Biography · BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · Leadership

Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

Zeal Without Burnout

zeal

Christopher Ash. Zeal Without Burnout. The Good Book Company, 2016. 125 pp. $11.68

Let’s face it: Ministry, by definition is a brutal undertaking. Most pastors and Christian leaders have no idea what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up for full-time vocational ministry. Long hours, disloyal people, backstabbers, carnal habits and a propensity to pettiness are enough to drive the most mature minister to the sidelines if not the edge of despair. I’ve faced it personally. And the stories of pastors combined could provide fodder for a never-ending novel.

But ministry is not all drudgery. In fact, much of the time, ministry is laced with deep fulfillment and joy. New converts and growing disciples breath life and strength into the heart of the most discouraged pastor or Christian worker. Navigating the tension between the shores of futility and fulfillment provide a helpful key which enable Christian leaders to maintain perspective in the heat of the battle.

Additionally, ministry is time-consuming and stressful. Many pastors work extra hours and proudly wear a “badge of honor” that recognizes their diligent efforts. But there is a fine line between wisdom and workaholism. The prudent Christian leader is able to recognize the difference and maintain a healthy balance between hard work and burnout.

Christopher Ash provides a tool to help pastors and Christian leaders as they navigate these extremes. Zeal Without Burnout is a powerful field manual for Christian leaders who either battle burnout or moving in that direction. It is a helpful antidote for Christians who struggle to maintain balance between futility and fulfillment. It is a tool that if used properly will bear good fruit and enable Christian leaders to have a biblical perspective and move into the future with a godly zeal that is affirmed by the Word of God.

Christopher Ash provides seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice. Since the book is rather short, I will let the reader discover them on their own. One reviewer says this of the book: “A quick read that offers good applicational points, but not revolutionary.” A quick read, yes. But anyone who does not recognize the “revolutionary” nature of this book has either never experienced burnout or is not being honest with themselves.

I highly commend Zeal Without Burnout and anticipate a wide reading which will lead to encouragement for many pastors and Christian leaders in the days ahead.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

RAISING UP GODLY ELDERS

gospel

Bob Thune. Gospel Eldership. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2016. 144 pp. $14.99

Everything rises or falls with good leadership. The fruitfulness and effectiveness of the local church is dependent upon men who exert strong, humble, and God-centered leadership. Weak men spawn weak churches. But men who living according to God’s mandate are a part of churches that thrive and produce spiritual fruit to the glory of God.

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer; he desires a noble task.” So says the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy.  Raising up biblical elders was a challenge in the first-century church. It continues to pose a tremendous challenge in our day as well. There are numerous resources that help equip biblical elders. The most notable resource is Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch.

However, Robert Thune’s excellent work, Gospel Eldership: Equipping a New Generation of Servant Leaders serves as a suitable companion and will no doubt be greatly used by God in the days to come.

The thesis is clear enough: “And is it not true that for a church to go deep in the gospel, its leaders must be deep in the gospel? That’s the vision and the goal behind Gospel Eldership.”

So the author presents ten lessons that provide a workable platform to train prospective elders and nurture the faith of men who currently serve as elders.

Description of an Elder
Section one discusses biblical eldership at a grassroots level. The author explores the importance of servant leadership, examines the necessity of a plurality of leadership, and walks readers through the various character qualifications the make up an elder.

Duties of Elders
Section two focusses on the important duties of elders. Elders are called upon to feed, lead, protect, and care for the church. In addition, Mr. Thune discusses the necessity of leadership that is missional and also touches on some temptations that emerge in missional leaders.

The first thing readers will notice in this work is the short, readable chapters. Each lesson is packed with biblical wisdom that point readers to the gospel. Discussion questions are included along with exercises that help apply the biblical principles.  There is much to commend in Thune’s work. But the highlight of this book is found in its repeated emphasis on the gospel. The author sets his sights on the heart of the reader. It is clear from beginning to end that the aim is heart transformation in every elder.

I highly recommend Gospel Eldership and look forward to hearing about how it encourages Christian leaders around the world.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Biography · Calvinism · Church History · Leadership · REFORMATION

BOLD REFORMER: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther – David S. Steele

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On April 1, 2016 my new book, Bold Reformer will be available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and Booksamillon.com.  Here’s a brief summary:

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world ablaze in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Soli Deo gloria!

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

THE SHARK TANK AND BUSINESS SENSE

Daymond John, The Power of Broke. New York: Crown Business, 2016. 261 pp. $15.60

broke
Daymond John is the well-known fashion mogul who is best known for swimming in the Shark Tank, the popular reality television show where investors pitch their business idea in exchange for stake in their company.

The Power of Broke is the tale of a rag to riches businessman who grew up in Queens, New York and battled dyslexia as a youngster. The book is a mixture of John’s autobiography combined with business principles geared to budding entrepreneurs and success stories from others who have succeeded in the business world.

The acronym (SHARK) is the backbone of the book:
Set a goal
Homework, do yours
Adore what you do
Remember, you are the brand
Keep swimming.

