Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study

Why do Bible teachers regularly try to reinvent the wheel?  Is it our ego?  Do we hold an idea of the teacher that he or she must be the creator of every idea we teach?  I wrestled with these questions when I was turned on to the Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study

Zondervan publishes the Serendipity Bible using the NIV84 or the KJV translation.  Basically, it’s a book with lots of pre-made group discussion outlines.  Every chapter (and sometimes there are more than a outline per chapter), has icebreaker questions, text study questions, and application questions. Most of the time they’re great.  If you want to lead a small group study or just study with your family, this is a great resource that can save you some time.

In addition to questions for every chapter, the Serendipity Bible also contains 60 small group study plans on various topics.  These plans each include 6 lessons and each lesson points the teacher to a chapter or section of text.  Once there, the teacher or group discussion leader simply needs to use the chapter questions.  

Teachers and preachers might ask why they would want to use this book.  "I've been to seminary;" they might say, "I know how to write my own lesson plans."  The teacher may be concerned that the class will think less of him or her because of this book.  First, the teacher or preacher who asks these questions needs to examine the purpose of teaching.  Is it for the teacher to look smart or for the class to learn something and grow closer to Christ?  Second, if there is a helpful resource that may improve the quality of learning, why would a teacher opt not to use such a tool?  If nothing else, why not consult the questions and at least see if there's something helpful?

But maybe the best reason for using the Serendipity Bible is that it's extremely reproducible.  Nearly any believer could take this material and lead a Bible study or discussion around the text.  The teacher could easily hand the Bible to someone else and encourage him or her to lead.  In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul encourages Timothy to teach men who can teach others.  If this instruction also applies to us--and I think it does--than the Serendipity Bible is a useful tool for teaching others to teach future teachers.  

Here is a sample taken from Psalm 51: 

Icebreaker Questions: 
1.  Do you recall getting caught with your “hand in the cookie jar” as a child?  As an adult?  What happened each time?  
2.  Read aloud Psalm 51. 

Getting Into the Text:
1.  In how many ways did David sin (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27)? 
2.  In light of his arrogance, adultery, deception, and murder, how does he dare approach God?  What does he feel? 
3. Murder is a capital crime under Jewish law.  Why also adultery (see Deuteronomy 22:22)?  
4. Since such sins involve others, what is the meaning of verse 4? What does this show about the nature of sin? 
5.  How can an unborn child be considered “sinful” (v. 5)?  If God created all things “good,” why does mankind tend to sin (See Romans 5:12-14)?  
6.  In light of all this, what does David ask God to do (vv.7-12)?  What is “cleansing with hyssop” (see Leviticus 14:4-7)? Why does David request this? 
7.  How does David hope to escape God’s wrath (vv. 13-17)? On what basis does he hope for a restored relationship? 
8. Why does David generalize his prayer to include the whole nation (vv. 18-19)?  What does this say about the nature of sin? 
9.  What kinds of sacrifices does the Lord desire in verses 16-17? In verse 19? When is a broken spirit or contrite heart enough?  When are acts of sacrifice due? 

Application Questions:
1.  Has covering up sin backfired in your life?  How have you seen God’s mercy when you owned up to your sin?  
2.  Are there really any victimless crimes?  How do personal failings affect God? Others? Self? Society?  
3. Are you more sensitive to sin and brokenness in yourself as a Christian then beforehand?  Why?

You can purchase the Serendipity Bible: For Personal and Small Group Study here. 

Apostolic Church Planting By J. D. Payne

Dr. J. D. Payne was our guest on "Salty Believer Unscripted" when he publicly announced a forthcoming book titled Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers.  Naturally, I was interested so I was thrilled when  Payne's print publicist, Alisse Wissman sent me a pre-published manuscript of the book for review.  (It's a 8.5x11" printed manuscript bound in a presentation-style thermal binding.)  

Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers. Downers Grove, Illi: InterVarsity Press, 2015.  

In his book, Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers, Dr. J. D. Payne sets out complement his larger textbook, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting with this much shorter book.  Payne also tries to answer additional questions and further mature ideas that were not as developed in the larger textbook.  "Naturally," writes Payne, "there is some overlap between the two.  If there weren't, you would be wise to question an author who writes two books on a subject with no continuity and much divergence in thought" (9).  Found throughout Apostolic Church Planting is the statement, "For more on _______ see chapter _______ in Discovering Church Planting."  Clearly the two books are highly tied, although both stand alone on the topic of church planting.  However, Apostolic Church Planting's illustrations are current, as to be expected; not that Discovering Church Planting is out of date.  In addition, Apostolic Church Planting better address the need for apostolic planting in North America.

Like every other book on church planting, Payne starts with the question, what is church planting?  Often, a person picking up a title that deals with church planting will already understand the answer to this question; but it seems appropriate that Payne address this issue.  Given the slightly different approach, size, and nature of this book, it is possible that this title could be the first book a future planter or planting team reads on the topic.  

Payne writes, "Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches--after disciples are made.  Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches" (15).  Right upfront, Payne defines planting as making disciples of those who did not previously have a relationship with Jesus, gathering them together, and then birthing a new church from this group.  Outside of his definition is the mission that takes a large group of believers and starts an instant church in another location (although he does not condemn this kind of work).  "Churches," Payne states, "are supposed to be birthed from disciple making" (16).  

Next, Payne addresses a biblical rationale for what a local church is and is not.  Having previously served as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this is where his professor cap comes out.  And Dr. Payne wears it well.  As the book progresses, it becomes more and more practical, eventually concluding with some extremely applicable chapters.  Each chapter concludes with a summary, offering a concise snapshot of the primary points of the chapter.  At only 121 pages, this is a quick read.  

Apostolic Church Planting is easy to read but it is not an 'easy read.'  Church planting is hard work and Payne does not sugarcoat it.  It is clear that Payne is passionate about helping apostolic planters do the hard work of planting churches that actually advance the Kingdom of God.  Like his other books, Payne's style is a little dry.  You won't find witty anecdotes or clever writing, but you will find grounded, informative thinking, paragraph after paragraph.     

A potential weakness of the book is the lack of perspective from the church in Antioch.  Payne appears to use Paul as his primary source for apostolic planting, but Paul did not plant the church in Antioch.  In fact, other than knowing they were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, we have no idea the names of the men who planted this church!  While an argument from silence is not appropriate, it does seem as if disciples were made by these man who spoke to the Hellenists and preached Jesus. According to the text, some believed.  When Barnabas was sent to check it out, he determined that he and Saul could be of service teaching in Antioch.  Verse 26 calls this group a church (Acts 11:19-25).  It is difficult to know the timeline, but this example seems rather appropriate and a discussion from this perspective would bolster Payne's argument for apostolic planting rather than hiving off a group of disciples and transplanting them elsewhere.  But this is such a minor weakness it is almost not worth mentioning.  

Apostolic Church Planting makes a great book for would-be plant teams.  It's short, divided into easy sections, and offers a great deal of information worth discussing.  In addition, as the team has more questions or would like to work through a particular section in greater detail, they could consult Discovering Church Planting (and Payne tells them right where to look).  This book would also make a good introductory book for a Bible college or seminary course on church planting or missions (although it should be partnered with an additional textbook).  And Apostolic Church Planting is a must read for anyone considering church planting.  

As a church planter in a tough place, I highly recommend this book!  

You can order your copy of Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers at   

Dr. J. D. Payne is the pastor of multiplication for the Church at Brook Hills.  In addition, he's one of our favorite guests on Salty Believer Unscripted. Some of his other books include Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionMissional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel; Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Churchand Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission, among others.  You can also download three free ebooks at  


Philippians and Gordon Fee

Commentaries are an interesting thing.  Preacher's offices are full of old commentaries like Calvin's many volumes, Matthew Henry, and any number of sets from the 1970's, 80's, and 90's.  They are expensive until they're outdated, which is probably why preachers have older sets. But in the academic world (and probably the world of the preacher too) the better commentaries are ten years old or less.

"Wait just a minute!" you might shout, "aren't some of the classics still the leading thoughts on the matter?"  Yes, don't panic.  Those older commentaries aren't bad because they're older any more than newer ones better because they're new.   However, good commentary writers will have consulted a slew of older commentaries and affirmed or refuted the older work with additional material.  Maybe even quoted the older stuff.

It's also helpful to understand how different commentaries work.  Some commentaries are extremely technical.  They dive into the languages (and assume the reader reads Greek and/or Hebrew).  Some commentary writers deal with the historical context.  Some deal with application.  Some examine more theology while others are focused on the transmission of the text.  There are commentaries that approach the biblical material from a preacher's perspective.  And there are devotional commentaries. So it's helpful to know what kind of commentary you are consulting because the specific type of commentary was written for a specific purpose.

Take for example, Dr. Gordon Fee.  Fee is an expert on the book of Philippians.  If you consult, you'll see that Fee has two commentaries on the list.   Fee's commentaries on Philippians are:

Fee, Gordon D. Paul's Letter to the Philippians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1995. 
Fee, Gordon D. Philippians(The IVP New Testament Commentary Series). Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

You might also see that the better Philippians commentaries are more than 10 years old.  (Oops! This one is an exception.)  A couple publishers have produced something in the past few years, but it's hard to outsell Fee, especially when he has two commentaries on the list!

Now, you might be asking how the same guy could have two commentaries on the same book.  Why would anybody own both copies?

In Fee's case, he was first asked by IVP to write a commentary for their series and agreed to write Philippians when he had time.  Shortly thereafter, Eerdmans asked him to write for the New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Understanding the different focus, both publishers agreed to allow Fee to write Philippines in their series.  But why own both copies?  Fee answers that question in the introduction of the IVP publication, writing,

"The reader, however, should not assume by these acknowledgments of indebtedness that this is simply a small version of the larger one.  In many ways, of course, it is that, since I changed my mind only a couple times in the course of this writing.  But I have had the reader of this series in view at every turn, which has meant that the exposition has 'lightened up' a bit and the many footnotes of 'Big Phil' have been all but eliminated.  What remain are those few that are necessary to help the reader know where to go for alternative views on many tests" (Fee, 1999, 10).  

I own both copies.  I love both copies for entirely different reasons.  The IVP version is quicker, punchier, and easier to get right into the points.  It can be read devotionally and is less distracting.  If I'm looking for the background on something for a sermon and don't need to spend an hour reading, I pick up the IVP version.  It's 200 pages; whereas, the Eerdmans print is 500.

On the other hand, when I was studying for a preaching series in Philippians, I enjoyed the heavier material and language notes of the Eerdmans' version. It is rather academic and a little stuffy, but very helpful in the technical matters.

If someone were wanting to learn more about the book of Philippians but have no need to write academic papers, I would recommend the IVP copy.  Why not?  It's full of illustrations, easy reading, and it's backed by the amazing mind of Gordon Fee.  And for the ambitious types, the Eerdmans copy is outstanding too!

