Thursday, October 30, 2008

Planting Churches in the Real World -- Joel Rainey

[I have come into an extra copy of this book. If you would like to try for it, please click this link and take a stab at the question in a comment on my other blog.]

©2008 Missional Press, Smyrna, DE

Church planting is the way to go for young (and not-so-young) preacher types these days. The younger generation wants to make its mark on the world, and the older fellows have come to their wits’ end trying to get the church to do what’s right. The answer? Start your own church, then you can start get them doing right from the very start, set up your rules and make all the members play by them. Joel Rainey, Director of Mid-Maryland Baptist Association located near Washington, D.C. and experienced church planter has something to say to those who would jump in with the idea that they are looking at an easy task. That something is, “Think again!”

Planting Churches in the Real World is the kind of book that church planting circles have needed for a long time. Rainey speaks frankly and candidly about the hard work and often disappointing results that accompany starting churches from the ground up. He includes practical advice about how to go about choosing location and leadership. He warns against trusting in numbers, but encourages church planters and would-be church planters to watch for signs of steady, healthy growth.

With a host of books lining the shelves of bookstores that are written by big-name mega-church planters, it is easy to get the idea that within the first year of launching a church one should see upwards of 100 regular attenders, and within five years you ought to be pushing 1000. This, asserts Rainey, is the exception and not the rule. The majority of church planters work long hours for little reward, and to have that first 100 within the first three years is doing well. This should encourage those who are in the process of planting a new church and not seeing throngs of their target group bursting through the door of their rented storefront.

I liked this book. I like the writing style and pace. I like the candor of the examples brought straight from the author’s own church planting experience. I like the size of the book (approximately 150 pages). I would suggest that it be the first must read for someone who feels the calling to plant churches. I also find that it would be a perfect main textbook for a church planting course at any Bible College or Seminary. Even more, I believe that much of what is suggested for the church planter should be given ear by the local pastor who would like to see his “already planted” church show signs of health and growth. The principles are the same whether starting from scratch or building on a previously laid foundation.

For those who want to plant churches, hear Rainey’s words:

Of all the things I have been privileged to do in my sixteen years of ministry, church planting was by far the most enlightening educational, rewarding, heartbreaking, health-threatening, marriage-testing, glorious, faith-building, faith-testing, fulfilling, challenging, daunting, empowering, sweat-producing, excruciating, wonderful, God-glorifying thing I have ever done!

This one is a keeper—and a book to refer to time and again when going through the process of helping churches become all that they can be. I give it four out of five reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, October 30, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Essential Church? – Thom S. Rainer & Sam Rainer III

[I have an extra copy of the ARC of Essential Church? I will be offering it to a diligent reader this copy at the end of the review.]

©2008 B&H, Nashville

I’ve been reading quite a lot of statistically based books lately. This is usually not my cup of tea, but the research helps me to understand trends in such a way as to be better at leading my congregation. As you might have guessed, Thom and Sam are related. Thom Rainer is the president and of LifeWay Christian Resources, the co-author of Simple Church, and the author of several other books, many of which are based on statistical research. His eldest son, Sam, is the senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, and the president and CEO of Rainer Research.

These statisticians have written a book that examines the trend of church drop-outs. What their research shows is that the American church is in decline, and the largest group of people dropping out of church is young adults aged 18 to 22. Seventy percent of this age group are dropping out of church while only 30% are staying. Consequently the conclusions they draw and the suggestions they make are aimed at what churches can do to stem the tide of back door users in this age group. Even so, the material can be applied across age brackets when church leaders are trying to invigorate their churches.

The book is divided into two sections: Part 1, dedicated to the research itself explaining “why people are leaving the nonessential church”; and part 2, relating “how essential churches close the back door.” The dire picture that the statistics paints is one that causes the first part of the book to seem rather on the negative side.

What we are exposed to in part one is the stark reality that the American church is in decline. It is not really all that surprising with books like unChristian opening our eyes to the fact that the up-and-coming generations are finding more and more things to be disenchanted with about the church. Even so, the Rainers present some interview material that shows that the exodus of young people really has less to do with people getting mad at the church than it does with life change. What the authors discovered in polling and interviewing church dropouts was that these young adults just got out of the habit of going to church because it wasn’t an “essential” in their lives.

The authors offer these top ten reasons for 18 to 22 year olds ceasing to attend church:

  1. Simply wanted a break from church.
  2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
  3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
  4. Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
  5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
  6. Became too busy but still wanted to attend.
  7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.
  8. Disagreed with the church’s stance of political or social issues.
  9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
  10. Was only going to church to please others.

