Do you know the difference between a Sunday community and a real community? I had never thought much about this question before reading The Divine Design: God’s Plan for Restoration in the Community Setting. I used to aim for what I thought was real community in my small groups and discipleship, but frankly, real community is difficult to find in the hustle-bustle me-orientation of modern America.
The closest I ever experienced to real community was in the singles group God plopped me into my first three years as a Christian. We were together in one form or another almost every day. There was the Sunday teaching and discussion time, the weekly Bible study, the periodic coffee hours, various social events, and individual meals with friends. Ours was a group that focused on authenticity, so I learned Christianity in that type of community. We were an “iron sharpening iron” group. And we grew. I have carried so many of the lessons of those days into the past 40 years of ministry.
But as wonderful as it was, that community was nothing like the one described in The Divine Design: God’s Plan for Restoration in the Community Setting. This book describes the process of building an intentional residential community for severely wounded survivors of ritual abuse and the fruit that has yielded in the lives of so many. Authors Cheryl Knight and Jo Getzinger are the founders and parents of the CARE community in Baldwin, MI. They tell the story of how they got started ministering to survivors, how they were led to settle in Baldwin in an old warehouse and four-bedroom home, and how they learned real community by trial and error.
Theory and Theology
They also discuss in some depth the theoretical/theological approach they use in a community where attachment issues are core. They use The Life Model: Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You as pioneered by James Wilder, Ph.D. and others, which chronicles the developmental tasks we need to complete to become healthy adults. Sadly, even those without severe wounding haven’t completed many of these tasks, so we need others to help identify what is lacking and then provide an environment for achieving these developmental milestones. Knight and Getzinger describe the specific interventional approaches they use in community to help one another grow up into full Christian maturity. Such intervention simply can’t happen on Sunday morning; it requires a New Testament community where the members are as important (or more so) than the paid staff.
This book caused me to reassess my life and my ministry. I had the opportunity in 2003 to not only attend a THRIVE conference where these techniques and skills were taught, but also to spend several days at CARE. I was able to engage in the life of the community as well as sit in on therapy sessions. I saw firsthand that their approach is successful with a population the traditional church tries very hard to ignore and avoid.
The book is peppered with writings from members of the CARE community, both those who have made a life in Baldwin and those who have come through for a season. This lends another note of authenticity to their approach. I seldom see that level of health and self-awareness in most church members. So the question is, does this book have a message for ordinary Christians who don’t live in a residential community? I think so. I found several elements that I intend to implement in my ministry.
Story. Testimony. Theory. This book has it all, woven into a compelling chronicle. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in growing deeper, growing up, or growing in ministry.
(Note: The Divine Design: God’s Plan for Restoration in the Community Setting is only available in Kindle format on Amazon. Order the print version here. Life Model resources are availble here.)
Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did by Randy Newman
I don’t usually review evangelism books, but Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did intrigued me as it offered a different approach. Randy Newman is a career staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), so engages with a lot of skeptical students in his work. He found that the old “tell them” methods of evangelism were becoming increasingly less effective. Thus, the birth of the questioning approach.
Newman uses a Socratic method of asking questions in dialogue with seekers and skeptics to get them to see the weakness of their own arguments and to move the discussion forward in a permission-based way. He addresses several of the key questions non-Christians have. Then he offers several sample discussions where he asks more questions than he gives answers. The questions are sometimes respectful, sometimes a bit more confrontational. His underlying assumption is that seekers are truly interested in a respectful dialogue, which I think is less likely today than at any point in my lifetime. I could see this approach working a few years ago, but wonder how it would fare on today’s college campuses where controversy is increasingly shunned. I also wonder if I could be as quick in my thinking and responses. It would definitely take some practice.
In addition to the usual evangelistic questions, Newman tackles some tougher subjects like marriage, same-sex attraction, who is going to Hell, and the ever-present excuse of hypocrisy in the church. Unfortunately, in these chapters, he offers more didactic teaching and fewer dialogues.
That being said, I like the book and the approach. It seems more natural and respectful than the Four Spiritual Laws method in which I was trained. This book would be an excellent basis for a small group, especially if in addition to reading and discussing the book, members practiced on one another until the questioning approach became second nature.
Are you planning to lead a study on Daniel or Revelation? Or perhaps some of the prophets who have apocalyptic portions within their pages? If so, Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature: An Exegetical Handbook by Richard A. Taylor might be a good addition to your library.
