When it comes to learning, sometimes you need a “deep dive” into a subject: you need a 12-week course that meets thrice weekly for 90 minutes. But other times, an office visit with a professor will suffice.
This difference is the difference between books and ebooks. Ebooks are typically quick hitters that don’t say everything but do say enough to bring clarity to a specific topic. This fall, Sojourn Network released a series of “How To” ebooks for Christians and church leaders. Sojourn Network is a group of reformed Baptist churches that band together for greater church health.
I recently read each of their ebooks and gladly recommend all of them. Below are a few specific reasons why I liked each. Also, if you think you’ll purchase one of them, I was told that in December all of the profits go directly to those planting churches in their network.
“When the earth was brand new,” writes author Michael Winters, “it was formless and empty . . . . [B]lank spaces were everywhere. Now they are rare.”
This means that if your church is going to begin a ministry that promotes art and artists, you’ll have to do some de-cluttering first. You’ll have to clear the sanctuary walls and stage, the foyer and welcome area, the café and restrooms. You’ll need to make room for paintings and sculptures and photos that give sight to the blind.
It’s in this mission—giving sight to the blind and freedom to captives—that Winters contends artists can play a crucial role. And when they do, they are doing what God did and does, taking the blanks spaces, those formless and empty parts of creation, and filling them up with the glory of God.
Winters is the Director of Arts and Culture at Sojourn and is himself an artist. In addition to the practical advice and theological reflection on the arts, one thing I appreciated about the book is the way Winters transparently shares some of his missteps and failures as he has sought to cultivate the arts. I enjoyed this ebook so much, I’d love to see Winters expand his reflections beyond the visual arts to the written and spoken word.
A favorite quote: “Everyone and everything contributes to your church’s visual culture, from the kid’s ministry coloring sheets to the preaching pastor’s hair gel. The visual culture of your church should not be an obsession of control and marketing-driven scrutiny. But when you make aesthetic decisions, they should thoughtfully complement the church’s vision. Major factors would include: the architecture of your space, its interior design, technologies, graphic design, along with decoration, furnishings, landscaping, and outdoor signage including parking lot demarcations.” (Winters, Filling Blank Spaces, 10)
If you’ve been in enough small groups, then you know not every small group is “life-giving.” Some are, to be frank, “life-sucking.” But participating in a group that “gives life” means that you need to be giving your life to others.
In this ebook, Jeremy Linneman explains how an individual group (or a small group ministry) can cultivate mature disciples. He sets forth a biblical vision for groups, as well as offering tons of practical insights for cultivating the health of these groups. If your church has a groups ministry but no established training plan for leaders, you’d benefit greatly by taking all your current and new leaders through the material.
A favorite quote: “Like Jesus, we exist for relationships. We are created in the image of this triune God. To be fully human means to live in relationships. If Jesus was the most ‘fully alive’ human ever, it shouldn’t surprise us that a person cannot become fully human without a community.” (Linneman, Life-Giving Groups, 10)
Dave Harvey begins this ebook with a thesis: “The quality of your elder plurality determines the health of your church.” In my own experience, although far less extensive than Harvey’s, I’ve found his thesis to be true, especially over the long-haul of a church. This means working on the health of your elders is a nearly constant priority. As with healthy eating, you can take a break for a meal or two, or even a week or two; but bad things happen if you eat hot dogs and Cheetos and sticky buns and drink Mountain Dew and IPAs for a year.
Local churches mentioned in the New Testament always had more than one pastor. They always had a plurality of pastor-elders. Numerous passages in the Bible indicate this. For example, see Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; and 1 Peter 5:1–5 (see Appendix 1 for a complete list).
In the ebook, Harvey takes readers through the philosophy, principles, and process of creating and maintaining healthy plurality among elders. He’s also the author of When Sinners Say “I Do” (which we keep in our church bookstore) and Am I Called? (which I read just a few months ago).
At our church, we do not have a single lead pastor but rather co-pastors, where each of us shares the role of a lead pastor (weddings, funerals, vision casting, preaching, disciplining, etc.). This is a deviation from some of what Harvey advocates for in his ebook, but I’m not sure we are all that far off from his intent either in the letter of the law or the spirit. As with the other ebooks, any elder team would benefit from reading this together.
A favorite quote: “Humility is the oil that lubricates the engine of plurality. When one considers all of the polity options God could have chosen for governing churches, I theorize that God chose plurality because he loves humility.” (Harvey, Healthy Plurality = Durable Church, 19)
I just loved this ebook. It was relentlessly practical, even including several options for liturgies when conducting a child dedication service; sample invitations a church can send to relatives; suggested resources to give away on the day of a dedication; and instructions about putting an “X” on the stage with masking tape to show families where to stand. This sounds like micromanaging, but it’s not. Church leaders need this kind of help. I need this kind of help.
If your church does child dedications, you need to read this book. Doing shabby child dedication services is not helpful or honoring to anyone.
A favorite quote: “As I said, I don’t have any Bible verses to reference here. I can’t point to a passage which says, ‘Thou shalt have child dedication services.’ But I do know parents are tempted to think about their relationship with their kids as if it was a contract. And I also know nothing challenges consumer thinking quite like making really difficult covenant promises. It’s true for marriage, and it’s true for parenting too. The child dedication covenant confirms this reality: parenting is a higher, self-sacrificial commitment. The sacred public vow helps us teach parents to practice regular patterns of sacrificial love from the very beginning of their parenting journey.” (Kennedy & Kennedy, Before the Lord, Before the Church, 12)
* Your can purchase the ebooks here.