Transform Your City by Putting on Christian Conferences: a book review.

Mac Pier is the founder and CEO of the New York City Leadership Center. In that capacity he also helped found the inaugural Movement Day conference in New York City (in cooperation with Tim Keller’s Redeemer City to City and the Concerts of Prayer Greater New York). The conference was a gathering of missional leaders in New York, to cast vison and strategize together which later helped the Evangelical community have a tangible effect on the city.

In A Disruptive Gospel, Pier  shares his passion for disrupting cities and transforpier_disruptivegospel_wSpine.inddming them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells the story of his ministry in New York City, the formation of the first Movement Day and how the fruit of that endeavor led to an impact on the city through service with organizations like  Cityserve New York. Pier also shares the story of Movement Day Dallas and how it led to initiatives welcoming Millennials into the church and greater racial reconciliation among the churches. After discussing these American cities he examines similar movements around the globe  (places like Manila, Mumbai, Chennai, Dubai, Singapore, Port-au-Prince, Pretoria and Kigali, London, Gothenburg and Berlin).

Several convictions guide Pier’s work and analysis. First, following Rodney Stark and Wayne Meeks, he believes cities are strategic centers for mission and the proliferation of the gospel(43-44). Second, the thinking behind the inter-church gatherings like Movement Day stem from a convictions that “the vibrancy of the gospel in any city is proportionate to the depth of relationship and visible unity between [Christian] leaders in that same city”(53). Third, Pier operates on the premise that whenever there is a new move of God, anywhere, God raises up leaders to lead that movement.

This book suffers from the range of cities which Pier  attempts to cover—thirteen  different cities. The book is only 236 pages, so Pier, by necessity,  speaks in broad generalities.  I learned about some cool gatherings around the world of missional leaders, and Pier boils each chapter to a couple of pages of “what [each] story teaches us.” But the overall effect is pretty vague. There is not much here in the way of practical strategy.

I  also have questions about Pier’s premise that mission and ministry begins with the leaders and influencers, instead of the marginalized, the little and the least. Leadership is valuable, but you can gather Christian and marketplace leaders and still fail to intersect the needs of the poor. When I read here about how New York city leaders endeavored to respond to the needs of Port-Au-Prince through organizations like World Vision (170), I think of the reality on the ground and how well meaning Americans and large organizations often fail to meet the tangible needs of Haitians. (To be fair, Haitian church leaders were also included in their vision casting, and I personally support World Vision for their thoughtful approach to mission and relief work). Pier’s approach feels too top down to me. Perhaps this is effective and they are making a real impact, but the sparse details makes me skeptical.

However, I do appreciate the focus on cities and there are initiatives, city-wide actions and missional ventures that are worth getting excited about. I just didn’t feel like I got enough of the details. I give this book two-and-a-half stars. ★★½

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

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 Great Commission with Great Compassion: a book review

I never read a book by Paul Borthwick, but nineteen years ago I promised I would. I was at Urbana, a large Christian missions conference hosted by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship every three years or so. A man stood outside the auditorium giving out copies of Six Dangerous Questions to Transform Your View of the World. He gave me a free copy of the book on condition that I would read it. A voracious reader even then I promised I would, but on my flight out of Illinois my book bag lay open under my seat spewing its contents across the floor of the plane. I got home without the book (and I lost several others as well). I  did skim the book’s contents in my local Christian bookstore, but I never really read it.

9780830844371Dear anonymous IVCF staff member, I just made good on my promise to read a Borthwick book, albeit a different one. Great Commission, Great Compassion is Borthwick’s new book and it is . . .great. Borthwick teaches at Gordon College and is an author and consultant who has written on Christian mission and worldview. Great Commission, Great Compassion explores how we in the church are called to go and do–to  both share the good news of the gospel and to care for the hurting, the wounded and marginalized. Too often books about mission vacillate between the poles of gospel proclamation and active service. Borthwick helps us pursue both these aspects of Christ’s mission.

