Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

PLUS: A Starbucks gospel, preaching to postmoderns and keys to engaging first-time visitors.
Compiled by Sean Fowls

The Blogging Church:
Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs
Author: Brian Bailey with Terry Storch
Publisher:  Jossey-Bass
File Under: Technology

Executive Summary: In our world of computerized communications, weblogs, or blogs, are part of a new revolution. The Blogging Church, by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch, proves a compelling case for capitalizing on that trend and provides clear instructions for venturing into the blogosphere.

The authors thoroughly explain blogs, not only discussing costs and related factors, but also revealing how typical congregations with very little tech know-how can get started.

The fundamentals are adequately covered as the authors help participants evaluate worth, process decision, prepare properly for a true purpose, learn from others and avoid falling for every new trend. They also share how their own congregation (Bailey and Storch serve on the staff of Fellowship Church, Dallas, pastored by Ed Young Jr.) decided to begin blogging only after proving its value as they ran the decision through a filter of three questions: Is it a tool or a toy? What problems are we trying to solve? What is the return on ministry investment?

Blogging allows local churches and their pastors to expand the reach of their pulpit ministry and office counseling. Outreach is available online as principles are explained, Scriptures are quoted, and reactions are solicited. Even mission trips occur in cyberspace, according to the authors. Promoting church events, informing potential visitors and offering testimony time, blogs can do easily what few other efforts are able to achieve.

The Blogging Church suggests that "blogging presents a rare opportunity for churches to be part of this new world instead of watching from a distance. Blogging is simple, inexpensive and powerful. In other words, the impact-to-investment ratio is impossible to ignore." With free software available online and easy-to-follow steps for even the most technologically challenged, blogging is an interactive ministry tool whose time has come.

Quote: "There is no blogging revolution without others. The heart of a blogging church is passionate pursuit of people who matter to God. Blogging is an incredible way to start conversations, reach out to others, develop relationships and build community."

Ideal Reader: Church leaders and followers of Christ who hope to find simple, practical and successful ways to use blogging for promoting a local church and reaching the lost.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (3); Readability (5)
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell

The Gospel
According to Starbucks:
Living With a Grande Passion
Author: Leonard Sweet
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
File Under: Culture

Executive Summary: Popular author and professor Leonard Sweet beckons readers to sit a spell and join him for a savory cup of caffeinated Christianity in his latest book, The Gospel According to Starbucks. However, lest readers become confused, it plainly states on the cover of the book that the Starbucks Coffee Company has not authorized the book.

Sweet admits his love of coffee generally (he's an eight-a-day cupper) and his affinity for the Starbucks brand specifically (Christmas Blend is his favorite) while espousing the virtues of their virtual ubiquity in our daily lives. Whereas Starbucks views its brand as a cultural portal, Sweet proposes it as a type of spiritual portal: "By the time you finish this book, you'll see that the cup of coffee you enjoy in the morning is much closer to a chalice of communion wine than you realize."

Early in the book, Sweet introduces readers to what he calls the "EPIC" life, saying that it is built on four essential elements: Experiences, Participation, Images and Connection, all of which he suggests are embodied by Starbucks. In succeeding chapters, Sweet develops each of the elements in detail, calling believers to start "living with a grande passion," a call echoed in the book's subtitle.

As Sweet points out, Starbucks is less about coffee than it is about community, and his comparison of the church to Starbucks as another "third place" (in addition to work and home) resonates with those clamoring for more community in faith circles. There are many grounds of truth to be sifted from this book, which may serve as a wake-up call for many leaders to reclaim the church's roots as a place of passion as well as authentic community.

Quote: "If we learn one lesson from Starbucks, it is this: People don't go out of their way to search for hype and superficiality—those are free for the asking. Starbucks, more than most corporations, understands the irresistible attraction of authentic experience."

