Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

Seldom is a book published that conveys the messiness of human life. Permission to Speak Freely is one such rarity. In this book, Jackson openly shares about her messy past and constant struggle to live a balanced life. She shares stories of her struggle to overcome addiction, to tell others of this addiction and what happened when she began to speak freely about these struggles. You will not find six easy steps to a better life, but you will find an authentic look at the darker side of life. The openness and transparency of her writing allows you to connect with the book on a level that leads to deep thought.

Throughout the book, you will find various pieces of art and confession. You will read what people answered when asked the question, “What is one thing you do not feel you can say in church?” These answers are both humbling and scary, because the church (body of believers, not a building) is supposed to be a safe place. Permission to Speak Freely can be a great starting place to get community, true community, going within a local congregation. Read this book and then determine how you can give someone you know the permission to speak freely.

**I reviewed this book as part of the BookSneeze review program**

Book Review: Where is God? by John Townsend

(this is a guest post/review by my wife)

Difficult times can be hard to define. They come in many seasons of our lives, and what may be a struggle for one is considered normal by another. One quality of difficult times that remains constant is that they are guaranteed to happen. The Bible even speaks this truth. Paul tells us to not be surprised when hard times arise. When life is not what we expected, where do we turn? How do we answer questions that arise in our minds and in our hearts? How do you respond when questions are asked of you by others whose lives have tumbled out of control? Dr. John Townsend refers to his many years in the counseling field and his knowledge of scriptures to compile a resource to turn to, not only in the difficult times but also to look at in preparation for the times that are sure to be coming. Where Is God? gives us hope in our dark times, when personal burdens have taken their toll and leave us feeling purposeless.

One aspect of Dr. Townsend’s book that I really appreciated is that he clearly states a common reason for our discouragement in the hard seasons of our lives. We have an inaccurate view of God. We cannot see the purpose for our trials until we see the truth of the God who is active in the midst of them. The true God that is presented in scripture is often very different from our misconceived view of God that is often a compilation of our experiences. God’s role in our lives is not to prevent trials but rather to use the trials we face for His greater purposes. As Dr. Townsend writes, “He (God) loves you and wants to help you, but He will do it His way and in His time.”

There are struggles that we face that will pass. Where is God? will help to point you to the God who is the only hope we have and will give us endurance to persevere. And when the struggles we face are terminal, permanent, and unchanging Dr. Townsend reminds the reader that in Christ we find a deeper hope than simply that the problem will go away (page 67). Ultimately, Christ is the anchor in our storms.

Where is God? is not an answer book in the sense that you walk away with every reason or purpose behind your difficult time. But it does clearly point you to the One who is the answer. It is full of scriptures and examples from Dr. Townsend’s experiences that help us to see the reality of our trials. When all else is shaken, He remains. When all else fails us, He remains. When all else is taken, He remains. His goodness, faithfulness, and intimate knowledge of our lives all remain constant. I know I am not alone in needing that reminder.

Book Review: Choose Your Top 3

I really like the Quick Questions series that Youth Specialties has been publishing for the past few years (I really don’t know how long). One of the more recent editions is a book called “Choose Your Top 3.” As the title implies, the whole book is full of questions that ask the person to choose their top 3. It could be top 3 pop songs, disney movies, baseball players, memories. I recently wrote a review for YS on this book. You can read my review of Choose Your Top 3 in its entirety over on YS.com

If you are a youth worker, you will get a lot of use out of this book. (Think long road trips or those last few minutes of class after you run out of material.)

Book Review: New Breed by Jonathan & Thomas McKee

Youth ministry cannot happen without volunteers. They are the very heartbeat of what helps students connect with a loving God. Yet, most lead youth ministers will agree that finding, working with, and training volunteers is one of the toughest parts of youth ministry – if not the toughest. For all of these youth ministers who desire to gain a better grasp on volunteers, Jonathan and Thomas McKee have teamed up to offer a handbook for the 21st Century volunteer.

Thomas has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership and Jonathan has a variety of experience working with volunteers in church and para-church ministries. Together they have written a fantastic book on understanding and equipping the new breed of volunteers. This new approach (or philosophy, you might say) to volunteers is needed due to the changes that have taken place among those who volunteer. You cannot approach volunteers like you would a paid staff member, nor can you approach volunteers today the same way you would have 20 years ago. So, how do you approach this new breed of volunteer?

