Scrappy Church by Thom Rainer

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Scrappy Church continues a series of wildly popular small hardbacks on church issues by Thom Rainer. This one strikes me as different than some of the earlier ones. It’s less practical this time, yet much more a plea. He seems to be asking us to take what he has been saying over several of his previous books and have the courage to just do it. It reads something like a don’t-give-up entreaty or maybe a start-now appeal. There could be, then, a little less information in this title, but more persuasion.

Rainer is in his wheelhouse in his declaration that God isn’t done with churches yet. He sees the issues and is well aware of the difficulties, but there’s no doubt he believes what he’s saying. There’s no sugarcoating in these pages, but no excuses either. Being a megachurch may not be in a church’s future, but distinct progress is possible to his mind.

The approach that’s given beyond the appeal is wrapped up in a turnaround cycle of outward deluge, welcome readiness, and backdoor closure. After you read this book you will likely agree that these three are the outline of the work that’s needed. I know I got some ideas out of this book and some challenge too. Another winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.


Spirit-Led Preaching (Revised Edition) by Greg Heisler

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Most books on preaching, and I’ve read a lot of them, only give a cursory mention of the Spirit’s role in preaching. The better ones sometimes give a chapter. Besides a book by Tony Sargent on the preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I’m not aware of any book like this helpful volume by Greg Heisler that probes the Spirit’s role in preaching. Even the Sargent book, as awesome as it is, doesn’t guide us through the whole sermon preparation process step by step with an eye on the Spirit as does this book. I somehow missed the first edition of this work, but this revised edition was a blessing and a reminder to me.

Chapter 1 challenges us to see that the most vital element, the Spirit’s help, may be missing in our preaching. What’s worse is that we may not have even felt the loss! Chapter 2 probes exactly what Spirit-filled preaching is. That aforementioned loss may mushroom for you in this chapter. If you somehow slip through without concern through chapters 1 and 2, chapter 3 will bring you before the tribunal. Jesus, the Prophets, and Paul all clearly highlight the essentialness of the Spirit in preaching. That must be the standard for us as well. Since there’s little doubt of being all in at that point, chapter 4 works through the doctrine of illumination. Here the nuts and bolts meet the Spirit. We who love the Word, and the exposition of it, find how complimentary Word and Spirit are to each other in chapter 5.

Chapter 6 looks at the Spirit and sanctification. Here the preacher himself and the Spirit are in view. The next chapter takes the preacher again through the sermon preparation process from text selection to ready to preach again with the Spirit. Chapter 8 glides into sermon delivery with the Spirit. Chapter 9 is a breath of fresh air as it takes the Spirit to the congregation. The value of listening is even probed. Chapter 10 is something of a challenging summary.

I’m impressed with this book. Its contents are desperately needed in our day of programmed, sterilized preaching that would rather give pointers for self-improvement than deliver the Word of God that throbs with life and has the power of the Spirit to bring it to life for you. Every preacher needs a library of key books on the ministry. Make sure this book is in yours.

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Small Church Essentials by Vaters

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Someone should have written this book a long time ago! We pastors of small churches often get our ideas from their wrong sources and evaluate ourselves by the wrong guidelines. Enter Karl Vaters, a pastor of a small church himself, to bring us back to a place of biblical and ministry sanity. Many of the conclusions he shares are those that I have come to over the course of my ministry, and he says them in a helpful way here. This book deserves a wide readership.

Part one is three chapters on how small does not equal broken. He reminds us that most pastors will pastor a small church. We are setting ourselves up for some sort of depression if we think a large church is the only possibility for success while it”s clear most of us will not reach that plateau. He works to help us balance embracing the beauty of a small church while giving it our all. There’s no bashing of large churches here, just a reminder that maybe the Lord has always intended there be many small churches to carry out His plan.

Part two is four chapters on thinking like a great small church. Here’s where we see how erroneous thinking has sent us off the rails. He teaches us better ways to measure church growth than the usual numbers-only approach. Part three becomes more practical as five chapters explain how to bring new life to an existing small church. Whatever you do, don’t miss chapter 12 on “a new way to see small church vision-casting”. It’s worth the price of the book. Some pastors will be liberated by it. The final section becomes even more practical in his discussion of embracing and becoming a great small church.

