Book Review: Storify by Rachel Blom

51cjoMnENiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”

In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.

As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.

First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.

Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.

There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.

Books I’ve Read Recently

During the month of January we did a series in our student ministry called “Dating, Marriage, and Sex” (you can go here to listen to that entire series online). In preparation for that series I read a few books on the topics of relationships and sex. Below are those books.

sex-dating-relationships_2Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. This was by far the most interesting book on this topic I have ever read. The authors did a fantastic job of being Biblical accurate and Gospel centered while explaining the practical side of relationships and sex in ways that I have never heard. The authors goal in this book is to move past the “just don’t have sex before marriage” argument by helping the reader see the Biblical foundation for sex and relationships and what God actually calls us to. There is great chapter on sex and how it is a picture of the Gospel. There is also two great chapters that focus on dating and helping the reader understand why the Bible doesn’t address dating (and it’s more than just “dating didn’t exist back in Bible times). In light of this, there is an interesting chapter that calls for dating to be done differently in the form of what the authors call “dating friendships.” They define this concept as “two friends getting to know each other with a view toward marriage” (page 92). They go on to explain that concept in more detail in the book. Overall this was a great book that challenged many of my own thoughts on sex and relationships. I’d highly recommend this book to singles who want a clear understanding of sexual purity, dating, and marriage.

Love-Sex-DatingThe New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating by Andy Stanley. This book deals less with sex and more with love, relationships, and preparing for marriage. Even though the principles and concepts Stanley talks about in this book are Biblical, there isn’t a ton of references to the Bible and an attempt to helping the reader understand God’s Word. However, I wouldn’t say that makes this a “bad book.” In fact, I think it’s a great book that will challenge both the Christian and non-Christian single to understand love, relationships, and marriage better. In this book, Stanley calls singles to drop the “right person myth,” prepare well for marriage, strive to become the right person (“be the kind of person you want to marry”), and a commitment to sex the way God designed it. There are a host of other things Stanley discusses in this book but the overall message is to slow down, prepare, be the right kind of person, and enjoy marriage and sex the way God intended it to be enjoyed. I would highly recommend this book to young adults who desire to marry. I’d love to get this in the hands of upper high school students as well as college students. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone under that age group.

41uEQDpG5OL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Sex Matters by Jonathan McKee. This is the best book written to teenagers about sex. There has been plenty that have been written but many simply argue “just wait” rather than explaining God’s beautiful design for sex. McKee doesn’t hold back in this book. He doesn’t tip toe around this topic but answers head on the questions teenagers are asking about sex. He does an excellent job at helping teenagers see why waiting on sex for marriage is actually a very good thing. The next obvious question teenagers ask after they hear about waiting is “how far is too far?” Instead of going the legalistic route and giving a list of things teenagers “can do” and “cannot due” until marriage, McKee explains that sex is a process and that “entire process is only for marriage” (page 49). In light of that, McKee urges teenagers then to do the obvious – don’t start the process. McKee then spends a whole chapter on helping teenagers understand why the Bible says “flee” and how teenagers can do this. The last two chapters of the book deals with porn and masturbation as well as answering some common questions teenagers ask about sex. This is a book I wish every teenager would read. It will help them understand God’s design for sex and answer many of the questions they have. It’s extremely practical as well. If you’re a parent, get this book and encourage your teen to read it. If you’re a youth worker, consider giving this book to your students or at least reading it and having it on your shelve to help you understand how to address teenagers about sex.

Books I’ve Read Recently

929CB448F87340438FC9946BD61DBC9E.ashx30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. I’ve always struggled to enjoy reading and studying church history. There are aspects of church history that certainly grab my attention but church history as a whole is not a topic I find easy to read or study. However, there have been a few books related to church history that have helped me cultivate a better appreciation and love for church history over time and this was on of those books. In this book the writer, Alton Gansky, writes about 30 events that have shaped the church as a whole. Gansky quickly admits it wasn’t easy picking just 30 events. He says, “Selecting which events to include in this book was difficult…In the end, I believe this is a good sample of key events in church history, drawn from both the distant past and modern times” (page 10-11). I think Gansky does a good job at this. He successfully picks 30 events that gives the reader a well-rounded view of events that have shaped the church into what it is today. What’s interesting about this book though is Gansky didn’t just stick with events that happened “within” the church community. In addition to those types of events, he writes about events that happened “outside” the church community. These events, like the ones within the church, impacted the church in profound ways. This is a great book for anyone who wants an easy, interesting church history related book to read. It’s also helpful to anyone who is interested in how major events in history, both inside and outside the church, has shaped the church as we know it today.