*If you're interested in either of these commentaries, purchasing them with the links above helps support this ministry. 

The Case for Antioch by Jeff Irog

Iorg, Jeff.  The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Books on church planting and building healthy churches are many.  Too many.  But The Case for Antioch is different.   Most the books on church planting are a story about a specific plant, in a specific time, by a specific planter.  After the church is planted, the planter thinks everybody should do the same thing he did.  The same is true of healthy, thriving churches.  Models and methods are promoted and then everybody tries to copy the book.  Jeff Irog did plant a church, but this book is about a plant that happened long before Iorg set out to plant a healthy church.  This book looks at a church plant called Antioch. Maybe you've heard of the Church in Antioch?  It's discussed in the book of Acts.

Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the author or many other books, including, Is God Calling Me? and Seasons of a Leader's Life.  In this book, Iorg examines clues from the book of Acts and extracts timeless lessons for planting churches and building healthy, transformational churches.

The book is laid out in three parts.  The first is a biblical case study.  It is helpful that in this case study, Iorg defines a transformational church.  Part 2, which is the bulk of the book, is where the lessons learned from Antioch are found.  And the book concludes with a single chapter that encourages the reader to look toward the future.

Iorg's writing style is easy and enjoyable to read.  The information is not watered down, but it is smooth.  If the reader is looking to learn about Antioch he or she will be pleased.  If however, a reader is looking for leadership lessons, he or she will find that too.

At times the book feels repetitive, as if Iorg was trying to fill a word count.  But this is minor and not too distracting.  That being said, I highly recommend The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church

Purchase The Case for Antioch from Amazon here.

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004.

There are books on my shelves that were read quickly.  Skimmed and speed-read.  Papers were written and then it was on to the next book.  This was my seminary life.  I always knew at some point I would return to a select few of these books for a second, moderately-paced reread.  Mark Dever's, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church is one of those books.

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church does not define the requirements to be a church, but instead suggests nine things a healthy church should demonstrate. But neither is it a diagnostic book on church health.  Dever writes, "This book isn't a complete inventory of every sign of health.  It is intended to be a list of crucial marks that will lead to such a full experience" (17).

The nine marks are, expositional preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, a concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership.  (Now that I've given you the marks, you probably think you don't need to read the book.  I feel otherwise.)

Dever does a wonderful job working through each of the items he defines are required for health. No single point goes too deep and Dever does hugs biblical principles.  He uses lots of Scripture to support his argument, which we've come to expect from Mark Dever.

I found that this book served as good guide and a reminder of sorts.  Given that I am in the process of planting a church, I quickly realized this book serves as a helpful reference tool.  It will be extremely easy to pull this book out the next time I need to think about biblical evangelism or a leadership issue or should we need to do church discipline.

While the book is probably best suited to pastors and church leaders, it is extremely informative and would make a good read for any Christian desiring to contribute to the health of his or her local church body.  

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church has been around for more than ten years, but if you've not yet read it.  I highly recommend it.

Purchase this book on Amazon here.

*Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken

Ripken, Nik. The insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2013, Kindle.

When Nik Ripken is asked if he believes persecution is coming to America, he says, "Why would Satan want to wake us up when he as already shut us up?" (310).  It's good logic considering the deep faith and explosive Church growth Ripken has experienced in places of great persecution.  Ripken witnessed the entire community of Christians wiped out in Somalia.  When he arrived during their civil war, there were about 150 believers.  Four remained when he left.  And not long afterwards, they were hunted down too.  In the mist of this great loss, Ripkin's son died.  It was too much for him to take.  Ripkin seemed, but his own confession, to question God.

In his questioning, Ripken set out to find ways to help grow the church in places of great persecution.  He started visiting persecuted countries to interview Christians.  What he found fills the pages of his book, The Insanity of God.

The Insanity of God is easy to describe on one hand, and nearly impossible to explain on the other.  I'll let this video try to get at the basics of the book:

What becomes difficult to explain are the feelings generated deep within the soul of the persecuted believer. It's not guilt, but something else.  Gratitude maybe.  Or instead, it might be a greater understanding of persecution as well as why American Christians seem so much more apathetic, so much less rich, vibrant, energized.

Reading The Insanity of God it might be easy to think the stories are inflated, but I have no reason, experience, or expertise to suggest Ripkin may have stretched the truth.  It almost would matter anyway because one can easily image the same attitudes and responses of the persecuted.   At one point Stoyan, a friend of Ripkins' and interviewee encouraged, "Don't you ever give up in freedom wen we would never give up in persecution" (311).  How can anybody argue his point?

Nik Ripken has a ministry website at that's full of many more resources and stories.  It's worth your time to check it out.  I also encourage you read The Insanity of God.

Purchase this book on Amazon here.

*Amazon purchases from this website generate funds to help support this website. 

Seasons of a Leader's Life by Jeff Iorg

 Iorg, Jeff. Seasons of a Leader's Life: Learning, Leading, and Leaving Your Legacy. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing, 2013.

In his book, Seasons of a Leader's Life, Dr. Jeff Iorg sets out to examine three seasons of leadership through the lens of the Apostle Peter.  In the Gospels we see Peter as a learner.  In the books of Acts he's a leader.  And by the time we read the two Epistles from Peter, he's leaving his legacy.

Iorg, a proven leader, has planted a successful church, served as the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, and is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of his other books include Live Like a MissionaryThe Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of LeadershipIs God Calling Me?The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church, and Unscripted.

In the opening pages of Seasons of a Leader's Life, Iorg writes, "This book surveys the overarching story of Peter's ministry in Scripture, and examines leadership principles underlying the biblical narrative of Peter's life" (5).  But this book is not the definitive leadership 'how-to.' A few paragraphs later he says, "This book is organized to help you think through leadership issues; it is not intended to be a step-by-step formula for your life.  The book is also organized to stimulate further consideration of each topic" (5).

Here's a video of Iorg discussing Season of a Leader's Life with Ed Stetzer:

Jeff Iorg has hit a home run with this book.  I loved it and have recommend it to countless leaders and soon-to-be leaders. 

The chapters are short and easy.  The content is serious but peppered with stories and illustrations that make the book fun to read.  And at any point if it seems Iorg is off, he has provided the Scripture so the reader can open his or her Bible and personally examine Peter's life.

"Hopefully," writes Iorg, "this book will be an ideal resource for mentoring groups, reading groups, self-directed leadership development groups, staff improvement exercises, classroom readings, and organizational development for emerging leaders" (6).  I believe Iorg is correct.  I encouraged members of my church staff as well as some lay leaders in the congregation to pick up this book.  My intention was to allow them to move through it how they saw fit. (It's always nice to see how staff members address book recommendations from the boss!)  One staffer grabbed hold of the book and it really seemed to be helpful to him.  (He has since applied to go to seminary.)  An intern (from a seminary where Iorg is not the president) thumbed through the book and read chapters occasionally as he had time.  I suspect it will help him has he thinks through the material and eventually enters the leadership phase of his ministry.  A few of our lay leaders also found the book extremely helpful.  It has prompted some really good conversations with quite a few leaders and future leaders.

I personally loved this book.  I found it informative and extremely helpful in shaping my thinking about my own leadership.  It also helped me realize that leadership comes in seasons.  I've entered the season of the leader but my staff are in the learner season.  Those mentoring me are entering the legacy leaving season.  Understanding these seasons has greatly helped me relate to those in different seasons.

I highly recommend this book to anybody thinking about leading, presently in leadership, or trying to understand how to leave a lasting impact as he or she exits leadership.

In addition, Salty Believer Unscripted has conducted two interviews with Jeff Irog in a series on church planting and this book comes up in that conversation.

-- An Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio-- Another Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio

Purchase  Seasons of a Leader's Life here.

*I am a doctoral candidate at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary where Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president; however, I initiated this interview.  In addition, purchasing Seasons of a Leader's Life through the links on this website help support this website ministry. 

Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman

Leeman, Jonathan.  Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus. Wheaton, Ill:  Crossway 2012.  
Church membership is, sadly, a controversial matter in the American Church.  People will leave churches at the very mention of the word, "membership."  Arguments on this topic can get really hot.  On the other side, there are also Christians that are so apathetic to the topic they've chosen to know nothing about it and ignore or rewrite anything in the Bible that might simply hint at membership.  Most Christians are sandwiched between these two extremes and that is who Jonathan Leeman seeks in his book, Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus.

Church Membership is a small book--only 132 small pages--in the 9Marks series, Building Healthy Churches.    This series include titles such as Evangelism by Mark Stiles, Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne, Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, and Expositional Preaching by David Helm.

Leeman sets the parameters of his audience, writing, "I'm not writing [this book] primarily for the person who is skeptical of church membership, though, if that's you, it might prove helpful, too.  I'm aiming for the average church goer, church member, and church leader who have been going along with the crowd on this topic" (18).  His intention, it seems, is to provide something of an introduction rather than an argument for church membership; however, his introduction does do a nice job arguing in favor of membership.

"My primary purpose," writes Leeman, "is to show you what church membership is, because it's not what you think it is" (18).  In what follows, Leeman walks his readers through a survey of the New Testament, offering all the spots that hit at or explicitly point to membership within both the universal Body of Christ as well as in the local church.  He also offers a great deal of logical progression through the topic, doing well to keep the Bible in view (most of the time).

Church Membership is an easy, quick read, but it will not appeal to everybody.  For those already determined that membership in a specific local church is a prerequisite and necessary for salvation, this book will not likely persuade one away from heresy.  Likewise, the person who has already predetermined that membership in a local church is akin to abusive of the flock will reject Leeman's biblical survey and call him anamatha. However, for those in the middle, who reside within Leeman's intended audience, this book should be both informative and helpful.

I found it helpful and well written.  It probably could have made the same points in half as many pages, but I understand, publishers don't like to print 75 page booklets as much as they prefer to print 132 page books.  

If membership is a topic on which you could use more information, I recommend this little book.  Purchase it at here.  

*Purchases generated from the link above help support this website. 

Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld

            In the introduction of their book Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community, Dr. Albert Winseman, Dr. Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld argue that a spiritual leader will be more fruitful if he or she focuses on his or her existing natural strengths rather than on present weaknesses or even a potential God-given future strength(1). The implication is that an essential quality of a leader is the ability to keep his or her focus on, and lead out of, his or her strengths. “You will be most successful in whatever you do,” they write, “by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses”(2).  Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld’s concept from this Gallup Press project and others like it(3) have found their way into Christian leadership books and articles; but are they right?  This is an important question for the faithful minister seeking a fruitful ministry.  Is there a time or an event that necessitates that the minister need be more than merely aware of a personal weakness and instead expend energy shoring it up?  Is there a possibility that one could, through various means, develop a ministry strength that is not presently manifested within the minister?  Or might God call a minister to a task in which the minister will receive the talent, skills, knowledge, and ability to fulfill this calling at a later time?  If Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, the answer is clearly no.

