A Slow Study Guide a Comin’: a study-guide review

It has been almost two years since I plowed through Slow Church — a book critiquing the fast-food-like-franchising of the church, suggesting instead a more local, organic and inclusive vision of Christian community. I devoured the book. I didn’t read it slow. I swallowed it whole. I was (and am) sympathetic to the vision that C.Christopher Smith and John Pattison painted. The franchise model emphasizes efficiency, predictability, calculability and control. A slow church model seeks out  sustainable practices and the cultivatation deep relationships (to people and places).

4130IVP has recently released the Slow Church Study Guide which invites small groups and communities to participate in an 11 week discussion of the book. Each session is made up of six components:

  1.  Readings of Slow Church (the book) for participants to do prior to each meeting
  2. resources for facilitators to prepare, including videos, audio clips and blog posts (all linked at http://guide.slowchurch.com)
  3. a welcome (usually a poem or a quotation to center group members and help them to be present with one another
  4. Lectio Divina on a relevant portion of scripture
  5. Conversation starter questions
  6. closing thoughts

Ideally each sesson take about an hour and half to go through as a group.

The study guide is a chance to chew on the concepts and practices suggested by the book and press into its implications in the context of community. I did it wrong. My wife and I did the sessions together. I did go back and re-read the relevant sections of the book, but I doubt Smith and Pattison envisioned this as a “couple’s devotional.” We did read slow and follow the format of the book. We shared about the theological vision for slow church with our fifteen month old beside us and our toes in the sand overlooking Tampa Bay. We discussed the terroir (taste of place) over the finest Pinot Noir we could find (that came in a box). We discussed our church community and churches we’ve been apart of. We explored the character of our neighborhood and community and what we could do to embody God’s reconciling love and welcoming mission to our peculiar place.

This is a great guide and would be a wonderful small group study or a framework for church plant teams, or church lead teams to dream up possibilities for their community. I  resonate with both the book and the guide; however I have one small critique. One of the things I appreciate most about the vision for Slow Church is how inclusive it is. Franchised churches  commodify the gospel exclude the marginalized. In contrast, the theological vision for slow church emphasizes the inclusion of everyone (see the Lectio Divina on 2 Cor 5:14-21 in session one, the session/chapter on hospitality, etc). However I am not sure how inclusive the study guide is..The resources and welcomes are drawn from mostly white males. Ethnic and immigrant communities have a lot to teach us about local expressions of church (i.e. local theologies). It would have been nice to see more diverse voices included in the facilitator preparation especially. Also the focus on this as a book study caters to the more literary, thinkers and bookish types.  That describes me and I love it, but I am not sure that everyone I ever sat in a small group with would feel engaged by the material. I know a study guide can’t be all things, so put these critiques in the FWIW category. I liked it and overall give this study guide four stars.

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

On a Mission from God: a dvd/book review

My introduction to Ray Vander Laan came through the  men’s group at my church. They have watched a number of his Holy Land tour DVDs. The blend of on-location-footage, connecting culture and geography to the biblical text, and Vander Laan’s expository style makes for a rich study experience. Israel’s Mission is volume 13 in his ‘That the World May Know’ series. These videos span twenty years of tours. Vander Laan is noticably grayer and occasionally shows his age, though his passion and energy show no signs of diminishing. He walks at the same determined pace and preaches with the same passion, but his reflections have deepened.

The production of Israel’s Mission is far superior to its predecessors. The graphics and maps are more eye-popping, the cutaways to tour members more natural, and the video more seamless. The earlier installments are hokey by comparison.

But that all is aesthetics, what about content? In five sessions Vander Laan explores the mission of God’s people–in the Old and New Testament. He examines Abraham’s role as the Patriarch of his family and his role of caring for the house of the Father (Beth Ab) and his hospitality to three strangers. He explores the call of Israel at Sinai to be a kingdom of priests, Jesus’ exhortation for us to seek the lost, and the parable of the lost son. In each session Vander Laan  prompts us to take up our role in participating in God’s mission in the world.

The accompanying discovery guide has notes from the DVD presentation, discussion questions and five days of personal study sessions for digging deeper. This study is well put together and will enlarge your vision of God’s mission in the world. I give this series five stars.

Note: I received this book and DVD from LitFuse and Zondervan in exchange for my honest review

On a Mission from God: a dvd/book review

My introduction to Ray Vander Laan came through the  men’s group at my church. They have watched a number of his Holy Land tour DVDs. The blend of on-location-footage, connecting culture and geography to the biblical text, and Vander Laan’s expository style makes for a rich study experience. Israel’s Mission is volume 13 in his ‘That the World May Know’ series. These videos span twenty years of tours. Vander Laan is noticably grayer and occasionally shows his age, though his passion and energy show no signs of diminishing. He walks at the same determined pace and preaches with the same passion, but his reflections have deepened.

The production of Israel’s Mission is far superior to its predecessors. The graphics and maps are more eye-popping, the cutaways to tour members more natural, and the video more seamless. The earlier installments are hokey by comparison.

But that all is aesthetics, what about content? In five sessions Vander Laan explores the mission of God’s people–in the Old and New Testament. He examines Abraham’s role as the Patriarch of his family and his role of caring for the house of the Father (Beth Ab) and his hospitality to three strangers. He explores the call of Israel at Sinai to be a kingdom of priests, Jesus’ exhortation for us to seek the lost, and the parable of the lost son. In each session Vander Laan  prompts us to take up our role in participating in God’s mission in the world.

The accompanying discovery guide has notes from the DVD presentation, discussion questions and five days of personal study sessions for digging deeper. This study is well put together and will enlarge your vision of God’s mission in the world. I give this series five stars.

