Three Books In My Suitcase

October 23, 2006

This is Day 1 of our ten-day trek that takes us from MS to AL to PA to NY to IL to AL and back to MS. Right now we are staying at the guest apartment in the Presidential Manse at Lancaster Bible College. The drive from Albany to Lancaster took about six hours, a little longer than expected because we made a wrong turn and ended up driving through various communities in northern New Jersey. We passed by several towns I saw in August when I preached at Hawthorne Bible Church. We also had a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. Thanks to a kind and patient police officer in Lyndhurst who told us we had totally gone the wrong way, we found the NJ Turnpike and made our way west. The fall foliage here is spectacular,with waves of green, orange, brown, red, amber and yellow leaves, as if God had spilled the paint on the Pennsylvania countryside.
For the record, it took us almost fifteen hours to get from Tupelo to Lancaster. Peter Teague, president of the college, and his wife Paulette welcomed us warmly and made us feel right at home. I give my first chapel talk tomorrow morning at 9:10 AM.
I brought three books with me to read on the trip:
Dear Church: Letters From a Disillusioned Generation by Sarah Cunningham. The book contains letters from the author to the “the Church” explaining why the twentysomething generation has been turned off by institutional Christianity. Sarah Cunningham is a twentysomething who was raised in the church and simultaneously loves it and is exasperated (and sometimes alienated) by it. Good insights into the up-and-coming generation of younger Christians who will inevitably be the leaders of the church twenty years from now. You won’t agree with all that you read, but the author assures us that she doesn’t expect or even want us to agree entirely.
Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. I hesitate to call any book revolutionary, but this one is. Rainer and Geiger assert that American churches are not making disciples because they have become too complex. The very first chapter will remind you of almost every church you’ve ever attended. Most churches grow in the beginning because they are simple and focused. Most churches stop growing (in part at least) because they become complex and highly-organized and often bureaucratic and ultimately inward focused. The “Simple Church” concept focuses on a couple of key questions …
“What is the path to spiritual growth in this particular local church?”
“What are the core experiences we want everyone in this church to share?”
Simple churches know how to answer those questions. Complex churches don’t. Simple churches design everything around a plan to produce spiritual growth through a series of shared experiences designed intentionally to produce spiritual growth. Complex churches keep adding programs and events, hoping that people will hook on somewhere. The authors do not argue that all simple churches look alike or emphasize the same methods, but all of them know how to answer those questions. Provocative and challenging.
Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam. Why are some new churches growing almost explosively, even in the least-churched areas of America? Stetzer and Putnam argue that these churches have broken the “missional code” that allows them engage their own community with the gospel. Perhaps the key insight here is how the church sees itself. The church doesn’t just “send” missionaries. It sees itself as a missionary to its own community. An excellent book by two leaders in the “missional church” movement.

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