BOOK REVIEWS

Remaining Faithful in Ministry – John MacArthur (2019)

John MacArthur, Remaining Faithful in Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 71 pp.

The mandate to finish strong is the calling of every follower of Christ. Men called to pastoral ministry must carefully heed this call, which is the theme of John MacArthur’s most recent book, Remaining Faithful in Ministry: 9 Essential Convictions for Every Pastor.

As his life and ministry drew to a close, Paul the apostle wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The former blasphemer completed his mission on this earth and glorified the Lord both in his life and in his death.

Aspiring to remain faithful is one thing. But actually finishing strong is quite another. Tragically, pastoral failure commonplace, only bringing shame and reproach on the church.

Dr. MacArthur argues that pastors need to shore up their convictions, which help them be faithful in ministry:

  1. Convinced of the Superiority of the New Covenant
  2. Convinced That Ministry is Mercy
  3. Convinced of the Need for a Pure Heart
  4. Convinced of the Need to Preach the Word Faithfully
  5. Convinced That the Results Belong to God
  6. Convinced of His Own Insignificance
  7. Convinced of the Benefit of Suffering
  8. Convinced of the Need for Courage
  9. Convinced That Future Glory is Better than Anything This World Could Offer

MacArthur briefly explains each conviction. Each chapter is a short, Scripture-soaked spur for pastors who aspire to be faithful ministers. Frankly, every man who intends to finish strong in the Christian race should read Remaining Faithful in Ministry. While the author focuses on pastors in particular, the principles are immediately transferable to all followers of Jesus Christ.

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

BOOK REVIEWS

No Silver Bullets – Daniel Im (2017)

bulletsDaniel Im, No Silver Bullets, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017, 268 pp. $11.02

Discipleship books are a “dime a dozen” these days. The upswing in these books is both a blessing and a curse. Great blessing comes when one of these books draws readers to Scripture, captures their hearts with Christ-saturated truth, and presents biblical principles for growing in the Christian faith. However, the rapid rise in books devoted to discipleship is also a curse for many of these books are trite, simplistic, and quite frankly, miss the mark entirely. Daniel Im’s No Silver Bullets is numbered among the former.

The subtitle captures the essence of Im’s proposal: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. The author maintains, “The only way change happens – significant, long-lasting, macro-level change – is through a series of small decisions, steps, or micro-shifts, that are put into action and completed one at a time.” These shifts are set forth in Section One and include the following with brief summaries:

  1. From Destination to Direction – Emphasizing disciples who are focused on a direction instead of merely completed a set of check-lists, which is so common in many churches. Such an approach is bound to lead to both spiritual growth and numerical growth. Maturity in this model is “a result of equipping your church members with the right tools at the right time, so that they can ‘run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.’”
  2. From Output to Input – At the heart of this shift is a re-examination of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Extensive research reveals that maturing disciples read the Bible on a regular basis, strive to obey God, deny self, serve God and others, share their faith, exercise their faith, seek God, build relationships, and strive for to live transparent lives. These markers are referred to throughout as “input goals” which serve as indicators of spiritual growth and maturity. Once again, the emphasis is that micro-changes in these areas lead to life change.
  3. From Sage to Guide – This shift presents a fresh approach to theological education which places a premium upon application, a component that is missing in many church classrooms.
  4. From Form to Function – Here a renewed emphasis is placed squarely on the kingdom of God. Indeed, as Im writes, “A healthy church that is making disciples of all nations is supposed to be a forecast of the kingdom of God.”
  5. From Maturity to Missionary – The final shift focuses on the missional elements of the church. Mr. Im builds on the work of Timothy Keller who also emphasizes the missionary paradigm. Six specific components are presented: 1) The church must confront society’s idols, 2) The church must contextualize skillfully and communicate in the vernacular, 3) The church must equip people in mission in every area of their lives, 4) The church must be a counterculture for the common good, 5) The church must itself be contextualized, and 6) The church must practice unity.

These various shifts are explained comprehensively and linked to the Bible. Once again, readers are reminded that small shifts are preferable and will lead to lasting change in the lives of disciples and the corporate Body of Christ.