Note: I received this book and DVD from LitFuse and Zondervan in exchange for my honest review

Learning Love Does: a curriculum review

I thought about calling Bob Goff.  When I first read Love Does I read Goff’s phone number at the back of the book. He invited his readers to call and discuss the ideas of the book. I felt inspiration and hope stri reading his book. I was (and am) stuck in a job I don’t want. I felt like God passed me by.  I feel called to pastoral ministry (with an M.Div and student-loan-debt to prove it), but have yet to find a ministry job. To pay the bills I work at my local hardware/feed store and as I carve living in a small border town in Washington for me and my family. I often wonder what is next. I occasionally feel like I ought to let the dream die and just get on with life. Goff’s book was a book which gave me courage to hope and reason to keep striving. So when I read the number I almost dialed but I figured I had people in my life that would do just as well. I didn’t want to be one of those guys that needed a celebrity (even a Christian one) to validate me. Instead I turned to a few close friends and shared what was stirring in me.

However when the opportunity to review a ciriculuum based on Bob’s book presented itself, I jumped at the chance. The Love Does Study Guide with DVD  helps readers discover the depth of God’s love. In the DVD presentations, Goff shares some of the stories readers of Love Does would be familiar with: running away with Randy his Young Life leader, getting fired from his second job, helping Ryan (a young guy walking in the neighborhood) have an epic wedding proposal, his son’s boat buying venture, and ‘two-bunk-John’ (the guy that hoodwinks Goff into sponsoring a orphanage in Africa). Each of the five sessions combine a short video of Goff (about 15 minutes) with a group discussion guide. There are interactive components to the group meetings (including internet research on various smartphones, Bible study, and various activities.

I enjoyed watching the DVD presentations. Goff’s enthusiasm in the videos is as contagious as his book. He is full of whimsy and wonder and joy. One of the reasons I enjoyed Goff’s book so much was his storytelling and that remains a central feature of the curriculum . I skimmed through the studies to see how usable the material is and I was impressed.  The Bible study and the ‘What Love Does This Week’ combine biblical insights with actional steps for living risky, joyful lives inspired by God’s love for us.

As I  previewed the material, I thought that this would be apt for youth and young adults. But other generations will also catch Bob’s infectious joy!  I think this would be a fun and worthwhile small group curriculum. Those looking for more in-depth doctrinal or biblical study may be disappointed with the material but I found there was enough here to pique my interest and help me hunger for a deeper experience of God. I think many groups would enjoy this and it works in concert with Love Does (the book).

 

I give this four stars: ★★★★.

Notice of material connection: I received this book and DVD from the publisher for the purposes of this review. I was not asked to write a positive review.

 

Common Practice: a book review

I continue to be challenged and inspired by the New Monastic movement.  I live in a sleepy suburb  isolated from my Christian community, but the challenge of  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne  stirs me to delve deeper into intentional community and invest in a particular place.  In The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common FaithJohnathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores the habits which shape convictions and sustain God’s people. The accompanying six-session DVD and discussion guide explores each of the themes in the book from a different angle. In the review below I will discuss the book first, then the DVD and the discussion guide.

Wilson-Hartgrove  has culled together a set of Christian practices into a type of catechism intended to inspire hope, conversation and action.  He shares inspirational stories and also delves into the reason behind each practice.  He focuses on the convictions that ‘undergird a way of life that makes witness possible (15).’  This book discusses these practices:

  • Why We Eat Together
  • Why We Fast
  • Why We Make Promises
  • Why it Matters Where We Live
  • Why We Live Together
  • Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill
  • Why We Share the Good News

Wilson-Hartgrove shares personal examples (and those of friends) which illustrate the meaning of each practice. In his reflections he challenges us to greater community, radical hospitality and identification with Christ’s suffering, a consistent Pro-Life ethic, and integrity in Christian witness. The chapters are short, easy reads, but they offer some significant challenges.

I really appreciate Wislon-Hartgrove’s writing. I like how he thoughtfully draws together theological and biblical reflection, church history and lived experience.   He is a thoughtful writer and has thought and lived deeply each of these practices.  But he manages to share his deep insights into the Christian life and his experience without sounding arrogant or self aggrandizing. There is humility in his prose and while I am awed by his theological insights, street smarts and wholehearted commitment, I never feel like reading his books is like ‘going to one of the experts.’  He is a smart man, but there is humility and grace here too.

In the accompanying DVD Wilson-Hartgrove and his co-conspirator Shane Claiborne bring together material which complements (but does not reproduce the book). The six sessions discuss each of the practices in Wilson-Hartgrove’s book (Eating together and Fasting, are discussed together).   Each of the sessions has an example of what people are doing. There are several inspiring interviews. On the Eating/Fasting session, much of the video portion focuses on an interview of Chris Haw of Camden, NJ and what his community is doing with urban farming. In subsequent sessions there is an interview with Jean Vanier (Why We Make Promises), Civil Rights leader Ann Atwater (Why it Matters Where We Live), Ethan’s Mom Dayna (Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill–this is a story worth hearing in its entirety) and Reverd William Barber (Why We Share Good News).  In the section on ‘Why We Live Together, Shane and Jonathan both share about their lives in their respective communities. Each of these voices adds color and depth to the topic.

In the discussion guide for the DVD (located at the back of the book) there are questions on the DVD presentation and chances to delve deeper into Scripture and tradition by examining Bible passages and quotations from church history. And of course, there are challenges you to live out the practice.  Intentional communities and small groups will be able to use this book profitably to spur one another on in faithful living.

So get this book and accompanying DVD and find a group to discuss it with. Yes, you could just get the book and read it yourself, but you will have done it all wrong. This is the sort of book that is meant to spark deeper conversation. It gets five stars from me. ★★★★★

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.