Every pastor of a small church ought to read this book soon. So many of the church help books out there today leave a pastor feeling dejected. Those books claim to light a fire under you when they’re more like water dousing the flame. This book succeeds where the church gurus fail. You will be challenged to embrace your calling and pursue it for the glory of God. Finally, a modern book that can really help pastors of small churches!

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

On Pastoring by H.B. Charles Jr.

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This book is real. It doesn’t sound academic but is more of the I’ve-done-it-and-lived-to-talk-about-it variety. H. B. Charles Jr. has pastored for 25 years and has been through battles and crises, so you feel that he understands as you reflect on your own in the ministry. The spiritual temperature of this book is high, its God-honoring viewpoint is apparent, its proclamation of the primacy of the Word in preaching is clear, and its general encouragement to stay at it is unwavering.

Mr. Charles covered every topic that you’ve come to expect in these type volumes, but here you find more heart. There’s a rawness that says the author has learned through both success and failure. There are things he’s been taught by others as well as things he’s learned the hard way. In some cases, his main benefit is the affirmation of your own conclusions that have also developed in the turbulence of ministry. He will encourage you to never lose the awe of your call, nor the wonder of your work, even if you are inflicted with the occasional scar.

The book is divided into three main parts: the pastor’s heart, the pastor’s leadership, and the pastor’s public ministry. Each part gets 10 down-to-earth chapters. I agreed with his conclusions again and again. I appreciated the needed reminders of what I already knew. All in all, this book left me encouraged. What could be higher praise for a book on pastoring?

I received this map free from the publisher. 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.

The Lost Sermons of Spurgeon: Volume 3

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I love these lost sermons of Spurgeon more as every new volume is released. Here we are blessed to receive volume 3 of what will be an incredible 10-volume set for both Spurgeon fans and any who love gospel preaching. The design and setup match the previous two volumes, but I notice the sermon notes are becoming fuller as Spurgeon must’ve started keeping more careful notes.

With this volume, I became even more impressed with the editor, Christian T. George. It’s almost as if he went through these notebooks with a magnifying glass and nothing escaped his eye. He made sure we had everything he observed. Be sure to glance through the notes that follow each sermon. I even noticed that he traced down some of the sermon illustrations to volumes in Spurgeon’s library! I guess our beloved Metropolitan Tabernacle sermons will seem somewhat inferior after this set is finished. I, for one, appreciate the attention to detail that Mr. George brings to this project. B & H gave this production worthy packaging to make something truly beautiful.

Another observation: Spurgeon started hitting his stride in producing sermons that we would expect from him in this volume. As was his custom throughout his ministry, he is all over the Bible. It would be hard to argue that anyone was Spurgeon’s equal when it comes to textual preaching. The man could wring the Gospel out of almost any text! This book needs no recommendation from me – obviously its pure gold!

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom Rainer

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Thom Rainer has become the guru of all things local church. This book, another of the small, attractive, hardback volumes published by B&H Publishing that he has turned out over the last few years, teaches us how to become a welcoming church. It’s not so much a book of suggestions as one of necessity because all of its recommendations are drawn from real data from church visitors.

Rainer explains that visitors often don’t rate our friendliness, facilities, or services in the way we do. Our friendliness is often in “holy huddles” that excludes visitors, our facilities are laid out nicely only because we’ve had years to get used to it, and our services are not as geared to visitors as we have allowed ourselves to believe.

Chapter 1 chips away our determined belief that we are welcoming and asks us to be willing to do a true evaluation. He warns us that we may be in for quite a shock. In this chapter, he explains what consistently bothers visitors (hint: it has nothing to do with doctrine or gospel faithfulness) and what makes for happy visitors. As I read over these lists, I marveled that there was no spiritual element, just practical things that we could work on. Chapter 2 goes on and give us what he calls a confidential report where he digs deeper into how our churches are viewed by visitors. Chapter 3 looks at the practical items of signage, parking, and websites. Chapter 4 describes how visitors expect a safe and clean church and what is most important on that list. Chapter 5 explains greeters and welcome centers while Chapter 6 is a concluding chapter. There is an appendix with a church facility audit and secret guest survey.

