players through yelling and shame. Roos saw this wasn’t benefiting anyone, particularly in keeping morale up, developing players, and providing motivation. His response was to make sure he kept himself calm. He made sure he was emotionally stable in his leadership and provided confidence in doing so. He didn’t want to react in an emotionally volatile way when winning or losing.

In youth ministry, are you a stable and calm leader? A big influence on me has been the idea of being a ‘non-anxious presence’. That is, someone who is calm, not anxious, and emotionally stable during times of upset, crisis, and conflict. I have wondered whether this can be detrimental when certain situations call for passion, enthusiasm, and excitement. But, in general, a person who leads in youth ministry needs to be calm and in doing so inspire confidence and trust in their leadership.

When a kid has fall and breaks their foot at a youth camp, be calm and deal with it appropriately. When a leader seems to be going through some sort of crisis and requires some extra attention, be calm and deal with it appropriately. When a parent doesn’t like an action that has been taken and let’s fly with their complaint, be calm and deal with it appropriately. In youth ministry, we need calm, non-anxious, leaders who in doing so help inspire, motivate, and build trust with people around them.

(4) The Time It Takes To Develop People

Roos understood that it takes time to develop players. He comments that the age of great learning for a footballer is 18-22 years old. They get drafted, and then take years to develop in their skills, learning about the game, and general aptitude for elite AFL football. Recognising this, Roos seemed to do a few things. First, he made sure the players understood his game plan, their role in the team, and the skills required for top level football. Second, he took time in bringing them into the elite league of the game, often keeping them in second tier competitions for longer than other coaches would. There is the implication that it takes a number of years to develop as a player, helping this development from a young age was his goal. This was clear within his chapters on leading the Sydney football academy for talented teenagers.

In youth ministry, it takes time to develop faith and to develop in leadership. I think faith could be explored separately to this, but leadership and learning the ropes of youth ministry can begin to be taught while students are still going through youth group and the youth ‘programs’. The youth programs can be tools for discipleship, leadership development, and possibly even church leadership too. But even if we’re intentional it will take time. As hard as it sounds, not all people will have the character or aptitude for youth ministry leadership, I don’t think God has made everyone equal in this regard. However, there are plenty of people who one may not think as ‘youth ministry potential’ who are able to learn and grow in their leadership skills. This simply takes time.

(5) Everyone Has A Role

Following on from development is also the question of role. Roos outlined clearly how everyone in the team had a role. Sometimes this was different to what the player had always known. The player may have believed that getting 30 possessions a match was his role, but actually, his role was part of a larger system, the team system, to which they all played a vital part. If that player only had 20 possessions but played their role as they were supposed to then the team had better success than if they went it alone, believing they had to win the game for the team. Roos believes that everyone at the football club has a role and it needs to be defined. Everyone from the President, CEO, Senior Coach, Assistant Coaches, and the players. In some ways, this aligns with another of his values, which was to deal with every player individually, knowing their personal strengths and weaknesses. This avoids lumping everyone into the same box. It is about getting the most out of each person.

I wonder how we view our youth ministries? Do we do that for our students? For our leaders? For our wider church? The Youth Pastor has a role, that seems to be more defined than others in the church. But, I would argue that just as Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 writes about the body of Christ, so too, everyone in the church has a role in regard to youth ministry. It’s just not defined or communicated. Therefore, rather than getting every youth leader to be involved in everything on a Friday night perhaps some people are better at talks and should those gifts more often. Perhaps others are good at social media and should look at being communication co-ordinators. Perhaps others are good at running games, explaining them well and getting the group involved. Perhaps others are good at administration and should be looking at the database and helping people in that way. This would help with leadership development, understanding of the various facets of youth ministry, and also help with delegation.

(6) Team Formed Standards And Values

A key aspect to Roos’s approach with coaching was to involve every one of the players in determining what the team stood for. The team would have a pre-season camp and flesh out what their values and standards were. This would include values like honesty, hard work, and a never give up attitude. As these values made their way through the team the players themselves would be the ones enforcing the standards. In this way, everyone is invested in the performance of everyone else. Not only on the field, but also off it.

