Mission is Habit Forming: a ★★★★★ book review.

As I write this review we are a week into 2016. Many people have already had their resolutions wrecked on the reef where good intentions and harsh reality meet. Most of these New Year’s resolutions are about personal development: losing weight, exercising more, mastering a new skill, etc. What about making habitual changes that will make you a more compelling force for God’s Kingdom mission in the world? Can we pursue the sort of life change which will impact others?

4115blqt1al-_sx430_Enter Michael Frost. A popular author, speaker and cofounder of the Forge Mission Training Network presents the five habits of highly missional people and a simple plan of how to incorporate them into your life. Surprise the World! exhorts us to live questionable lives–“the kind of lives that evoke questions from [] friends,  then opportunities for sharing faith abound, and the chances for the gifted evangelists to boldly proclaim are increased” (5). Frost argues that we are not all gifted evangelists, but we support the work of evangelism as we live the sort of lives that invite questions from our neighbors and friends.

So what are the five habits of highly missional people? Frost proposes the acronym BELLS:

  • Bless— Words of affirmation, acts of kindness or gifts for at least three people per week (at least one who isn’t in your church).
  • Eat–Eating with at least three people (at least one who is not in the church).
  • Listen–Setting aside at least one period of time per week to listen to the Spirit in silence and solitude.
  • Learn–Spending time each week learning Christ through the gospels, the Bible, movies and film, good books, etc.
  • Sent–Journaling throughout the week about ways you have alerted others of ‘the universal reign of God through Christ.’

Conventional wisdom tells us it takes about six weeks to form and solidify  a habit. At least that is what a lot of sermons tell us. Frost thinks otherwise. Drawing on the insights of Jeremy Dean (author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits), Frost suggests  significant life change takes months of intentional practice (101). So he suggests structures of accountability he calls DNA groups (for Discipleship, Nurture, Accountability) which will hold each other accountable and encourage these missional habits for participants.

The gift of this book is its simplicity. Books on missional theology and ministry often present many fine ideas about what it means to be missional, often from a big-picture perspective. This book is super practical. It gives you a simple plan,–Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent–which is sufficiently challenging to live out.

For me, to intentionally eat with and bless people in and out of church each week, plus set aside time to listen to the Spirit, Learn Christ, and journal through my experience in sharing God’s reign would mean major changes and greater intentionality in mission (and I like mission already).  There is enough  structure and flexibility in how to live these habits out that it adaptable to whatever context. I  also really appreciate the structure of DNA groups. I have little patience for accountability groups that focus solely on sin (as though that is the only thing important we have in common). Discipleship and nurture are essential as well for supporting the kind of life change that Frost suggests here.

I recommend this book for anyone wanting to live missional lives. This is a fantastic goal for 2016. However I would suggest, don’t read these book alone. Read it with a friend, read it in a group, read it with those who will disciple you, nurture you and call you to account as you pursue the goal of living a questionable life. Five stars:★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of Surprise the World! from the Tyndale Blog Network. I was asked for an honest review.

The Thinking Virtues: a book review

As a Christian, I care about growing in character, but beyond character formation, it is also imperative that we give space for our intellectual formation. Philip Dow, author of the new book from IVP academic, Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Formation, argues that. “Our intellectual character influences our lives just as moral character does,  and with at least as much force. The only difference is that intellectual character is concerned not with  our actions as much as the thinking habits we are developing as we seek to use knowledge (22).”

Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Formation by Philip Dow

In this thought-provoking book, Dow explores the habits which contribute to our mental formation, discusses the fruits of  good thinking habits and offers suggestions for how we can become people of intellectual character. In the appendices Dow shares how intellectual virtue is taught in an educational context (especially at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya where Dow is superintendent). The intended audience for this book is educators and parents, but I think it has significant things to say to all of us.  As a parent I want to teach my kids to think well, but I also want to think well myself!  Dow’s advice will help us as parents and teachers pass on good thinking habits and it will help the rest of us attend to our own mental formation.

In part one of Virtuous Minds, Dow describes the seven habits of the virtuous mind. These include:

  • Intellectual Courage– honest thinking which is willing to make personal sacrifices in pursuit of truth. 
  • Intellectual Carefulness coming to judicious conclusion, attending to details and not taking short cuts.
  • Intellectual Tenacity-a commitment to stretching yourself mentally in striving through mental difficulties.
  • Intellectual Fair-Mindedness- a willingness to give a fair-hearing to other views and competing hypotheses.
  • Intellectual Curiosity- A commitment to lifelong-learning in the service of noble aims (i.e. some curiosity will kill cats, but curiosity which is not motivated out of self-interest can lead to important discoveries and new insights).
  • Intellectual Honesty- Committing to the truth both as an end and as a means (not cutting corners, cheating, engaging in falsehoods).
  • Intellectual Humility- Taking on the status of ‘lifelong-learner’ rather than ‘expert’  and being humble enough to receive correction in your thinking.

Part two explores the fruits of intellectual character formation.  Good thinking habits help you know more and think better. But lest we relegate the benefits of intellectual formation to the cognitive sphere,  learning to think carefully and well about God, the world, your neighbor, current events, social issues, etc., actually enables us to love God and others better. Of course the ‘benefits’ are not the thing itself, and intellectual formation is simply a dogged quest for ‘the truth.’ The benefits come from our commitment to learning and knowing truth.

In part three Dow has an eye for what this looks like in practice. In one chapter he gives suggestions of how we can grow in our intellectual character. In the next, he gives suggestions for parents and educators on how to pass on formational thinking habits.  His personal suggestions come in the form of ‘steps’ toward forming an action plan to develop a virtuous mind. His suggestions for educators and parents come in the form of guiding principles which will aid in passing this information on to others (especially youth and children).

Dow never makes intellectual formation an all-inclusive pursuit. Of course we want to attend to people’s spiritual health, moral formation, social skills, etc. But our intellectual habits will impact these  other areas as well. Dow demonstrates that our intellectual formation (or malformation) does impact other spheres as well.  I found myself underlining a lot in this book.

I especially liked how Dow uses the concept of virtue. In moral philosophy, virtue and character formation happens through habitual practice.  We become virtuous by consistently and habitually engaging in virtuous acts. In this book, Dow names the habits which make us into good thinkers. When I consider each of his seven habits of  ‘intellectually formed thinkers,’ I can see examples of where I think well. I also see where I can grow as a thinker.

The appendices do a phenomenal job of exploring and demonstrating the concept of intellectual character formation within an educational setting. However  part three of the book seems rather basic and I wished it was filled in a little more. I found myself wishing for a more indepth treatment of how this looks (or may look) in practice.  I do not

. I think that that teachers, educators, and Christian Education directors will make good use of this book. Parents will also find this helpful.  I found this book personally edifying and instructive and give it four stars.

Thank you to InterVarsity Academic for providing me copy of this book in exchange for this review.