Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Strategically Small Church by Brandon J. O’Brien

When Bethany House offered me this book to review, I was intrigued by the title since I have experienced the most “hands-on” ministry over the years in the small churches I’ve attended rather than the large mega-churches. We have moved to different parts of the country and been involved with various sizes of churches, and I have generally experienced more opportunities to be actively involved in ministry in the small churches. The problem is, of course, that pastors are being trained in seminaries in ways to make their churches grow in numbers. Success is measured in the church world in increased numbers. But just as real, genuine success is measured in the Christian life by relationship with Jesus Christ, true success of churches should be measured by commitment to ensuring that relationship in individual members and reaching out into the community and trying to cause that type of relationship to develop for each person reached.

Mr. O’Brien offers examples of churches and ministries where some of his principles have been applied and the resulting successes (successes by a spiritual standard, not a worldly standard). I found this fascinating because I have experienced churches with very small congregations and a dynamic missions outreach and I have experienced mega-churches with little going for them but “inreach” – entertaining each other with parties and outings. No one is saying a mega-church can’t do effective ministry, but at least one pastor Mr. O’Brien cited in this book found that planting smaller churches instead of building ever-larger buildings for his growing congregation led to more effective ministry and that those smaller churches were dynamic forces in their communities. As the author puts it, “small churches are uniquely equipped to carry out what perhaps are the three most important functions of the church: evangelism, discipleship (including leadership development), and passing the faith from one generation to the next.”

I would recommend this book to all pastors and lay leaders who are struggling with the concept of successful church development. It will be extraordinarily freeing for many to realize that success need not be measured in quantity but more important is (spiritual) quality – a reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the ministry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce

Amy’s biological clock is ticking but nothing seems to be going quite as she planned. Her writing career hasn’t really taken off either and she is marking time being adjunct faculty at the college she attended. The books started out with some amusing dialogue and I was entranced for a chapter or two but then it just got rather boring and bogged down. Amy’s quirky friends were a little too off the wall. The theology expressed in the book was a little off. I’m not sure it should earn the Christian Fiction label. By the end of the book, I just didn’t care how it turned out. Bethany House provided me with this book to review. In their defense, I will say that 99% of the books I review for them are wonderful!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Review: A Rush of Wings by Kristen Heitzmann

Although this genre is not my usual fare, I was drawn to the book by the author’s name. I have read her work before and enjoyed it. Since Bethany House was offering me the book to review, I decided to give it a try. It is one of those books that you don’t want to put down till you read every last page because the suspense keeps building and you want to know the outcome.

The story revolves around Noelle, a privileged young woman who is fleeing danger in her life that is only wispy pieces of memories that she can’t pin down. She just feels the danger. In her quest to hide from what she feels is pursuing her she ends up renting a room on a ranch in the mountains of Colorado where she meets Rick (the rancher) who has a deep faith in God. She feels that her trauma is somehow God’s fault and so she resists Rick’s efforts to tell her about Him.

The story has many twists and turns but Noelle eventually turns to God and in doing so resolves her aversion to following her heart to Rick. Her journey through her memories and the tricks played by her mind is interesting and well written. I love the depth of the characters and the hand of God on the lives of the characters throughout. This was a great read and I’m glad I stepped out of my reading comfort zone to review it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hatteras Girl by Alice J. Wisler

Hatteras Girl is Jackie, born and bred on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She is a writer who writes articles for a local magazine. She and her childhood friend Minnie have had a dream since they were children of owning the wonderful Bailey House Bed & Breakfast. The Baileys befriended them when they were young and always made them feel welcome at their B&B and it became an almost magical place for the two young girls. Now the Baileys are deceased and the house has fallen into disrepair but an opportunity arises for them to rent it and reopen it. The fact that the realtor involved (and owner of the property) is the good looking Davis Erickson, the Bailey’s grandson seems almost too good to be true. And sadly it turn out to be. But Jackie has learned from childhood to trust in God and wait on his perfect plan and life takes some surprising turns.

I enjoyed reading this book and am grateful to Bethany House for giving me a copy to review. The only jarring note in the book was that the china used at the B&B was referred to several times as Royal Dalton. The Baileys were from England and I’m sure the author was referring to the famous British china company Royal Doulton. Since I don’t know much about the North Carolina coast, it made me wonder if some of the research was lacking and some other points might be wrong as well. That being said, it didn’t detract from a well-told story.