Could this be a way forward for youth leadership teams? I know I’ve done this a little with my youth leadership teams. We’ve created some leadership commitment guidelines to help guide what it means to be a leader in the youth ministry. I’m sure this could be enforced more, and with each other helping to lift their game in various areas. As an example, one of these guidelines is child safety. If a leader goes outside the bounds, say, initiates a hug with a student, and another leader sees this, they would then pull them up for it. If there is feedback given in terms of the talk or a game, then another leader can do that – encouraging them and also helping them to improve. I see big advantages when the leadership team is invested in creating the standards and values of the ministry.

(7) A Yearly Review

Each year Roos would sit down with each individual player and work through strengths and growth areas.

In youth ministry this would be worth doing also, not only together as a team but individually. As a Youth Pastor I would expect to catch up with my leaders reasonably regularly anyway. But, there could be an intentional one-on-one at the end of the year. This could touch on topics such as discipleship growth, spiritual disciplines, church involvement, and an area to grow in next year.

(8) The Attitude That Rubs Off

Roos knew that his attitude would rub off on the players. As the central leader of the club his attitude meant everything. He made sure he was positive and had a positive outlook on the club, the players, and what they could achieve. This doesn’t mean he never made critical judgements about what was going on or was disappointed in players actions. He simply wanted to be positive in his attitude no matter the result.

Youth ministry isn’t in the win-loss premiership game, but we still have indicators that mean we are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going. At the end of youth group leaders can be up and about because they believe the night went well. Or, they can be flat and a bit disappointed. A process for assessing each youth event and program is vital. But, even more so, the positive attitude of the main leader keeps the big picture in mind and helps other leaders assess correctly. The attitude of the Youth Pastor or key leader has a big impact.

(9) The Game Plan

Once all his big blocks of values and standards, attitude and roles were in place Roos also had a game plan to win each match. This game plan seemed to be the same from year one to year ten. It didn’t seem to change much. However, there was a plan. As it has been said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

It is important to plan in youth ministry. Not just planning a few months out but also having a plan for each event, small group, or youth group night. It is important that everyone on the team knows that plan. I am one who prefers to have those plans early in the week. Others prefer to bring the plan to the night an hour before we start. In any case, a basic plan for us on a Friday night is (1) Welcome, (2) Games, (3) Talk, (4) Discussion Groups. We may also include a time for snacks or for making sure a couple of leaders are at the door when parents arrive for pick-up. After the night is done and things are packed up we as leaders gather and chat through the highlights and lowlights of the evening. It is important to have a plan for youth ministry, one that is broad and one that is specific.

(10) Communicate, Communicate

With his commitment to relationships Roos had an emphasis on communication. He kept it simple and constant. Communication between everyone was vital is sustaining relationships and also reinforcing the values and standards of the football club.

If there is little communication the youth ministry will not go well. There is communication needed between many different parties and in a variety of ways. Communication between Youth Pastor and leadership team and pastoral team. Communication between youth group leaders and parents and students. Communication between youth ministry and wider church. Any relationship you can think of relating to youth ministry requires some form of communication. It is an important part of the gig. And at the end of the day, it is another key aspect to building relationships.

Recently Read: June 2017

I’ve been holiday and managed to finish a couple of books. Here’s some thoughts about them.

anastasia-zhenina-65700

Killing Calvinism: How To Kill A Perfectly Good Theology From The Inside by Greg Dutcher

Now here is a book for Calvinists.

If you’re wanting to explore what Calvinism is then go elsewhere, just as the author says in his introduction. But, if you’re a Calvinist who doesn’t want to be a tool then please read this book. It will be very beneficial for you.

It’s a short book, around 100 pages. There are 8 chapters, each outlining how to ruin Calvinism and its appeal. Implied in each chapter is a call to gracious humility, calling Calvinists to be more generous and winsome in communicating and teaching biblical doctrine. At the end of each chapter there is an appropriate prayer to pray as well.

It’s part biographical, which adds to its readability.

I thought is was worth the read.

“The sovereignty of God is truly awesome in its power to put new life into the sinner’s soul. But God saved us to “see and savor” much more than just his sovereignty. While relishing the sovereignty of God in salvation is good and healthy, relishing only God’s sovereignty is unhealthy and lopsided…This world desperately needs to see a robust, healthy Calvinism that celebrates the fullness of God’s ways and works – not a lopsided Christian who cannot get off the hobbyhorse of God’s sovereignty.” (p42-43)

Changing The World: Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser

I was gifted this book at Christmas off the back of a fellow Youth Minister’s recommendation. I finally got around to reading it and I would recommend it to others.