            This review will examine Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis.  In doing so, differing contemporary works on this leadership concept will be surveyed.  The Bible will also be consulted to examine the texts Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to for support. Furthermore, this review will conclude that while there are convincing reasons to avoid expending too much energy on one’s weaknesses, there are indeed times to address weakness.  In addition, it is possible that present natural abilities will not necessarily determine the path to the greatest success and present natural strengths may not be the best tools to fulfill God’s call upon one’s life. While focusing on one’s strengths is a leadership quality, understanding the right focus is essential of any leader.

Understanding Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld
            To open their case, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld go on the offensive against what they call the ‘weakness prevention’ model.  This model, according to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dictates, “to become strong, successful, or truly serve God and the world, you must ‘fix’ your weaknesses” (4).  They go on to explain that the weakness prevention model demands that one is not ready to serve God until he or she has better developed his or her areas of personal non-talent.  Their conclusion: “That thinking is just plain wrong” (5).  Instead, 30 years of Gallup’s research is consulted.  Drawing from the interviews of more than two million people, they resolve, as previously stated above, “Your will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses.  Your talents should be your primary focus!”(6).  This echoes a similar line of thinking from a book Clifton wrote with Marcus Buckingham titled, Now, Discover Your Strengths, which states, “Each person’s greatest room from growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength”(7).
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define strength as, “the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity. This ability is a powerful, productive combination of talent, skill, and knowledge”(8).  In addition, they have developed 34 themes of talent and offer the Gallop Clifton StrengthFinder test to help individuals identify which themes best represent their personal, natural talents.  These 34 themes are the various strengths they argue one should remained focused upon and an inability in any of these talent themes is the implied definition of weaknesses.   “The key to building strength,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “is first to identify your dominant themes of talent, then delve into those themes to discover your greatest talents, and finally produce a strength by complementing those talents with knowledge and skill related to the task” (9).  Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld define talent as, “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.  Unlike skills and knowledge, talents naturally exist within you and cannot be acquired.  They are your inborn predispositions” (10).
“Your talents are a precious gift from God,” write Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “They influence how you see, experience, and make your contribution to the world” (11).  Preaching, teaching, apologetics, musical or artistic ability, athletic tendencies, or showing hospitality with joy for example, are not the kind of talents or strengths Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld are getting at.  Instead, the StrenghtFinder test identifies the talent or strength themes as achiever, activator, adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition, connectedness, consistency, context, deliberative, developer, discipline, empathy, focus, futuristic, harmony, ideation, includer, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility, restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo (12).
            It is clear from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s definitions, that talents are fixed throughout life and are not subject to change.  If one were to develop a talent later in life, it might actually be suggested that he or she merely discovered a talent held from birth that had not previously been explored. “From a spiritual viewpoint,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld write, “when we deny our talents and instead focus on our weaknesses, on some level, we are telling God that we know best and that God somehow made a mistake in gracing us with our unique mix of talents” (13).  It is unclear how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld might explain those talents (or personality traits) that are developed or lost through a dramatic life event, such as a disability instigated by a physical accident or illness, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is clear however, how Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld feel about engaging in areas that do not reside in one’s list of greatest talents.  They coach, “Whenever possible, avoid using your areas of lesser talent.  A lesser talent becomes a weakness only when you try to use it” (14).  Instead of attempting to use any lesser talents, one should find ways to manage these weaknesses through support systems, much like a person might depend upon eyeglasses for sight, or through complementary partnerships with others (15).
A final method Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer to deal with weaknesses is to leverage talents over weaknesses.  They provide a case study taken from a man named Robert.  Robert volunteered as a counselor although he was not talented in the theme area of Empathy.  “But his talents in the Restorative and Strategic themes make up for this and enable him to be involved in a ministry he is really is passionate about,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld (16).  This case study is troubling, however.  They express that Robert was not a touchy-feely type of guy.  It seemed that counseling would not be a good fit but Robert jumped in and really enjoyed it.  He received positive feedback and is passionate about it.  The implication presented here is that Robert is counseling from other talents and that Robert can develop a counseling skill but cannot ever hold or demonstrate a talent in the theme of Empathy if he was not naturally born with Empathy.  According to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, it is impossible to learn how to or become naturally talented in the theme of Empathy, regardless of time or outside circumstances.

An Examination of Other Work in the Field
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are not the only ones to argue that the minister should focus on his or her strengths rather than weaknesses. It may be helpful to examine of those who have differing views of this essential leadership quality.  Dr. Peter Drucker, a managing consultant and writer for example, developed a system for feedback analysis.  Based on the results, he suggests the most valuable thing a person can do is to, “concentrate on your strengths.  Put yourself where your strengths can produce results” (17).  He further encourages his readers to, “work on improving your strengths” (18).  Drucker, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld however, does not suggest that zero effort of any kind should be invested into weaker areas.  Instead, he suggests that a person identify those areas where there is little to no chance of even becoming mediocre.  In these circumstances he encourages that, “One should waste as little effort as possible improving areas of low competence.  It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. […] Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer” (19).  While Drucker appears to be in agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld about focusing on strengths, he is not as ridged on the ability to grow and improve.  Drucker simply argues that energy should be used effectively to produce the greatest results, which is not the case when energy is invested into serious weakness.  In addition, Drucker provides room for adjustment when one’s greatest strengths or talents are not inline with his or her values.  In this case, one should seek to develop and improve strengths that work in tandem with held values (20).  And finally, Drucker does not identify a ridged list of strengths or talents but seems to leave that determination up to the individual.   
            John Maxwell, a respected leader in the area of leadership development is in close agreement with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, even citing the work of Buckingham and Clifton.  In his book, The 360̊ Leader, Maxwell argues, “Every job required a particular set of skills that employees must possess in order to be really successful.  Even someone with great personal strengths and a great ‘fit’ will not truly be working in his strength zone if he doesn’t have all these skills.  As a leader, it is your job to make sure your people acquire what they need to win” (21).  This argument centers on a leader’s role in best positioning the strengths of a person within an organization, but when assisting the leader to find his or her focus, Maxwell looks at some specific questions that differ from Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s approach.   Maxwell first asks, “What is required of me?” (22).  The answer to this question should help the leader identify what only he or she can do in the organization.  This does not necessary come out of the leader’s strengths or even a list of 34 talent themes.  It may simply have to do with the requirements of the leader’s role within the organization.  The second question Maxwell asks is, “What gives me the greatest return?” (23).  Here the end, not the means is the focus.  One may be extremely talented or skilled in a particular area or talent theme but if it is not producing the most fruit, than focus should be placed elsewhere, even if it is not the leader’s strongest ability, skill, or talent.  And Maxwell’s third question is, “What is the most rewarding?” (24).  While it is reasonable to think most people gain the most reward by doing something they are good at, this may not necessarily always be the case.  Maxwell believes, “Our best work takes place when we enjoy it” (25).
            Some Christian authors on leadership take a slightly different approach.  They see the ministry calling from God as the source of strength rather than solely on natural gifting or personality traits.  Dr. Reggie McNeal writes, “Spiritual leaders cannot be understood apart from their call because it tells them what game they are playing and keeps them in the game, even when they are discouraged” (26).  He goes on to say, “Unlike many people and leaders who are naïve about their talent, self-aware leaders know what they are good at.  They know what they bring to the table (and what they don’t).  This gives them permission to be intentional with their energies and time, always playing toward their talent” (27).  McNeal’s statement is within a broader conversation regarding God-given talent and gifting above mere talent traits.  While McNeal seems to agree with Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, he offers far more credit to God for the leader’s source of strength and talent than they do and he appears open to a wider range of talents.  
Dr. J. Oswald Sanders also greatly credits God in regard to spiritual leadership, stating, “Spiritual leadership requires superior spiritual power, which can never be generated by the self.  There is no such thing as a self-made spiritual leader.  A true leader influences others spiritually only because the Spirit works in and through him to a greater degree than in those he leads” (28).  Sanders, unlike Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest that the Christian minister’s strengths are not his or her own, but instead made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is a tremendous difference between the strengths of the secular leader and the pastor serving the Lord as an ambassador. According to Sanders, “[S]piritual leadership transcends the power of the personality and all other natural gifts.  The personality of the spiritual leader influences others because it is penetrated, saturated, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As the leader gives control of his life to the Spirit, the Spirit’s power flows through him to others” (29).  
Dr. Dave Earley likewise sees calling as the indicator of where a pastoral leader should place his or her primary focus.  Regardless of natural strength, talent, or even personality, Earley argues that the majority of the pastor’s energy and effort should be put into the three things a pastor must do: pray, teach the Word, and equip and mentor leaders (30).  Obviously, Earley would draw a clear distinction between the pastor as a leader and the secular leader and his argument suggests that if a pastor is called to ministry as a leader, these three things must either be his or her strengths or become his or her strengths.
            Some secular thinkers in the field of leadership disagree with part or all of Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s premise.  For example, Jim Clemmer argues for improving leadership ability by taking the talents one is good at and becoming great in that talent area.  “And it doesn’t matter which competencies we choose;” writes Clemmer, “So we can pick those that are natural strengths, are most relevant to our job, and we’re most energized about developing further” (31).  Crammer’s argument stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggestion that by focusing on weaknesses, even if trying to improve upon it, one is telling God that He made a mistake. He also suggests that one can pick a talent area based on the requirements of the job or personal interest.  This stands in sharp contrast to Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s example of Robert, the man who served as a counselor but would never learn how to be more empathetic.
Dr. Robert Kaplan and Robert Kaiser stand in disagreement with Buckingham and Clifton, saying, “This approach is associated with the book Now, Discover Your Strengths and its self-diagnostic tool, the StrengthsFinder.  Like any successful movement however, the strengths movement drove a single issue and inevitably left out a lot” (32).  Kaplan and Kaiser do concede however, that Buckingham and Clifton’s idea, the same one championed by Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld is reasonable in light of the “unhealthy fixation on weakness when it came to performance reviews;” but they further argue that “it turns out you can take strengths too far” (33).  Kaplan and Kaiser developed the Leadership Versatility Index and used it in a great deal of research that measured vitality, in which they include team morale, engagement, and cohesion, and they measured productivity in areas of both quality and quantity.  “We found that taking a strength to an extreme,” writes Kaplan and Kaiser, “is always detrimental to performance, but even a mild tendency to over do it can be harmful.  Be a little too forceful, for instance, and your team’s output may improve some – but vitality will take a hit, and weakened morale will eventually undercut productivity. Be a little too enabling, and you may shore up vitality – but productivity will suffer over time, which will in turn erode moral”(34).  According to Kaplan and Kaiser, it appears that building ones life entirely around strengths and functioning too much from these strengths may be detrimental to working with, or building strong teams.  Kaplan and Kaiser further conclude, “There is power in focusing on your strengths, but it derives from acknowledging them in their totality, from having a keen, finely-tuned awareness of both the good and the harm they can do.  Becoming a better leader, then, is not a matter of indiscriminately playing to your strengths, but of continually adjusting their volume to just the right setting for every situation” (35). 
            Finally, Dr. Jack Zenger examined 6,000 leaders’ strengths and weaknesses and developed a scheme for when a leader should or should not work on a weakness.  If the leader’s weakness is a “fatal flaw” Zenger says, “This leader should not spend time working on developing strengths at this time but first correct the obvious flaw.  Only then is it useful for this person to work on developing a strength” (36).  Zenger conducted an experiment at a packaged food company and found that those who were instructed to focus on their weaknesses made a 12 percent improvement; however, those instructed to further develop their strengths improved by 36 percent.  This clearly demonstrates the value of focusing on strengths, but Zenger also found that, “In general, fixing weaknesses is harder than building strengths; but motivated people with low scores need only do a few new things to begin to change those perceptions into positive territory” (37).   The key to this may be found in the level of fun to be had in improving strengths rather than correcting weaknesses.  Zenger did not engage further into this specific detail but he did notice “people smile when they think about [working on strengths] and frown when they think about working on weakness” (38).