Section Two reveals the path of discipleship. This section unpacks the practical outworking of the material that Mr. Im presented in the first part of the book. Mr. Im suggests how to lead a church that needs to initiate strategic steps of change. But the author clearly communicates that change is never easy and requires courage.

An important step on the discipleship path involves vision, strategy, and values. Examples are offered and exercises are included to help pastors and leaders in this area.

Daniel Im’s presentation is biblical from start to finish. The principles are attainable in the local church setting and many practical suggestions are included that will help move churches forward on the path to discipleship. The emphasis on making “small shifts” is sure to be a hit with pastors and Christian leaders who are bombarded every day with ideas in books and suggestions from parishioners. At times, the material is repetitive but patient readers will be rewarded in the long-run for sticking with the author and following his life of thought.

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

BOOK REVIEWS · Leadership

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAD – Aubrey Malphurs (2013)

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEADI was greatly influenced and encouraged during my Seminary days by Dr. Aubrey Malphurs.  So when I learned about his newest book, Look Before You Lead I jumped at the chance to read it.  I wasn’t disappointed!

The subtitle of Malphur’s book is an accurate description of the tone and tenor of this leadership treasure: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture.

Part 1: The Basics of Congregational Culture

Part one is a primer on culture and how effective ministries navigate successfully in a given cultural milieu.  Malphurs writes encourages pastors to read their respective cultures: “If they fail to read the culture well, it will mean that the culture of the church will lead and manage them … The better a pastor knows his church’s culture, the better he’ll be able to lead his church.  To a great degree, leadership decisions are based on the knowledge of one’s culture as well as one’s gifts and abilities as a leader.”  Ultimately, churches must adapt to their culture, while at the same time, maintaining doctrinal integrity.

The author discusses congregational culture, which he compares to an apple.  The skin on the apple represents the church’s outward behavior.  The apple’s flesh represents the church’s values.  And the core of the apple represents the beliefs or doctrinal standards of the church.  These three elements combine to give the church its distinct flavor and character in the community.  Dr. Malphurs carefully unpacks the three distinguishing characteristics of the cultural apple and provides tools for pastors to determine their cultural niche.

Churches may respond to cultures in three specific ways, namely – isolation, accommodation, and contextualization.  Isolated churches will either cloister around a set of ideals and never make any difference in the world.  Eventually, they will die.

Church who accommodate to culture (like emergent churches) compromise by embracing the spirit of the age and adopting liberal theology and man-centered ideology that may look good externally, but will in the final analysis result in watered down temples of worldiness.

Churches who contextualize seek to communicate the gospel in ways that fit the cultural context without compromising the truth.  Malphurs rightly notes that, “the gospel is supracultural in its origin and essence but cultural in its interpretation and application.”  Therefore, Christians must be careful to differentiate between the gospel and their culture in order to effectively penetrate the lives of people.

Part 2: Reading Congregational Culture

Reading congregational culture involves a deeper understanding of the so-called cultural apple; that is to say, pastors must exegete their congregational culture.  The author includes numerous exercises that will lead to a proper reading of the congregational culture.  Additionally, he encourages pastors to address several critical issues:

  • Discern if the Culture is Spiritually Mature or Immature
  • Determine Where You as a Leader Will Be Most Effective

Malphurs encourages pastors to do an honest self-assessment.  Pastors must discover the origins of their cultural framework which include an uncovering of the leaders behavior, values and cherished beliefs.

Part 3: Shaping Congregational Culture

The final section includes several ways that pastors can and should shape their congregational culture.  Numerous exercises are included to help pastors effectively do this.  Practical help is offered for those who resist change.  Five levels of leadership need to be effectively saturated with the vision for maximum impact:

  • Governing board
  • Ministry staff and committees
  • Sunday school teachers and small group leaders
  • Leaders of support ministries
  • A patriarch and/or matriarch

“The wise leader,” writes Malphurs, “encourages change more by asking insightful questions than by offering directions or giving ultimatums.”  Good communication is paramount in the process.

The bad news is that at least 80 percent of churches are either on the plateau or are in a state of decline.  So pastors must navigate the waters of change with care, boldness, and determined vision.

Look Before You Lead is a terrific book that should receive a wide reading.  Dr. Malphurs offers a deep knowledge of strategic planning but offers advice with the heart of a seasoned shepherd.