5 Things Anyone Can Do to Help Start a Church by Phil Stevenson

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
By Dr. Gayle Woods

The most exciting book I have read in some time is Phil Stevenson’s little volume, “5Things Anyone Can Do to Help Start a Church.” It may be because I have such a keen interest in church planting that this little book made my heart pump harder as the possibilities for ministry raced through my mind. Be that as it may, this a book that every pastor should read.

Phil Stevenson is an experienced pastor whose leadership as of 2003 was responsible for starting nine churches. He is the General Director of Evangelism and Church Growth for the Wesleyan Church. He has also served as senior staff member for New Church Specialties. He has authored a number of books and articles on the subject of church planting.

“5 Things Anyone Can Do to Help Start a Church” follows a simple outline of “Go Public, Generate Prayer, Give Promotion, Generously Provide, and Grant Permission. I was somewhat dismayed when I received this $7.99 book and saw that it was only 94 pages in length. My dismay soon turned to satisfaction as I discovered a virtual gold mine of ideas on this subject. It is simply written and can be read in one or two sittings. Each chapter ends with discussion questions making it suitable for a pastor to use in a study with his board, key lay members, or cell groups. In geographical areas where there is a cluster of churches I would suggest that the area pastors each buy the book and then schedule five meetings at a local restaurant to discuss a chapter for each meeting. Brainstorming sessions such as this may give birth to the possibilities of seeing new church plants springing up all throughout the Church of God (Holiness).

Interesting Resources
“The Ripple Church: Multiply Your Ministry by Parenting New Churches,” by Phil Stevenson.
“5 Things Anyone Can Do to Help Their Church Grow,” by Phil Stevenson.
Phil Stevenson, 5 Things Anyone Can Do to Help Start a Church, 2008. Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, IN, ISBN: 978-0-89827-382-3.


Be a People Person – Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships by John C. Maxwell

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
By Dr. Gayle Woods

How can a person walk into a room of strangers and with the strength of his presence cause heads to turn in his direction? In a circle of conversation, why does the group seem compelled to address their remarks in the direction of one individual rather than to everybody in the group? Why do some people seem to move within the sphere of an aura of greatness?

These gifted people are often identified as “people persons”. In his book, “Be a People Person”, John C. Maxwell, the “People Person”, suggests that this is not an innate ability but rather a quality than most leaders can cultivate. Fred Smith, founder of FedEx says, “This book is an opportunity to see in distilled form what John Maxwell has been learning and using successfully throughout a productive life.

Maxwell opens this discussion by looking at qualities in a person that are an attraction to others. He then tells how to feel comfortable with people and how to become a person that people will want to follow. As the author discusses the matter, he shows that the secret is found when we invest in the lives of other people. This may involve loving difficult people, and handling criticism from time to time. In each case, Maxwell gives suggestions so that the reader can be assured of success.

The book is structured well and the material is explained in such a way that the reader can easily understand. Many steps are given with the assurance that if they are followed the reader can achieve his goal of becoming a people person. Examples, sometimes humorous, make the book interesting. Each chapter ends with a section called “Put It To Work”. In this section, he outlines people principles discussed in the chapter and gives an assignment so the reader can put the principles into practice.

The person who desires to develop his ability to influence others in leadership will benefit from reading this book. It offers many suggestions and tips for improving relationship skills. The short discussion on accountability (p 88-89) multiplied the value of the book for me. The reader is encouraged to write out “five questions I hope no one ever asks me”. Then the reader is directed to “List four questions that will address your weaknesses” and then to seek someone who will help him be accountable in those areas of vulnerability. Finally, the reader is supposed to ask, “Have I lied about any of the previous four questions or have I intentionally left out anything?” This is but an example of the pungent advice that guides the reader in his quest to become a “people person”.