An Examination of the Bible
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s intended readers are Christians.  The subtitle of their book is “Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community” (39).   Their thesis seeks to apply to Christian leadership; therefore, the contemporary writers in the field are not enough—the Bible must be consulted.  If Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld are correct, one should hope to find various examples of strength-focused leadership in God’s Word.  In addition, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue that a person’s strengths and talents are found within the 34 talent themes and those strengths and talents are God-given.  If this is true, it is reasonable to seek biblical support for the 34 talent themes as well as biblical support that one cannot acquire strengths from additional themes outside of those granted at birth.  
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer Moses’s discussion with God about his inability to speak well to Pharaoh as an example of strength-focused leadership.  The Apostles’ solution to a disparity in the distribution of bread serves as a case study for strength-focused leadership.  And Paul’s discussion on both the Spiritual gifts and his teaching on the diversity among the Body are intended to serve as support for strength-focused leadership as well.  To better understand Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s position, these texts and how they are used in support of the leadership quality of strength-focus will be examined.  Unfortunately, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld offer no biblical support for the list of 34 talent themes and one would be hard pressed to find much biblical support that these specific talents or personality traits are fixed for life.

Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4)
            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld look to Moses as an example of a leader who built a team in order to cover his weaknesses.  They cite Exodus 4:10, which reads, “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue’” (Exod. 4:10, English Standard Version).  On its own, this verse may support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s assessment of Moses. “So,” they argue, “God found Moses a partner—Moses’ brother Aaron” (40).  This fact is correct, but their appraisal of the Moses’ motivation and God’s intention seems slightly off when taken into the appropriate context.  They conclude, “Moses had the talent for leading and for devising strategy, but he couldn’t wow a crowd with his oratory or stand before kings and summon the appropriate words.  Aaron could.  And together, Moses and Aaron made a great team” (41).  Had Moses taken the StrengthsFinder, he would most likely not score high in Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s theme of Communication.
Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld fail to continue reading the narrative.  In verse 11, the Lord responds to Moses, rhetorically asking, “‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD’ Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak’” (Exod. 4:11-12).  God’s response seems to suggest that God will provide the words and the skill to Moses.  Moses, however, continues to plead with God saying, “‘Oh, My Lord, please send someone else’” (Exod. 4:13).  God’s response should not leave the reader thinking that Moses was wisely focusing on his strengths and getting someone else to fill in for his weaknesses.  Had this been wisdom on the part of Moses, it is unlikely that God’s ager would have been kindled against Moses (Exod. 4:14).  Cyprian points out, “It is not difficult for God to open the mouth of a man devoted to him and to inspire constancy and confidence to in speaking in one who confesses him, who in the book of Numbers made even a female ass speak against Balaam the prophet” (42).  Not only does this text fail to support Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis, it also suggests that God can give a man a skill or talent that he previously does not possess.

The Twelve Apostles and the Deacons (Acts 6)
            Another biblical situation Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to comes from Acts 6:1-7.  A complaint is raised claiming that the daily bread given to the widows was being unfairly distributed.  The twelve apostles opted to raise up seven wise, Spirit-filled men of good repute to distribute the bread fairly.  In doing so, the apostles said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. […] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2, 4).  This seems to suggest that the apostles remained true to their task as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld propose, but it does not clearly insinuate that the apostles’ greatest natural strengths were prayer or the ministry of the word.  But prayer and ministry of the word were not what Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld see as talents, but rather their leadership and administration.  “At first, the apostles tried to lead andmanage,” argue Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “which is how they found themselves in this predicament in the first place” (43).  However, there is little in this text to suggest that the apostles had anything to do with the distribution of bread or its administration prior to this event. In addition, the apostles were fishermen and tax collectors.  Their natural strengths and talents were not likely prayer or the ministry of the word.  A survey of the Gospels leaves one thinking the twelve apostles did not understand the Word well and Jesus even pointed out the natural inability of Peter, James, and John to stay awake to remain devoted to prayer (44).  Some of the apostles might have been rather skilled at accounting, especially those who where previously tax collectors.  Twice the twelve took part in serving bread to large numbers of people, even accounting for the collected bread afterward (45).  In addition, if the apostles were acting out of a talent theme of Connectedness, Empathy, Maximer, Restorative, or Strategic all along, there is no picture of forgoing a weakness and focusing on a strength as Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld suggest is the case. 
            It seems more likely that those in the office of apostle were expected to fulfill their calling by remaining devoted to prayer and the ministry of the Word.  In this case, it is much more about their calling than their natural strengths and talents.  In addition, these strengths and talents, that is, prayer and the ministry of the Word, may have been God-given when the apostles received their calling.  In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus said to the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It may be that the power mentioned has something to do with ability, skill, talent, and strength but at a future time as Jesus said, “you will.”  When Jesus gave this instruction they might not have had what they would eventually receive. 

Paul, the Spiritual Gifts, and the Body (1 Corinthians 12)
            Perhaps the strongest biblical support for Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis comes from Paul’s analogy of the diverse body (46).  Here Paul reasons that the Church, like a physical human body, needs many parts to function well.  The various parts do not function in the same way and it would be wrong for a foot to say it does not belong because it does not function like a hand.  The foot however, should be a productive foot and function well within the body. However, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld do not use this text to demonstrate the need for strength-based functioning in leadership. Nor do they use this text to provide support that the 34 talent themes are God-given. Instead they use the text, to press on the need for a strengths-based congregation where each member works from his or her talent themes among a unified but diverse body.
            Paul’s body analogy is sandwiched between a discussion of the bestowing of gifts from the Holy Spirit and the giving of offices for the Church.  Strangely, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ignore the end caps and instead draw a distinction between one’s Spiritual gifts and his or her strengths and talents.  “Identifying your talents isn’t intended to take the place of identifying your Spiritual Gifts,” write Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, “but rather, it can be a powerful way to enhance your Gifts and calling.  Spiritual Gifts help you find what the ministry is that God wants to see you accomplish; your talents are God’s way of showing you how you will accomplish it” (47).  It seems however, that their statement may be more appropriate for the Church offices rather than the Spiritual gifts.  For example, how is the Spiritual gift of wisdom intended to help a minister determine to which ministry he or she is called?  Spiritual gifts seem to serve the church as well as to assist the individuals who are fulfilling the offices.  On the other hand, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s 34 talent themes seem to be more like personality traits that may be used righteously or sinfully, and for nearly any purpose, to include benefiting the Church, or not.
In drawing this distinction between the Holy Spirit’s bestowing of gifts upon the believer and the 34 talent themes, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld seem to weaken their claim that God provides his creation one or more of 34 talent themes. They attempt to argue that the concept of talents and strengths is correct because it just “feels right.”  They claim that this truth resonates deep within the individual.  “It is as if our spirits react to this discovery,” Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld argue, “with a resounding, ‘Yes! This is the way it is supposed to be – this is who I was created to be’” (48).  Unfortunately, this argument greatly breaks down within our society when men and women use the same argument for such things as selfishness, arrogance, violence, sexual lust, or homosexuality. Paul, who penned the same text Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld appeal to, likely believed that it felt right that he was an aggressive, violent, Pharisee.  Jesus, however, greatly changed Paul, from his attitudes and desires to his personality and talents.  Paul still kept some personal traits, skills, and knowledge, but he was given additional traits, skills, and power from the Holy Spirit and other traits seem to have been taken from him.

            Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld ‘s claim, “You will be most successful in whatever you do by building your life around your greatest natural abilities rather than your weaknesses” is both true and false (49).  Actually, true and false do not accurately describe what is going on here any better than right and wrong or correct and incorrect.  After examining the work of contemporary thinkers as well as the biblical claims, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s thesis appears simply to be mis-qualified.  The drive to focus on, and lead from strengths in ministry has great support and is a very reasonable idea; however, Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld have incorrectly defined strengths and talents. Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s biblical arguments do not offer enough support to conclude that the list of 34 talent themes is a sufficient understanding of God-given strength.  And they have provided no biblical support to suggest that one cannot change or grow in weaker talents.  However, with an adjustment to these definitions, and a shifting of the focus, their premise serves to articulate an essential leadership quality.
The various contemporary thinkers agree, but not to the extent that one should build his or her entire life around a strength or talent, and not to the point that one cannot learn or grow in lesser strength or talent areas.  Zenger’s research is convincing.  Growth is more efficient when energy is expended in our areas of strength rather than weakness.  However, it is clear that Clemmer is right in that a minister must deal with fetal flaws first if he or she is to have any chance of ministry success and growth.  There is indeed a time when weakness needs to be addressed. Maxwell and Earley are convincing in their respective positions that there are indeed times when the God-given task will dictate the necessary God-given strengths needed to achieve such a task.  Likewise, Jesus statement in Acts 1:8 suggests this to be true.  
            Finding the correct focus is the essential key.  Had Moses trusted that God would provide him with the necessary skill and instead kept his focus on trusting God and faithfully following his calling, he would certainly have been successful, regardless of his weaknesses. The apostles kept the right focus when they installed seven men to serve bread so they could remain true to their calling of prayer and the ministry of the Word.  And Paul’s teaching on the various Spiritual gifts keeps the focus on the One who empowers the worker for the work rather than on the gift (or strength, talent, or skill) itself.  Although Paul does encourage his readers to further develop their gifts, his primary argument is to keep the focus right. 
            When we remove Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld’s strict definition of strengths and talents and simply allow them to be identified as the gifts God has granted to his people for the work of the ministry, statements like Dr. Jeff Irog’s become more helpful.  Iorg writes to the future minister: “You can also have confidence in God’s call because your abilities are suitable for the job he assigns.  Most leaders are aware of their inadequacies.  […] Instead of focusing on your shortcoming, focus on your strengths and the contribution you can make by answering God’s call” (50).  
            The essential leadership quality that leaders need to demonstrate is the ability to identify and live by the right focus.  Rather than building one’s life around his or her greatest natural abilities, one will have the most ministry success if he or she centers his or her life around the right focus: God’s calling and the God-given gifts given to achieve that call.