This is really a foundational youth ministry textbook. You could use it in the classroom, with an intern, or with a group of youth leaders.

There’s 15 chapters, making up 150-odd pages.

The author’s contention is that all youth ministry should be focussed on discipleship. The focus of any church-based youth ministry should be targeting those who are part of the church, such as teenagers of church families. This begins with developing a group, no matter how large or small, that grows through the teaching of God’s Word and community together. From this foundation the youth ministry grows organically through the evangelism and mission of those within the youth ministry itself.

I tend to agree with the majority of what Ken Moser, the author, writes. He goes hard against an entertainment model of youth ministry that essentially means the church is running a baby-sitting club on Friday nights. However, he goes so hard against it that at times it feels like this model of youth ministry would be the most boring thing ever. I’m not convinced that youth ministry is solely bible studies with light refreshments and the odd social tacked on once every few months.

In case I’m being too unfair, I do think it lays out a good foundation for discipleship and rightly highlights the need for strategic youth ministry. There are also a few resources provided in the latter chapters to help someone fresh in running a youth ministry.

It would make my top 5 books on youth ministry.

“As I reflect on youth ministry, I am absolutely convinced that ministry to young people is about grabbing hold of this world with the gospel of Christ, shaking it alive and placing it on the road toward eternal life. In short, youth ministry is about changing the world for Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. There is an urgency to our job, be clear on this.” (pXII)

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

I’m blown away by this book and I haven’t even finished it yet. In fact, I don’t think I’m even a third of the way through it.

This book is simply making the case that speaking and acting for justice in our world is a natural part of what it means to be a Christian. Whether it is an international cause or simply caring for your neighbour, the bible speaks constantly of the need to care for others and help meet their needs.

Already I am heavily convicted by this book. It is deeply biblical and provides an excellent case for compassion ministry, particularly through the church.

I look forward to finishing this one and seeing what happens in my own life in response to it.

“A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.” (p50)

“The disposition of one’s possessions signifies the disposition of one’s heart.” (p51)

“Anyone who has truly been touched by the grace of God will be vigorous in helping the poor.” (p54)

“The Biblical perspective sees sexual immorality and material selfishness as both flowing from self-centredness rather than God-centredness.” (p55)

This has now gone on longer than I had hoped. Anyway, I also attempted to read The Messiah Code, a novel written by Michael Cordy. I tried. I really did. I made it to page 80 and gave it back to the op shop. It wasn’t great.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

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.

0ppkxwtyh0g-clem-onojeghuo.jpg

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

Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context

This is post eight 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 , fourfivesix and seven.


The final chapter!

To conclude Growing Young the authors provide a chapter designed to help churches, pastors, parents, families, and anyone interested apply the research to their own context.

Having made my way through the chapters it’s become clear that different churches will apply this in different ways. Every church I know of would agree that they seek to grow young people in faith and number. The decline in young adults continuing on in the faith has been dramatic over the past 20 years and many churches are grasping at straws, willing to try anything to hold on to the young people they have. Yet, if anyone reading this work comes to the conclusion that it’s an easy task then they haven’t understood the research or church culture. The process to reverse this trend and begin growing faithful young adults will require years of constancy and faithfulness.

Growing-Young-Book-3D-Transparent.png

In this final chapter Growing Young gives a broad process to help you or your church work improve its engagement of young people. There are five steps, outlined below:

First, listen.

Start conversations with everyone in the church. Listen. Listen to the kids, the young people, the leaders, the families, the parents, the young adults, the older people, the community, the whole congregation. Everyone. Go ask questions about how the church should or could engage with young people. You might see the problem clearly, others might not. You might understand the need and urgency, others might not. You might believe there is a massive problem, others might not. Begin with conversation.

Second, tell stories of future hope.

There will be no movement without a vision for the future. After listening and conversing with others the problem and challenge of growing young will appear. With this in the forefront of people’s mind it will be time to form a way forward. Begin by telling stories of what could be. Begin dreaming. Begin by white-boarding ideas. Let these dreams, ideas, and possibilities form into stories for the future. All good stories have a moment where there is a problem to overcome. Pitch the problem, pitch the solution. Tell stories of the future hope that could be.

