The Book Every Young Pastor in a Small Church Needs to Read

Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell is a must read for any young pastor leading a congregation in rural America!  I was deeply blessed by almost every page in this book and even a little humbled.  Having grown up in rural churches and having many friends who are pastoring rural churches I can testify that Shannon has hit the mark.  What you will find with this book is a no-nonsense, practical, count-the-cost design for much needed change in many of our rural churches.  Shannon knows from first hand experience the cost of bringing change and leading a dying church back to vibrant health and he has a story to tell.

Throughout Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon tells the story of how he was called by God from being on staff at a large church to pastoring a small South Side Baptist Church in an 88 resident town in Arkansas.  Over the last six years God has blessed Shannon to be at the forefront of change in rural America to reach people with the gospel.  Today Shannon’s church, now renamed, Brand New Church reaches out to thousands of people each week through multiple campuses. Shannon’s passion to reach rural America at any cost is contagious.  Note this quote from the book…

As far as too many soldiers have shown us, it takes great personal sacrifice to willingly enter a conflict.  But if we are to fulfill our vision, we have no other choice.  It’s change, conflict, growth; change, conflict, growth; and you have to walk through that process.  It happens on a personal level every time we see someone freed from a massive addiction. The person makes a change, then there is a major conflict, but then there is unbelievable growth. It’s the same with church; we must go through change and then conflict in order to see growth. Nobody told me that before I went to rural America.  but it’s part of the game – one of the rules you will have to abide by play after play. When conflict comes most rural pastors give up on change. It’s just too hard. What can we do? We must be resolved to conflict in its many forms; we must pick our battles carefully, and we must choose which hills we are willing to die on- just as Jesus chose Golgotha. (page 81-82).

I highly recommend Transforming Church in Rural America.  In fact if you are considering a call to pastor a small church or a church in rural America, its a must read.  You won’t find this kind of transparency and passion for rural churches anywhere else. The retail price is $12.99 (hardcover), and is available around the web in places like for $10.39. I gave it four stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson as part of the BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Remarkable True Stories of God’s Miraculous Work in the Muslim World

Which None Can Shut: Remarkable True Stories of Gods Miraculous Work in the Muslim World is an incredible book of stories from the life of “Reema Goode” (her name changed for security).  “Reema” is a Christian wife and mother living in a Muslim (Arab) community seeking to share the gospel with the women in her region.  She shares heartfelt and compelling stories of how God has opened the door for the gospel to reach a people group.

“Reema” writes with transparency and simplicity that is both forthright and engaging.  I was deeply blessed and encouraged to hear over and over again of God’s faithfulness to use her and her family to reach their Muslim neighbors.  Many times while reading this book I was moved to prayer and tears for my neighbors in the Muslim world.

The book is written in a story format, easy to read, engaging, and a great encouragement to those who have been praying for the Arab world.  It provides great insight into how Western missionary women engage women with the gospel in a deeply Muslim culture.  I appreciate the honest portrait that “Reema” paints of Muslim culture.

Some folks will assume that “Reema” writes from a charismatic background because she shares a few stories of casting out demons and dreams.  I’m not Charismatic (I’m Southern Baptist), and I’ll go on record as saying that many of the things that “Reema” and her family came across are things that I have come across in Mobile and Pensacola.  The truth is that while there aren’t demons around every corner, they are real and a majority of cultures around the world (not to mention both the Old and New Testament) recognize that. God does choose to reveal himself in dreams to some people (I can testify that of at least 2 other American friends besides myself that were driven to the scriptures because of a dream and ended up trusting in Christ). “Reema” may be charismatic, but what she shares in this book appears to be standard fare for anyone heavily involved in ministry or missions.

If you are looking at going to the mission field, praying for Muslim people groups, or are just looking for some encouragement on how God still moves among people today…  This book is for you. The retail price of Which None Can Shut is $13.99 (paperback), and is available around the web in places like for $11.89. I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My Story (Part 4): Waking up From a Dream

5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow – Give Away

Last month I wrote a brief book  review of 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow, a book written by R.C. Sproul.  This month I have decided to give away a copy on the blog.  To enter for a chance to win all you need to do is read my Review and then come back here to briefly share about why you want the book (even if you want to give to someone else).  Then on  Monday (March 1st, 2010) I’ll draw a name by random and announce the winner in the comments section on this post.

If you win I will also contact you via e-mail so I can make arrangements to get you the book (so make sure you fill that part out when leaving a comment).

