Book Reviews

Short Reviews – A Review of My Recent Reading List (2020 – 2nd Qtr)

On the right side of this blog, I provide my current reading list. While I often read other books simultaneously, my goal each quarter is to read one book from each of the “steps” that help me fulfill my strategy which is comprised of the acrostic LEARN.* Therefore, I choose the books I read carefully because I want them to help me improve as a teacher, a pastor, a leader, and most importantly as a person. Thus, I rarely read books that are disappointing to me. However, some are more helpful than others, so I thought it might be helpful to share a few insights from my reading, in case others might choose to read some of the books I have read. Please note, this is not a formal review, but I will state if I recommend the read. My goal here is to simply provide a few key insights from each book.

*I am beginning a new series on developing a personal system including how a personal strategy is helpful. That series of posts consists of one post each Friday, with the first pre-post having been posted last Friday (June 26th, 2020).

The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings Are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It by Mark Deymaz with Harry Li

As someone who teaches administrative matters in the church, this book was recommended to me. It was an interesting read and I recently covered the book generally on my podcast (you can listen here). With most churches declining in attendance, the subtitle will likely intrigue many churches, particularly in the years to come. One issue I see is that for many of those churches, the solution is not as easy because of the declining membership and leadership. Don’t read this wrong – I think the ideas of the book are good and generating multiple streams of income is a good idea. However, I am still processing how well some of the tenets will work in certain settings (e.g. rural).

Key Takeaway: Churches can seek to bless their communities both spiritually and from a business perspective. It takes good (and strong) leadership, and a willing congregation, but the church does need to adapt to the realities of our day (especially with the reality of a pandemic).

Recommendation: Strong, but I am still processing it’s overall usefulness (which I think is high).

Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

If you have been following this blog this year, you know I began to explore the realities of Sabbath. To borrow from the subtitle of this book, I have found Sabbath restful. I have found new energy (renewal) even in the midst of the challenges from COVID, and even some delight. I am as busy as ever for six days, but on the seventh, I am resting! That said, this book was filled with plenty of good insights. Overall, I liked the book. However, not everyone will. The book speaks of rest, but incorporates all forms of thoughts, including those from eastern religions (e.g. Buddhism). I can filter through the information and take what I want, but some may find some of the thoughts unappealing. Each chapter does contain a little exercise of sorts. I did not follow these, but I may return to adapt some of them in the future.

Key Takeaway: We chase after tomorrow thinking it will provide rest. But each set of tomorrows gets busier and busier. We must find time in the present to prepare for tomorrow. Sabbath can do that for us (and it HAS for me).

Recommendation: Medium – I liked the book, but I want to read another perspective.  

The Road Between Us by Suzanne Stabile

This book is an obvious, and natural, follow-up to The Road Back to You (see my 1st Quarter Reading Review), which was co-authored by Stabile (with Cron). This book provides additional information about each Enneagram type, but primarily emphasizes the relational aspect of teach Type. Besides the descriptive content in each chapter (all of which are about 20 pages), the final pages of each chapter contain two “checklists.” The first checklist is about what each number needs to consider to relate to others. The second checklist provides insights on how to relate to the Type covered in the chapter. Overall, I think Stabile’s approach is good (and the final two pages are helpful), but we must remember the caveat – we should not use someone’s Type against them. That is, some could use the information in these pages to cast others, or even worse, manipulate them, which is certainly not Stabile’s intentions. But it could happen.

Key Takeaway: My takeaway is quite personal. I believe I am a 1, but after reading this book, I am not as convinced. I must go back to my assessment and compare some of the results from that with this book (and The Road Back to You) to confirm my Type.

Recommendation: Very Strong. It is an excellent resource, especially in tandem with The Road Back to You.

Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude by Raymond M. Kethledge & Michael S. Erwin

The authors share a key experience from several different leaders who used solitude to prepare them for the specific issue covered. The issues are clarity, analytical clarity (Eisenhower), creativity, emotional balance, acceptance (Lincoln), catharsis (Grant), magnanimity (San Suu Kyi), moral courage, rising above (Churchill), not being alone (MLK, Jr), dignity not to conform (Pope John Paul II). The last chapter provides some specific thoughts on incorporating (embracing) solitude into our daily lives.

Key Takeaway: The book has many good examples of how solitude can be helpful, but the essence can be summed up in one quote from Brene Brown found on page 137, “Solitude is not the reward for great leadership. It is the path to great leadership.”

Recommendation: Strong

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

Todd Henry is a creative. I am not. Or at least I did not think I was until COVID, when some of that was thrust upon me. I was introduced to Henry at last year’s Global Leadership Summit, and truly enjoyed his presentation. It was at that time that I put this book on my list to read. I was not disappointed. The book is much more practical than I thought it might be, with most of the chapters containing a Checkpoint (beginning with Chapter 4) with ideas for implementation. Some books I read are put on a shelf and may find a use every now and then (I am working to better organize this possibility), but others will find continued use and be read time and again. This book falls into the latter category.

