Book Review: Our Home is Like a Little Church

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Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY is graced to have many talented people in her body. There are artists, writers, singers, players, cookers, – so many.
What I really like about this one is it a simple reminder (complete with rhyming syntax, fun type, and creative characters) of what “worship-at-home” could look like.
Often, in this discussion of family worship, people ask “How do I do that?’ There isn’t anything you MUST do to have family worship or have to incorporate for it to be right. If you aren’t singers, you don’t have to sing. If you aren’t into poetry, you don’t have to have a reading time. Family Worship can start simply by just reading 10 verses, talking about it, and praying together as a family. Maybe that will take 10 minutes. Maybe you will do that once a month. Maybe you’ll do it once a week. The simple equation: just do something. Maybe you are gifted at the guitar or piano or writing songs or creative motions – incorporate those. There is so much freedom in this concept of family worship. Maybe your children love to draw – show them how their drawings can be an act of worship – as they share with the family what God taught them through that practice.
Sojourn tries to remind parents that they should be taking the lead in family worship, that the Dad should be shepherding his family in this way (just as the Pastor would do at the church). An underlying theological truth that is hinted at is that male leadership is a right Biblical concept. This is stated in their goal of this book: “was written to teach preschool children the Christian truth evident…that the home is a little church where the father teaches his family God’s commands and leads them to worship the one true God.”
And in accomplishing this goal very well, Sojourn also puts forth the co-championing model of Family Worship: “God intended the home to be the front line of ministry to children – not the Sunday School or public church gathering ALONE.” This is even intentional throughout the book as on one side of the page there is what we do in church and on the adjacent side if what we do at home.
One critique: this is more of a cultural one. Unfortunately, many marriages/families even within evangelical churches are lead by a single mother. Whether that is by divorce/separation/never present father/unwed teen moms/death – the reality is clear and present. The book is designed to appeal to “cookie cutter” Christian families. How does this work when given to a single Mom who is at her rope’s end because her kids are driving her crazy with all the other demands of being a single parent? One way to use this would be to give it to her, but then do a couple things:
1. Pray (with her) that God would give her strength and grace to accomplish this task of raising her children and discipling them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
2. Pair her up with another Mom (single or married) who is leading well in this area.
3. Don’t just send her on her way – make sure she is being cared for, loved on, and nurtured.

This book would be an excellent, inexpensive tool to share with new parents, or new parents in your preschool ministry at your church – about what you expect of them as parents and leading the way in Family Worship.

Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?

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This book has received so much coverage in the blogosphere – probably since Crazy Love. I picked up this book as soon as it came out – and just finished it. I got to be friends with Greg and his wife, Moriah, while attending the same church in Louisville, KY a few years ago. They both lived out much of this book in their friendship with me: whether it was attending their son’s soccer game, eating at the Homemade Pie and Ice Cream Kitchen, or just chilling in their home, or serving hot dogs to the 3rd avenue neighbors.
Greg, at the very beginning, explains his goals for writing this book (I like that, I don’t need to wonder what they are). Here is my paraphrase of them:
1. Bring more joy to Christians. “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.” (20) As one of the guys I serve with said this morning, us knowing our sin more (being made more aware of how sinful we are), we will indeed know the gospel – how good and amazing God is – more.
2. Evangelistic. Greg does not suppose that everyone reading this book is a believer. This would be a great book to read in a new believers/interested in Christianity class at a church. 8 chapters – that 2 months, or over the summer, its not overwhelming!
3. Community. “Also, Christian, the gospel should drive you to a deeper and livelier love for God’s people, the church.” (117) Very clearly we see the need for this in our local body. There are many factions within most local churches. So many do not know those they serve with – or sit next to Sunday after Sunday. This means more than just shaking their hand during the very awkward “greet” time. This means pouring into the lives of those you “do church” with. Get to know them – hear their heartbeat, know what drives them.
4. Clarity. A few months ago there was this “competition” on Twitter to post the gospel in less than 140 characters. how difficult is that? That even paved the way for this goal of Greg’s – we need to KNOW what the gospel is and be able to articulate it to a lost and dying world – or confused church attenders.
5. Apologetics. Wow, what a great tool this would be on a college campus – for use in a small group, dorm Bible study. Just having it out on your nightstand or coffee table, or in your car (to read at traffic lights or coffee shops) would definitely open up the door wide for conversations.
These 5 goals of Greg’s are clearly met in every chapter of this book. I highly recommend it. Below are some more personal thoughts I have had while reading it:
There is a post-it note on my vanity mirror right now at home – its been up there 10 days, and as I was reminded of it by someone this morning – I think it will stay up there: Jonah 2:8-9: paraphrased: if I cling to worthless idols, I forfeit my hope of steadfast love – by the Savior of the world. Greg puts it like this: “For human beings to consider their Creator and then decide that a wood or metal image of a frog or a bird or even themselves is more valuable is that height of insult and rebellion against God.” (29)
Almost immediately after starting my new ministry here in Raleigh, I heard this verse from one of the pastors – Greg writes it here – from 1 Corinthians 15: paraphrased: Christ died for our sins is of UTMOST importance – but He is not still dead – He lives – so we can live too!
As we think about goals and life dreams (not just at New Years or Birthdays): “They had goals and desires that were categorically opposed to what God desired for them, and so they sinned.” (50). Do you ever stop to wonder and pray and seek God’s face to ask him if the goals you have and the goals He has for you are the same? One of those things that would be good to know!

Thanks Greg for writing this!