51E4B0BFYVLForeign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a phrase you hear often. Many times I have passed up a good book because the cover didn’t grab my attention. This was almost on of those books. I received this book when my wife and I decided to be a part of a ministry called International Friendship Connection. IFC is a ministry that serves international undergrad and graduate students who are in the states studying on a university campus. This book was given to us at a training we went to for IFC. At first glance, I didn’t have a desire to read this book. However, I decided to pick it up and give it a shot and I’m glad I did. In this short book, Sarah Lanier talks about the differences between what she calls “hot climate cultures” and “cold climate cultures.” Lanier says, “The population of the entire world can roughly be divided into two parts. The two groups represented are ‘hot climate’ (relationship-based) cultures and ‘cold-climate’ (task-oriented) cultures” (page 15-16). These two cultural groups have different ways they communicate, manage time and planning, find their identity, and even show hospitality. If someone from a hot climate cultures goes into a cold climate culture and interacts the way they normally do in their hot climate culture they will have a hard time. One must understand the culture they are going into so they can best serve and do life in that culture. In this book Lanier lays out the key differences between these two cultural groups and how one can understand them. It’s defiantly a book that should be read by anyone doing or planning to do cross-cultural missions, whether thats domestic or international, but is also helpful to Christians in general as we seek to serve others in different cultural contexts.

51XQrJqkg9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Teaching to Change Lives by Howard Hendricks. This is a book I have always heard great things about but have never got around to reading. I’m glad I decided to finally take it off the shelve and read it. The wisdom that Hendricks shares in this little book is gold. The book is filled with practical insights and principles that help you become a better teacher of God’s Word. In this book Hendricks shares seven laws in regards to teaching: law of the teacher, law of education, law of activity, law of communication, law of the heart, law of encouragement, and law of readiness. In regards to the seven laws, Hendricks says, “If you boil them all down, these seven laws essentially call for a passion to communicate” (page 15). That’s what this book is all about. Helping people who teach the Bible do it with passion, excellence, and skill. This is a great little book that I believe is a must read for anyone who is in a role of teaching the Bible.

Books I’ve Read Recently

515XatoWK1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Preaching by Tim Keller. Before reading this book it had been awhile since I had read a book on the topic of preaching. Since preaching the Bible is something I do regularly in my role I was excited to pick up a new book on the topic. I gained a lot of wisdom and practical insights from this book and I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a preaching role to read it. I’d also go as far as to say that all Christians should read this book since “preaching” is not just preparing and delivering a formal sermon. All Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel whether that’s at work, online, or in front of a large crowd. However, the majority of this book is aimed at those of us in vocational preaching roles. So this book is helpful to all Christians, but primarily for those in vocational preaching roles. Throughout this book there are several themes and main ideas that Keller covers. First, Keller points out the need for expository preaching and letting the Scriptures lead the way in preaching. This is primarily the focus in chapter one. Keller says, “I would say that expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (page 32). Keller follows this statement up with a few reasons why he believes this and also a few dangers to avoid when doing expository preaching. Second, Keller rightfully argues that the Christ and the Gospel must be at the center of every sermon and should be preached from every text. Keller spends a good amount of time explaining how this can and should be done in preaching. Third, Keller highlights cultural narratives that will impact the way we preaching to an unbelieving world. This was a large part of the book but a very helpful section. Keller helps us understand the cultural narratives that impact preaching in our cultural context and shares practical ways we can preach God’s Word by engaging those narratives. Overall this was a fantastic book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to share Christ well in our culture.

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Creating a Lead Small Culture by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell. Every now and then I read a church ministry or student ministry book that causes me to rethink and evaluate everything I am doing in my student ministry context. This was one of those books. I’m grateful the student ministry that God allows me to lead is healthy and has a good small group structure in place. However, we have areas we need to improve and our small group structure and strategy has some holes. This book has helped me strengthen our small group structure and better develop a team of leaders who serve students in a small group context. The whole point of a “lead small culture” is to have students (or kid if you’re in children’s ministry, which this book is for as well) cared for and ministered to in the context of small groups. Relationship and life change happens when students are connected with an adult that loves Jesus and cares for them. Real teaching, mentoring, and modeling happens in circles not in a crowd. This book walks through three main ways to create a lead small culture: improve the structure, empower the leader, create the experience. The book is filled with practical wisdom, insights, and experiences from other ministry leaders as they share how they have created a lead small culture in their context. If you’re a ministry leader that oversees small groups or just wants to make small groups more of a vital part of your church than you need to read this book. It’s simple, practical, but has the potential to change the way you do ministry to students and kids.