Key Takeaway: Three types of work are necessary for a true developer – Mapping, Making, and Meshing. In fact, Henry spends a few pages (pp 20-26) laying out what happens if all three are not properly engaged (Mapping + Making + Meshing = Developer).

Recommendation: Very Strong. This book and Stabile’s book will find continuous use.

The Blood of Heroes by James Donovan (listened via Audible)

I continue my quest to have a better grasp of American history and am moving well into the 1800s now. Given my usual reading with my eyes (e.g physical books or Kindle), I tend to listen to the historical narratives unfold through audio books (i.e. Audible). Having begun four summers ago, I have had plenty of opportunity to listen to many and this one is one of my favorites. Donovan does a good job providing insights from both sides of the conflict (which would have required a great deal of demanding research). Of course, the Alamo itself was a massacre (although not an easy one for a while), but the sequence of events leading up to it (which took me a bit to get into) and the aftermath were very helpful in developing an understanding of not only the events, but how and why “Remember the Alamo” became the cry to make Texas truly independent.

Key Takeaway: More than the story itself, my takeaway was the amount of research that Donovan did to create this book. I have often been astounded by the amount of resources available from early American history, but many of the founders knew they were destined for something special, and their letters (and those of foreign governments) have long been preserved. But this book would have required a different type of research. Furthermore, in the interview at the end of the book Donovan speaks to some of the controversies relating to the story of the Alamo (such as the “line in the sand”) which shows the research he did.

Recommendation: Very Strong. And I look forward to Donovan’s book on Custer and Little Big Horn, when I get to that period of history.

I am also listening to Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton again (one of my all-time favorite books on my favorite Founding Father) in light of Disney+ preparing to show the Broadway production in early July. And Susan and I are listening to The Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, but we have not finished the book (we have not been driving as much!), so I am not including it in this set of reviews.

Due to COVID, I had more time to read than usual. Thus, I will quickly share a few thoughts about other books I read this quarter (by category).

Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer (Learn)

I read the 2nd edition (2013) to which Weimer adds a lot of research showing the effectiveness of this approach. Many professors do not (will not) use this approach for a variety of reasons, and students will often reject it because they are not used to the idea as well. But as I read it, I see some of the evidences of andragogy verses pedagogy. I have moved in the direction of a learner-centered approach, but have a long ways to go to get the level that Weimer shares.

Intentional Living by John Maxwell

I will be the first to admit that I try to be intentional in all that I do. So, why wouldn’t I want to read this book? Well, it was just a matter of time, and I finally did. Honestly, the difference between many good lives and many wasted lives is the difference between having good intentions (but not acting) and living intentionally (taking action). What Maxwell makes clear in this book is that truly living must be done with a focus on others. For most of us, especially in a me-first world, that definitely takes intentionality. As always, Maxwell does not disappoint.

The Vision Driven Leader by Michael Hyatt

Over the past couple of years, I have begun to appreciate Hyatt. That I did not appreciate him before is my issue, but having been introduced to his work, I have found many of his resources very helpful (I reviewed a couple last summer). I was intrigued by this book because of his mention of a vision-script. Hyatt suggests that a vision is not a pithy saying (I agree), but is rather a multi-page document (he has not sold me on that). I do agree with his premise about not trying to boil key information down to a small statement, and his approach is solid, but I see vision as more of the WHY. Hyatt sees it as more of a WHAT. I see the other argument and know many others who have the same idea about vision. I am not saying either side is wrong; we just see it differently. However, the premise of this book is helpful, and the script is quite valuable, regardless of whether you call it a vision-script or some other name.

Various Books by Thom Rainer

Rainer has one of the leading podcasts on church leadership. His organization also helps pastors with Church Answers, and he has written several books on a variety of topics, all related to strengthening the church, and many relating to revitalization (he co-hosts a podcast on that topic as well). As someone who is leading a church through revitalization, and as a professor who teaches on some of the topics he covers related to administering the church, I have had a few of his books on my list for a period of time. This was the season to tackle them. His recent books have all been very short and very easy reads, so once I completed the reading I had scheduled, I tackled four of his most recent books (I have read several of his others in past years). The books I read this quarter were Who Moved My Pulpit, Anatomy of a Revived Church, Scrappy Church, and I Will. Most of Rainer’s books are consistent – you know what you will get. He has a great deal of experience and a tremendous amount of research, but the stories (which are more than mere anecdotes) provide insight for most any church leader (or layman) to gain some level of confidence in moving forward with reviving a struggling, and even dying church.

My 3rd Quarter reading list will be available on Wednesday, July 1. Click on Reading List on the banner at the top of the blog’s home page and you can track with me what I am currently reading.

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