Book Review: Perspectives on Family Ministry

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I went to First Baptist Church, Plant City, FL for most of my high school years. Tommy Warnock had such an amazing impact on my life in areas of discipleship, leadership, and missions. His faithfulness in ministry and love for others was contagious. I’m so glad God put me there; much of the future of my life was rooted in that one decision to go to that church.
Time span: 1995 (graduation) to 2010 (now). I have grown in knowledge of the Word and the turns and styles of ministry. Being in many churches since high school graduation and attending seminary, and now working at a seminary has definitely had an impact on how I think about and am active in ministry.
This book highlights one of the latest “styles” in how to do children and youth ministry. 5-10 years ago no one would have had a conversation about family-integrated, family-based, or family-equipping ministry models. I read Mark Devries‘ book Family-Based Youth Ministry in college as I minored in youth ministry, and applied it to the youth ministry in which I was working. I quickly forgot what I read and couldn’t tell you one underlined statement from that book – but I remember its implications.
The youth ministry staff I was on was a thriving youth ministry, boasted the largest youth ministry in St. Augustine. I loved teaching the Word every week to 70+ middle schoolers, playing games, going on ski-trips, having 5 middle-school girls sledding down my stairs on a mattress – those were the times. I love those girls I had in their youth group years. I love the parents who participated in the youth group, went on the same trips, loved teenagers, taught Sunday School, cooked brownies. They were so cool. But I also remember the parents who whipped through the parking lot of the church (dodging the kids shooting baskets or skateboarding) to drop their kids off for youth group by 6.10pm. I pray I had an impact on the lives of those girls. My first discipleship opportunity with a young lady was amazing and life-changing for both of us as we enjoyed dinner with her family every week one summer and then studied a Max Lucado book together upstairs. I loved that time. She is thriving in life and ministry right now. But, I guarantee that has more to do with the fact that she has parents who model a life of following Christ every day than that one summer I had with her, Wed night youth group meetings, ski trips, and Sunday School classes.
Anyway…this discussion of style of ministry is fairly new. When I started working at Southern Seminary in Fall 2007, the first I ever heard of this was because Steve Wright wrote a book entitled RE:Think. Timothy Jones and Randy Stinson continued the conversation and were teaching principles based on the Word, and dubbed “Family-equipping model”. This is the culture I have been immersed in over the last 2.5 years. This has provided me much to think about and wrestle with. This is what I have come up with.
God created the family – Gen 2
God gave the mandate to the parents for discipling their children – Dt 6
God gave the ministry of equipping the saints to the pastors – Eph 4
The call of disciples of Christ is to evangelize the world – Matt 28.

This book, edited by Dr. Timothy Jones, with authors Paul Renfro, Brandon Shields, and Jay Strother, is a good introduction to these three models (mentioned at the beginning of this) and gives the reader much food for thought. This book would be extremely helpful to people training for ministry, or for church staffers looking at making a change to existing ministries.
Personally, I thought Renfro’s was the strongest argument, Jay Strother’s was the most practical, and Shield’s was the weakest. That doesn’t mean anything – that may just be the style of writing. I liked the humble dialogue between the authors as they brought out points that most readers may not have thought of while they worked through the styles of ministry.
Here are some quotes from the book:
“Church programs have usurped a responsibility that Scripture and church history place first and foremost at the feet of parents.” – Jones, 21
“Family ministry is not another church program that a pastor can add to the present array of programs.” – Jones, 41
Jones definitely accomplishes his task with this book: “My goal is not to convince readers that one of these models is better than the others. I do want to equip them with the knowledge needed to discern which model might work best in their congregation.” – 45
“Who is better able to discern the condition of their children’s hearts and to know if true repentance has occurred than those who live with them every day? The home is the best context for discipleship.” – Renfro, 63
“Could it be that family-integrated churches so heavily emphasize traditional family structures that they subtly give non-traditional families the impression they are second-class citizens?” – Strother, 86
“When attempting to reach another culture, there is a fine line between relevance and accommodation.” – Shields, 110
“So many American families are merely a shell of what God created them to be. In such families each family member has personal agendas and schedules; homes are merely pit stops for the washing of clothes, the provision of food, and a few hours of sleep.” – Renfro, 121
“In the typical church it will require significant changes not only in the message communicated to parents but also in the church’s internal paradigms to send a loud and clear message that parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s discipleship.” – Strother, 129
“We must go where they are, preach to them in their language, compel them to come to Jesus, and consistently create attractive environments where persons from any background can grow in their relationship with Jesus.” – Shields, 137
Why must we create attractive environments? That is my area of disagreement with the above statement.
“Family-equipping ministry must represent the congregation’s convictions about the entire nature of church and ministry.” – Strother, 161.
This is not merely a youth ministry question – this is an entire church life question.

My thoughts: I am not a parent. I have been in youth ministry/college ministry/kids ministry now for 15 years. This has given me much view of typical American families. I see failures and successes. Not every teenager that comes out of a intact, Bible-believe home is a radical Christ follower. Not every teen that comes out of a divorced, broken home is a loser who wants nothing to do with Christ. This isn’t a 100% no-fail solution. God is still in charge of radically changing the lives of sinners like me. He called parents though, Christian parents, to disciple their children in the ways of God. The church is called to equip and evangelize. Evangelize the lost, and disciple them to do what they are called to do. One of the things they are called to do, if parents, is to disciple their own children.
Much more is to be discussed on this topic: broken families, single parents, single adults, etc. But…this isn’t my dissertation on the topic of family ministry. This is my response from reading Jones’ book on it.
I am thankful for all 4 authors as three of them have had a personal impact on my life and ministry and all 4, through this book, have made me think.