Category Archives: books

to quote someone else: changing culture (Peter Block)

“A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and actions of institutions and formal leaders.”

taken from Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

I read Community several months ago and have been thinking through the implications of its content ever since. This particular quote has generated a lot of pondering and wrestling in my head.

As a youth minister, there are things I want to see changed or focused on within the context of the congregation within which I work. There are attitudes that need adjusting, focuses that need fine-tuned, understanding that needs broadened, lessons that need learned, and apathy that needs shaken. There are even changes that need to happen, but can only happen when there is a shift in the culture. And changing a church culture is no easy task.

As Block points out the best (only?) way to change a culture is to shift the thinking and actions of the people in the community you want to change. What community culture do you want to see shifted?

  • A Sunday School class.
  • The youth ministry.
  • Your volunteer team.
  • Staff dynamics.
  • Church leadership.
  • Awana group.
  • Your small group.
  • Parents of your students.
  • Your family.

Changing any of these communities will take effort and time. If you are a leader of the community, you have a vital role in helping to shift the actions and thinking of the people within the community. You need to be intentional about changing your thinking, actions, and language. Since you want to see the changes, you have already made the mental shift. You might have even made a shift in how you plan, organize or promote things in order to show the shift. But the most important step (and one that gets forgotten by many leaders) is to verbalize and share your thinking on the shift.

Do you need to change how you talk about a topic? It could be as simple as changing the way you promote the Sunday School class. For example, if you want to shift the class to be more about discipleship than fellowship you will need to stop talking about how much “fun” class is and start using phrases that reflect the depth of the studies.

Do you want church to be less about attendance on Sunday and more about living a life for Christ every day? If you are a leader, you need to help the congregation shift their thinking from the one to the other. How can you help people see the Christian life as more than a checklist? A few possibilities include: speaking about the shift from up-front, changing the way you evaluate and discuss the ministry of the church, or spending time sharing the need for the shift with a few “key” people who can help you champion the changes.

What would you add to this conversation? What have you learned about changing culture?


Book Review: I Am Second

I Am Second by Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett hits on something everyone struggles with. Every story in the book, and it is full of them, is about someone’s struggle with letting God be first in their life. Every human being wants to know they can be different, that they can be better. This book provides some encouragement that it is possible – by putting yourself second.

One great aspect of this book is that it talks about drug addicts, marital unfaithfulness, absent parents, popularity and so much more. You will connect with the stories and be drawn into the lives of the people who are opening up to share their change. But even beyond the book, you will find links to other stories and videos on their website (with more being added).

If you work in a local church setting, this book is a great resource. It contains stories that are great for illustrations. You can direct people to specific stories that relate to something in their life. You can draw from the wealth of experience during a conversation or from a teaching role. You will find it relates with people you know. And you will find that it will change your thoughts and you will be affected by the openness and hope found within its pages.

The subtitle says it all: Real Stories. Changing Lives.

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

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

Book Review: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

This is a review my wife wrote after reading the book, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half” by Steve & Annette Economides

If you are in youth ministry, or any form of ministry, you could probably use some of the tips in the book to help your salary stretch a bit more.

“A dollar saved is a dollar gained” is a phrase I have heard before, and in their book the Economides show how to gain a lot of money when it comes to feeding your family.  Although not every strategy will work for each reader, there are so many ways to cut costs on your grocery bills that certainly everyone will come away with changes to be made.  I appreciated how the chapters were organized and well thought out, and at the end of each there were suggested steps to put the ideas into action.  Each of the tips were categorized by how you felt you already were handling the major job of feeding your family.  So, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of frugal or shopping every day for each meal, there is room for improvement.

As a mother of three, I felt I walked away from this book with very practical ways to lower or at least maintain my family’s food budget in light of rising food prices.  I consider myself fairly frugal when it comes to shopping and preparing meals, and I felt encouraged that I am not alone.  Not every idea I read am I planning on incorporating into my plan to feed my family, but I certainly have learned to think beyond coupons to see many ways to feed my family for less!  Thank you, Economides, for writing a book that pays for itself!

(This review was written as part of the Booksneeze book review program.)