This book is clearly an academic book. It’s part of the Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, edited by David M. Howard, Jr. and is aimed at folks doing serious exegesis. However, it’s quite readable and doesn’t use an abundance of Hebrew. While it doesn’t transliterate the Hebrew – a weakness in all Kregel Academic books – it does translate the words it uses and probably gives enough information for the lay leader to understand. The book gives an excellent overview of apocalyptic literature – what it is, major themes, interpreting, and proclaiming it. Taylor covers the apocalyptic passages in Daniel, the other prophets, and in extrabiblical texts. While not covering Revelation due to the nature of the series, it’s easy to use the principles based on what he does cover.
Taylor is careful to suggest how to interpret – and how not to interpret – apocalyptic literature. He explains the use of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, the figures of speech, and several guidelines to interpretation. He argues for a measure of caution in interpreting this literature.
While he focuses primarily on Daniel and to a lesser extent the prophets, one of my favorite sections was his lengthy explanation of 15 extrabiblical Jewish texts. I’ve had very little experience with these, and appreciated his summaries of their content and meanings.
This will remain a good reference book in my library for both apocalyptic literature and the extrabiblical Jewish texts. My thanks to Kregel Academic for the opportunity to review this book.
Here’s a topic we don’t see in a lot of books or seminary classrooms – preaching on sexual pain. Dr. Sam Serio (DMin), a Christian counselor, pastor, author, and speaker, is well-equipped to train pastors and teachers on this sensitive topic. Serio estimates that 60 to 80 percent of all adults (sixteen years or older) in our churches are emotionally affected by sexual pain or sin that has been done by them or to them. He’s probably not far off. So why do our seminaries not address this topic? Why do our pastors not teach on it? His premise is that we should and we must. And he provides a powerful template for doing just that.
Serio begins Sensitive Preaching to the Sexually Hurting (Kregel Academic) with an overview of “who’s in your pews.” Although it may seem extreme, having ministered to the sexually broken for over 30 years, I don’t think he’s exaggerating. You probably have a smaller cross section of broken people in your small group. He speaks of the pain of those who have been affected by casual sex, abortion, sexual assault and rape, childhood sexual abuse and molestation, pornography, same-sex attraction, homosexuality, and even sexless marriage.
Serio then offers suggestions about how to prepare your church to address sexual issues – without losing your job. He then suggests that rather than crafting a whole sermon (or small group lesson) around one sexual issue, that you begin the habit of weaving a paragraph or three into your teaching on a passage so it becomes an ongoing and more natural part of the conversation. And he teaches how to do it with grace and sensitivity rather than condemnation.
Perhaps the most valuable part of the book is that he doesn’t simply suggest you ought to talk about these issues. He actually identifies several passages where each topic might fit in naturally and then provides a template for the actual words to say in three to four paragraphs. He suggests how you weave these paragraphs into your sermon or teaching. After reading the book, the concept and tempo of weaving sexual topics into your teaching can become more natural.
If you preach or teach, this is a valuable and timely book. However, it can be heavy when taken in large bites. I suggest no more than a chapter at a time. Maybe less. Especially if you haven’t dealt with your own sexual brokenness. My only criticism is that it becomes a bit redundant, and therefore tedious. However, this is useful for those who select a topic rather than reading the book straight through. All in all, it’s a great resource for your bookshelf.
I’ve been quiet for far too long (more about that soon), but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving. I’ve come to realize that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love autumn in California. I love the fellowship. I love the food. And I love the reminders to be thankful, both historically and present tense. Yep, I love Thanksgiving.
I’m thankful for Jesus — the Light of the World
We have so much to be thankful for in this nation. We’ve just experienced, or are experiencing, one of the greatest of these – the peaceful transition of government. Sure, it’s been a little rocky this year, but seriously, we still have so many freedoms that are unique both in today’s world and in history. And folks, we have these freedoms because of the blessings of God.
And we have a responsibility to pray for our government – whether we like the players or not. The reality is, some of us have not been happy with the present administration, and some of us will not be happy with the next administration. But if we are Christ-followers, that doesn’t relieve us of the obligation — yes, obligation – to pray for those in authority over us (Rom. 13:1, 1 Tim. 2:1-2) – whether we agree with them or not. It is the prayers of the Church, the prayers of the saints, that will give us a peaceable and quiet life. So may I encourage each of us to pause this Thanksgiving, and every day, to pray for our leaders – outgoing and incoming. To pray for peace in our land. To pray for the electoral process to proceed peaceably as it has for 228 years. To pray that the hidden forces of darkness be hindered. To pray that the Church will move into its God-ordained position in the country.
But most of all, may I encourage each of us to thank God for the privilege of living, here and now. To thank him for the many blessings, tangible and intangible, that we enjoy. To thank him for our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. To thank him — just because…
So friends, enjoy the turkey, the pie, the autumn leaves, and the fellowship. But while you are enjoying, remember to thank our heavenly Father for all of his many blessings.
Photo Credit: Chris Potako
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