John C. Maxwell, Be a People Person – Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships, (2004). Nexgen, (Cook Communication Ministries), Colorado Springs, CO. ISBN: 0-78144-906-5


Counterpoint by Keith Drury; Richard S. Taylor; Kenneth J. Collins; Wallace Thornton, Jr.; Larry D. Smith

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
By Dr. Gayle Woods

Standing before the Christian Holiness Partnership, formerly known as the Christian Holiness Association, in 1995, Keith Drury detonated an issue which has sent shock waves through Wesleyan holiness circles for over a decade. His premise was that “The Holiness Movement is Dead.” He was not saying that any holiness church or denomination was death. Neither was he saying that the doctrine of holiness was dead. He was stating that the holiness movement is no longer moving. It is no longer making a significant impact on our society. He proceeded to list eight reasons that he felt this was true.

1. We wanted to be respectable.
2. We have plunged into the evangelical mainstream.
3. We failed to convince the younger generation.
4. We quit making holiness the main issue.
5. We lost the lay people.
6. We overreacted against the abuses of the past.
7. We adopted church-growth thinking without theological thinking.
8. We did not notice when the battle line moved.

The responses to this address were many. They varied from “So what? It was out of step with reality anyway,” to “The liberals finally have recognized that they have lost it, but we are the true remnant which is still proclaiming the truth.”

Ten years after the presentation, Schmul Publishing Company printed a compendium of responses to the original monograph in the format of dialogue. The contributors are Keith Drury, professor at Indiana Wesleyan University Richard S. Taylor, founding president of the Wesleyan Theological Society, and retired professor from Nazarene Theological Seminary; Kenneth J. Collins, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary; and Wallace Thornton, Jr, a former professor at Union Bible College. Each of these men have distinguished themselves as published authors. Larry D. Smith, who serves as the editor of “God’s Revivalist and Bible Advocate”, edited the volume.

“Counterpoint” was structured well. It began with the initial presentation by Keith Drury. An Appendix written in 2004 was added in which Dr. Drury revisited the presentation and evaluated his initial conclusions. Part Two included the published response of the other three authors. They were also allowed to evaluate their former thoughts with a 2004 appendix. Part Three was designed to allow each of the authors in turn to assess the opinions and conclusions of the other three. The book was concluded with an Epilogue by editor, Larry Smith.

Each of those involved in the dialogue made significant contributions as they dissected the problem. The holiness reader cannot help but be disturbed as the material unfolds and the causative matters are discussed. For those of us who have seen the holiness movement as a healthy vital centerpiece of our offering to the world the realization of what has taken place is gut wrenching. We must admit that Keith Drury’s assessment of the Conservative Holiness Movement is true when he says, (1) that we are mostly a “pres¬ervationist” movement making little impact upon our world; and (2) that we are “in the early (perhaps medium?) stages of the same pro¬cess” that destroyed the broader movement—perhaps twenty-five years behind. (p. 158)

In my opinion, this is a book that must be read by everyone who is sincerely concerned that the holiness movement seems to have no movement. I would challenge every pastor, board member, Sunday school superintendent, Sunday school teacher, Bible school teacher, and thinking layperson to make a prayerful study of this book. I would encourage our leaders to develop a think tank to discuss how to remedy this creeping problem. We need to listen to these prophetic voices calling us to action lest we soon have to wipe tears of regret while we listen to the reading of the obituary of our movement.

Keith Drury; Richard S. Taylor; Kenneth J. Collins; Wallace Thornton, Jr.; Larry D. Smith. Counterpoint: Dialogue with Drury on The Holiness Movement (2005). Schmul Publishing Company, Salem, OH. ISBN 0-88019-495-2


God is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
By Dr. Gayle Woods

Immanence. Transcendence. How often does the average Christian contemplate these attributes of God? We say that He is everywhere present but we act as if it does not make a difference. It is almost as if we place the fulcrum of our theological understanding closer to immanence so that the weight of acceptance falls on the side of transcendence, and even aloofness. We say that God cares about our every need but we only go to Him for assistance in times of crisis.