According to the Jonathan and Thomas, there are three different levels to working with volunteers: the recruiter, the manager, and the leader. Each level has aspects that are unchanged by time, but also contain aspects that must be adjusted for the 21st Century volunteer. Being a recruiter means you have to understand those you want to recruit, which is why chapter 1 is so valuable. The next three chapters are focused on how to (and how not to) recruit, along with some tips on where to look for volunteers that you might have otherwise missed.

Being a volunteer manager is about motivating and empowering volunteers. The second section will offer you ample suggestions for doing just that. But, unfortunately, being a volunteer manager is not always that easy. Jonathan and Thomas spend an entire chapter on how to manage (or fire) the high-maintenance volunteer. Finally, there is the aspect of being a volunteer leader. The final two chapters focus on leading a successful group of volunteers. You will find sound advice, encouragement, and helpful tips that you can put into practice within your ministry.

If the book ended on page 140, it would be a fantastic book on working with the new breed of volunteers. But the book does not end there, no it has over 30 more pages of resources. These are samples, suggestions and other reproducible helps that will transition the information from the book into your ministry. This last section transforms this fantastic book into an invaluable ministry resource for youth ministers. Plus, this is not a hard book to read, which is great for the busy youth minister. All of these factors add up to a must-have for any and all youth ministers.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4 out of 5)

Book Review: Getting Fired for the Glory of God by Mike Yaconelli

Getting Fired for the Glory of God is a collection of writings from Mike Yaconelli. Beyond his writing, it contains audio and video of Yaconelli speaking. This is some of his best material collected together in one little book. What makes this collection so good, beyond it being from Yaconelli, is that his children compiled it all. This book is a tribute to the legacy he left on the youth ministry world.

If you have never read Yaconelli’s work before, you need to pick up a copy and dive right in. You will be challenged, encouraged, and pushed. You might find yourself wanting to read “just one more chapter.” For those who know Yaconelli’s work, this book will be a reminder of his passion and love for youth workers. Plus, as a bonus, you will get to hear and see some of his most passionate messages.

The truth and honesty within the pages of Getting Fired need to be read by anyone in youth ministry. Take every opportunity to get a copy of this book into the hands of youth workers. If you can’t get a copy for every youth worker, you need to at least show them the videos and let them listen to the audio.

My advice (rating) – buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)

Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson

Have you ever really given any thought to the command to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength? This is precisely the backdrop for Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. Batterson wonders what Christianity would look like if we all truly loved God with compassion, wonder, curiosity, and power. As you read chapter after chapter, you will begin to see small and not-so-small ways that your life should be transformed by living the Great Commandment by loving God with every aspect of your life.

Primal is broken down into four sections, each digging deeper into the heart, soul, mind, and strength of Christianity. Each chapter flows with personal stories, scientific information, historical case studies, Scripture, and application. Even when he is writing about the intricate details of beta waves and alpha waves, Batterson writes with simplicity. This simplicity does not lead to less impact, rather I believe it pushes you in the opposite direction. You will not be able to read Batterson’s thoughts without being challenged and stretched in your understanding of what it means to love God.

As you live out the Great Commandment, remember these words by Oswald Chambers (quoted by Batterson in the final paragraphs of the book); “Let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” The way you love God will not be the same way your friend loves God. And that is the point – God created you to be unique and you need to be willing to love God as only you can and allow others to love God as only they can.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4.5 out of 5)

(This was book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.)

Book Review: God Gave Us series by Lisa Tawn Bergren

The God Gave Us series of books are short children’s stories that share a big message. Right now there are five books in the series: God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Two, God Gave Us Christmas, God Gave Us Heaven, and God Gave Us Love. Each book starts with Little Cub asking a question about something big, like who invented Christmas? Then she and her mom go on an adventure to find an answer to the question.

Each book is filled with pages of wonderfully drawn and colorful artwork. In fact, the artwork would convey a great story even without the words to explain it. Even though the artwork is high quality and the story is fun to read, it is the message of God’s love that shines the brightest. As a parent, it is the biblical message that I love the most about these books.

If you are looking for a book that has a great message and is fun to read, pick up one of the God Gave Us books and you will not be disappointed.

My advice (rating) – borrow from a friend (3 out of 5)

(This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.)

Book Review: Treasured by Leigh McLeroy

My first impression of Treasured was that this was going to be another gift book. I do not usually like gift books, so I was not really looking forward to reading this book. Then I got the book and saw it was 190 pages and void of pictures – two signs it is not a gift book, in my opinion.

As I started reading the first chapter on “The Fig Leaf: The God Who Covers Me,” it was confirmed to me that this was not going to be a gift book. The premise of the book is that we can learn about God by looking at the small items he has used in the past. McLeroy starts by sharing the story of her grandfather’s box, which she received in the mail after his death. The box contained small items that were special to her grandfather. Just as she was able to know her grandfather better by looking at these items, we can know God by looking at the small things he might keep in his memory box.

