I love reading, I just love it. It’s life-giving for me. At least 50% of my reading has a purpose though. I’m searching for aid, input, and resources that will help me, help others. In coaching others into a more missional and communal oriented life I’m consistently challenged and exposed in “what I don’t know”. So I go hunting for food that will nourish, that will get us a little further. This year I stumbled upon some new goodies and also revisited some old friends. I picked 12 accessible books (listed in no particular order) that coached me on some angle in leading others to live into community for the mission of God.
1. When the Church Was a Family by Joseph Hellerman – This book gave me some valuable language and theological insight for forming spiritual families. In the face of hyper-individualism that eats at the heart of the Gospel, this book unveils the fiercely collective mindset of the New Testament church. This book is deconstructive but does the beautiful work of reconstructing spiritual formation within an emotionally tethered community.
2. Practicing the Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette – This book was filled with interactive, fascinating practices for spiritual formation. Recovering a Kingdom ethos of love is the bottom line in the “experiments” offered. I loved the creative approaches to moving the life of Jesus into an actual shared life. The backdrop of the experiments are a more monastic type situation which made it difficult to envision how they work outside that arranged setting. Still, the thrust of a holistic, integrative and socially engaged approach to discipleship is refreshing and stimulates big possibilities.
3. Creating a Missional Culture by JR Woodward – This book is a gracious but head-on confrontation of the solo-super-pastor mode of building a missional movement. JR does a masterful job of showing how cultures form within groups and how we can shape new internal cultures. This is straight up ecclesiology that presses for mutuality, apostolic imagination, fluidity and missionality. Underlying the words of the book is a prophetic evaluation of consumeristic modes of building a church. Check my own review here
4. A Gentler God by Doug Frank – I deal with many people who have unresolved anger with God, Christianity and any type of organized spirituality. Whether you think its justified or not doesn't matter, it’s there and needs to be navigated with grace. Underneath the surface we are all asking “What is God like?”. This book is a therapeutic and feisty (maybe a little too feisty) guide through breaking free from a god that is angry, punitive and detached. I’m convinced that any incarnational, missional church will smack into this wall of deep disillusionment and its effect on peoples image of God. This book helps recalibrate around a human Jesus.
5. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – This book was written in 1959 but every year I come back to it. It's a simple yet profound address of the dichotomy between “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. Discipleship is an invitation by Jesus himself to come and follow. Bonhoeffer lays down the demands of ethical consistency and sacrifice spoken by Jesus that lived out, birth a Kingdom that is subversive in the face of other cultural allegiances.
6. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzarro – What does it mean to grow up spiritually? Past the duties of memorizing more verses, longer devotional times or even praying harder this book moves us into deep relational space. To mature in Jesus is to learn how to love others well; without pretense, anger, fear, insecurity, posturing and the need to control. So many of us have a difficult time in community long-term because we sabotage the relationships with our emotional immaturity. Great book.
7. The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci – I am obsessed with the Sermon on the Mount. I’m convinced if our Christian communities rallied around it, it would pull us to the center of building for the Kingdom. Jamie does a masterful job of walking through the Sermon on the Mount. The banner over his commentary and insights are the forming of a new humanity; a community that follows the teachings of Jesus. He weaves in stories from his church in Winnipeg that inspire and move. When anyone tells me they are studying the Sermon on the Mount, I tell them to buy this book.
8. Connecting by Larry Crabb – I have my degree in counseling and have done family and marital counseling for ten years. I have always, always struggled with the nature of the counselor, psychologists, therapist relationship. Larry Crabb has been a psychologists for 40 years and has had a private problem with this as well. Well its not private any more, he’s making it public. The deep wounds of the soul cannot be healed in an office, on a couch with a professional. Real soul-care should center around building intimate, healing, grace-filled communities. It takes courage to write a book like this, it may even be career suicide. Sure, paying mental health professionals makes us feel better for a season but true transformation only happens in the space of a loyal, truth-speaking, patient community. He dives deep into the complications around this type of transition.
9. How God Became King by N.T Wright – What is the Gospel? This question won’t go away and I don’t think it should. We should ever be wrestling and reevaluating this foundational core. This book challenges the assumption that we have the “Gospels” only to tell us about how Jesus died for our sins. Wright contends that the Gospels are there to tell us of God’s Kingdom coming to earth, now. This book has helped me this year to communicate a Gospel of Jesus as King; a new kind of King, a King who is changing everything, a King inviting us to be part of his new world and a king calling us to submit our ongoing lives to him. The Gospel tells us what the embodied life of God looks like and how to participate in it for the establishment of justice, love and the reign of God.
10. Missional Small Groups by M. Scott Boren – This short but sweet book is filled with practical suggestions for intentional involvement in the world around us. It helps frame a common-life that is bigger than the borders of our meeting times. Scott gives us three filled-out missional rhythms: communion with God, relating as a group and engagement with the neighborhood.
11. Living in Community by Christine D. Pohl - So many of us are idealistic and passionate about missional community but when we dive into it we experience betrayal, deception, grumbling, envy, and exclusion. These experiences make life together difficult and can cause us to bail on the project of community. When we are not faithful through the difficulty, it prevents us from developing the skills, virtues, and practices we need to nurture sturdy and life-giving communities. Christine Pohl looks at four specific Christian practices — gratitude, promise-keeping, truth-telling, and hospitality — that can counteract these destructive forces and help churches and individuals build and sustain vibrant communities.
Many of us long for a faith like the first Christians. We even romanticize the early followers of Jesus and invoke them authoritatively for current church controversies. But what can we really know about these people from long ago? We may be surprised to see how "our" contemporary, hot-button issues have currency in the early church. The early church addressed issues related to poverty and wealth, war, creation care, social issues, and more.