Part two of the book is actually the more helpful part of what the Rainers write. When you read the book don’t skip the foundational material of part one, but for the book to be useful, you’ll want to get to part two as quickly as possible. In part two we find the positive side of the message—even though young adults are leaving the church in record numbers, they tide can be turned. And it is, the authors argue, in essential churches. What makes an essential church? According to the book, an essential church is one that:

  • Simplifies: Getting the Structure Right
  • Deepens: Getting the Content Right
  • Expects: Getting the Attitude Right, and
  • Multiplies: Getting the Action Right

There are two cautions that I would place when reading this book. The first is mine alone: Beware the temptation to approach the material with an attitude of “churchiolatry.” While reading the concerns about the exodus of young adults from the church it is easy to begin thinking that the church is the most important thing. Understanding that scripture dictates the importance of gathering with fellow Christ followers, and understanding also the gravity of the fact that Jesus himself created the church for believers, it is easy to make the creation more important than the Creator—especially when we know (or at least think we know) the best way to express church.

The second caution is one that the authors themselves render when offering the suggested answers to what an essential church is and how you can lead your church to be one, and I concur: Beware of the temptation to use the material in part two of the book to create a “cookie cutter” church. All churches have their own personality, so apply the information according to your situation. All churches are also found in unique situations, so approach the process of becoming essential with your location in mind.

The book itself presents some valuable information in a very readable manner. If you can overlook the overuse of the word plethora (I’m reminded of a certain scene in The Three Amigos), you will be able to use this resource toward turning your church into a God-honoring Essential Church in your community. Wade through the stats and dine on the meat in part two. You will be inspired and challenged. I give Essential Church? three and one-half out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, October 21, 2008

[I will give a copy of Essential Church? to the first reader to correctly answer the following question in the comments section of this post:

In the second part of Essential Church? the authors use one word rather extensively. I mention a movie in which this word is an interesting joke. What is the villain's name who uses the word and the important question that he asks?]

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Here's an Old Review for Blog Action Day 2008

In an effort to join in the awareness of poverty, I offer this old post on a book that raises our awareness of poverty among other issues.

The men who collaborated on this book have been leaders in Baptist (and Southern Baptist) life for years. Especially Dunn and Strickland are associated with a more liberal version of the SBC than currently exists. Having said that, we should understand that these men were among the pioneers in true Christian ethics. Dunn went from Texas to lead the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, one of the first organizations to address ethical issues on a national and international scale. Strickland was the long-time director of the Christian Life Commission for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. All three men were a part of the Christian Life Commission of the BGCT team when the book was developed.

The book itself is a study in social issues, especially hunger. Royalties from original sales of the book were given to the World Hunger Fund of the (then) Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. The pictures painted as well as the ones used are heart-wrenching. I think that one of the reasons that this book stands out in my reading is the “Fable” introducing chapter 9. The chapter is dedicated to helping readers find what they can do to help combat the problem of world hunger. The fable is one of rich Americans dining sumptuously all the while poverty and hunger stares at them through the window. The solution is at once heartbreaking and thought-provoking. The statistics and stories told within its pages are now over thirty years old, but nonetheless poignant and indicting.

The book will leave the reader with a challenge to do something about hunger—at home and abroad. Overcoming the politics of society and Baptist life in general is a must when reading this volume, but it is an eye-opener that will not leave you alone, if you can find a copy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lighter Than Air – Henry Melton

©2008 Wire Rim Books, Hutto, Texas

Henry Melton has been a busy bee in the publishing department in 2008. So busy in fact, that he’s kept me busy reading young adult science fiction for review. Melton is the Darrel Award winning author of Emperor Dad, and the prolific publisher of his own “Small Towns, Big Ideas” series of YA Fiction. Lighter Than Air is the fourth in the series, the third that has been published in 2008.

Jon Kish is looking for the perfect Halloween prank. Every year the older boys at the Munising, Michigan High School try to out-do one another with the perfect prank. Reigning champion Bud Falco is in Jon’s sights, but Kish doesn’t know yet what he’ll do to upstage Falco’s re-wiring skills. Then he happens upon George Perkins’ work lab filled with an experiment called “buckyfoam.” Jon and neighbor George get reacquainted as the older man explains the process to Jon who soon finds himself in a loose apprenticeship to George.