McLeroy writes about 12 various Bible stories, such as the fall, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, and Balaam’s donkey. Woven between the points of each story is a personal story from the pages of McLeroy’s life. This openness makes the book real. I was truly engaged from the introduction til the final period.

I recommend Treasured for anyone who needs reminded of God’s overarching love for them. God treasures you more than anything else and reading this book will provide the evidence needed to cement that fact into your memory. Personally, I was encouraged and challenged as I read through these pages. There were a few specific parts of Treasured that were exactly what I needed to read during a specific situation. Go ahead and pick up a copy of Treasured, you’ll be glad you did.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4.5 out of 5)

(This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.)

Book Review: Fresh Start by Doug Fields

(This Doug Fields book is not a youth ministry book, but it will definitely speak to youth workers and the students they work with. Plus, Doug writes like a youth worker would! As I read through the book, I kept picturing Doug standing in front of a room of high schoolers giving these chapters as messages. You can take a youth worker out of the youth ministry genre, but you can’t take the youth ministry communicator out of the author.)

Have you ever wanted a second chance, but did not feel deserving of one? do you struggle to take life in a new direction because you are afraid of making the same mistakes? In Fresh Start, Doug Fields offers wisdom to help you start over. Fields uses his twenty-plus years of ministry experience to provide practical advise to help the reader make a fresh start.

Fresh Start covers a number of areas where people need a new beginning. Fields discusses pride, serving, the past, pain, conflict, rejection, anger and sharing your fresh-start story. Each chapter delves into the topic, without stopping at the surface level issue. Fields brings to light the underlying causes and obstacles that need to be addressed before a person can experience a fresh start. In the introduction it says “Let’s see what happens as you keep moving forward by faith and doing the possible while trusting God with the impossible.” A fresh start is not impossible, but it will take hard-work.

This book does not leave the reader with a desire to make a change, but no means to follow through. Every chapter provides a collection of practical and helpful advice. For example, in chapter five, Freedom from hurt, Fields offers steps to help the reader begin to forgive. In this case, you admit you’re hurt, determine what he/she owes you, cancel the debt, and release the offender completely. Having this tangible advice offers the beginning of healing for the person who has been carrying the pain of past hurts.

You will benefit greatly from picking up a copy and reading through these pages. In fact, I would suggest you find the chapter that deals with the area of “stuckness” you want to be unstuck and read it first. Read and interact with the text. Allow God’s Word and the advice in this book to help you move toward the Fresh Start you want.

My advice (rating) – buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)

Book Review: 99 Thoughts for Youth Workers by Josh Griffin


There are two things you need to be aware of before you read 99 Thoughts on Youth Ministry. First, the title is a lie, because this little book is filled with 113 nuggets of youth ministry knowledge, not 99. Second, as you read through the pages you might notice that Griffin seems to be writing to a very specific audience, even more specific than say the average youth worker. In fact, based on this section from the description I would say he’s writing with his ministry team and atmosphere in mind: “Over the past couple of years Josh has been journaling his youth ministry learnings in his Moleskine and on his blog. The good, the bad and the ugly – this is a collection of those thoughts.”

I think the fact that Griffin is currently “in the trenches,” and writing about what he knows, gives this book a little extra boost of character and authenticity. 99 Thoughts is more than a random collection of ramblings, it is a categorized peek into the youth ministry thoughts of a youth worker who passionately strives to serve students and help other youth workers be more effective. You will find thoughts in four areas: vision & leadership, programs & people, small groups & events, and everyday ministry. Within these sections, each thought is short and to the point, making the book as a whole short and to the point.

99 Thoughts is a great youth worker stocking stuffer (or if you feel uncomfortable stuffing a youth worker’s stocking, you can just slide it under the door). Anyone currently working in youth ministry can benefit from reading this book. The rookie youth worker can learn from Griffin’s experience, and possibly avoid a mistake or two of her own. And since you can read this book while eating lunch it is not intimidating to a youth worker who already feels overwhelmed with responsibilities. Veteran youth workers can also glean from these pages, as each thought will serve as a reminder or encouragement.

I highly recommend getting a copy of this book for every member of your youth ministry team. You can either encourage them to read the whole thing on their own or use it as part of your team meetings (discussing one section at a time). Regardless of how you use it, I believe your ministry will benefit from the 113 thoughts found within these pages.

My advice (rating) – buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)