End Notes
[1] Winseman, Clifton, and Leisveld draw a distinction between the Spiritual gifts and 34 natural temperaments or talents that they identify as God-given strengths.
[2] Albert L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton, and Curt Liesveld, Living Your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents and inspire your Community (New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2008), 2.    
[3] A similar idea is often quoted in leadership books comes from the companion book, Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, 2001) by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton.
[4] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 1.
[5] Ibid., 2.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths (New York, NY, Free Press), 2001, 8.
[8] Ibid., 7.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 152.
[12] Ibid., 153-220.
[13] Ibid., 12.
[14]Ibid., 25.
[15] Ibid., 28.
[16] Ibid., 28-29.
[17] Peter F. Drucker, “Managing Oneself,” Harvard Business Review 77, no. 2 (March 1999): 64-74, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 66
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 66.
[20] Ibid., 69-70.
[21] John Maxwell, The 360̊ Leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the Organization (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2011, 240.
[22] John Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 1993, 25.
[23] Ibid., 26
[24] Ibid., 27.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Reggie McNeal, Practicing Greatness: 7 disciplines of extraordinary spiritual Leaders (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass), 2006, 26.
[27] Ibid., 26-27.
[28] J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of excellence for every Believer (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers), 2007, 28.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Dave Earley, Pastoral Leadership Is. . . : How to shepherd God’s people with passion and Confidence (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2012, 9-10.
[31] Jim Clemmer, “Leadership Competency Models: Why many fall short and how to make them Flourish,” Leadership Excellence 31, no. 2 (February 2014): 28-29, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 28.  
[32] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths: Strength can become Weakness,” Leadership Excellence 30, no 5 (May 2013): 17-18, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 17.
[33] Robert E. Kaplan and Robert B. Kaiser, “Stop Overdoing Your Strengths,” Harvard Business Review 87, no. 2 (February 2009): 100-103, August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSOhost, 100.
[34] Ibid.,” 101.
[35] Kaplan and Kaiser, “Fear Your Strengths,” 18.
[36] Jack Zenger, “Strengths or Weaknesses: Resisting the lure of the wrong Choice,” Leadership Excellence 26, no. 5 (May 2009): 14-15, accessed August 26, 2014, Business Source Elite, EBSCOhost, 14.
[37] Ibid., 14.
[38] Ibid., 15
[39] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, dust jacket cover.
[40] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 26.
[41] Ibid., 26-27.
[42] Joseph T. Lienhard, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament vol. 3, ed. Thomas C. Oden, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press), 2001, 27.
[43] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 42.
[44] See Matt. 26:36-45. 
[45] See Matt. 14, and 15.
[46] See 1 Cor. 12.
[47] Winesman, Clifton, and Leisveld, 30.
[48] Ibid., 10-11.
[49] Ibid., 2.
[50] Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing), 2009, 73.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website. ** Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Called to Teach by William Yount

Yount, William R. Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching. Nashville, Tenn,   B&H Publishing Group, 1999.

Through his book, Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching, Dr. William Yount seeks to bring his readers to a “clearer understanding of how to teach, a deeper conviction for teaching ministry, and confidence that [the reader] possess the skills to make it happen” (x-xi). This may be a tall order for a book subtitled, An introduction; however, Yount does succeed in providing solid how-to material, a strong introduction to teaching ministry, and enough to leave the reader excited to try. His experience and expertise are present on nearly every page and his style is such that his arguments are accessible as well as convincing. Called to Teach serves as a great introduction to teaching, a guide for newer teachers, and a jolt back to something exciting for seasoned instructors.

In four parts, Yount moves through the overarching roles of the teacher. He starts with whom the teacher is in Part One, titled, “The Teacher as Person.” Opening with the Triad of Teaching, Yount introduces a textbook discussion; but before the reader can get lost in the linear nature of the thinking, feeling, and doing, the reader is challenged with the problematic methods many teachers. Yount argues that compartmentalizing the rational, emotional, and behavioral areas of learning open the door to grave weaknesses and is often is a disjointed approach (14-15). “The answer to the dilemma,” Yount writes, “is to integrate the rational, emotional, and behavioral into a single teaching style that communicates concepts clearly, warms students personally, and engages students productively” (15). This global model becomes the foundation for the remainder of the book.

As Yount builds upon his foundation he starts with the heart and motivation of the teacher. Providing many examples, he demonstrates that most poor teaching is do to a lack of maturity and proper motivation. “Mature teachers see teaching as a mission;” argues Yount, “The mission is greater than reading and lecturing and answering questions—it is to stimulate a desire for excellence, first in the subject at hand, but beyond that, in life itself” (37). Therefore, much of Yount’s opening two chapters deal with the teacher rather than the classroom environment, teaching style, or how-to material for instruction.

Moving into the second part of his book, “The Teacher as Instructor,” Yount shifts from the conceptual matters of teaching and the internal matters of the teacher toward the actual task of teaching. Idea after idea are shared in a structured approach that keeps each idea and subsequent example framed in clusters of concepts, demonstrating the value of one of Yount’s suggested formats (50). It is this section where most of the introductory matter of teaching is found and it is also this section that would likely be most helpful to the Sunday school and formal teacher alike. However, for those who need specific how-to material, Part Three, “The Teacher as Manager,” provides information on organizing the class, keeping order, and writing tests. Yount offers outlines and examples that could have an immediate impact upon the quality of the formal classroom. How to write good test questions and samples of the good, bad, and ugly serves as but one example. This section, however, will not likely be as helpful to the adult Sunday school teacher. The final part, “The Teacher as Minister” brings the entire endeavor into greater spiritual thinking.

Yount provides an excellent example of his approach and style through the way his book is written. For example, he argues, “As you gather material for your course, you will find numerous cross references—common essentials among the endless words—that reflect the structure of your subject. These are the elements worth talking about because they form the skeleton on which all the other words hang” (47). Called to Teach offers a fantastic skeleton of ideas without getting overly bogged down in the various theories and mechanics of teaching. He gives concepts as well as offering an introduction to the various ideas and theories. Yount also blends his whole-part, sequential, and relevance organizational ideas through out the book (49-50). He has a clear roadmap, leaving the reader aware of the destination but interested in the journey (47-54). And his personal experience offers engaging examples that allow the reader to warm up to Yount as a teacher.

One weakness of Called to Teach is Yount’s handling of Scripture. Very little of his book, if any, was driven by God’s Word but instead seemed to be an after-the-fact add-on. If all the scriptural references were removed, with exception to the final section about the teacher as an evangelist, the book would work extremely well in the secular world. Many of the verses quoted were tacked on to further make the point rather than leading the idea. This paragraph from page 11 serves as but one example,
One last word on humor. Be sure that the humor is positive and uplifting. Avoid crude or vulgar jokes, stories with a double meaning, and even lighthearted pranks or gags. Humor is wrong when it denigrates others or demeans the sacred task at hand. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4).
Rather than simply tacking on the passage as if to spiritualize the point, a simple rewrite could have signaled that God’s Word was the leading reason for the argument. This paragraph could have opened with something such as, “Adhering to Paul’s instruction, ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving’ (Eph 5:4), be sure that humor is positive and uplifting.” In addition, some of the Scripture used is taken out of context. In these cases, Yount may have been better off to avoid using the Scripture all together.

Another difficulty of Called to Teach is the feeling of screeching breaks when the reader hits Part Three. Part Two is helpful to anyone teaching in nearly any formal environment. Part Three however, is a rather mechanical manual on class design, testing, and keeping young people or those required to attend the class under control. This creates a lurch that leaves the reader suddenly feeling less excited about the ministry of teaching. The material of Part Three is very helpful but a strong signal of the coming shift may have removed this awkward transition. Another idea may have been to add two sections at the end: one for the Sunday school teacher and one for the formal classroom teacher. With an introduction to each section alerting the reader what was ahead, the hard shift in tone and structure could have been avoided and the excitement of the new teacher maintained.

An additional section on teaching outside the classroom could have been added as well. Much of Part One and Part Two could be incorporated into an out-of-the-box format for the father trying to find ways to teach his children, the camp counselor desiring to teach as they go, or any other non-traditional format. This section might have greatly enhanced Called to Teach and provided additional thinking on what it is to teach and disciple those the teacher is called to serve, even if outside of a formal class setting.

Shortcoming aside, Called to Teach is an excellent introductory book on the topic of teaching. It is exciting, flows well, and is enjoyable to read. Sunday school leaders as well as formal academic teachers could greatly benefit from Yount’s book.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Dr. Marshall Shelley

Shelley, Marshall. Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do with Well-Intentioned Dragons. Bloomington, Minn: Bethany House, 2013.

Dr. Marshall Shelley’s book, Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons is the type of book that will help pastors better minister to difficult people or cause them to leave the ministry. Shelley provides one story after another, each full of conflict between congregants and the pastor. While some of these stories end well and others end in tragedy, they are all difficult to read. Anyone who has been in ministry can likely relate to a story or two. If it is not the person like Virginia who expects the pastor to get all her troubled, lost friends saved in one meeting, then maybe it is the board member like Dwayne who regularly criticizes the pastor’s preaching because it is not like his beloved big-name preacher with the radio show. Or maybe it is the ‘Bird Dog,’ or the ‘Wet Blanket,’ the ‘Entrepreneur,’ the ‘Legalist,’ the ‘Busybody,’ or maybe the ‘Sniper.’ Whichever the dragon, Shelley states, “The goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate from them, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

“This book,” writes Shelley, “is about ministering while under attack” (14). However, the most valuable aspects of this book come in the form of preventing conflict in the first place. In looking to avoid problems all together, Shelley argues, “Pastors, who are charged to ‘see to it . . . that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many’ (Hebrews 12:15), find that the best way to prevent dragon blight, or at lease minimize its damage, is to concentrate on developing a healthy church” (128). Shelley figures that “perhaps the wisdom of battle-tested veterans will prevent others from walking unaware into an ambush,” but more than understanding how to maneuver through existing conflict, pastors should be equipped by the latter chapters that discuss the best defense: prevention (14). “Taking opportunities to build a close, cohesive church,” advises Shelley, “will produce better results than the shrewdest political maneuvers to squelch dissenters after problems sprout. Defusing potential problems before they arise is far better than troubleshooting later on” (128). The second best defense is very similar. According to Shelley, “If the church itself is not healthy, the best thing to do is to build a healthy board. Cohesiveness among the spiritual leaders of the congregation is a healthy core for healing the rest of the body and for fighting the infectious attitudes that spring up from time to time” (141). The author also provides some direct advice for dealing with people suffering with mental illness, conflict through electronic media, and those making a play for power. In each of these areas, Shelley’s direct advice and coaching is far more helpful than the stories of battle-tested, beat-down pastors.