John Ortberg masterfully considers the implications of this in “God is Closer Than You Think.” He draws a word picture of his concern by taking a close look at Michelangelo Buonarroti’s brilliant painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There God is seen reaching, stretching, straining to reach Adam. Adam is lounging in a relaxed pose. His attention is elsewhere. His hand which does not quite reach that of God’s is limp in the posture of disinterest or unconcern. Ortberg then speaks of the gap that separates the people of God from His power and assistance. Even if the gap is a hairbreadth it is a separation. The author endeavors to awaken of desire the reader to experience the touch of God. “Spiritual growth, in a sense, is simply increasing our capacity to experience the presence of God,” he states. (p. 25)

The volume is easy to read. Being structured well you are able to clearly see him build his case concerning our need to be godly people. The difference between doing and being is always a tension that weighs on the hearts of those who hunger to be close to God. What does it mean for us to know about God, and how we must live to obey His will, but to also be in close communion with Him every waking moment of the day? What does it mean to live in two worlds at the same time having just as much connection with one as with the other?

If you truly love God with your whole soul, mind and body you will enjoy this book. If you hunger for a closer relationship with God you will devour the contents of the book with a renewed hope. If you have strayed from that close walk with Him your conscience will be pricked, your heart will be stirred, and you probably will spend a considerable amount of time on your knees in repentance.

John Ortberg, God Is Closer Than You Think, 2005. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, ISBN: 0-310-25349-7.


Growth By Accident – Death By Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation by Bob Whitsel

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
by Dr. Gayle Woods

It was the title of the book that first grabbed my attention. Don’t we normally think in terms of church growth by planning? As I stood at his book table, I knew that Dr. Whitesel, Vice-President of the American Society for Church Growth, had something on his mind that many had probably overlooked.

Dr. Whitesel, the founder and Senior Editor of Strategies for Today’s Leader magazine, and associate professor in the College of Graduate Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University is well equipped to write on the subject of church growth. Having studied under church growth guru’s such as Peter Wagner and Charles Arn at Fuller Theological Seminary, he is well versed in this subject. Knowing Dr. Whitesel’s excitement to see God’s kingdom increase through the auspices of the local church, I could not wait to study this volume.

The author looks at eleven missteps that churches have taken which have caused them to stumble on the stairs to success only to fall to the landing of defeat. These include: Staff Influence, Worship Celebrations, Prayer, Budgets, New Facilities, Innovation, Evaluation, Dysfunctional People, Staff Education, Small Groups and the Centrality of Christ. At the first of the book he charts his course so that the subject matter is graphically simplified. The chart divides the material into “Factors That Cause Initial Growth in Churches”, “Erroneogus Decisions That Lead to Plateauing”, and “Corrective Steps to Regain Initial Growth”. (pp. 14-16) Following this plan Dr. Whitesel unpacks the material chapter by chapter look at each misstep in turn.

By giving case studies for each example of growth and decline, Dr. Whitesel’s argument that local churches often grow naturally, only to decline when the leaders begin to structure their successful ministry, is verified. It is my suspicion that the problem can be understood in terms of mission and maintenance. The church in the excitement and momentum of mission grows as the people enthusiastically are involved in ministry. As the local church grows from movement to monument, however, mission also evolves into maintenance. Organization, departmentalization, and compartmentalization occur as the leadership attempt to streamline and control what seems to be a race car that is beginning to cough and sputter like a junkyard jalopy.

Dr. Whitesel does not just tell the exciting stories of church growth only to end with the discouraging news that the people have messed up something that God has designed. Rather, he goes on to give counter measures which will hopefully correct the downward spiral and bring the church to renewed growth.

