The "Must Read" List

I don't presume to know what should be on your "must read" list, but here are two books that are on mine.  I'm working my way through both of them, and I marvel at the parallels.  

One is "shop talk" for pastors and lay leaders, particularly in the area of stewardship — Clif Christopher's just-published Rich Church, Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry (Abingdon Press).  

One small sample (from page 11) gives you an idea of Clif's perspective:  

"The Rich Church, the healthy church, is always focused on its mission. ... The Poor Church, the sick church, is always focused on its own survival."

The other book is Diana Butler Bass' Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (HarperOne, 2012).  If you benefited from Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Bass' new book is a helpful sequel.  

Bass believes America has seen three "Great Awakenings," (1) 1730-60 (which launched evangelicalism); (2) 1800-1830 (which initiated new understandings of free will); and (3) 1890-1920 (which inspired new mission work).  Bass believes we are in a Fourth Great Awakening which began around 1960.  She sees a transformation, a Great Turning "toward a global community based on shared human connection, dedicated to the care of our planet, committed to justice and equality, that seeks to raises hundreds of millions from poverty, violence, and oppression (pp. 5-6)."

If you're trying to make sense about the mass exodus from the institutional church by those younger than Baby Boomers, Christianity After Religion is a sobering, yet hopeful, analysis of what Bass believes is a Great Awakening.  I believe she's right.  Here's one more quote, from pp. 36-37:

And the awakening?  What will it look like? It entails waking up and seeing the world as it is, not as it was. Conventional, comforting Christianity has failed. It does not work. For the churches that insist on preaching it, the jig is up. We cannot go back, and we should not want to. Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt when she looked back to catch one last glimpse of the past as her family fled to an unknown future (Genesis 19:26).

- Ted Leach


Editor's Note:  Looking for a new way to approach new cultural and church paradigms?  Check out Resource Ministry Partners' latest resource:  4Q14 with Ron Martoia.  4Q14 is an online video resource for pastors and church leaders focusing on persona development, leadership development and church systems.  If you're looking for new insight and new inspiration, 4Q14 may be just what you're looking for!

Five Directions

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In his book, Thank God for Evolution:  How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, Michael Dowd suggest that the Universe has moved in five general directions since the beginning of time. His thesis is offered here as "food for thought" to consider whether there are implications for the direction of human society and the church:

  1. Greater diversity.  As life has developed, for example, the various forms of life have expanded.  Our mobile, interactive society is experiencing a growing number of "special interest" groups and a growing diversity within groups.  This is true for religious groups such as the church.  Perhaps this means we must provide a greater variety of ways people can exercise generosity and stewardship.

  2. Greater complexity.  For example:  "from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms to multicellular organisms ... to democracies, satellite telecommunications, and the Internet."  We experience growing complexity in the workplace, in family relationships, and certainly in the church.  It is increasingly more challenging to be a pastor, a leader of worship, an administrator of church facilities or finance, etc.  Today's world demands of the church financial accountability and proficiency.

  3. Greater awareness.  "Humans living today are collectively aware of more than what humans living a few hundred years ago could have possibly known, before the advent of orbiting telescopes and electron microscopes."  People are exposed to excellence in communications, so we expect church communications to be excellent.  We are more aware of great things that other churches are doing, and this raises our level of expectation.  There is an increasing expectation of transparency and integrity.  The church has many communication tools at our disposal.  Is our message true, accurate, clear, consistent, relevant, timely and timeless?

  4. Greater speed of change.  Says Dowd, "Each advance happens faster and opens the way for the next breakthrough to happen even faster.  Don't expect things to slow down.  Greater speed of change is intrinsic to this evolving Universe.  That doesn't mean, of course, that we can't lead peaceful, centered lives.  It is possible to have peace of mind in the midst of enormous and fast-paced change."  Sometimes the church has been a catalyst of change.  Sometimes the church has resisted change. 

  5. Greater intimacy with itself.  "It is now through the human that the Universe awakens to its wholeness and to the wonder of existence."  This may be a dimension of #3, a greater self-awareness.  The church is a community that celebrates wonder, majesty, awe, and mystery. 

- Ted Leach

To pledge or not to pledge ...

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Many churches have used Herb Miller’s Consecration Sunday.  This program, marketed through Cokesbury, shows congregations a step-by-step way to lead to a Sunday that focuses on stewardship education.

On Consecration Sunday, members are invited to present cards that indicate the amount they plan to give to the church during the coming twelve months.  Miller insists that these cards not be called “pledge” cards, but rather “estimate of giving” cards.  This is one reason Miller insists a church buy his cards from Cokesbury.  They are too inexpensive to be a money maker for either Miller or Cokesbury.  It’s a quality-control issue and it makes sure the term “estimate of giving” is used.

Some persons are reluctant to sign a “pledge card” because they view it as a binding, or legal “contract” rather than what it is--simply a statement of intent.  Good stewardship programs remind parishioners that one’s estimate of giving can be changed at any time.  If someone is laid-off, or loses his or her job, for example, it may be appropriate to lower one’s estimate of giving mid-year.  Conversely, if someone receives a big promotion and/or an unexpected increase in income, one should feel free to revise one’s estimate of giving upward

It may be helpful, regardless of whether one calls it a “pledge” card or an “estimate of giving” card, for congregations to be reminded that this is not a legal obligation, but simply a way of being honest with oneself, with God, and with the Christian community.

 - Ted Leach