 A couple issues found in the book are troubling and could have used further explanation or even an additional chapter or two. The first is found in the use of the title, ‘dragon.’ Shelley says:
"Dragons, of course, are fictional beasts—monstrous reptiles with a lion’s claws, a serpent’s tail, a bat’s wings, and scaly skin. They exist only in the imagination. But there are dragons of a different sort, decidedly real. In most cases, though not always, they do not intend to be sinister, in fact they’re usually quite friendly. But their charm and earnestness belie their power to destroy" (11-12). 
Seeing congregants as dragons almost puts them in biblical category of a wolf or predator in sheep’s clothing, although instead of harming the flock, dragons are ravenous for the pastor. Difficult people could end up marked as one who is against the pastor. The pastor’s role and motivations may become compromised if led too heavily by dragon-thinking or dragon-hunting.

After telling a tale of slaying a dragon, Shelly argues, “Unlike Daniel or Saint George, the goal of a pastor is not to slay but to tame the beast, to prevent further destruction on either side” (168). While his point is not to kill the dragon, Shelley still identifies the person as a beast or dragon, only now tame. A better thinking may be presented in Shelley’s story of Rob and the Millers. Rob saw the Millers as dragons, but the youth pastor, Jeff, offered this wisdom: “‘Don’t look at them as lions,’ Jeff said. ‘Look at them as wounded sheep’” (172). The pastor’s role is to help people in their sanctification process as they grow more like Christ. Rather than dragons, it may be better to see the difficult people as sheep that bite. In this case, like Jeff’s advice, the goal would be to see the difficult people still as sheep and work toward adjusting negative behavior rather than completely identifying them with a vile beast. Avoiding the label may actually help pastors reach Shelley’s desired goal to “make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect” (39).

A problematic example where identifying an individual as a dragon rather than a person in need of sanctification is found in a story where a dragon happened to be the same person who alerted the pastor to his daughter’s potential affair. This is a prime example of when the dragon might be right, the subject of Chapter Nine. But rather than following the advice of Chapter Nine, this pastor continues to identify the difficult person as a dragon and appears to make that issue greater than the broken marriage of his daughter and son-in-law, as well as that of two other members of his church. The trouble, it seems, is that the pastor stitched the dragon letter ‘D’ on Maureen’s sweater, allowing the pastor to assume he had a free pass to work less toward reconciliation with Maureen. If this event were merely between congregants, it is likely the pastor would have worked hard to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, suggesting that this conflict is a grand opportunity to demonstrate grace for one another. The same instruction and counsel in that circumstance should apply to the pastor as well.

The second complication of this book comes by way of Shelley’s treatment church government. In nearly every case, the pastor had a board of elected elders and that pastor was completely at the mercy of said board. There were many mentions of votes and political wrangling. Not every church function in this way. There are churches under higher denominational oversight. Others function with no board at all. Churches can be found with a plurality of elders who are actually the pastors that serve for life. Some churches are completely congregational and vote on everything without representation from a board. And there are likely many other hybrid forms of church government. By assuming that all the pastors reading his book work under the same system, Shelley misses an opportunity to provide guidance to pastors serving under differing kinds of church governments. Some readers may conclude that the majority of problems listed in this book are do to nature of leadership by an elected board.

Despite the two concerning areas of Shelley’s book, he still provides a great deal of helpful tools and ideas. Being able to identify the motivations behind a difficult person may be the key to finding a healthy approach to the problem. “The distinguishing characteristic of a dragon,” advises Shelley, “is not what is said but how it’s said. Even though dragons are well intentioned, sincerely doing what’s best in their own eyes, the characteristic that marks a dragon is that they are never quite with you” (47). Understanding the difference between a critic or even an emotionally charged attack from a person who is with you versus one who is not is extremely valuable and Shelley spends a great deal of ink on this topic.

Another helpful tool is the large number of wise, single-line offerings from so many pastors. Many demonstrate wisdom, either found on accident or intentionally driven. For example, one Oregon pastor would pointedly call out a person’s conduct and demand that they stop. Now he says, “‘Our first approach should be one of compassion, because nine out of ten sinners in the church are hurting more than we imagine. Now I’ll put my arm around a man and say in private, ‘Jim, I’ve heard some things, like . . . Is there any truth to this?’ Often he’ll break down and acknowledge it’” (179). This pastor goes on to say his primary approach and question is along the lines of “How can I help you?” and he says, “It usually take them by surprise” (179).

Also helpful is the entire chapter on dealing with individuals with mental illness. This can be an extremely tricky aspect of pastoring, either with the suffering person or the congregation that struggles with the suffering person. The chapter on engaging with electronic media is helpful too. This chapter reminds the reader of the helpful and not-so-helpful times to use email or text messaging and it provides some easy, bulleted lists. One bullet point that should probably be typed and pasted to the computer screen reads, “Do not use email if your emotions are running high (86).

As I read the first chapter, I wrestled with the question, “Is ministry worth this much grief?” The question continued to nag at me until I reached Chapter Seven. While I saw much of the advice up to that point as informative and helpful, I still cringed at the idea that we pastors simply dog along and use the necessary tools to deal with dragons. I kept finding myself thinking, if the Bible is true, and I believe it is, there must be a better approach to leading difficult people. The Shelley's answer was a great relief: seek to lead healthy churches and the dragons will be less likely. And should a dragon surface, the healthy church will be more likely to deal with the issue rather than there be a great need for the material in the first six chapters. Being aware of the first six chapters is helpful, but in the end, working toward a healthy church is exciting and encouraging. When dragons come along, keeping the goal of a healthy church at the forefront of the mind should provide a good path to dealing with dragons (or sheep that bite).

Purchase Ministering to Problem People In your Church here. 

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. It has been redacted and modified for this website.  **Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Taking Your Church to the Next Level by Gary McIntosh

McIntosh, Gary. Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.

Gary McIntosh, author of Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There states that his book is, “about cycles of fruitfulness and the importance of continual improvement to diminish destructive forces that keep a congregation from focusing attention on its mission” (16). That statement is loaded and could mean a great number of things, but it, according to McIntosh, “is not to help you build a church larger than the one down the street. It is, however meant to assist you in understanding what is blocking the growth of your church and what you can do to see it reach a new level of impact” (191-192). McIntosh’s argument appears to assume two things: first, that size is the greatest measurement of the health of a local church, and second, that pastors should desire to grow through the life stages of a church, which, incidentally are measured only by the number of congregants in attendance and years of existence. No attention or thought is given to the church that determines to remain at or under a specific size by continually planting more area churches, nor is any thought offered to the small-town church that simply will not grow into most of the church sizes mentioned in this book. ‘Fruitfulness’ and a church’s ‘mission’ in the statement above both appear to hold a definition that places a greater emphases on numerical growth over spiritual growth. Yet, even if one disagrees with these two assumptions (as I do), there is still a great deal of helpful, thought-provoking material in Taking Your Church to the Next Level.

McIntosh offers some tools that the pastor should have in his leadership toolbox. These tools, if utilized in conjunction with many other pastoral tools—something McIntosh seems not to suggest—should provide many pastors with helpful ways of thinking about numerical growth.

The first helpful tool is the church life cycle, or St. John’s Syndrome. Utilizing ideas from the business world as well as research from a number of scholars who have studied church growth, McIntosh identifies distinct stages most churches grow through based on size and age. While the specific size or age boundaries are disputed, thinking about the social constructs and communication methods within each stage is extremely helpful. These stages explain why some people enjoy the smaller churches while others are more comfortable in much larger churches. Looking through the lens of the St. John’s Syndrome also helps us understand why some pastors are more successful in different stages of numerical growth.

Another useful tool related to the church life cycle is McIntosh’s different categories of the church leader. The Catalyzer is the one who is an entrepreneurial type who can start church groups from scratch (90-91). The Organizer is one who takes the assembled pieces and introduces organization that maximizes resources (91-92). The Operator “keeps and organization going by improving its general procedures and systems (92). A Reorganizer is a turnaround leader who takes a church from a declining to a new direction, and a Super-Reorganizer brings about radical redirection, often saving a church from death (93-96).

Finally, McIntosh’s chapters on moving through various stages in the church growth life cycle are thought provoking. These chapters may serve to help pastors who are relatively weak in the area organizational structure. “The bottom line,” according to McIntosh, “is it takes different skills to lead a church during each stage of its life” (89). By providing examples of the garden-variety church at each stage along the way and then providing practical suggestions, the pastor has a framework on which to hang his ideas.

All of McIntosh’s guidance appears to be backed by a great deal of research and practical experience. It is helpful. This however, must be seen through the assumption that numerical growth is the desired outcome. Of course, churches should hope and pray to grow numerically (alongside the more important areas of spiritual growth and growth in faithfulness), just as the early New Testament church in Jerusalem was adding large numbers day by day, but McIntosh’s tools are really only designed to help with numerical growth.

If the pastor’s primary goal is numerical growth, McIntosh’s book should be among his top resources. This book is well thought out and supported by a great deal of research. However, while McIntosh’s work is highly practical, it is lacking in theological support. There are very few paragraphs dedicated to spiritual growth (if any) and almost no biblical references among his sited sources. For a book written to pastors for the purpose of growing churches the Bible aught to be the primary guide, which only further demonstrates McIntosh’s high value placed on numerical growth. Taking Your Church to the Next Level can easily be applied to para-church and non-profit organizations as well as non-Christian faith systems and cults.

In addition, Christ says he will build his Church (Matthew 16). Men can and should draw plans and strategies through prayer and submission to the Lord’s will regarding the assembling and managing of a local church, but in the end, God determines if a local church will or will not grow. The best plans of men still come with absolutely no guarantees. However, McIntosh’s tone is as if these methods are sure to bring numerical growth. Indeed, pastors should seek ways to grow as well as remove those things that are stopping numerical growth such as “the lack of adequate seating, parking, and classroom meeting space” (139); but pastors should first be men of character seeking to serve faithfully and trusting the results to the Lord.

I personally found the information and tools of Taking Your Church to the Next Level helpful but my experience and the scores of other similar books on the topic left me feeling that McIntosh’s goals are misguided. There’s nothing wrong with seeking growth—I know I certainly would like to see more people involved in the church were I serve as well as the church I am planting—but my first preference would be to see healthy growth. Therefore, this book should be paired with at least one more on the topic of spiritual growth in order for it to be more effective and avoid such a business tone that is absent of an apparent faithfulness toward the mysteries of God.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from the links on this website help support the ministry of 

Look Before You Lead by Aubrey Malphurs

Malphurs, Aubrey. Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church. Culture Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2013.

