12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Smartphones have changed the landscape of our culture. Phones have impacted the way we communicate, view ourselves, work, and even interact with the Bible. All these things and more are discussed in this helpful book. In this book, Reinke walks through twelve ways the smartphone is changing us. Before getting into the twelve reasons he offers a very insightful and helpful theology of technology. As far as I’m aware that isn’t something that has been written about that much in other places. He does an excellent job of laying the foundation and then diving into the twelve reasons. I’m not going to list all twelve reasons here but there were a few that stood out to me as they where the most convicting in my own life – ignore people around us, loss of literacy, and are comfortable withs secret vices. My favorite thing about this book is how Reinke never encourages the read to just get rid of their smartphone as a way to fix the problems and issues it had created. In some cases that might be a good option for people (Reinke helps the reader walk through a few questions to consider if that should be their next step or not) but it may be that many people just need to make changes and adjustments to use their smartphones more wisely. Overall this was an excellent book I would recommend to anyone who uses a smartphone (which is almost everyone).
Conscience by Andrew Naseli & J.D. Crowley. I’ve never seen or read a book on the topic of conscience before so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. As someone who grew up in a culture that I was very legalistic I have always struggled with matters of the conscience and the Christian life. This book was extremely helpful in my journey out of that culture and into a better understanding of the freedom we have in Christ. The first few chapters of this book deal with defining conscience and tracing it’s appearance throughout the Bible. Once the foundation is laid the obvious questions about living as a Christian with a conscience as well as how to relate to other Christians when our consciences don’t agree. In this book the Christian is encouraged to not ignore their conscience but to calibrate it so it’s in line with God and His Word. The authors rightly point out that people tend to have one of two extremes when it comes to their conscience – insensitive (they ignore its warnings and end up with what Paul calls a “seared” conscience) or oversensitive (they pack it with more rules than God intends and make it more about matters of opinions rather than truth). Neither of those are good. God has given us a conscience and we should use it rightly, which requires us to calibrate it with God’s Word. I’d encourage every Christian to take the time to read this important book.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. I’ve aways been a fan of Peterson. His consistency and commitment over the years have been something of a model of what a pastor should be about. He is a man who loves God and His Word. These things are evident in this classic book. The book serves as almost a practical commentary on Psalms 120-134 (Songs of Ascents). Peterson points out that “these fifteen Psalms were likely sung, possibly in sequence, by Hebrew pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem for the great worship festivals” (page 18). Peterson walks through these fifteen chapters and explains what each ones teaches us about an area of following Jesus. As with all his writings, these pages contain a pastoral tone from Peterson and the reader will finish this book convicted for sure but encouraged to continue walking with Jesus.
Two other books I recently finished but chose to not review here are Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Both were great read I’d highly recommend.
Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. This book is the story of how a devote Muslim came to faith in Christ. Qureshi walks the reader through his journey of moving from a Muslim who adamantly argued against Christianity to someone who finds that Christianity is actually true. Qureshi’s story was an encouraging and enjoyable read. His story shows the power of the Gospel and effectiveness of Christians loving unbelievers and dialoging with them about their faith. Qureshi also writes this book in a way that helps the reader understand the basic ideas of Isalm. He includes definitions and explanations for most Islamic words and sayings he uses throughout the book. The reader comes away from this book not only informed about Qureshi’s faith journey but also the beliefs behind the Islamic faith.
Know Doubt by John Ortberg. Doubt is not the opposite of faith or unbelief. Doubt can and many times does coexist with faith. This is what Ortberg argues in this book, which was previously titled Faith and Doubt. In this book Ortberg helps the reader understand how many times doubts come with true faith. He even admits some of his own. Unfortunately this isn’t the norm in most Christian circles. Doubt is seen as something we should suppress and not bring up. This leaves many Christians sinking in their doubt and wondering if they even have any true faith to begin with. This book helps Christians see that doubts are not always bad (even though it can go bad – that’s the subject of chapter 8) and many times is a part of growing and experiencing true faith. My favorite part of this book was chapter 3 where Ortberg explains what philosopher Michael Novak calls three different kinds of convictions – public, private, and core. This chapter as well as the rest of the book was fantastic. I’d recommend this book to both Christians and skeptics.
Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. Similar to the book above, this book deals with the issue of doubt. This book however focuses specifically on doubt in regards to salvation. MacAthur believes many true believers lack assurance of their salvation (page 9-10). With a very pastoral and shepherding tone, MaArthurs spends his time in this book helping Christians understand the security of their salvation and how they can know for sure if they have experienced true salvation. My favorite part of this book was part 2 where MacArthur shares eleven tests from 1 John that can be used to evaluate the genuineness of your salvation. Overall this was a solid book on the subject of doubt and the assurance of salvation. I’d recommend them book to anyone who has or is struggling with this issue.
Next up on my reading list is Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson.
If you’re in student ministry the next few weeks brings a major shift for you and your ministry. The school year is coming to a close and your program is probably about to change a bit. In our ministry we take a break from weekly gatherings and just do a handful of events and activities where the priority is building relationships with our students and their friends. With this change of pace brings the opportunity to focus on a few things that may have been pushed to the side during the busy school year. Below are a few things students pastors should focus on this summer. They are broken into two categories: ministry and personal.
In regards to your ministry, focus on…
Getting out of your office and spend time with students. Let’s face it, spending time with students during the school year outside of your programs isn’t easy. Their in school most of the day and your busy writing talks and planning the next big event. Now that summer is here you and your students should be more free to hangout. Take advantage of it. One of things we are doing this summer is having a weekly time for girls to get together and a time for guys to get together. The girls are going to meet at a local park for a picnic and to go hiking while the guys will meet at the church to play basketball. Here is a deeper look into what our ministry looks like during the summer months. Spend less time in the office this summer (be sure you tell your pastor you’re not just sleeping in or taking the summer off) and more time hanging out with students.
Planning for next school year. By now you should have a rough idea of what your student ministry calendar looks like for next school year. The summer is when you want to nail that calendar down. Get dates and major details for your events locked in. In addition to events be sure to plan out your teaching schedule as well. Strive to put together a solid teaching schedule that will get you through the upcoming school year.
Recruiting new leaders. The summer gives you some extra time to find new leaders. You probably will loose some after the school year so every summer comes the challenge of finding a few new ones. Spend time recruiting new leaders and meeting with them. Find out what their skills and passions are. Strive to get them plugged in and ready to go for the upcoming school year. I recently wrote a post about some things to remember when you recruit new volunteers.
In regards to yourself personally, focus on…
Reading. Hopefully you find time to read even during the busy school year. However, the summer months should open up some extra time for reading. As a side note, I put this under the “personal” section but don’t forget reading should be a part of your job as a pastor too. Either way, find some time this summer to read. Read ministry books. Read theology books. Read fiction books. Read biographies. Read books by people you agree with. Read books by people you disagree with. Read for your growth as a follower of Christ. Read for your growth as a leader. Just read as much as you can.
Getting a good vacation. Don’t let the summer go by without getting in a solid vacation. If you have a family, plan a family vacation that allows you and your family time to kick back and relax. You need this more than you probably realize. Wayne Cordeiro says, “Those who’s vocation is all about giving out are wearing out.” As student pastors we “give out” a lot. Throughout the school year we are constantly giving. That’s why we need to take a break and rest. Summer is a great time for this. Be sure to take a summer vacation and get some much needed rest. By the way, take some books on your vacation. Vacation is a great time for reading.
I’d like to end this post with making a statement some may agree with while others may not – your summer months should look different than the months during the school year. That doesn’t mean your job as a student pastors gets easier and you all of a sudden get extra hours you somehow lost during the school year. However, it does mean you don’t have to have a weekly program. You don’t have to be writing talks. You don’t have to be planning event after event. Take a break from the programs and talks. Spend time with students and build relationships. Plan for the upcoming year. Most of all, focus on growing as a person and a leader while getting some extra time to refresh yourself before the busyness hits again in late August.