Borthwick’s  book divides into two parts. Part one examines the biblical foundations for living out the gospel and making disciples. Chapters two through four look at Jesus’ Great Commission through the lens of five sending passages: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24: 45-49, Acts 1:8 and John 20:21-23. From these passages Borthwick demonstrates that we are sent by the Christ who has all authority, and we are sent with the asurance of God’s power through the Holy Spirit’s presence with us (51).  In chapters five and six, Borthwick challenges us to live into the the Matthew 25 imperatives as we feed the hungry, slake the thirst of thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked,  care for the sick,  and visit the prisoners. He challenges us to memorize 1 John 3:16-18, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (68).  This as the test of our devotion, that we love with both words and speech, and action and truth.

Part two explores ‘lifestyle imperatives’ for living out this great commission and compassion. Borthwick challenges us to commit to Kingdom Mission in our personal choices, develop an ongoing posture for learning and discovering on how to serve and share well, cultivate eyes to see needs and opportunities, pray for the world, welcome strangers (i.e. reconciliation, response to immigrants and LGBT community), live simply and generously, pursue justice and mission within community, and get out of our comfort zones. Additionally, an appendix describes “One Hundred Ideas for Great Commission, Great Compassion Outreach” (193-198).

I really enjoyed this book. Borthwick combines a close reading of the New Testament call to go and do with personal stories of outreach and mission. He also has lots of suggestions for living out this kind of witness. But don’t let the breadth of this book scare you. I appreciated Borthwick’s practical insights and thoughtful approach. I found this book inspiring with lots of ways to dig in and live deeper into a lifestyle of witness and service. It makes me wish I read that Borthwick book years ago. Sorry again, InterVarsity guy.

I recommend this book for personal reading, but I think it will be particularly fruitful for book study or church small group which dreams of pursuing a more active and embodied witness. There is no ‘discussion guide’ in the back of the book, but attention to each chapter would like spark conversation. There is a lot of good stuff here. Five Stars:★★★★★

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.



Church Planting, Apostolic Style: a book review

Church planting is all the rage lately. You can read books on it, you can go to conferences, attend denominational workshops on it. Is there anything new to say on the subject?J.D. Payne didn’t write Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers to say anything new.  Instead he calls would-be-church planters back to a biblical model of church planting patterned after the Apostle Paul (14).

9780830898909The heart of his model is simple: evangelize an area, gather converts and baptize them, and identify as church (22). Identifying pastoral leaders, celebrating communion, having systems of discipline, good preaching, etc., are all necessary for a church’s vitality and health, but Payne distinguishes between what the church is (a local gathering of disciples) from what it does (the work of the ministry) (26-27). So the four necessary components for church planting are sowers (evangelists), seed (the gospel), soil (a culture, city or community) and the Holy Spirit (19-20). That’s it. Simple right? Difficult to implement, but conceptually simple.

Payne goes on to describe practices of plant team members, the stages of church planting and  implied changes in leadership structures and development,  methodology and ethical guidelines. His discussion of the phases of church planting will help planting pastors and teams Payne is pastor of church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham and has written several books on church planting. He has a good deal of practical insight on the process.

Throughout the book, Payne stresses two persistent features of apostolic church planting:  (1) a church built from new converts/disciples is the rule, transfer growth is the exception; (2) our models of ministry should be simple enough to be reproducible. This roots church planting in the great commission call (Matt. 28:16-20).

One of the best features of this book is its brevity. He has written a more comprehensive resources on church planting, Discovering Church Planting (IVP, 2009).  This book  distills Payne’s thinking  on planting and answers some questions not addressed in the earlier volume.  But this book is not as comprehensive as the early book, and doesn’t discuss in-depth every aspect of what you need to know in church planting. What you have instead is a short book that is accessible to an entire church planting team (pastors, leaders, elders, etc.). There is enough substance here to be helpful, without putting off the non-readers in your plant team. So I think this is a tremendous practical resource.

I appreciate Payne’s discussion of methodology. He focuses on the simple and reproducible (84-5),  he warns against the dangers of paternalism as we minister cross-culturally (85),  he provides a framework for identifying our focus in the mission field, considering a people group’s needs and receptivity to the gospel (94-99). These are important components in crystallizing a ministry vision and I found it quite helpful.

I read this book as a non-church planter. I have been lucky enough to have been a part of a couple of church plants in my life, and for various reasons feel more drawn to planting a church than I ever had before. Apostolic Church Planting was helpful for me to see, in outline, the process and begin to dream about what it may look like. I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.