Got to Get Yourself Connected: a book review

About ten years ago I read Randy Frazee’s The Connecting ChurchIt had a signifcant impact on me. While I typically don’t read mega-church pastors hoping to find deep community, Frazee had substance.  I found real theological depth and sociological insight. He challenged churches to be more attentive to solid biblical teaching, to commit to a particular place, and to share  life together.  While other church leaders were touting small groups as their complete answer to building community, Frazee kicked it up a notch.  This book challenged me and after reading it I found myself in thicker community, living in the inner-city sharing life with fellow believers and missionally trying to reach out to neighbors. Frazee’s book helped prepare me to make sacrificial commitments. It also helped me form my convictions about intergenerational ministry.

The Connecting Church 2.0: Beyond Small Groups to Authentic Community by Randy Frazee

This month  The Connecting Church 2.0, is released. Frazee revisits the topic of community and reflects further on how to implement his suggestions.

Parts one through three follow the original book (slightly expanded). Part 4 discusses  how to implement the vision. In part one Frazee tackles the problem of individualism by exhorted us to community around a common purpose.For Christians who seek to be biblical, the Bible provides us with the story of God’s plan of redemption brought to fruition in Christ and his call on our lives to be his ambassadors. Frazee challenges us to know the Bible story. [This of course dovetails nicely with recent work that Frazee has done (with fellow pastor and author Max Lucado) on The Story]. 

Frazee addresses the problem of isolation in part two. Because of urban planning, automobiles and the suburbs, more and more people live in isolation from their fellow neighbors. Middle class culture tends to prize self sufficiency and independence. The tragic outcome  is that we do not know our neighbors nor are we known.  Frazee exhorts us to buck the trends and connect to a common place. This means investing in your neighborhood, stopping by to see your neighbor, borrowing things (putting yourself in a place of need) and spending time in the front yard (being accessible).  He also has some proactive ideas for church small groups. He suggests not breaking people up by life-stage-affinity groups but geographically. That way a small group, in a given area of the city is able to be really community for one another and a missional presence of their neighborhood.

Frazee discusses the problem of consumerism in part three and challenges us to share common possessions. By this he means more than just sharing stuff. He is exhorting us to a lifestyle of interdependence, intergenerational life, shared responsibility and mutual sacrifice. In many ways, this section puts all of the above together and was one of the things that really excited me about the first edition of this book.

Part four is written for ministers and church leaders to help them process how to become a connecting-church. Frazee opens this section with a chapter discussing some lessons he’s learned in the past ten years. He then discusses spider or starfish organizations (referencing a popular business book)  to contrast centralized leadership in a church  versus decentralized, organic approaches to organization and ministry. Most churches are more like spiders (a head with legs and a complex web surrounding them). Starfish have their DNA written in every part of their being, at every level. Frazee suggests a hybrid model where the church provides organizational structure but frees up small groups to pursue community and mission more organically.  Ultimately he commends the starfish model as the goal but knows that our churches are not able to make the shift yet.

I liked this book a lot and consider it an essential resource for church leaders seeking to deepen their experience of community. At the very least, this book should be in every church library, if not in every pastor’s study.  I think that Frazee’s challenges are good ones. But I found that what I liked about this book most was what I had read in the earlier form. I really appreciated Frazee’s thoughtfulness about how this works out and the wisdom he’s learned, but for me the thing that captivated me most was the original vision: a community united around a common purpose, in a common place, sharing common possessions. That is what church should be.  Unfortunately that isn’t always what church is. I am grateful for Frazee’s prophetic challenge and hope that this new edition will help the church to be the church.

I give this book 5 stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and Zondervan for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Worship is Child’s Pray: a book review

As a frazzled father of three, I know how hard church can be.  While life at home is often pandemonium in church I feel like I have to reign those kids in.  At the very least keep them from kicking  the pew in front of them. Author Robbie Castleman  challenges us parents to enlarge our vision of what our kids can experience in church. Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worshipnow in its third edition, brings together Castleman’s skill as a theologian, and her experience raising her sons in church.  This is a thoughtful book which challenges readers to invest in teaching kids to worship God (not just behave themselves) and leading them to a fresh encounter with God. Along the way Castleman shares insights, personal anecdotes and stories of how other parents have been able to  ‘parent in the pew.’

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding You Children into the Joy of Worship by Robbie Castleman

Castleman’s book  begins with a plea for parents to ‘pay attention’ to their children, how they learn and how they can participate in worship. She argues that participation in worship is formative for children (and the rest of us). But she knows the  challenge.   In one witty chapter, she discusses ‘Worship BC and AD,’ that is, ‘before children’ and ‘after diapers.’  When we seek to enter into God’s presence our children may be a distraction.  If we are not careful we will end up teaching our kids to be ‘quiet in church’ without really teaching them the meaning of worship and failing to participate in worship ourselves. Worship is about giving God his due glory, not about our own experience. God is not the least bit bothered by our kids participating (just ask Jesus).

From there Castleman explores the elements of worship and how to prepare your kids to participate. For  those who worship on Sunday morning, this preparation often begins the night before (making sure kids get enough rest, are awake and ready for church, the tone you set for the day, etc.).  Castleman  provides various strategies for maximizing attentiveness to the sermon, getting kids to sing, pray and participate in the liturgy.

This edition updates the examples for a new generation (the original edition was published twenty years ago). Earlier editions talked about Castleman’s experience of  training her own sons in worship. Those stories are still here, but  now her sons are grown and are parenting  their own children’ in the pew.’  Additionally there are examples from other parents she’s encountered at ‘parenting in the pew’ seminars and workshops.

What Castleman says here is really valuable. As Christians we were made to worship God and I believe our participation in corporate worship is formational.  The vision she has for including kids in worship, preparing them for Sundays and cultivating attentiveness to the Word is commendable and I think right on target.  She also communicates her vision of  intergenerational ministry with wit and grace. I  appreciate that while she has some clear directives (don’t bring a coloring book to distract your kids but seek instead to get them to participate) she also honors the differences in children’s personalities. If worship is about paying attention to God, teaching worship to our kids begins with paying attention to them.

Putting this book into practice may be challenging for parents if  their church doesn’t have a vision for intergenerational ministry and the participation of kids in worship. My family and I are lucky enough to be a part of a church community which really values getting the kids involved in the worship service. Other churches in town do not have the same value. For parents seeking to carry out Castleman’s suggestions, they may find that they are kicking against the goads.  There is enough in this book which challenges leaders to make the worship a more hospitable place for children but Castleman  addresses the leadership challenge more directly in Story Shaped Worship (forthcoming IVP May 2013).  Another challenge for parents is that some of Castleman’s suggestions work better for different developmental stages. Still parents of toddlers to teens can all benefit from this book. 

I think this is a great book and would recommend it  to both  parents and ministry leaders. There are a lot of kids who grow up ‘quiet’ in church who later quietly leave out the backdoor. I  think getting parents to invest in teaching their kids to worship and leading them to an encounter with God is necessary if we want our children to grow up in the faith. Pastoral leaders  also need to properly care for children and families in their midst and encourage their spiritual growth. Castleman’s focus on worship is particularly refreshing.  I give this book ★★★★.

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