I have answered some frequently asked questions about the Wednesday book give away in earlier post and you can find it here.

A Hill on Which to Die

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans a few years ago.  A good friend of mine (who was more excited about the conservative resurgence than I was) had convinced me to tag along and soak in the atmosphere.  He had a contact with Judge Pressler and several others in the movement and we were invited to sit in and hear about the lives of these men, the battles they had fought, and absorb the atmosphere.

To be honest, I went for the bookstore.  The Alabama Baptist Convention used to have a fantastic bookstore at each of its meetings with great deals on books.  I was hoping for some of the same kind of interaction on national level.  However, I was quickly disappointed to learn it was just a Lifeway store set out on tables.

The Highlight of the trip came however when we had the opportunity to tag along on a trip with Judge Pressler to Cafe Dumonde.  We sat in on the conversation, asked our best questions, bought Cafe Dumonde mugs (to remember the occasion) and consumed beignets and hot chocolate.

We were blessed to be able to interact with Judge Pressler that night and throughout the convention.  I was amazed at the character and grace of a man who was both very loving and very kind to most everyone he encountered.  He talked with grace about the years of the conservative resurgence and I was surprised to later hear all the things he was accused of saying or doing.  Quite simply the accusations didn’t line up with the man I had met.

His book A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey is his side of the story concerning the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is a very straightforward, orderly account of his life, the issues that lead to the resurgence, and the account of how things took place.  It is a great book for anyone looking to hear the conservative side of the resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  I give it 5 stars.

I picked up my copy several years ago when Pressler came to speak at UM and I got a copy autographed.  Recently I had the opportunity to pick it up again and actually read it.  I wish I had read it much sooner.

Review: “Smart Faith” by J.P. Moreland & Mark Matlock

Smart Faith: Loving God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland and Mark Matlock is a great book geared towards students.  I really wish the book had been around when I was a teenager.  The aim of the book is to challenge young men and women to think about the Christian Faith and not just live off their parents faith or emotion.  The book is full of keen insights and practical challenges to help teens grow deeper in their capacity to think about the things of God.

The book is a great blend of Philosophy, Theology, and application.  The later chapters in the book are especially relevent as the authors move the reader from the realm of deliberate thought to the realm of living a fully integrated life.  This book is a great read for any teenager with a desire to grow or for adults with teenagers in their life.  I just wish it had been around when I was fifteen.

This is a very well written book that challenges the reader to dig deeper every step of the way. The retail price is $12.99 (Paperback). It is also available at places like for $10.39. I give it 5 stars.

Disclaimer: This book was provided for review by NavPress. There was no requirement to give it a positive review, just for me to call it like I see it.

Review: “Spectacular Sins” By John Piper

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Baptist Convention where I got a chance to buy a copy of John Piper’s book, Spectacular Sins at the Lifeway store.   Being a Piper fan and having read most all of his works I set out to read this book this past weekend.  I was refreshed with the candor and diligence with which Piper writes in this book.  The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.

After establishing a need for a more vigilant Christianity and pleading with the reader to be prepared for the advancing darkness Piper launches into an exposition of several of the spectacular sins that have been recorded in the scriptures.  He writes of sins such as the fall in the Garden of Eden, rebellion at the Tower of Babel, selling of Joseph, and betrayal by Judas and how through each rebellious act God was in control, turning evil on its nose and causing great good to come out of acts that were intended for evil.

You can find the book in hard cover it normally goes for $15.99, but you can find it on for $10.87 and even cheaper from Desiring God in paper back for $6.49.  You can find our more about John Piper and resources he has written and produced here.  The original sermons that have been recorded in print in this book can also be found free of charge here on the Desiring God ministry site.

I highly recommend this brief book (128 Pages) to anyone interested getting a glimps at how God can cause good to triumph over plans that were intended for evil.  It is an urgent message that is much-needed in our day.  I give it 4 stars.

Review: Five Who Changed the World

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet a few gentlemen from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I was looking down the road a few years and trying to figure out what doctoral work would look like.  In the process of conversation the representatives of Southeastern were able to share with me in great detail about the seminary and their president, Daniel Akin, and offered me a copy of his book, “Five Who Changed the World.”

Finally last week I had the opportunity to read through the book.  While I am greatly familiar with Christian biographies (I’ve been reading them since I was 16 and helped found and sponsored the Christian Heritage Conference that we held in Mobile for several years), I was blessed to read Akin’s book.  Originally each chapter was a missions message delivered in the chapel at Southeastern.