Third, list the challenges.

There are going to be heaps of challenges. There is the problem that the church you’re in may not be growing young but the bigger challenges will come when you begin to move forward in seeking cultural change. The challenges that will occur will be to do with worship style, lack of interest, lack of volunteers and leaders, a large generation gap, and a lack of resources. These and more will make the task a tough one. But it is patience and persistence, all part of the journey itself, which will help to bring about change.

Fourth, experiment at the margins.

Someone once said, “To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” Churches are often risk adverse. In order to grow young as a congregation risk will need to be taken. The place and way to start this is with those on the margins of the church. Those ministries and programs not seen as the backbone of the church is where the possibilities begin. Is there a ministry that could use a little bit of risk-taking? Is there something that young people could takeover or drive themselves? In the listening phase was there something found that the young people could be directing?

Fifth, be patient.

I was at an event last week with some experienced pastors and church leaders from around the state. During my conversation with one elder statesman of the Victorian church I asked how long he thought a certain cultural change might take to implement in a local church. He responded with the sides of his mouth upturned and a glint in his eye, “Oh, you’ll probably see fruit at around the 20-year mark”. And that’s what it seems to take in the church of God. It is long-haul ministry and long-term thinking that will bring about faithful expressions of discipleship and maturity of faith. Pray hard, preach hard, and be patient, realising it is God doing the growth.


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

Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours

This is post seven 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 , fourfive and six.


In these first few months of being involved in the life and ministry of Rowville Baptist Church I’ve been blown away at the commitment to the local community. Part of the culture of the church is to serve the local community through its time, money, facilities, and people resources. The more I’ve seen the various programs and people in action the more I’ve seen the body of Christ neighbouring well.

So far I’ve seen a fortnightly dinner put on for those in the community that need a feed, a week-long school holiday program, a drop-in centre for those who need to chat and some pantry supplies, and a twice weekly breakfast served at a local school. In coming months there will be a Christmas Day lunch held at the church for those with no place to go and a nearly weeklong service ‘camp’ that sees young people lead and serve the local community in practical ways.

This culture, this DNA, is what the final chapter summarising the Growing Young findings is all about.

It seems that those churches who are good neighbours to their local community are more likely to ‘grow young’ than those who aren’t. 

photo-1472653816316-3ad6f10a6592.jpeg

Growing Young suggests it is this kind of culture that keeps young people at church. On one hand there is the good teaching that comes from taking Jesus’ message seriously. On the other hand there is the fact that young people seek to be involved in practically serving others together.

“…churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to Scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbors. This dance affects how they serve, pursue social justice, help teenagers and emerging adults find their calling, interact with popular culture, and respond to heated cultural issues. Much more than developing detailed policies or releasing theological position papers, these churches train and infuse their young people with an integrated discipleship that enables them to thrive in our complex world.”

Reading this chapter didn’t feel like I had to take sides in some kind of evangelism versus social justice debate. No, this chapter brought together the first and second commandments – to love God and love others – in a way that upheld the proclamation of the Gospel and good works. Yet, it did highlight the fact that young people are attracted to that which deals with the physical and practical needs of people and communities.

A second area this chapter highlighted was the ability for growing young churches to converse well with the tough topics. You know, sexuality and gender, refugees and immigration, alcohol and drugs, marriage, relationships and divorce, suicide and mental health, death and grieving, calling and vocation. These topics can be challenging for any person to converse about, let alone a church. But what Growing Young has found is that those churches willing to converse about such topics go a long way in helping young people grow and stick at faith. It is often the process and the discussion about these topics that is more helpful than the answers themselves.

How then does this chapter help in thinking through youth and young adult ministry? 

First, recognise young people are action-orientated and want to be part of something that helps the local community and beyond.

Second, provide time and people to walk alongside young people as they explore answers to the deeper questions of life and society.

Third, ask questions of the young people already connected to your church and of the local community to understand their culture and passions.

Fourth, teach and show a gospel-ethic providing a balanced diet of Biblical teaching and good works.

Fifth, spend a period of time actually serving your neighbours well, meeting some needs they have.

May your light shine before others so that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).


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