Book Review: It Couldn’t Just Happen by Lawrence Richards

It Couldn’t Just Happen is not simply a creation v. evolution book for kids. It’s a book that anyone can learn from. Though it is filled with color photos and x-rays, it is not childish in its presentation of scientific facts that shine light on God’s creation. To make it just a little more applicable, each chapter has a series of questions at the end.

The book is broken up into five parts. The first part looks at Earth, including its origins. The second part delves into the beginning of life, even answering the question of if life can begin in a test tube. The third part takes a closer look at the design of several animals and plants. The next part is all about human beings. The last part takes the reader into a quest to understand more about the Bible.

If you’re looking for a book that will answer some of your kid’s questions about the universe or life, this book will do that and much more.

**I reviewed this book as part of theBookSneeze review program**

If you work in children’s ministry, this would be a great book to have for reference when discussing creation, Genesis, the Bible, or God.

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

Book Review: Jolt! by Phil Cooke

In Jolt!, Phil Cooke set out to write a book to help people navigate a constantly changing world. My first question when I saw this book was, “Is it possible to effectively write a book, which takes over a year from start to finish, about changing culture.” This was a question I was curious to answer, so I read Jolt! and made my own decision.


What Cooke is able to do throughout the book is discuss principles to navigate change and not specifics on handling individual changes. He discusses twenty-five mini-jolts within five larger categories. The five main categories are: jolt your direction, jolt what matters, jolt your potential, jolt your heart, and jolt your future. Within these categories, he discusses jolts such as the power of ‘what if,’ borders, creativity, the freedom of accountability, discover the power of faith, and get over yourself.


What I like about this book, and what makes it work, is the simple fact that Cooke does not try to help people utilize the latest software or app. He focuses on helping people become better people. And when we make the transition to better effectiveness and productivity, we will be better equipped to handle a constantly changing culture without feeling like we’re always behind.


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

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

books for young youth workers

I am an avid reader.

I am a bookaholic.

I have been known to spend too much time in a bookstore.

Because of these facts, I do not recommend books lightly. Below you will find a list of books I highly recommend. In fact, it is a list of 8 books I have read more than once (and might read again). When I do read a good book, I mean a really good book, I’ll go back to it again. If it is really good, I’ll even read it again. And since I don’t like to keep good books to myself, I thought I would share my list of books worth a second read.

These books are not solely youth ministry books, but are books I feel help a youth worker maintain balance in their ministry. These books will challenge you personally, spiritually, and professionally.

  1. Flashbang by Mark Steele
  2. Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer (my review)
  3. Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
  4. A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
  5. Hurt by Chap Clark
  6. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  7. Visioneering by Andy Stanley
  8. Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries (my review)

I also asked some of my friends to share their recommended “read twice” books.

my twitter friends:

@ShawnMichael Yac’s “Messy Spirituality” 🙂

@GamersGuide2God Made to Stick, Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and obviously the Bible. 🙂
@DanuckInUSA The Present Future by Reggie McNeal
@dbuckham hands down…A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards.
A few of my facebook friends (who will remain nameless) recommended these books:
-Band of Brothers…Wild at Heart…Cost of Discipleship…John Stott…NT Wright…
-the giver. ECXELLENT BOOK!
-How to Win Friends and Influence People
-Where the Wild Things Are
-The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe.
I think its fun that a few of the books I thought were worth a second read were also on another person’s list. Just reinforces that they are definately worth another look.
What books would you add to the category of “worth a second look?”

Book Review: Pujols by Lamb & Ellsworth

With baseball season on the verge of opening day, I thought I’d share my review of Albert Pujols new biography. Enjoy the review, the book, and Go Cubs!

When I saw there was a biography about Albert Pujols out, I wanted to read it. I did not want to read it because I’m a Cardinals fan – I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. No, I wanted to read Pujols because I am a baseball fan and was curious to read about his faith. I have heard for years that he was a Christian and reading how people live out their faith in their jobs (especially major league baseball) is encouraging and challenging.