These five messages now written down and combined in book form are challenging and motivating.  Though these messages do not contain a great amount of biographical detail they are very motivational and challenging.  I was blessed to be drawn to the heart of worshiping God through mission.  Each chapter details the life of a missionary (William Carey, Adoniram and Ann Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon, and Jim Elliot) combined with a passage of Scripture that each missionary illustrated throughout their life.

You can find the book in hard cover on for $15.  You can find our more about Daniel Akin and resources he has written and produced here.  The original sermons that have been recorded in print in this book can also be found free of charge here on his site.

I highly recommend this brief book to anyone interested in understanding Christian mission.  It is a quick read and highly motivational (I was drawn to tears over and over again).  I give it 5 stars.

5 Keys for Developing Long Term Strategy in Student Ministry

I’ve been asked to speak a few times on the topic of Student Ministry and here lately have had a few great conversations with fellow youth pastors about Student Ministry.  The following is a short version of my notes I have used on occasion.  The bold sections are a revision of my thoughts.

The culture is changing rapidly and it provides us an excellent opportunity to examine how we should change our approach to student ministry. But there is one thing you need to know, even before the culture began pick up the pace Student Ministry was failing. The statistical data on Student Ministry is not pretty. We have a 75-85 % failure rate depending on whose statistics you read. To get a picture of how huge that number is…for every 4 kids actively involved in student ministry one makes it to church as an adult. Much can be said about why, how, and who obtained the various statistics but what I would like to do is use the current buzz around student ministry to help us evaluate our methods and begin exploring what success looks like in student ministry.

Create Long-term Goals

We need to create long-term goals for student ministry. Too often success in Student Ministry is measured in short term numbers. Nothing is wrong with using numbers to measure success. but are we using the right numbers? One sales job I had required you to wait 60 days before you collect your pay check. The reason was simple. People bring things back and you don’t get paid on what gets returned. (I’m not staying that kids lose their salvation, its just that sometimes they don’t really make genuine commitments. I’ve had students “get saved” at a concert because the invitation was offered in conjunction with a free bracelet from the evangelist. The were responding to a free bracelet offer and got counted as trusting in Christ. What is really sad is that i don’t think the evangelist was trying to cause this kind of confusion. He preached a sincere gospel message.)

Be Able to Measure

One of the key problems in this assessment is that most tangible numbers for student ministry are short term (decisions and attendance) and therefore get the most focus. Most long term goals in student ministry are intangible or we just haven’t developed a measuring stick and therefore in many ministries get little or no focus.  The questions we should be asking about student ministry isn’t, “how many?”, but “what do students who graduate from our group look like?”  Our focus needs to shift from entertainment with a christian vibe to discipleship (By discipleship I mean teaching our kids to know and put into practice the word of God in their lives… Not just know how to hotly debate side issues of doctrine.  Jesus tells us in the great commission that part of disciple making is “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” ) One of our measurements at a church I served was having students who are able to teach or disciple others.

Know where you are

Once you have determined the measuring stick, figure out where you are.  Get an honest assessment of how close or far away from the goal you are.  You may need to enlist the help of outsiders to give you an honest evaluation of your group.  If you are new to your position, ask a leader or youth worker who has been around if they know where the students are in relation to your goal of (bible reading, scripture memory, acts of service, leadership, discipleship, etc…) Ask yourself questions.  Ask your students questions  (Something as simple as a survey would work for “how often do you read your bible”)

Develop the playbook

If you set long term goals then you won’t achieve them overnight.  In fact, depending on your students, announcing your long term goal may backfire on you.  Sometimes it is better to establish short term goals that will help you get closer to your long term goal. For example, having students assist in teaching children at a backyard bible club is less intimidating that to disciple a peer.  The next step would be to have a student teach at a backyard Bible club.  Then maybe it is a student Sunday where students team up and teach adult classes, lead music, and preach.  Then maybe its calling on the older students to teach younger students in the course of a disciple now weekend.  Each one of these is a strategic step towards a larger goal of having students who are able to teach.  (Hint: celebrating each step along the way will help students develop the confidence and trust in God to take the next big step)

Stick around for the Results

Unless you build from the ground up or start with just a small handful of students it will take time to see strategy come to fruition.  If you develop a 4 year strategy and leave after two years you were only halfway through the plan.  That is kind of like quitting the game at half-time.  I know that sometimes circumstances are beyond your control or God calls you to go somewhere. But where possible see it through.  Discipleship is a lifelong commitment.

