Book Reviews (alphabetical by title)

Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels–Zondervan, updated 2012.

courageous leadership

I’m naturally drawn to a challenge. So I was intrigued by the title of Bill Hybels best-selling book, Courageous Leadership. The pairing of these words begs the reader to look at leadership not as a task to be accomplished but rather an exciting adventure to begin.

Many church leaders are familiar with Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Church. The church’s commitment to reach seekers in the Chicago area has made it one of the most attended churches in the country. A large part of the church’s growth is directly related to Hybels’ passion for evangelism. His book, Becoming a Contagious Christian, published in 1994 set the groundwork for successful witnessing in the community. Hybels capitalizes on the popularity of his prior books by proclaiming to the reader, “I’ve waited 30 years to write this book”   Courageous Leadership reads at a quick pace as Hybels lays out a plan for leaders to develop strong teams and cast vision that motivates and propels a ministry.

Hybels takes a good deal of time to explain personal leadership styles as well as individual styles of members on your team. His concept of surrounding yourself with others who are passionate about the same things as you are, made me rethink the current way I have formed work teams and committees in the past. How enjoyable the job would be if those I labored with were as motivated for the vision as I was. I was also able to clearly identify my own leadership style and recognize where I am most weak. I discovered I must surround myself with women strong in my weaknesses to accomplish effective ministry.

The book also addresses our responsibility to identify emerging leaders and do all we can to influence their growth. This is particularly necessary in a small groups ministry, where the goal of spiritual formation naturally leads to more members wanting to take on additional leadership roles within the church.   Hybels states, “There is no substitute for personal investment. Those of us who are more seasoned in leadership must order our lives in such a way that we can carve out time to invest in the next generation of leaders.”

Of particular interest was Hybels’ careful chapter of addressing underperformers in ministry. He insists that leaders must evaluate other teammates and address those who are not performing at an acceptable level. A strong leader is a valuable mentor to others and must discern why a job is not being done well. Personally, I avoid conflict at all costs, even if that jeopardizes the ministry for a period of time. Hybels has convinced me that it is my responsibility to lovingly address those who are not living up to their potential and do what I can to help them achieve the vision.

This book chronicles remarkable leaders in the Bible like David, Esther, and Paul, who were used by God to bring others to Him. Each of these Bible stories emphasizes character traits such as optimism, integrity and courage that we pray God develops in our lives to enrich the ministry.

Courageous Leadership is a must read for anyone who identifies as a leader or future leader in our church.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero


Written as part personal memoir and part discipleship primer, Scazzero uses the pain of his experience to help Christians experience healthy spirituality. The author dives right in with vivid descriptions of his own unraveling as the pastor of a large congregation. He talks candidly about his personal insecurities as well as the demise of his marriage, areas of struggle that “normal” pastors don’t often admit. Scazzero goes on to say, “God made us as whole people, in his image. This includes physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and social dimensions.”

The book continues with a balanced treatment of the five dimensions and consistently challenges the reader to better understand the role of emotions in how we live our lives. In Chapter 2,Scazzero presents his TOP 10 of emotionally unhealthy spirituality including our ability to “die to the wrong things” as in feeling guilty for experiencing pleasure, beauty recreation and laughter. And, Doing FOR God instead of being WITH God. He states: Work for God that is not nourished by a deep interior life with God will eventually be contaminated by other things such as ego, power, needing approval of and from others and buying into the wrong ideas of success and the mistaken belief that we can’t fail.”

Scazerro’s antidote for unhealthy spirituality is a life rich in contemplative spirituality. And, as we grow, we start to experience emotional health as seen in naming and managing our feelings, being aware of how our past impacts our present, grieving well and appropriately expressing our sexuality. When we have a vibrant spirituality, “awareness of and responding to the love of God is at the heart of our lives.”

The book concludes with a beautiful exercise in developing a personal Rule of Life. The author’s endorsement of practicing the Daily office and Sabbath observance reflect his own patient growth in spirituality. He becomes tender in his writing approach and encouraging of others to try these ancient exercises as a way to experience the whole life God intended. Scazerro sums it up nicely in his final pages by saying: “People need practical skills for how to love better. They don’t need more inspiring sermons!”

Simple Church, Thom Rainer

simple church

What could be better than a church book with the word “simple” in the title? Well, for me, just about any other book about church organization because I find the whole endeavor to be mighty complicated and deserving of the best thoughts and concepts. When I learned that the church staff had used this book as a springboard for discussion in vision planning, it was time to settle down and come to terms with the word “simple.” What I discovered was that my definition of simple wasn’t the same as the author’s meaning. I find the word “simplicity” to be much more helpful to my understanding of how churches can grow and thrive in today’s culture.

Simple Church is built around four key components: Clarity, Movement, Alignment and Focus and Rainer does a decent job of addressing each one in a clear, linear fashion. The author bases his findings on interviews with vibrant and complex churches in the United States and found that these churches more than likely exhibit all 4 components of the “simple process.” In a nutshell, Rainer states that a simple church is, “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”

Although the introduction is “simple” enough, it’s the process of understanding each of the components that creates a bit of a hiccup for churches that want to grow. In fact, clarity, the first component, which is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people, presents the largest challenge and is rightly placed at the beginning of the process. It reminds me of the adage: Vision bleeds; you have to keep reframing and restating the vision so that everyone knows what the end goal looks like. Each subsequent component requires rigorous dialogue: for Movement, a team must decide the sequential steps that cause people to move forward; Alignment speaks to the arrangement of all ministry programs and staff working in harmony to move the people forward; and Focus requires that a ministry team determine which programs are non-essential and need to be eliminated.

The author consistently reminds readers to remember that the whole goal of being a simple church is people. It’s not how many programs you offer or the number of baptisms in a calendar year, it’s knowing how people become mature disciples through your church. When leaders can’t answer how this process unfolds, then that’s a big problem. If Simple Church can help teams take that first step in identifying what it’s all about, then I think we’re on the right path.