This certainly is a work that every serious pastor needs to study carefully. For some it will bring inspiration to renew their efforts at revitalizing a church that has known better days. Some will begin to understand why their efforts may have gone awry. Others will be excited with ideas that have spawned growth in different fields. Whatever the case, the reader will not be able to lay the book aside without realizing a telling impact on his ministry.
Dr. Bob Whitesel (www.bobwhitesel.com) is an author, professor, international speaker and researcher on the organic postmodern church, non-profit management and church growth. He is Associate Professor in the College of Graduate Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University (www.indwes.edu), training tomorrow’s leaders from dozens of denominations. And, he is president of Creative Church Consulting (C3 International) a church growth consulting firm in Winona Lake, Indiana (www.c3intl.org). Dr. Whitesel has penned over 140 published articles on church leadership and management, and is the author of four books in six years for Abingdon Press including: A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (2000) with Kent R. Hunter, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change, And What You Can Do About It (2003), Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation (2004), and Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (2006).Bob Whitesel is Senior Editor of Strategies for Today’s Leader magazine, and a church consultant affiliated with the Church Growth Center. He lives in Winona Lake, Indiana. (Biographic material borrowed from Abingdon Press website: http://www.abingdonpress.com/Default.aspx?contributor=13419)
Bob Whitsel, Growth By Accident – Death By Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation, (2004). Abingdon, Nashville. ISBN: 0-687-08325-7.


Praying Your Prodigal Home by Richard A Burr

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review

By Dr. Gayle Woods

Those who have prodigal sons or daughters understand the feeling I had when I was given “Praying Your Prodigal Home” as a Christmas gift. Hope surged. Maybe there was some secret hidden in the book that I had missed. Maybe my prayers for my own son would be more effective after I read the book.

I also opened the book with some sense of skepticism. What did this person know about my heartache? Was the author really involved? You have to face this situation from a stance of experience. Mere research is not enough.

As I began to read my heart soon melded with the Richard Burr. He and his wife had suffered my heartache. They sat where I sat. Their son Jeff, showed great promise as a teen. He appeared to live for God. He was involved in Church work. Attending Baylor University, however, Jeff was assigned a homosexual roommate. Later his parents were to learn that Jeff’s pastor in Waco, Texas was also a homosexual. The parents were devastated in 1984 when Jeff flaunted his own homosexuality and told them he never wanted to see them again. He was so adamant in rejecting his Christian past that he changed his surname.

For 15 years they prayed. During this time they learned valuable lessons about praying for a prodigal. They discovered that this is not something that is to be hidden. You must share your burden with other concerned Christians. You also must not chase after your prodigal. You have to learn to let go. The prodigal’s father, in Luke 15, only went to the edge of his property and longed for his son. He did not follow him to the place of sin in order to stage a rescue. The prodigal must be released to God.

Richard Burr emphasizes the importance of praying the Word of God. He states, “The underlying combination of God’s Word with the ministry of prayer releases the divine power of God to produce unfathomable results.” (p. 33) Throughout the book he gives examples of how he and his wife prayed the Word of God as they interceded for their son. As he says, “. . . prayer without the Word leads to mysticism and false religion, and the Word without prayer leads to legalism and dead orthodoxy.” (p. 36) In urging the parent to intercede for their children, Burr underscores the point that prayer must go beyond a supplemental activity and become a foundational, fundamental ministry. (p. 48)

The author deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in His convicting and drawing power. He also points to the absolute necessity of true repentance and active faith.
I can confidently encourage parents of prodigals to digest this book. It will it be a source of encouragement in seeing how Jeff, dying with AIDS reconciles both with his parents and with God. A spark of hope will be ignited for your own personal situation. In addition, you will receive elementary instruction in the work of praying your prodigal home. It is my prayer that we will see a large crowd of prodigals rushing home as a result of our renewed hope and revitalized intercession.

Richard A Burr, Praying Your Prodigal Home, (2003). Christian Publications, Inc., Camp Hill, PA. ISBN: 0-87509-956-4.


The Last Christian Generation by Josh McDowell and David H. Bellis

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
By Dr. Gayle Woods

I have great admiration for Josh McDowell, the author of “The Last Christian Generation.” I have read a number of his books. I have heard him speak. He is a tremendous scholar and a great apologist. The many books that he has authored such as, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” “More Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” “Beyond Belief to Conviction,” “The New Tolerance,” “The Da Vinci Code: A Quest for Answers,” “More than a Carpenter,” etc. are consistently among the top titles of books on the subject of Apologetics. For over 25 years he has provoked the world to think about incidents surrounding the events of the life of Christ that can’t be explained by mere coincidence.