The story is complicated (or enhanced depending upon one’s point of view) by the family dynamic for both of the scientists. George has moved home to be near his mother whose health is failing, leading eventually to a fatal stroke. Jon and his younger sister are involved in their own sibling squabbles to the disappointment of their weary mother—who discovers that among all the other issues in her life, she has stomach cancer. Jon’s father, Sam, disappeared five years earlier creating overwhelming hardship on his wife and children as they try to cope and keep the home place going.

In Lighter Than Air, Melton weaves a tale of secrets and suspense, science and pranks, emotion and intrigue. One of the drawbacks to the story lies in the same gripe I have with many science fiction stories—detail. While detail is important, some of the necessary detail when dealing with scientific experimentation gets tedious. Even so, the tedium of the scientific jargon is minimalized by Melton’s exquisite ability to tell a story. The CIA story line that follows Cherry Kish’s search for her absent father keeps the attention of any fan of espionage fiction. And the scene where Jon and his friend and co-conspirator, Larry, unleash their UFO on an unsuspecting Halloween Festival crowd is priceless.

The scary part of the story, though, is not how the characters deal with the issue of death, but that of Internet predators. In this case, the predator is a terrorist operative posing as a secret agent who volunteers to help Cherry find her father. We later find out that the on-line friend is just using Cherry to ferry information to his terrorist friends without detection by the US government. I found the possibility all too real, and you might as well.

As always, characterization and plot development are superb. Melton has another winner with Lighter Than Air. I give Lighter Than Air four out of five reading glasses. Look for more “Small Towns, Big Ideas” stories in 2009.

Benjamin Potter, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover – Kinky Friedman

©1996 Simon & Schuster, New York

[Before moving on with the review, I ought to explain that I haven’t really jumped off the deep end on a Friedman kick, I just have several of his stories (as well as other magnificent authors) on my TBR shelf. I picked up J. Edgar Hoover before remembering that I hadn’t read John Wayne yet, so I had to do a pick up and come back to this one.]

Every private investigator—live or fictional, professional or amateur (male that is)—has the dream of a leggy blond bombshell with pouty lips walking into their life with a desperate case that must be solved. Perhaps we have Sam Spade to thank for that. In his ninth appearance as himself in fiction, Kinky Friedman meets just such a client. Polly Price is worried about her missing husband Derrick, and on the advice of a friend in Washington, she shows up on the Kinkster’s doorstep in New York with a healthy retainer and a sad story.

Throwing a wrench into the works and keeping Kinky away from the missing person case is the fact that his long-time friend Mike McGovern has decided to go nuts by seeing his long-dead acquaintance and mentor, Leaning Jesus, who just happened to be the chef for Al Capone in the gangster’s heyday.

The story moves rather quickly and the writing is classic Friedman—brassy with an irreverent political incorrectness that most standup comics would envy. The pages are filled with innuendo and suggestive puns that are characteristic of the writer, but what else would you expect from a man named Kinky?

Not to spoil the ending, I won’t tell it here, but readers will be slightly disappointed in the lackluster resolution of this outing for the Kinkster. Notably missing from this volume are members of the Village Irregulars who often help with the solving of the mysteries. To make up for the missing group sessions, We get to see Kinky spend more time talking with the cat, whining about Ratso—his usual “Watson” and the subject of the last book, and finally an extended appearance from Rambam, the professional p.i. who advises Kinky from time to time.

Once again, Friedman offers a nice get-away book, although this one will have somewhat leaner appeal than previous offerings. I give The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover three and one-half out of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, October 3, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Order Yours Today

You have been waiting with bated breath, counting the seconds, and now the time is here! A Time for Miracles is available for purchase from the Loom & Wheel online store at

As with my original novelettes (Something Special at Leonard's Inn and Just a Simple Carpenter) I've fictionalized the story of a biblical character -- in this case John the Baptist -- hoping to expose more people to the Gospel message. Reuben, the narrator, tells of all the miracles that he witnesses surrounding the birth and life of John the Baptist. Ultimately, Reuben is introduced to the real miracle, Jesus Christ.

I've released this story in time for you to order plenty of copies for your friends and family at Christmas.

Publish-on-demand (POD) orders for the book with the traditional cover art by Jane Potter can be made @ Loom & Wheel [ISBN 978-09677668-7-4]

Those interested in the "black" cover can order (POD) from (production may be slightly delayed because of WordClay's readiness to print). [ISBN X-00000039706]

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