If you are familiar with Rainer’s work, this book is classic Rainer. I happen to be blessed to be a pastor of a friendly church yet see several things on these pages that we need to shore up. This book is a practical, top-notch work and I highly recommend it!

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Preaching God’s Word (Second Edition)

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Now in its second edition, this book by Terry G. Carter, J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hayes lives up to its subtitle: a hands-on approach to preparing, developing, and delivering the sermon. It strikes me as a success because of its clear value as a first textbook for someone learning how to put together a sermon. It does better than most at keeping a big-picture view as it assembles the pieces of the sermon. There are other books that, perhaps, dive deeper into the details – the works of Jerry Vines comes to mind – but this one may be “just right” for a wide array of readers.

The book is divided into three parts: eight chapters on developing and preaching a sermon, three chapters on preaching the New Testament, and four chapters on preaching the Old Testament. Duvall and Hays had earlier produced a hermeneutics textbook entitled Grasping God’s Word, which is also published by Zondervan, so this book assumes an understanding of hermeneutics and goes straight into putting together a sermon after that work has been done.

The first chapter introduces their 11-step sermon process. Chapter 2 covers the first five steps: grasp the meaning of the text in their town, measure the width of the interpretive river, cross the principlizing bridge, consult the biblical map, and grasp the text in our town. As you can see, they word this information in practical terms aimed at our maximum understanding. Again, they avoid being either too shallow or too deep and succeed at being “just right”.

After all that wonderful help for putting the sermon together, the other two parts on the Old and New Testaments look at the genres and their unique challenges for the preacher found in each. Most of these were wonderful. The value of the chapter on preaching Revelation might correspond to your own prophetic viewpoint. Actually, they tell you that that might be the case when you preach the Book of Revelation.

If you’ve been called to preach and are trying to figure out how to put a sermon together, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

A Mentor’s Wisdom by Moyer

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This is a special kind of book. It’s not hard to read. In fact, you may find it relaxing. By that I don’t mean it’s fluffy in any way, but that it’s reflective. Larry Moyer reflects on things he picked up from his mentor, Haddon Robinson, and it’s a journey that will likely help you reflect on your own life. If you happen to be a preacher like both the author and his subject, the scope of your ponderings will be even greater.

Admittedly, a book of this design would have little hope of success unless it had what this one does – a full-orbed life with Christ where both a deep immersion into the Bible and a life of trying with all its trial and error. Mr. Robinson is just such a man. Mr. Moyer had decades of interaction with Mr. Robinson and he was able to strike the perfect balance between admiration and reality.

Mr. Robinson has written some of the most influential books on preaching in print today. For that reason, he has an automatic respect by many preachers who will pick this book up and hear what he had to say. I suspect that even those who are not familiar with his writings will find respect easy to grant on these pages.

The book contains 45 statements that the author heard Mr. Robinson say at different points of their relationship. They range from the author’s school days all the way to Mr. Robertson’s last days. Mr. Moyer gives the background for when the statement was made and with additional insights that he had from their frequent association brings the statement alive. None of the statements or explanations ever came across as forced, trite, or corny. There’s even a Bible verse with every saying that matches what it’s trying to say. In a way, these sayings and their explanations were like devotionals throwing light back on the Bible.

The statements are arranged in categories with life lessons, work counsel, spiritual advice, public speaking and preaching, leadership, and evangelism. The advice ranges from broad help for life to detailed counsel. A preacher will carry away a few extra gems, but any Christian will receive thoughtful help. There were a few that I’ve heard people say that I now know they got from Mr. Robinson!

The author was real on these pages. At times he would describe how he initially struggled to accept what Dr. Robinson had said. There was inside to be gained and how his own wrestling’s brought him around to see things the same way Dr. Robinson did.

I liked all the sayings, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be number 9 (“time is your enemy. You must work to make it your friend”).  The Bible verse was Ecclesiastes 3:1. As I read that section, the thought struck me that there is enough time to do what God wants me to do.