My interest was piqued when I first read the title to this volume. I thumbed through the book. My eyes grazed over the promising table of contents. When I was convinced that Josh McDowell would be talking about the post-modern generation I did not hesitate to purchase the book.

I was not disappointed as I read the first six chapters. Dr. McDowell spoke of the shocking reality that the Christian church is losing a generation of people. The PEERS test (Politics, Economics, Education, Religion and Social Issues) administered by the Nehemiah Institute in Lexington, Kentucky tested 20,000 students in 1,000 schools. They discovered that 85% of youth from Christian homes who attend public schools do not embrace a biblical worldview. What is even more alarming is that those attending Christian schools scored only slightly higher than their counterparts. (p. 14)

After this heart stopping look at reality, Josh went on to speak about specific problems that the church and Christian parents have overlooked. He discussed young people’s distorted view of Christianity. Sixty-five percent of our young people are not sure how to tell which religion is true. (p. 34) It gets worse. Sixty-five percent of our young people do not believe that Satan is real, and sixty-eight percent believe that the Holy Spirit is only an influence for good. (p. 38) The author then continued to pile up the evidence as he described our young people’s distorted view of truth. “They have adopted the view that moral truth is not true for them until they choose to believe it. They believe that the act of believing makes things true.” (p. 42) McDowell then described the young persons distortion of reality as being directly connected to its pragmatic value. He stated that 72% of our young people believe that “you can tell if something is morally/ethically right for you by whether or not it works in your life.” (p. 52) With this backdrop in place, Josh painted a picture of the young person’s distorted view of the church. He said that to them, the “church is boring,” it “is non-stop activity,” it certainly “isn’t the biggest influence in my (their) life or my (their) spiritual development,” it just “seems like…a series of events…,” and “it won’t help me (them) grapple with the real issues of…” their lives. (p. 58-63)

Christian leaders were asked to identify ten critical life issues if our young people are going to become “healthy and mature relationally, morally and spiritually.”

1. That my kids experience a transformed life in Christ (chosen by 84% of all surveyed).
2. That they know why they believe what they believe (chosen by 41% of all surveyed).
3. That they develop healthy relationships (chosen by 35% of all surveyed).
4. That they learn to resist ungodly influences (cho¬sen by 23% of all surveyed).
5. That they discover how to make right choices (cho-sen by 18% of all surveyed).” (p. 64)

Over two thousand youth workers were then asked to identify the top five challenges facing them.

1. Developing passionate followers of Christ.
2. Making Christ and Scripture real and relevant to kids.
3. Getting kids to know—and live—the truth.
4. Helping kids combat ungodly influences.
5. Ministering intergenerationally. (p. 65)

In my opinion, to this point the information was fascinating. After that, however, I forced myself to complete the book. The author spoke of changing our educational model by revealing the God of redemption, relationships and restoration. As I read, I kept hoping that he would reveal something that wasn’t totally obvious. I accept the fact that his observations and conclusions are correct. It was presented in such an abstract, theological manner, however, that I fear it left many hopeful readers who were looking for a game plan, completely discouraged.

Josh McDowell’s final consideration has some redeeming value. He makes the case for the need to move from program-driven to process-driven ministry. This is something that we should pause to consider.

Is the book worth buying? Absolutely. Is the book worth reading? Yes. I would suggest that you give thorough attention to the first eighty-eight pages, and pages 153 – 178. I would then suggest that you scan the remainder of the book.

Dr. I.C. Holland is attributed to stating that if you get one idea from a book, it is worth the price of $12.99. You will get your money’s worth.

Josh McDowell and David H. Bellis, The Last Christian Generation, 2006. Green Key Books, Holiday, Florida, ISBN: 1932587667.

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