I read 3 books this past month, the first of which was a real page turner. I couldn't put it down. If you want a great biography, check out the "The Girl in the Picture". The third book had lots of timely reminders so that I don't get too run down. I had hoped to finish a fourth book but I was pre-occupied for most of August with writing and refining a research proposal in preparation for applying for a doctoral program.
The Girl in the Picture
"The Girl in the Picture” is about a girl and her family caught in the midst of the war in Vietnam. The girl, Kim Phuc, was the subject of the famous war-time photo of a young girl running naked out of a village that had been hit by napalm. It is a riveting, page-turning, biography, and gives a good window into what life was like for a normal family before, during, and after the war in Vietnam (not to mention an interesting picture of life in Castro's Cuba). I learned many details about the Vietnam War that I had previously just heard in passing but not really understood (such as the significance of the Tet Offensive). Interestingly, when Kim grows up she becomes a Christian through a church in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), although this part of her experience makes up only a minor part of the narrative. This book is a biography as well as a cultural and political history, and author Denise Chong gives a sympathetic and well-written account of Kim Phuc’s life and the global events in which she became an unexpected participant. You definitely learn about Cold War politics in this book, but the author seems to do a good job of telling the facts without turning the book into a political statement. It is Kim’s story, rather than a political agenda, that drives the narrative.
The Trellis and the Vine
In one sense, there was nothing really “new” in this book, but at the same time the authors stated directly and vividly one key point and fleshed out the importance and practical implications of that point so that it seemed new. It seemed “new” because nearly everyone in ministry knows it but many don’t do it, at least not very well (myself included). The point is this: The primary work of ministry is building people instead of building programs. Too often the administrative super-structure and organized activities of the church (“the trellis”) consumes all the time of leaders so there is little time or energy left over for discipling people and forming new leaders (“the vine”). Authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne propose that when churches plan for ministry, then don’t start with programs and activities and then look for people to lead them. Rather, they start with the people that they have, and form activities around who these people are, how they are gifted, and what their capacities and needs are. So instead of having a fixed number of positions for people to “serve”, there are endless possibilities for helping people serve because you start with the people, not with programs.
The elders and interns at our church in Bangkok are working through the book chapter by chapter this year, and I am looking forward to seeing how we can move towards a more people-centered approach to ministry rather than activities. It is not that activities are bad, but it is very easy for admin and programs to take over, even in a younger, smaller church. Lots of good food for thought for practical, hands-on ministry with people in this book.
Zeal without Burnout
A couple months ago, I enjoyed reading “Expectations and Burnout” about women missionaries, so this book oriented towards pastors was a good follow-up. In “Zeal without Burnout”, author Christopher Ash provides, as the subtitle indicates, “seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice.” The seven keys are sleep, sabbath, friends, inward renewal, warning, encouragement and delight. The author asserts that the reason we need all these things is because we are not God. The fact that we need each of these is a reminder that our strength, time, and capacities are limited. We thus need to humble ourselves and build patterns and habits into our lives that will help us to continue serving God with joy over the long run without “burning out” early due to an arrogant / unwise/ unrealistic desire to do it all, overestimating our own ability and importance. This book is mostly aimed at pastors, but I found it relevant as a missionary, and I imagine that any Christian who is dedicated to serving Christ with their whole life would benefit from the warnings and reminders here.
Personally, I often don’t get enough sleep so I need to trust God enough to let some projects, emails, and social media discussions go so that I can have enough rest to do well the things that I am already doing rather than try to do too much and doing it poorly. If you feel busy, overworked, and / or overwhelmed, and feel like you can’t do it all, but you can’t not do it either because it is “for God”, then this book will provide some good food for thought for establishing better patterns / habits and a more biblical understanding of serving God.