For When You are Bleeding Like a Stuck Church: a book review

9780801092480Churches, like all institutions, go through stages when they feel stuck. Leaders try everything—programs, strategies, worship styles, staffing changes, new haircuts, but when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Chris Sonksen is a personal coach for more than two hundred churches, impacting thousands of leaders. In When Your Church Feels Stuck, he helps church leaders get unstuck by facing seven critical questions every leader must answer.  The questions are:

  1. What do we do? (What is our mission as a church? Why are we here?)
  2. How do we get it done? (What is our strategy?)
  3. What are the guiding principles we live by? (What are our values
  4. How do we measure a win?  (What are our metrics?)
  5. Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction? (Do we have team alignment?)
  6. How do we match what we say is important with what we really do? (what services do we actively provide?)

If you read leadership books, which I do occasionally, none of these questions are terribly surprising (some cribbed directly from leadership literature). Sonksen helps pastors and leadership teams clarify their purpose, strategy, and impact on a community.  I certainly see how a book like this may be helpful and certainly clarifying the answers to each of these questions would help churches and other organizations do what they want to do. As a pastor, I can readily see how asking these questions of our church leadership at key moments would have been helpful.

Unfortunately, I find the questions more helpful than the content. A lot of it is rehashed leadership you can get anywhere and Sonsken’s definition of unstuck is simply numeric church growth. He uses a fictionalized example of Pastor Jeremy throughout the book. Pastor Jeremy has tried everything but his church is stuck and he can’t get it to grow higher than 250 members. The questions and conversation Sonsken has, helps Jeremy and his team move past their stuckness into growth.

I don’t have anything against church growth per se, but it seems like Sonksen’s expertise is growing multi-staff churches. For example, when I read his chapter on metrics, I knew going in that churches often measure success by the three B’s (bucks, bricks & butts). I saw the value in asking how do we measure a win? because I know a church that is involved in community partnerships to impact the neighborhood and cultivates deep fellowship may not have the same kind of tangibles. Unfortunately, Sonksen’s metrics don’t look appreciably different than any denominational spreadsheet (123).

I do appreciate what Sonksen is trying to do, and I think he probably would be fine with me taking his questions in a different direction if it helps clarify my leadership vision of church, though I kind of bristle at the content. I give this book 2.5 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Bad Hebrew but a good book: a book review

Sometimes, I am overly critical and curmudgeony against mega-churches and their pastors but I like Craig Groeschel a lot. And I really like this book, Chazown, a lot, but I got problems with the title. So while this is generally a pretty positive review, the next paragraph is a little cranky. If you’re avoiding negativity in your life, you might want to skip it and pick up this review in paragraph three.

The title, Chazown comes from the Hebrew: חָזוֹן or ḥāzôn (Romanized according to SBL). As Craig says, it means vision and he’s right, but why he chose to spell it this way irks me. When you a quick google search of “Chazon,” “Hazon,” or Chazown, you discover that the first two spellings are in far greater usage. Most of the hits for “Chazown” seem to relate directly or indirectly to Craig’s book, a couple of online lexicons and a Youtube clip from a documentary on Cher’s son’s sexchange operation (Chaz- Own). Maybe this is a legitimate way of writing a holem vav(a pointed vav indicating an ‘o’ vowel) but it is not what I was taught, and it doesn’t seem to me to be that common. I kind of think it’s similar to me writing a book called Selah Vee from the French for “That’s life?” Why not spell it like everyone else? In the accompanying website, Groeschel pronounces “Chazown” with a hard k (Kazone) instead of the soft guttural kh sound. Of course beyond faulty spelling and pronounciation, why name it “Chazown” anyway? The answer: marketing. Beyond a brief reference to the King James Version’s rendering of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish (newer translations have the much more liberating, ‘cast off restraints’ instead of perishing),” there is little discussion in the book of the Hebrew concept of vision; instead Groeschel loads the term with his own understanding of what vision is. The use of the Hebrew here, is simply because if you saw another Christian/personal development/leadership book with “vision” in the title, you probably wouldn’t buy it. But you don’t know Hebrew so Chazown is exciting.

All right, rant over. This is very helpful book which is thoughtfully engaged in helping people achieve God’s ‘chazown’ for their life. Groeschel helps people cast a vision for becoming all that God made them and take steps to walk into it. He begins in part 1 to get people to envision of where they want their life to end up (writing your epitaph). In part 2, he presents three overlapping circles which point to God’s vision for your life: your core values, your spiritual gifts and your past experiences. In part 3 he talks about the convergence of these three areas and how they reveal where God may be calling you. In part 4, Groeschel presents the image of a wheel with five ‘spokes’ which hold things together and allow us to acheive our vision. It is his contention that if we are to stay on track with “God’s chazown” in our life we need to cultivate our: (1) relationship with God, (2)relationship with people, (3)integrity in our finances, (4)make healthy choices about diet and exercise, (5) and attend to meaningful work. While I have a theological objection to placing God as another spoke in the wheel of our dreams (God is the center, the axle and the wheel itself), I like how holistic Groeschel is in his approach. His image illustrates how these areas are not ‘seperate spheres’ but interrelated and necessary components which need our attention.

In part 5, Groschel talks about the need for accountability. In the end matter of the book, he gives helpful advice for picking up the pieces when we feel like we’ve failed God and ourselves.

I have read through the book and found it challenging at different points and think it has some useful tools for self discovery, attending to areas of spiritual/physical health, and discovering where God may be calling you. I have finished the book, but plan to reread sections and go back and complete several of the exercises. the book also includes questions for personal use or group discussion making it a thoughtful choice for a church small group. As someone who has worked in college ministry, I think that this would be particularly helpful in that context.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review (albeit cranky in places).