Book Review: Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

Caleb Breakey has a clear passion for the local church. In Called to Stay, he writes to Christians experiencing frustration with their churches who are tempted to abandon the Church altogether. Coining the idea of “infiltration,” Breakey charges Christians to stay with their local churches, working with the community to cultivate health and flourishing. Each chapter highlights an aspect of infiltration–such as building unity and relying on the Holy Spirit–that believers should embrace as they seek to contribute to the good of their local church.

I so wanted to love this book. As an associate campus pastor at a Christian university, I often work with young adults who struggle to fit into local church communities. I was hoping that Breakey would write clear and compelling material, so I could recommend this book to students. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. Though Breakey has good starting points, he often launches off with explanations that lack depth and clarity. Not only do Breakey’s points fail to develop well, his poor writing style obfuscates the message he seeks to convey. This becomes especially apparent in obscure allegories that Breakey uses, acting as if they shed brilliant light on his subject, when in actuality, they create more confusion and… well, just overall oddness. Breakey also uses excessive numbering of points and lists in each chapter, which make his main ideas more complicated. Though he tries to make the book practical–and I admit, there are some helpful points–many of his ideas lack meaningful contextualization or maturity. Even the term “infiltration” seems too militaristic to me for what he’s challenging Christians to do.
As a side note: I was bothered by Breakey’s lack of gender-inclusive language. Not only does he always refer to pastors with male pronouns–which at least makes sense if he’s complementation–he also uses almost all male pronouns for generic examples of church-goers. With at least 50% of church members being female, he should have put more intentionality into including them.

After reading this book, I think Breakey seems genuine and his love for the Church is pure. He’s the kind of guy, I imagine would be fun to have coffee with. His book, however, I cannot recommend.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

In More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, Jeff Shinabarger challenges readers to define how much is enough in their lives. Since we live in a culture of unlimited wants and desires, we are constantly driven to acquire more material goods while others live in poverty. Shinabarger asks readers to consider what they own that is actually excess–maybe more clothes than they need, transportation, or even ways that they use their time–and enter into an Enough Experiment. In an Enough Experiment, the experimenter chooses to give away some of their excess to benefit those that are in need. Throughout the book, Shinabarger weaves in stories of people who creatively met needs by giving from their excess, which encourage readers to get creative themselves. The last chapter is dedicated to helping readers find the right experiment for them that can be implemented successfully.

More or Less is an eye-opening book, unlike anything else I have read. Shinabarger seems to be incredibly innovative (just check out GiftCardGiver.com which he created), while he also has an ability to unleash the creativity in others. Many books talk about sacrificial giving but hardly even mention how we can give well out of our abundance–and not just with money! Shinabarger’s ideas are extremely practical and entirely rooted in community. The first step to becoming generous is to befriend people who have needs. When the people who we love are in need, it fills us with a deep desire to help meet the need. We are not generous because we have to be. We become generous because we want to be.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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** I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook through netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Becoming A Ripple Church by Phil Stevenson

In Becoming A Ripple Church: Why and How to Plant New Congregations, Phil Stevenson explores the theology and methodology of being a church that multiplies through church planting (aka daughtering other churches). Stevenson divides the book into three sections: 1) Why Parent Churches?, 2) Preparing to Parent Churches, and 3) How to Parent A New Church. This book deals with “parent churches” and how to multiply a healthy church, rather than how to plant churches from scratch. Stevenson also primarily appeals to the perspective of a parent church and how to multiply well, though he does give suggestions and insight into leading a daughter church.

Overall, I appreciated the basics that this book provides. Becoming A Ripple Church is written in a simple style and could easily be read in a few sittings. I was more interested in learning about church planting outside of other churches, but Stevenson presented a clear and helpful proposal for the need for all churches to multiply themselves into plants, which was interesting nonetheless. I will certainly keep this on the shelf for future reference. I recommend this book as a great start for churches that are considering expanding themselves. Though it should not be the only book or resource that one uses on the subject, it is a practical resource for ideas about how to vision cast and create a church planting plan. Plus, Stevenson includes a great list of resources for future study.

I also want to say thank you to Phil Stevenson for writing with intentional gender inclusion! This is one of the few books I’ve read recently that did not only refer to ministry leaders as males. Thank you for including women as church pastors and leaders!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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**A special thanks to Wesleyan Publishing House for a complimentary copy of this book. I was not asked to give a review, but did so anyways!

Book Review: Altared by Claire & Eli

Before reading Altared, I was expecting a book about dating. What I got, however, was a book about discipleship. In the first few chapters, Claire and Eli (who are using pseudonyms), set up the premise of the book by describing an American Christian culture that is “marriage-happy.” Marriage-happiness means “1) having an inordinate preoccupation with marital pursuits, sometimes at the cost of other Christian priorities commonly seen in evangelicals. 2) A giddiness stemming from all things related to marriage.” They describe the problem of this approach by beginning with their own experiences. Throughout Altared‘s 13 chapters, Claire and Eli weave the tale of how they met and began dating into chapters that dig into Bible, theology, and church history.

Throughout the process of reading this book, I began with loving it, then thinking it was so-so, to really enjoying the last half. Part of my confusion came from the extreme contrast in writing styles. When Claire and Eli are sharing their own story, the writing is clear, poetic, and easily enrapturing like a fiction novel. But as soon as they delve into Scripture and theological points, the writing becomes more like reading dense and dry-er theological writing. While I loved the first chapter or two, because it was heavy on their personal story and easy to read, I dreaded the sections that felt preachy–rather than engaging–to me in the next few chapters. After setting the book down for a few months, I picked it up again and read the last half in one sitting. Because I knew more of what to expect, I really enjoyed this last section.