Lamb and Ellsworth wonderfully weave together the on-the-field and the off-the-field life of Pujols from his childhood days in the Dominican Republic to the 2010 season with the Cardinals. There are great baseball stories, including some behind-the-scenes looks at how Pujols responds during and after games. You read about Pujols response to hitting a fan with a foul ball and how he reacts after nailing a pitcher with a line drive.

Other chapters are filled with stories of how Albert and DeeDee spend their time helping and serving others. Stories of all the work they do for kids with Down Syndrome and the trips to the Dominican. For Pujols, being one of the best baseball players (if not arguably the best active) in history is a platform to share his faith with the world.

If you are a baseball fan, you will enjoy reading about the game. If you are curious about Pujols (especially in light of the contract negotiations), you will learn a lot from reading this book. If you are a Christian who wants to know how to live out your faith in the workplace, you will glean some ideas within these pages. The subtitle says it all – for Albert Pujols, baseball is more than the game.

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

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

Book Review: Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index

Thomas Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the Bible. From its simplistic format to its rather extensive amount of information, you will find many positives in this $20 reference book. Unlike some Biblical reference books I have on my shelf, this book is smaller than a DVD case (it is much thicker, though).

The cover claims this is the “best Bible subject index ever” and it is difficult for me to argue with that. Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index contains more than 8,000 subjects (names, places, things, concepts, events, and doctrines). On top of this vast collection of subjects, with sub-headings and a limited number of references, you will find 300 word studies. Each word study gives you the Hebrew or Greek word, a good definition, several references and the Strong’s number for that word – so you can do further study if you want.

This little book is great for anyone wanting to learn more about the Bible; from teachers to students. Nelson’s Biblical Cyclopedic Index will make a great first purchase when you begin gathering resources for deeper Bible study.

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

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

Book Review: Formational Children’s Ministry by Ivy Beckwith

I picked up Formational Children’s Ministry by Ivy Beckwith because I wanted to read a book on children’s ministry that would challenge me to think more about the way I lead the ministry. I can’t say this is what I found. Though there are parts of the book that I disagree with (ie: denominational differences and the idea that we “resist the urge to lead children to a single conclusion” about Scripture – can we leave it to kids to interpret the Bible all on their own?), the book was less stretching than I thought it would be. What Beckwith did was nudge my thinking toward small changes that I can make.


Beckwith shares her thoughts, as well as numerous examples, on the need to use story, rituals, and relationships in a children’s ministry. Reading this book will encourage those thinking about making children’s ministry more than babysitting. It will challenge those who are content to go through the motions to rethink what they want to see the children learn and become.


Children’s ministry is not a waiting period before the real spiritual growth happens. It is not a service designed to occupy children so that the adults can study and grow. There is so much more that can and should be done within a children’s ministry. If you are interested in a children’s ministry that is intentional about the spiritual growth of your students, you will find a few good ideas in this book.


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

Book Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

I have worked in 2 rural churches and anyone who has experienced this unique ministry setting will agree that there are challenges that come with a rural setting. In some ways, working in a rural church can be easier, but Shannon O’Dell would argue that is simply if you do not want to make changes. He begins the book by stating a few of the “unwritten” rules about church life in rural America – all of them focused on the negatives of rural churches and the positives of non-rural churches. O’Dell himself had felt these rules to be true, until he moved to a rural town and experienced uncommon church growth as a senior minister.

Because I am a youth minister at a church in rural America, I was looking forward to learning from the pages of O’Dell’s book. Unfortunately for me, this book turned out to be too long and not as practical as I had hoped. There were many pages that I felt were repetitive or unnecessary to sharing the strategies he used to change a rural congregation. Throughout the book, I felt O’Dell was stretching to make acronyms fit or adding pictures within the chapters that did not fit with the content of the chapter.

I was able to come away with a few things to think about, but I guess I was hoping for more. Though I do not believe in a “one size fits all” style of ministry, I read on the back cover that this was going to be a blueprint for transformation. Though you may not find a blueprint for your ministry, this book can still be helpful for those ministering in rural America thanks to nuggets of information throughout. Plus, just reading the story of Brand New Church can bring you encouragement and hope – your congregation does not have to stay stagnant.

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