The author builds on each of the above points by showing how other men and women in the business world have put these principles to good use.Also included in the book are eight Broke Power Principles that the author sets forth for immediate application. The author essentially argues that there is a benefit to being broke; that difficult times help fuel greater resolve and motivate a given person to a specific task.
I found The Power of Broke helpful and motivating. The book would be a big boost to a beginning entrepreneur who is looking for help from someone who has succeeded in the business world.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards · Leadership

THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe Nature and End of Excommunication is a timely and practical sermon.  For many churches in our generation simply refuse to exercise church discipline on the unrepentant.  This act of passivity is not only cause for grave concern; it is a violation of Scripture.

Edwards utilizes 1 Cor. 5:11 as his text:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Cor. 5:11, ESV)

DoctrineThose members of the visible Christian church who are visibly wicked, ought not be tolerate in the church, but should be excommunicated.

Edwards explains and articulates three main headings which support the doctrine.

1. The Nature of Excommunication

Edwards wastes no time explaining the essence of excommunication: “It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan” (c.f. 2 Cor. 2:6).

Ultimately, church discipline is meant for the good of the person in question and seeks their repentance and restoration to the body of Christ.  Edwards, adds, “Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence.  We should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a means of their eternal salvation.”

2. The Proper Subjects of Excommunication

Those who walk through the process of excommunication are the “visibly wicked.”  Two things mark such a person:

  • By gross sin 
  • By remaining impenitent in their sin

3. The End of Excommunication

Three specific ends are delineated by Edwards:

  • That the church may be kept pure, and the ordinances of God not be defiled.
  • That others may be deterred from wickedness.
  • That the persons themselves may be reclaimed, and that their souls may be saved.

Application

5 points of application are set forth by the preacher from Northampton:

  1. That you tolerate visible wickedness in your members, you will greatly dishonor God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the religion which you profess, the church in general, and yourselves in particular.
  2. Your own good loudly calls you to the same thing.  From what hath been already said, you see how liable you, as individuals, will be to catch the contagion, which is easily communicated by reason of the natural depravity, in a degree at least, remaining in the best of men.
  3. The good of those who are without should be another motive.
  4. Benevolence towards your offending brethren themselves, calls upon you to maintain discipline in all its parts.
  5. But the absolute authority of Christ ought to be sufficient in this case, if there were no other motive.

These powerful reminders should beckon every church to seriously consider the high calling of operating in a God-glorifying way.  Edwards wonders out loud, “Now, how can you be the true disciples of Christ, if you live in the neglect of these plain positive commands?”  He concludes, “If you strictly follow the rules of discipline instituted by Christ, you have reason to hope for his blessing; for he is wont to bless his own institutions, and to smile upon the means of grace which he hath appointed.”

In this short sermon, Edwards demonstrated the necessity of carrying out church discipline on unrepentant church members.  How very far are so many churches from this biblical model?  How long will it take to come in alignment with the teaching of Scripture?

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Leadership · Personal Productivity

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity – Tim Challies (2015)

challiesHere’s a lofty claim: “I believe this book can improve your life.” This is a claim we’ve all heard before. Infomercials, hucksters, and television preachers make similar claims. The net result is generally less than satisfying. The consumer usually walks away from such a claim with a lighter wallet, a bruised ego, and more skepticism to boot.

Tim Challies is hedging his bets in his new book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. He believes that lives will be changed if readers will invest a bit of time in his book.

Do More Better (DMB) is a fitting title as the author sets out to help readers lead more productive lives. But DMB should not be confused with the typical self-help books that saturate most book stores. It should not even be compared to some of the most popular books on the discipline of productivity. Works like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, What’s Best Next by Matthew Perman, or Getting Things Done by David Allen made their respective contributions in the field of productivity.

But DMB truly stands alone in a sea of books that promise productivity. The author argues that our lives must begin with a solid foundation. Ultimately, this foundation must rest on a commitment to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Glorifying God involves doing good works and making God look good. In typical Reformation fashion, the author reminds readers that good works are only possible because of Christ’s completed work on the cross.

So the author encourages readers to establish productivity on the solid rock of the gospel. Indeed, this is the highest form of productivity, namely, a life that “glorifies God by doing good to others.” This lofty aim is what sets DMB apart from other books on productivity.

Challies highlights several barriers to productivity, what he calls “productivity thieves.” Readers are encouraged to structure and organize their lives so they can do “maximum good for others,” which in turn brings maximum glory to God. The call to Christian character is a dominant theme here. The author argues, “No amount of organization and time management will compensate for lack of Christian character, not when it comes to this great calling of glory through good – bringing glory to God by doing good to others.”

Next, DMB urges readers to define their responsibilities and their roles. Responsibilities are general items such as personal, family, and church. Roles are more specific. For example, personal roles may include spiritual fitness, physical fitness, administration, etc.

Readers are then encouraged to write a purpose statement for each area of responsibility. Challies gives helpful examples to help assure success in this area.