In his book, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture, Dr. Aubrey Malphurs sets out to “explore how to form spiritually healthy organizational cultures in the context of church planting, church revitalization, and church adoptions,” with his specific focus in the area of unique church culture and behavior (8). While his ideas are shaped out of his theological beliefs, much of Look Before You Lead is driven by his theoretical and practical understanding of leadership within the context of the local church.

Malphurs builds his arguments upon some theological assumptions. The first is that it is the pastor’s responsibility to understand a church’s culture and lead by way of cultural adjustment. “In a sense,” he writes, “every pastor of an established church, whether a new pastor or one who has been there for years, must be a culture architect” (129). While we see little biblical evidence for such a pastoral role, Malphurs’ argument leaves the reader rightly feeling that the lack of understanding and skill in the area of church culture may leave the pastor in a position where he cannot lead or motivate the congregation in any direction. Lacking in Maplhurs’ argument however, is the idea that the Word of God through strong, responsible preaching should play the largest role—larger than even the pastor’s role—in shaping the culture of the local congregation.

Malphurs’ second theological assumption comes through his view of the shape and structure of the local church. For example, it appears that Malphurs holds that a church is (or should be) led through a single pastor or elder rather than a plurality of elders with a leader among those elders. While there are hints peppered throughout the book, Appendix G provides the most direct view into Malphurs’ theological underpinnings regarding the leadership of the local church. Some of the questions about the maturity of the church assume that a single, highly talented leader is a sign of maturity.  Question 2 for example, suggests that viewing the role of the pastor as a visionary leader demonstrates a higher level of maturity. In similar regard, questions 5 and 24 suggest that a preference for change in the church (presumably under the pastor’s leadership) is more mature than a desire to maintain a status quo with no qualification of what the status quo may be; although it should be remembered that Malphurs is writing specifically to those wanting to revitalize, plant, or adopt churches. Question 19 asks if the pastor is a strong visionary leader and a good preacher. With more than one pastor leading in these areas, gifts and skills may be spread out among a pastoral team providing spiritually healthy advantages. A plurality of elders is biblical and may be a greater mark of spiritual maturity than a church built around the skills and personality of a single pastor.

Other assumptions around the structure of the local church also manifest themselves in Appendix G and seem to surface in the undergirding of Malphurs’ argument. There is an idea presented that a growing church is a mark of maturity; however, no measure of the kind or health of the growth is included. Yet another example is seen in the assumption that a well-kept facility is the mark of a healthy, mature church. It could be however, that the culture of the church is far more focused on spending time and resources on spiritual growth, missions, evangelism, or some other venture. Although correct, Malphurs also assumes that church planting and church adoption are a good way to advance the gospel, but he provides very little discussion behind his reasoning and assumes his readers agree.

Much of Look Before You Lead actually reside in the theoretical areas of practical and organizational leadership. While his focus is for revitalizing, planting, or adopting churches, it would be rather simple to apply Malphurs’ ideas to a new or struggling non-profit organization that utilizes volunteers. Even so, Malphurs says, “I wrote this book for any church leader whose heartbeat is for Christ’s church” (9). For this reason, the first half of the book deals with exegeting church culture and the second is filled with practical methods of shaping, changing, and leading that culture in its vision and mission. The entire book, therefore, depends upon accuracy of Maluphurs’ statement, “The better a pastor knows his church’s culture, the better he’ll be able to lead his church” (16).

Culture is the primary building block of Malphurs' argument and through an explanation of what church culture is, Malphurs writes, “Churches are behavior-expressed, values-driven, and beliefs-based” (21). Interestingly, observed behaviors give an indication of the culture’s actual values; then dissecting the actual values exposes the church’s actual beliefs. Often there is a disparity between a culture’s perceived or aspired beliefs and values in contrast to those they actually hold. In motivating a church to a specific desired behavior, a leader most likely must first work toward establishing a belief among the culture. Once that belief is actually held, the leader must demonstrate why that belief should become a value. “When a church culture acts on its beliefs,” argues Malphurs, “they become its actual values” (21). Once the actual values are acted upon, the new behaviors should reflect the leader’s desired behaviors. While Malphurs does not address this in his book, is seems reasonable to think that if a leader unknowingly teaches or develops a belief within the culture without thinking of the intended value, there is a chance that an undesired behavior may result. All the more reason a leader must understand the culture and think like a cultural architect.

While Malphurs does not provide much discussion on the importance the preaching of the Word of God as the most significant influence of beliefs, I hold this as a theological truth. The preaching pastor or pastors must understand church culture if preaching and teaching is to be conducted in such a way that biblically centered beliefs become actual values followed by those values shaping behavior. The spiritual health of a church depends upon this truth. If Malphurs also holds this conviction, than I agree with his statement that the pastor must be a cultural architect. Most pastors serving in the context of planting a new church, planting a church out of an existing church, or adopting a church will likely find Malphurs’ theoretical arguments directly relevant and compelling.

The audience for Look Before You Lead is a little smaller than many other books on the topic, but a pastor or leader of a local church could greatly benefit from the information Malphurs provides in Look Before You Lead.

Purchase this book from Amazon here.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from the links on this website help support the ministry of  

J.D. Payne on Church Planting

Dr. J.D. Payne visited Utah recently to discuss sharing Christ, starting churches, and strengthening churches (the mission of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Association).  I had the privilege of hearing him speak on these matters as well as interviewing Dr. Payne, Russ Robinson, AdamMadden, and Dr. Travis Kerns on the topic of church planting after the conference.  Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s QuestionsStrangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and MissionRoland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous ExpansionKingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church." The more complex a church," argued Payne, "the less it will be reproducible."  Unlike many church planting books, Payne didn't argue for one specific model or one specific level of complexity, but instead challenged his listeners to think about the starting point.  He took his audience through the biblical picture of planting churches; that is, making disciples and then gathering them together to be the church.   Instead of criticizing big, complex church that takes millions of dollars and lots of people to reproduce somewhere else as 'instant church,' he pointed out that while that's biblically permissible, it is difficult and really not normative.  But neither did he advocate that the only way to start churches is in homes with nothing but new believers and a pastor recently raised up from among them.

"Before we can discuss church planting," Dr. Payne opened with, "we need to understand what it is we are planting."  His starting point was extremely refreshing.  He spent nearly an hour simply looking at what Jesus meant when he said 'Church.'  We examined at what the local church looked like in Acts and the Epistles.  And it wasn't the process of planting or entering an unchurched community that we explored, but simply church.  What is church?  What is local church? What is the big C Church?  "How we answer these questions determines how and what we plant," said Dr. Payne.  I believe he is absolutely correct. 

Dr. Payne sat down with a pastor from First Baptist Provo, a pastor from Christ Fellowship, the Salt Lake City SEND City Coordinator, and me to record a Salty Believer Unscripted podcast on the topic of church planting.  He was extremely informative, and really, just an easy going guy.  We laughed and joked and he was extremely gracious when I got his name wrong. (Thanks J.D., that was really embarrassing but you were much easier on me than I deserved! )

If you're interested in starting churches and making disciples (or if you just want to hear me make a boob of myself), I highly encourage you to check it out here:

A Discussion on Reproducible Church Planting with Dr. J.D. Payne

Learn more about J.D. Payne, download free books, and keep up with what he's doing at  Also, you can find this podcast and many others like it as well as many other resources at in the Resources section and you can subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes.

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A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George M. Marsden

Marsden, George M. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008.

While on a road trip, I decided to listen to the audio book, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.   At only eight chapters, a preface, acknowledgments, and a conclusion, the book is relatively short and seemed about right for my return trip from San Fransico to Salt Lake (to include some breaks away from the book).

Marsden sets out to paint a picture of Edwards as a revolutionary, although one unlike those of Edwards' day.  To assist in drawing this comparison, the book opens with a lengthy discussion of Benjamin Franklin, and more specifically Silence Dogood, the fictitious editorial writer used by Franklin.  Into the second chapter, Edwards' family and Edward himself become the primary subject of the work.  Marsden journeys through Edwards' life at a rapid pace; yet at times slowing down to nearly a halt in order to discuss a finner detail or event here and there.  From Edwards' ministry ambitions to the early awaking and then the First Great Awakening a decade later, interesting details are offered.  From being voted out of the pulpit to venturing into a Native American mission to becoming the president of Yale, many speculations of Edwards' emotions supply much food for thought.  And finally Marsden concludes with a comparison of Edwards and other revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin.

I found this book enjoyable although I nearly gave up on the work at the end of the first chapter.  The exploration of Franklin and Silence Dogood was an odd way to start and didn't leave me with a desire to hear more.  It was boring.  However, things changed quickly in the second chapter and then I found myself wanting to continue all they way to the end of Edwards's life.  At the conclusion however, Franklin comes back into the picture and a commentary is offered.  Marsden speculates what may have happened had Edwards lived into the Revolutionary War, as did Franklin.  Here, Masden offers many thoughts on materialism, deism, and the social order.  Marsden certainly seems to know Edwards but the conclusion assumed Edwards would not have changed.  Edwards was, from what I gather from this book, a consistent man, but wars and age often change people.  Personally, I could have started reading in chapter two and avoided the conclusion.  Had I done so, I believe I would have had an enjoyable, informative, and interesting biography of Edwards.  I could have done without the commentary.   None-the-less, I enjoyed A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards and would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of history, Jonathan Edwards, or serving in the pastorate.

*I have no material connection to this book, financial or otherwise.

Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition)

North American Mission Board. Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition). Alpharetta, Ga: North American Board, SBC, 2003.

Tom Cheyney, George Garner, David Putman, Van Sanders, and John Shepherd put their church planting experience together to create Seven Steps for Planting Churches "[...] to serve as a simple resource in the hands of scores of ordinary people committed to do an extraordinary work: (vi).  If you're thinking the titles sounds rather Baptist, you're right--it's a publication of the North American Mission Board, a Southern Baptist Convention organization supported by the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.  And it may be the SBC goal of seeing 100,000 SBC churches by 2020 that gives reason for a publication that's focused on a church-planting vision (vi).

Seven Steps for Planting Churches is exactly what it claims to be--a book that provides 7 steps to plant churches. Cheyney, Garner, Putnam, Sanders, and Shepherd argue that planting churches is about "expanding the kingdom of God through evangelizing unreached or under-reached people" and the steps in this book increase the chances that a planter will get there (1).   Each step gets its own chapter, which include Receive a Vision from God, Define Church Planting Focus Group, Develop a Church Planting Team, Identify Resources, Evangelize Unreached People, Launch Public Ministry, and Mobilize and Multiply Ministry.  While many planters may argue over these steps, the authors seem to have drawn from their collective experience which includes many years of planting churches all over the US and abroad, pastoring, and serving in church planting ministries, and completing doctoral degrees.  Still, it's likely differing ideas and steps for planting will come from many different backgrounds and camps, from yesterday and today, for today and tomorrow.