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Get Out by Alvin and Josh Reid. One of the common struggles local student pastors face is the struggle to get outside of their office and church walls and into the community where students are. That’s the issue this book addresses. This book is a practical book for student pastors who want to get onto their local school campuses and into the community where their students and their friends are. Alvin and Josh Reid say this about their book: “This book serves as a primer on student minister focused specifically on getting out of the church building and into the community to impact it for Christ” (page 15). This book helps student pastors realize a much needed shift is called for in student ministry today. We must see our ministry as bigger than our church walls and not just focus on our program and the students we have coming. We must go to the students that are not coming. We must meet them on their turf. We must reach students where they are at. In addition to all of that, this book is filled with practical advice from other student pastors and what they have done to get out and reach students in their communities. I’d encourage every student pastor to read this book. It’s challenging and will help you think about how you can get out and serve students in your community.

I’m currently reading 30 Events that Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky and plan to review that in my next “Books I’ve Read Recently” post.

Books I’ve Read Recently

jesus-continued-cover-largeJesus Continued by J.D. Greear. I have read a lot of books recently and this one was by far one of may favorites. I’ve always enjoyed reading J.D.’s books and they have played a big part in shaping my faith and ministry. In this book J.D. deals with the topic of the Holy Spirit and how believers have the advantage of not having Jesus beside them (like the disciples in the Gospels) but instead, through the Spirit, they have Jesus presence inside them. Not only that, but J.D. helps believers understand how they can experience the Holy Spirit in their relationship with God. J.D. says, “The Holy Spirit tends to be the forgotten member of the Trinity. Most Christians know he’s there, but they are unclear about exactly what he does of how to interact with him-or if that’s even possible. Yet something was so important about the Holy Spirit that Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he go away-if his departure meant the Spirit came. The Spirit’s presence inside them, he said, would be better than himself beside them” (page 13). This is one of the most insightful and practical books on the subject of the Holy Spirit that I have ever read. It has a great balance of theological content (which is very much needed in the discussion of the Holy Spirit) and practical application (which is just as much needed in this topic) in regards to the Holy Spirit and how Christians can experience the Spirit’s ministry in their life. J.D. does a great job in this book building a foundation of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit and explaining how believers can experience and seek the Holy Spirit. This is a great book I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the Holy Spirit better and how they can experience him more in their relationship with God.

51VrdA14sfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Prayer by Tim Keller. Prayer is an area of my Christian life where I struggle the most. I go through seasons where I feel like I’m a “strong prayer,” but many times I feel like I am coming up very short in this area. This is one of the reasons I wanted to read this book. Also, I haven’t read many books devoted entirely to prayer so when I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. Keller has managed to put together one of, if not the most, thorough books on the topic of prayer. This book really does serve as a modern day handbook for what prayer is and how does one go about practicing prayer. The first part of the book is very academic and philosophical. Keller does a great job as painting the landscape of how people and religious groups view prayer. But this isn’t where Keller spends most of his time in this book. Once Keller helps the reader establish a definition and view of what Biblical prayer is in the Christian life he quickly moves towards helping them see how Christians can practice prayer. The rest of the book, and majority of it then, is a practical guide on how to practice prayer. Keller explores the prayer habits of early church fathers as well as walking through many Scripture passages on prayer. He also offers many practical tips on how Christians can practice prayer in their daily lives. If you want to grow in your understanding of prayer and how to practice it, read this book.

6a00d83452063969e20162fef31dc1970dThe Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I haven’t read many marriage books (even though there are many out there right now I want to read), but out of the ones I have read this was has been my favorite. I read this book along with a few other men in a men’s group I am a part of at my church. I really enjoyed this book because of Keller’s approach to the topic of marriage and how to do marriage well. He quickly admits and helps the reader see that marriage is impossible to do well apart from God. Throughout the book Keller keeps the Gospel at the center as he shares how marriage is only possible through having a personal relationship with God through the Gospel that helps you truly love and serve your spouse. Keller spends a great amount of time explaining and applying the main Scripture passages on marriage. I also enjoyed how his wife wrote parts of the book and brought another persecutive to this topic. I believe this is a book everyone who is married (or one day hopes to married) should read. It’s practical but always keeps God and the Gospel at the center, which is the only way to do marriage well.

I am currently reading What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung and 30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. I plan to review those when I am done reading them.