Three tools are recommended for maximum productivity: a task management tool, scheduling tool, and information tool. Challies points readers to digital tools that will help and encourage personal productivity. Specific action steps are spelled out for each tool. Ultimately, readers are challenged to “live the system” that is presented in the book.

I have been reading about personal productivity for nearly twenty-five years. I have benefited from some of the works mentioned earlier. But once again, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity, by Tim Challies truly stands alone. Three features set this book apart. This work is God-centered, practical, and offers users immediate help that is sure to boost personal productivity. I commend this excellent work and trust that God will use it to encourage many people!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · Ecclesiology · Leadership · Theology

THE PASTOR AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIAN – Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan (2015)

pastorAfter serving in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty-five years, I can testify that the most discouraging moments occurred when the people of God failed to look favorably on theology.  R.C. Sproul rightly laments, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in all of church history.”  Frankly, many pastors have the battle scars to prove it.  I know I do.

Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan serve up a timely antidote to this troubling, anti-theology age we find ourselves in.  The Pastor as Public Theologian presents a fresh vision; a vision for “reclaiming the vocation of the pastor-theologian.”  But the authors have a larger vision that unfolds throughout the book.  Their vision extends to local congregations.  They too need to reclaim the vision and vocation of the pastor theologian.

Part one explores biblical theology and historical theology.  Part two explores systematic theology and practical theology.  Each chapter is drenched in biblical wisdom with an eye on kingdom priorities.

This book stands in the same stream as David Well’s excellent works, No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, and The Courage to Be Protestant – to name a few.  The great strengths lie not only in setting forth a description of the problems in the church but in the prescription for moving forward.  Such a move entails  pastors who are theologically motivated and theologically driven.  These pastors offer up theologically rich sermons which equip, edify, and send the people of God to the nations.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a sweeping book.  It is, in many ways an epic accomplishment. Indeed, VanHoozer and Strachan achieve their goal in setting forth the biblical case for recovering the biblical portrait of the pastor-theologian.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a profoundly encouraging book.  Pastors who are serious about their call should read and devour this excellent material.  Some pastors will find themselves repenting for embracing a secularized model of the pastorate.  Others will be re-energized to boldly proclaim the truth for God’s glory and the good of God’s people

Highly recommended!

4.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

THE NAVY SEAL ART OF WAR – Rob Roy (2015)

Former Navy SEAL, Rob Roy was inspired by Sun Tzu’s, The Art of 0804137757_bWar.  The result is a book of his own: The Navy Seal Art of War.  The book is filled with over fifty chapters of leadership inspiration.

Rob Roy shares a wealth of leadership tips from his years in the military in The Navy Seal Art of War.  Each chapter contains a short but powerful meditation that will help anyone who aspires to influence others.  The author writes, “Real leaders inspire, direct, guide, and give hope.”  The book delivers as promised.

Roy’s book addresses various leadership topics like planning, mentoring, human resources, mental toughness, devotion, faithfulness, loyalty, and hard work.  Leaders from all walks of life will appreciate the approach here.  It is a good day to learn a few lessons from the world’s most elite fighting force.

Here are a few examples:

The Essential Seven

Extraordinary teams have a clear leader.

Extraordinary teams have quantifiable goals.

Extraordinary teams have well-defined roles.

Extraordinary teams share resources.

Extraordinary teams communicate effectively.

Extraordinary teams are 100 percent committed.

Extraordinary teams discourage big egos.

Mental Toughness

Be decisive.  Move quickly.

Don’t let stress result in your blaming others.

Don’t let distraction  deter you from accomplishing your objectives.

Never “take yourself out of the game.”  Always stay positive.

Under stress, good leaders learn how to compartmentalize tasks so they don’t get overwhelmed and shut down.

Stay focused on the mission.  Don’t let fatigue or stress deter your focus.

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

3.5 stars

BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Leadership

THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE – Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (2009)

Over six years ago, I read The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall trellisand Tony Payne.  The work was encouraging and helpful in those days but my second read through was far more significant.

The authors compare the local church to the trellis and a vine, the kind of masterpiece found in many backyards.  Marshall and Payne maintain, “Most churches are a mixture of trellis and vine.  The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, change and grow to maturity in that gospel.”  However, a problem arises when the trellis begins to overtake the vine.  When church structure becomes more important that the actual vine, something is dreadfully wrong.  Yet in many churches, ministry structure has overshadowed the vine, the ministry that involves people who are growing because of the work of the gospel.

Marshall and Payne set out to correct the emphasis from the trellis to the vine.  The fundamental working idea in the book is this: The disciple-making agenda should be the priority of each and every disciple.  In the final analysis, the goal in every church is to grow the vine, not maintain the trellis.

The book is filled with ideas to fulfill the primary objective of discipleship.  At the heart of the strategy is a commitment to train faithful people for the work of the ministry – so disciples begin making disciples.

The Trellis and the Vine provides the needed corrective that has been missing from most churches.  The message is simple and challenging.  The message is biblical.  Now – its time to get busy making disciples!