This is not an academic book. This will be a book for you – your life, your spirituality, your heart. If you are like me, you know you need a few books like that along the way, and A Mentor’s Wisdom: Lessons I Learned from Haddon Robinson is just such a book.

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Power in the Pulpit by Vines & Shaddix (Books on the Ministry #22)

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This book is probably the most thorough on preparing and delivering sermons that I’ve come across. This work has been appropriately revised to stay up-to-date. It includes the original works by Jerry Vines entitled “A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation” and “A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery” with additional material by Jim Shaddix. The authors wisely address expository sermons in this volume because that’s the kind of preaching that brings out God’s Word.

Part 1 looks at preparation for exposition. In three chapters you will see the philosophy of expository preaching with a broad view of the preacher’s work. Exegesis, interpretation, and application, as well as a host of other things that are at play in preaching an expository sermon, are explained carefully. The second chapter gives us a theology of expository preaching that touches upon both inspiration and the work of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 3 looks at the preacher himself and pushes us toward inward reflection. These three chapters cover 135 pages and lay a great foundation before you get to the nuts-and-bolts section of how to put a sermon together.

Part 2 provides another three chapters that guide you through the process of exposition itself. Chapter 4 gives insight into the interpretive process with guidance on things like how to choose a text to preach on. From that careful process, the next chapter tells us how to organize our sermon. It’s to just how to turn from exegesis to homiletics. It explains how to take the mass of information you glean from the interpretive process and arrive at an outline. Chapter 6 continues by explaining things like introductions and conclusions in sermons.

Part 3 tells us how to take our finished sermon and deliver it. In four chapters we are told how to express our thoughts, how to understand what style is, how to care for and effectively use your voice, how to connect with the congregation and other pointers on delivery. I can’t think of any detail they overlooked.

The suggestions were balanced and clear. I’ve been preaching a while and found myself agreeing with them on so many points. On occasion, they explain how to break something down on the level that would be most beneficial to a beginner, but it’s all excellently presented. It would be fair to call this the Broadus volume of our generation. This is the book to put in a young preacher’s hands. Seasoned preachers will find it a helpful evaluative tool to review their own preaching. It’s hard to find a book like this one that is at once classic and current, but that’s what you have in this excellent book.

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.

Lies Pastors Believe by Dayton Hartman

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It seems several other groups have books about the lies they’ve believed, so it’s good to see pastors get their turn. The lies we believe, however, come from deep within and are ugly when examined as in this book. Every generation has a book of this nature for pastors and this volume is ideal for ours. It’s a short volume that can be read rather quickly in our busy age, yet there’s nothing shallow about it. It probes deeply and pastors who read it must either look within or close the book and walk away.

The subtitle reads: “7 ways to elevate yourself, subvert the gospel, and undermine the church”. The seven types are the visionary, the iron chef, the achiever, the called, the holy man, the anti-family man, and the castaway. I don’t know which is more shocking: the fact that we pastors could fall into seven such ridiculous things or that we so often have fallen into many of them! Pride shows up in several of these and the consequences of being swallowed up in them are devastating. If you don’t see that, Mr. Hartman will provide several examples.

The visionary is one of the worst because it springs directly from ego. It’s an assumption that we are destined for great things as we are coming into the ministry even though the Lord might have other plans. The iron chef is similar in that over time we begin to believe that no one preaches or teaches at the grand level we do and we kind of fall into being the iron chef over time. The achiever tries to earn and ministry ranks are filled with achievers. I was least in agreement with the chapter about “the called”, but still it was filled with some great insights.

The chapter on the holy man reminds us that real holiness is far more important than perceived holiness. The next chapter debunks the lie that we must sacrifice our home life for our ministry. He really takes us to task if were failing in this area. He gives balanced counsel to the castaway as well. There’s a short conclusion that gives three steps to take to get back on track. There’s a rather intense appendix on elder qualifications as well as a nice one on recommended reading.

If we pastors took the truths in this book to heart, our churches, our families, and our own lives would be so blessed. Warmly recommended!

I received this book free from the publisher. 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.