Every Student, Every Neighbor

It was 4 AM and I couldn’t sleep.  So I just laid there in bed with thoughts racing through my head about prayer, how to pray, why we pray, why we don’t pray enough and who would be at their flag pole in the morning.  I was worried because I am not normally compulsive about simple events like asking students to show up and pray at their flag pole.  So I eased my mind and began to call out to Jesus for clarity and  for focus.  In my heart he began a burden that was more fully realized later at the flagpole that day.

Flag's at Ransom Middle School (iphone)

I stood around with a crowd of about sixty teenagers at a flag pole as they prayed.  I watched from my huddle of adults as hundreds of other kids piled around the court yard wondering what was going on at their flag pole.  My heart broke for the students.  Sixty at the pole and about three hundred on the outside watching, more arriving each minute.  As I stood there I could see it like a sign over thier heads.  People lost like sheep without a shepherd.  Words about addictions, struggles, and issues that lead to death filled my mind. Words like anorexia, school violence, drugs, depression, peer pressure, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, bulemia, abortion, suicide, rape, racism, bullying… lies that people believe.  My heart was broken knowing that many have never even heard the name of Jesus other than a cuss word.

Then I called out to God from the noise in my head and pleaded for him to empower these sixty, these few to reach their school for Jesus.  Though much of the freedoms once afforded teachers and other adults on the campus were coming under attack in our area, one thing was clear… students still have the freedom to share the gospel and tell their friends about Jesus.

Yet peer pressure stands in the way.  That is what kept sixty around the pole instead of in the crowds.  Its also what kept students from finding their way to school on time and praying at the pole.  The older I get, the easier it is to see.  Like going on a mission trip and seeing the need in another culture, I look at students, now that I am a generation removed, and see more clearly than ever their need for the gospel.  Indeed, I am a missionary to another culture.

Then it struck home.  What about the place where I live?  What about my culture?  What about my neighborhood just a few blocks away?  Do I see the need there?  There is a need.  Though my neighbors have houses like mine, cars like mine, kids like mine, and experience the same weather I do, many do not know, or have not heard about Jesus.

So I transitioned out of thought and into thoughtful action.  Rebekah (my 3 year old) and I are out walking the streets in the evenings meeting neighbors and developing relationships for a bridge to the gospel.  My aim is to meet and find opportunities to share the gospel with all of my neighbors.

I am still burdened for our schools and the student culture (and their parents) that I have been called to pastor and be a missionary to.  My prayer is that as we pray and ask God to send laborers that students and families would catch a vision for God and He would use them to share the gospel with every student, teacher, and faculty member by the end of the school year.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”(Romans 10:13-16 ESV)

What about you?  What is your strategy to reach your neighborhood, school, or workplace?  Are you partnering with others to see Jesus proclaimed where you are?

3 books that have profoundly influenced my life

I have to be honest about two things. First, I should state that I was influenced by the authors, not just the books themselves. I have since read many books by many of these men and enjoy the conversation I have with each one. Second, with the exception of John Piper, the authors on this list are dead. God has used them in a mighty way past the years he has given them on this earth. I am thankful that though they are dead, they still speak.

1. Desiring GodJohn Piper

I first read this book while still in school at the University of Mobile and it opened up a world for me to begin to understand God in a way that I had never understood him before.  I was amazed to discover that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  I don’t think any other single person (short of my parents) has had the level of impact on my thinking.  I was blessed to hear a sermon by Dr. Piper a little later that year entitled “Doing Missions When Dying is Gain.”  (you can listen to the same sermon for free here.) I have never been the same.

2. Pilgrim’s ProgressJohn Bunyan

I read pilgrims progress when I was a child at a small Christian School in Montana.  I have since read and reread it in several different modern English versions.  It was through John Bunyan that I was introduced to the rich application of the scriptures.  I have never read another book that so completely described the Christian journey.  I think this is the book I have shared most often with others. It was once a theme for a Disciple Now and a Christian Heritage Conference Its an easy read, but spiritually challenging.

3. How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie

I picked up the 1936 edition of this book and read it when I was 16 years old.  A speech teacher had told me about it and I set out to read it.  It profoundly shaped the way I communicate and made me a different person.  Dale Carnegie taught me to take a genuine interest and really care about people.

What about you?  What books or people have greatly influenced your life?