Ideal reader: Church leaders such as pastors and elders as well as savvy laypeople with some business acumen who will appreciate the lessons for the church drawn from the corporate world of Starbucks.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (3); Theological Depth (3); Readability (4)
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds

Beyond the First Visit:
The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church
Author: Gary L. McIntosh
Publisher: Baker Books
File Under: Church Growth

Executive Summary: What image is your church displaying in appearance, atmosphere, attitudes and activities? That is the question professor and author Gary L. McIntosh asks in Beyond the First Visit.

Unlike other books addressing this subject, the author does not seek to turn congregations into clones, with each one imitating the other. Uniqueness is fine in his book, as long as congregations know their purpose and do what should be done to display and fulfill that purpose.

McIntosh highlights trends and explains methods in the process of informing today's congregational leaders what outsiders truly need in the church environment. The message people hear, he argues, is not just the sermon. The overall message includes the entire service: a facility's setting, sound, lighting and cleanliness, as well as people's attitudes, eye contact and tone of voice.

To realize what newcomers notice, he suggests taking a tour as if you were a visiting parent leaving your children in the nursery. The result likely will be that the "welcome" feel of appearance, conversations and style can all improve, McIntosh says.

The author explains and emphasizes four styles of services in modern culture, and what advertising will and will not do. He contends that churches should view marketing expenditures as investments in ministry and to market wisely means all advertising should feature a "we-can-help" message. Even new trends such as the emergent church can follow guidelines to make people feel more at home. The book offers essential guidelines and strategic planning and should be required for every minister and volunteer in today's churches.

Quote: "Serving people inside and outside your church means that you offer excellence in all areas of ministry. As you seek to upgrade your ministries, you will want to begin by focusing on three core areas: facility, child care and worship service."

Ideal reader: Pastors, church staff, leadership teams and volunteers who hope to give a welcome to those who visit their congregations with the hope of engaging them as true participants and members of their local church.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5)
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell

Preaching to Postmoderns:
New Perspectives for Proclaiming the Message
Authors: Robert Kysar and Joseph M. Webb
Publisher: Hendrickson
File Under: Homiletics

Executive Summary: This unique and handy volume—offering the meat of a seminary textbook without the laborious length and density—is only marred by its misleading title: "Postmodernism" is scarcely mentioned across the pages, and the authors never stop to define the term itself. Aside from this incongruity, Robert Kysar and Joseph Webb do an excellent job at connecting the often frayed and forgotten threads between the pastor's homiletical training and his tenure in church ministry.

After a helpful opening chapter on the evolution of biblical studies across the last few centuries, the authors succinctly demonstrate how various scholars' presuppositions shape one's interpretation of Scripture, and—without endorsing any one of the interpretative methods—smartly unpack historical, literary and liberation criticism; social-scientific theories; deconstruction; and approaches to the nature of meaning itself.

They approach the origins of each hermeneutical movement, discuss its key players, and elaborate on its nuances and particulars in a manner that sets the movement into its proper context.

Each chapter concludes with a discussion of how a particular interpretative approach can contribute to contemporary preaching, and offers a sample sermon written with the methods that have just been discussed.

This format makes it simple and enriching for a pastor to quickly grasp the various hermeneutical approaches and implement them, giving new life and energy to sermon preparation—especially for those pastors who have fallen into the predictable preaching rut.

The average pastor often lacks the time—and the interest—to intentionally weave the various methods of biblical criticism approaches into his sermon preparation. However, these approaches offer compelling systems of biblical interpretation that can add significant depth and theological focus to the preaching experience.

As a survey of some of the most significant movements in biblical studies, complete with examples and suggestions of how they might impact the manner in which clergy study the Bible, it is a needed guide for the busy preacher.

Quote: "The authors of this book know the feeling of despair when faced with the multiplicity of methods for biblical interpretation and the tendency to limp on without the help of biblical scholars. However, we are convinced that the issues involved in the multiplication of interpretative methods and the resulting methods themselves are important for preachers."

Ideal reader: Pastors who preach on a regular basis as well as other ministers seeking to enhance the sermon preparation process.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (5).
Reviewer: John Michael De Marco

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