Overall, this book needs to be viewed as a discipleship resource with a story weaved into it. It’s so different from other relationship books that it can’t really be viewed in the same genre of writing and style. This is a book to get people thinking about the benefits of singleness–which I really appreciated!–rather than a “how to” book on being single, dating, or finding a marriage partner. With the right expectations going into it, it’s a really enjoyable read!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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* I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Stir by Mindy Caliguire

In STIR, Mindy Caliguire advocates for a change in local churches to support discipleship transformation through relationships rather than programs. Caligure describes three stages in spiritual transformation: 1) Learning together, 2) Journeying together, and 3) Following together. When believers begin their spiritual walk with Christ, they need highly directive relationships with other believers who are farther along than them, but as they move from stage one, to two, and to three, they begin to need highly discerning relationships. Many churches experience little discipleship because they attempt to aid believers’ transformation by throwing programs and curriculum at them. Rather, churches need to reset their approach and cast vision for intentional relationships that foster growth. Caliguire not only gives instruction for how to identify which stage people are in, but she also gives practical advice for how to be the one directing and discerning in these relationships.

While reading this book, it became as much of a devotional read to me as it was informative. During one of the chapters, the Holy Spirit connected with my heart that I’ve been in a season for the past year and a half that I hadn’t realized. Personally, it’s made me pray more for close friends to truly share my life and heart with. I also appreciate that Caliguire emphasizes the need for growth and transformative discipleship to take place our entire lives. Mature believers need relationships that keep them going just as much as new believers do. From the perspective of a Discipleship Pastor, this has caused me to ask the question, “In the discipleship structure of our church, how can we make it less about curriculum and more about connecting people in Christ-centered relationships?”.

This book is a quick read and good for getting the conversation started. It would be a great book to give to lay leaders (or staff) who are involved in leading any sort of community groups in your church, such as small group leaders.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Link to Book: http://zondervan.com/9780310494829

** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan through Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Deeper Path by Kary Oberbrunner

In “The Deeper Path”, Kary Oberbrunner challenges us to go where few people choose to go: pain. So often we are afraid of pain because of the discomfort and hurt it brings to our lives. However, if we do not face and embrace our pain, we cannot receive healing either. Oberbrunner invites us into his own story, one in which he tried to mask and diminish his pain through self-injury. Though he seemed to have it all together on the outside, his inner life was in turmoil. After sharing his story, Oberbrunner asks readers to consider their own. He explores five steps that go from questioning one’s condition to embodying healing. Finally, he concludes with a challenge to live our personal opus, a life of purpose and art that transcends merely work and recreation. As we live our opus, it’s hard to tell the difference between work and play as everything flows out of our very nature–who we are–with our souls ignited in passion. This is a fulfilling and whole life.

This book captivated me from the very beginning. As I started reading, it immediately reminded me of my own life experiences, friends, and people I am in relation with who NEED to read this book. It’s a shame how time after time people miss out on healing and wholeness because they’re constantly dismissing their pain instead of exploring it. This book is a challenge to stand and dig, instead of run away. It’s a challenge to live life with purpose and meaning and a whole person, instead of merely getting by. For anyone who finds yourself aimless, constantly caught in drama or high emotional situations, or ever feeling like you’re wearing a mask and others don’t who you really are: READ THIS BOOK! As a pastor to young adults, I would especially recommend it to those who are in their twenties and early thirties. Let’s find healing now so that we can have a full life ahead!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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**I received a complementary copy of this work through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Discipleshift by Jim Putnam and Bobby Harrington

This is one of the best books about discipleship that I have read. As a Discipleship Pastor, several times it made me want to stop and shout, “Yes, finally! This is exactly it!” Putnam, and the rest of the writing crew, grasp and communicate well that we are all called to be disciples who make other disciples, but they go beyond theology and make it practical. How do we make disciples who make disciples? Well, it’s all about relationships. Everything comes back to connecting people in relationships.

Putnam describes 5 shifts that need to happen for a church to make disciples who make disciples: The Shifts… 1) From Reaching to Making; 2) From Informing to Equipping; 3) From Program to Purpose; 4) From Activity to Relationship; and 6) From Accumulating to Deploying. For each shift, Putnam includes a chapter on the theology behind the shift (a.k.a. Why should the shift be made?) and a following chapter on how to practically do it (a.k.a. How do I make the shift in MY church?). The end of each chapter includes key takeaway points, and many also include personal testimonies from church leaders and pastors about what God is doing in their churches through these shifts.

This is a book every church staff member should read. It’s written well, is interesting to read, and the content is phenomenal! I even have a vision casting/training meeting with our small group leaders tomorrow in which I will be using content from this book. So what separates this books from others like it? There are so many pastors out there who write books which essentially say, “This is how we did things at our church and it grew like crazy, so you should do them too!” But Putnam doesn’t write like that at all. He is an advocate for the local church and is constantly encouraging pastors to not just take a practice and immediately implement it in their church. Instead, he desires for churches to look at their own contexts, visions, and ministries, and decide what it looks like for them to be a church who makes disciples who makes disciples.

Thank you Jim Putnam, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Coleman for writing such a transformational book that both challenges and encourages church leaders!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Book Link: http://zondervan.com/9780310492627

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan through NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review.