This book is a short "how-to" that's oversimplified.  It's highly unlikely that apart from the Bible a complete and timely book on planting churches could ever be written, let alone one that's only 69 pages and proves the 7 steps.  Additionally, the SBC's publication is over a decade old.  How much has been learned in the past 10 years?  How much has changed?  This is not to say that older books are less valuable than newer ones or that there are not lessons to be learned from older.  Much of the material in Seven Steps for Planting Churches is helpful and fairly timeless.  But then there's some timely "do it this way" kind of stuff that may actually give some trouble to planters in different contexts.

Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition) contains some little gems of helpful information but a lot of dirt has to be sifted in order to find them.  I wish I could give this book a high recommendation but I suspect the only people reading it are those required to do so.

*This book was among a stack of other books given to me by a NAMB Send City representative because I have entered a church-planting internship through NAMB and administered by my local church where I serve on staff.    

The Church History ABCs

Nichols, Stephen J., and Ned Bustard.  The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith. Crossway: Weaton, Ill, 2010.

Kids can learn a lot from the history of the Church.  Parents, for that matter could learn a lot, and most Christians today are completely unfamiliar with the history of our spiritual family.  Enter Dr. Stephen Nichols and Ned Bustard's The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith.  This is a book that teaches both children and parents about 26 characters from Church history.

Nichols writes (and Bustard illustrates) short, fun blurbs about each character as if from that character's own perspective.  The pictures are full of icons and clues about the individuals as well.  For example, Augustine's page reads,
"When I was a young boy, I took some pears that did not belong to me.  I did not want the pears, I just enjoyed doing wrong.  But God loved me and Christ died to forgive all my sin.  Years later when I was serving as a bishop, I wrote two famous books.  And I worked hard to remind the church that God loves us before we love him" (5). 
The picture not only features a cartoon of Augustine, he's also holding a copy of Confessions and he's sitting on a pair.  (Augustine happens to be my four-year-old's favorite story in this book and he can recite this little historical story verbatim.)    In the back is a section with short articles about each person written for adults in a format more like something found in a typical history book.

My family reads one page a night around the dinner table.  We love it.  But in addition to the fun and the lesson in Church history, it has also been amazing to see the practical life lessons my children are picking up on.  We've read the stories of martyrs and missionaries.  The faith of these heroes has been an encouragement to our entire family.

The 26 heroes of the faith (27 technically, with the Wesley brothers) include:  Augustine, Anne Bradstreet, John Calvin, John Donne, Jonathan Edwards, John Foxe, Lady Jane Gray, Hippolytus, Ignatius, Absalom Jones, John Knox, Martin Luther, Monica, John Newton, John Owen, Patrick, Queen Jeanne of Navarre, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, Charles Spurgeon, Tertullian, Zacharias Ursinus, Antonio Vivaldi, John & Charles Wesley, Francis Xavier, Florence Young, and Ulrich Zwingli.    

This is a fun book and a great way to get an introduction to Church history.  I highly recommend it!

*I have no monetary connection to this book.

Churches that Multiply by Elmer Towns and Douglas Porter

Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003. 

Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts.  But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts.  It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt.  Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do.  Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7).  They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).

The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward.  They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress.  Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role.  From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts.  From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism.  The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson.  Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems.  The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures.  Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.

Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow.  After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away."  These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study.  In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book.  A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team.  Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances.  In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project."  These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.

One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists.  Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections.   However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book.  They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover).  The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church.  If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant.  That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.

A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format.  Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church.  Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative.  I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities.  How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)?  Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture.  How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples?   How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition? 

A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format.  Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks.  The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader.  This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season.  The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together.  Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.

While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study.  Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.

Purchase this book at by clicking here.

* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful. 
** Purchases made through the links on this website help financially support this ministry. 

Book Review: The Bible's Big Story

James M. Hamilton Jr. and Tessa Janes (Ilistration), The Bible's Big Story: Salvation History for Kids (Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, U.K.), 2013.

During a Salty Believer Unscripted episode, Dr. Jim Hamilton mentioned a children's project he wrote.  Curious, I looked it up after we concluded the interview.  Click.  Purchased.  I have two boys and thought it might be good for them.  Maybe it could serve as family catechism? 

The Bible's Big Story is indeed a children's book, complete with fun, colorful illustrations.  My children took to the pictures immediately.   Each page features a simple couplet or poetic pair of lines that Hamilton wrote to teach the major points of the salvation narrative.  These lines are largely printed in red and there is a biblical verse and some additional suggested Scriptures below.  This format makes it easy for my son to stick to the story when reading at breakfast without taking too long to go through all the verses.  However, this format also makes it really easy for us to discuss the verses too. 

At first I wasn't sure if my 4 and 7-year-old would understand what was being said.  Some of the vocabulary and sentence construction was a bit cumbersome.  (I discuss this elsewhere on this website.)  We read the book everyday at breakfast, explaining it as we read when necessary.  Soon enough the kids were able to recite the entire book and with some explanation, we think some may be sticking.

I realize this post isn't much of a review or critique. (If Dr. Hamilton were my professor today, he'd probably give me an F.)  The book is theologically sound.  It can be read quick enough for the attention span of a child but is robust enough that it is thought provoking and fun for mom and dad.  Hamilton does a nice job selecting the major turning points of the biblical story without overloading the book.  Most of the couplets are fun and memorable.  That being said, one area of criticism I have is with the page on Noah and the flood.  It doesn't rhyme when read aloud (and my seven-year-old often reads to the family at breakfast while we all listen).  "People never did to good," it reads, "But God saved Noah at the flood."  Good.  Flood.  No matter how we read this, it just sounds clunky, almost jarring, which is not the case for every other page.  But this is so minor.  The Bible's Big Story is great and the entire family loves it.  

If you have children and you're looking for a fun, simple way to teach them the major points of God's salvation history, this is a great tool.  I highly recommend it. 

*I have no connection to this book, monetary or otherwise.

Is God Calling Me? By Jeff Iorg

Iorg, Jeff. Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008.

I once heard a pastor tell his congregation that he didn't have any kind of calling, he just thought that ministry looked like a good career for him.  As he made his argument, I wondered if this man should be representing God if God had not selected this man as his representative.  It's amazing that God even allows anybody to touch his Bride, that is, the Church, let alone those he did not set apart to do so.

Calling is important and answering the question, "Is God calling me?" is an important examination.  In his book, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks, Dr. Jeff Iorg states, "'Is God calling me?' is the essential question you must answer before entering ministry leadership or accepting a specific ministry assignment.  Settling the issue of call is foundational to effective Christian leadership" (1).  He further argues that understanding the answer to this important question "charts a lifelong course of ministry leadership" (1).  In what could serve as a response to the pastor arguing that a call is not important, Iorg further writes, "As ministry leaders, we serve in response to God's invitation and at his pleasure, not at our initiative" (2).  This book serves as a tool to aid in finding the answer to this extremely important question.

"My first goal," writes Iorg, "is to cut straight to the heart of the matter and give you tools to work through the call process.  But detailed analysis and intellectual understanding are not enough.  My ultimate goal for you is clarity about God's call so you can answer affirmatively!" (3).  As clearly stated, Iorg sets out to meet his goals using the Bible and careful study, but also ideas and conversations that he has had about God's call for more than thirty years of combined ministry as a pastor and the President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  He concedes that over the years, many others have shaped his thinking and at times critics have even changed his mind (2).  Peppered throughout the book are personal stories from Iorg's experience as well as those from many others.

Iorg starts by defining the concept of the call.  Here he provides a biblical foundation of the importance of the call as well as a strong understanding of the biblical history of calling.  He also provides his own working definition: "A call is a profound impression from God that established parameters for your life and can be altered only by a subsequent, superseding impression from God" (8).  After he has laid some groundwork, Iorg offers three types of calls, from the larger call all the way to very specific calls that function within an individual's larger call.  Continuing, Iorg deals with the kinds of people God calls (which are diverse and surprising), how to discern God's call, and how the calling shapes the life of those God calls.  And then in a very practical conclusion, Iorg discusses some specific calls such as the call into mission work as well as the call to pastoral ministry.

I originally picked up Is God Calling Me? at the recommendation of another pastor and friend.  A number of young men had been meeting with me about entering ministry in some capacity or another and some of them were even considering seminary.  As my pastor friend and I were discussing the call upon some of these other guys, he told me he read Is God Calling Me? as he was considering leaving a campus ministry for seminary.  I purchased the book thinking it would help me counsel these guys.  But as I started reading, I found myself working through each page, slowly chewing on the concepts and ideas.  It served as a great conformation of my general call and helped me process some aspects of present, specific calls in my own life.  I found Iorg's book extremely helpful.

As I was reading through Is God Calling Me? I had the opportunity to discuss the call with Ryan and Janai Rindels from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Chris Smith from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The book was fresh on my mind so it entered our unscripted conversations.  Janai Rindels, Dr. Jeff Iorg's personal assistant, offered some great insight.  The guys also provided some helpful thoughts as they both serve as seminary recruiters.  You can listen to these conversations here:
-- Calling and GGBTS with Ryan and Jania Rindels audio
-- Calling and SBTS with Chris Smith audio
If I must offer a criticism of Is God Calling Me? it would be about Iorg's perspective.  Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of a seminary.  He is seminary trained and holds a Doctorate of Ministry.  And while I am also seminary trained and greatly appreciate my seminary education, a weakness is found in the book is that some may be called into ministry apart from thinking about seminary.  Iorg did make an effort to support this thinking but it is clear that his bias held strong.  Using the terms informal and formal training, he discusses both saying, "Preparation for ministry leadership involves formal and informal processes; both are valid and necessary.  The best case is for the two forms of training to be integrated and to build on each other" (79).  Iorg then gives 3 sentences to an explanation of informal training before he says, "But is informal training enough? Usually not" (79).  Following this question are 4 pages of the positive and negative aspects of attending seminary.  While he makes a good argument for formal training--as should be expected from a seminary president--he provides way too little information on the positive and negative aspects of informal training.  

Apart from Iorg's bias toward seminary (which I also hold), Is God Calling Me? is an outstanding book for those thinking they may be called and wrestling with calling.  It's also extremely useful for the man or woman already called who will inevitably deal with additional specific calls from God as he or she journeys through a lifetime of ministry.  I highly recommend this book! 

-- Some of Iorg's other publications include: The Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of Leadership, The Case for Antioch, and Live Like a Missionary.

* I have no material connection to this book, monetary or otherwise.