On Preaching by H.B. Charles, Jr. I always enjoy reading books on preaching. This was one of my favorites because of all the practical insights it includes. It’s a short book that includes very short chapters. Each chapter covers something in regards to preaching. It feels almost like sitting at a coffee shop with a seasoned preacher who is sharing all the wisdom he has about preaching with you. I enjoyed every chapter of this little book. I’d encouraged anyone who is involved in preaching ministry to read this book. No matter if you’re a beginner or have been preaching for many years, this book will encourage and sharpen your skills.
Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. This is one of those books that have been on my list for a long time. Because I am doing a series with our students on what happens after we die, which includes a sermon on hell, I decided to pick this book up and give it a read. Chan and Sprinkle do a great job at addressing the topic of hell from a Biblical point of view. This book almost serves as a short survey of what the Bible teaches on hell. Believers, and non-believers, would do well to read this book. It brings the reader face to face with the reality of hell and what the Bible says about it. There was much I enjoyed about this book but my favorite parts where the short survey of universalism (chapter one) and two chapters on what Jesus and His early followers believed about hell (chapter two and three).
The Top Ten Leadership Commandments by Hans Finzel. The Bible is full of great leaders that God used to do amazing things. One of those great leaders was Moses. In this book, Finzel looks at the life and leadership of Moses and pulls out ten “leadership commandments” that leaders should follow. I enjoyed Finzel’s Biblical approach to leadership in this book as well as how he helped the reader understand how they can apply these lessons to their own leadership. Mixed in with all of this was many examples and illustrations from Finzel’s own leadership journey. This wasn’t one of the best leadership books I have read but it was encouraging and helpful.
The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida. This is by far one of the best preaching books I have ever read. From the title of the book it’s pretty easy to catch what Merida is passionate – expository preaching that is Christ-centered. The goal of this helpful books is to help preachers (even though others could benefit from this book but his main audience is preachers) understand how they can better preach Christ-centered expository sermons. It serves as a handbook to do just that. What I love about this book is how Merida spends the first half talking about the preachers heart. These are challenging chapters that will cause preachers to evaluate their life, doctrine, prayer life, and more. These early chapters help the preacher see that who is plays into what he preaches. The second half of the book is extremely practical. These chapters lay out a five step process to writing Christ-centered expository sermons. I’d recommend this book to those who have been preaching for a long time as well as those who may be in seminary preparing for pastoral ministry. It’s also helpful for those in between who are early in their ministry career.
Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. This is the newest book put out by the Fuller Youth Institute. The Churches Engaging Young People project studied churches who were effectively engaging 15-29 year olds (click here to read more about their research). From their research they found out there are six essential strategies that churches use to engage teenagers and young adults. This book helps churches understand how they too can practice these essential strategies in their context. I really enjoyed the depth of this book and the extent of the research. In addition, the book also gives many practical steps for churches to follow if they want to effectively reach teenagers and young adults. I also really liked how they included many stories of churches doing this well. I came away with some great ideas but also with some fresh inspiration for reaching teenagers and young adults in the context of the local church. I would recommend this book to anyone who serves in a local church, especially those who work with teenagers and young adults.
Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. In this book Alcorn helps the reader understand money in light of God’s Word. There is almost too much in this book to even be able to write a short review. It’s packed with challenging chapters on tithing, giving, debt, savings, materialism, church finances, and money in light of eternity. Alcorn is both extremely Biblical and practical. He doesn’t hold back in sharing with the reader what God says about money and goes to great lengths to provide practical things for the reader to do in regards to their money. I’d recommend this book to every believer who wants to better understand God’s view of money and how they should handle it.
Up next on my reading list is On Preaching by H.B. Charles and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan.