Print (and Digital) Resources
A Guidebook for Planting New Churches in the United Church of Christ [PDF]
It’s just what the title says---free and online. Half of this is description and the other half is Bible studies / discussion guides to use w/ a new church planting team. Especially useful is Part V: Launching which gives a checklist of all the things one must do to start a new church. The book also addresses church planting in the UCC with respect to the particular needs and strategies of various ethnic groups. Overall, this is a highly recommended start resource for prospective church planters.
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a life of faith. [Link]
Available $3.99 in Kindle, or super-cheap used. This has been out for a decade now, but serves as an excellent overview of Christian belief and practice for persons jaded with / recovering from a narrower perspective, or for seekers who question whether they could possibly embrace Christian faith as rational postmoderns. Borg combines deep critical scholarship with heartfelt practice and makes it all very clear. His perspective is a convergence of Progressive/ Emergent traditions. This is a great book for adult CE or new member or seeker classes in Mainline/ Emergent churches.
This is a super resource for adult ed. or for a curriculum for preaching and discussion by an entire church. McLaren goes through the Bible and through the traditional rhythm of the church year, offering Bible readings, beautifully worded insights, and questions for group discussion and action for each week of the year. This would be a perfect resource for Ministry Connection settings. Brian McLaren practically defines the emergent movement; his writings in this resource convey a postmodern approach to life yet without contradicting more traditional theology (rather amazing).
In this book McLaren examines ten questions that he feels are essential for postmodern Christianity to re-imagine:
What is the overarching storyline of the Bible
How should Biblical authority be understood?
Is God violent?
Who is Jesus and why is he important?
What is the Gospel?
What do we do about the church?
Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
What do we do now?
Given the scope and scale of these questions, it should come as no surprise that this is a weighty tome, with much to say and much to ponder for readers. As in his other books, McLaren poses questions as much as he provides answers. Chapter 7 may seem a bit backward to Progressive churches that are already open and affirming of LGBTQ members---McLaren appears to be addressing readers still in the Evangelical camp and needing to be convinced of this position. This book might be useful for study groups that are strongly committed to discussing the deeper issues of faith.
Church in the Inventive Age [Link]
This book provides a basic understanding of : What is culture? What are the four stages of culture in Western civilization? And a glimpse of how churches can work: with, for, or as culture. This book is long on theory / conceptualization, short on applicable models. I also feel there are some huge trends completely overlooked: what Doug calls “The Inventive Age” is also the age of the vanishing middle class, debt-riddled young people, diminishing marriage, and etc. I feel each of these trends are as (or more) important as the cultural indicators Pagitt looks at.
I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church [Link]
This book is half motivational, half technique. Nixon could be the Billy Sunday of Mainline churches--he’s full of bold talk and optimism (which is good in an age when the number of Americans that attend any church dropped 10% in the past two years). Sometimes he sounds like an Evangelical (the one essential requirement for a growing church is that you--the pastor--have had a personal encounter with Christ) yet his evangelistic fervor is tailored to fit with Progressive theology (that encounter with Christ may look nothing like a stereotypical conversion experience). The basic message is: it’s more important how you do things than the what that you do ( choosing...life over death, community over isolation, fun over drudgery, bold over mild, frontier over fortress, and now rather than later). He does a good job emphasizing balance: externally focused mission and interior community-building are both important. My biggest take-away: do just enough pastoral care to keep the nominally committed members of your flock from rebelling, but focus your energy on people who are bringing new life into your church. One word of caution: if you follow some pieces of Nixon’s advice (like ‘use your one-year honeymoon to make all your big changes in a new church) you play a high-risk game, his approach to pastoral ministry is “use it or (be willing to) lose it”--something that not every minister is willing or able to do.
Think of this as “tough love” for church planters. The authors make numerous statements in absolute terms and come from a more Evangelical background than do many UCC pastors (though they use female church planters in many of their examples). Yet this is still invaluable reading for UCC church starters. For one thing, Griffith and Easum have more experience in this field than anyone else. For another, new church starters really do need to be forewarned and equipped with this information.
Especially valuable: Pages 51-53 on attracting people, and Chapter 7 “Fear of talking about money.” From my church-planting experience, the very directive advice in both sections is spot-on and invaluable.
The late Rabbi and Therapist is well known among clergy for his previous classic works Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, and Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. In this book, he takes a cue from the tales of Rabbinic ancestors and from that famous Rabbi named Jesus and communicates in 24 simple tales---stories that impact. The discussion questions at the back are valuable as well, either for individual reading or small group discussion. I’d love to do a small group around the tales in this book--I have no doubt it would change the participants. The first two sections, The Failure of Syntax and The Demons of Resistance are especially pertinent for leaders of congregations. The very first story, The Bridge, should be required reading for all seminarians and clergy, along with the third story, The Jungle. The former fable would save ministers from tragic self-destruction in their leadership role and the latter would clear out the bullying that besets too many ‘nice’ congregations. Reading a Friedman fable is like waking up to reality, looking at myself (or my church) and saying, “Oh my goodness, why did I not see this?!” Highly recommended for anyone that wishes to live in a healthy way in reality; but be ready to have a good laugh at yourself.
Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love [Link]
I first came across Mark Scandrette as one of John Dorhaur’s examples of “Church 3.0” leaders in his book Beyond Resistance. I was hoping that Scandrette’s book would offer a “hands on” guide on a new way to be church in our time—and am not disappointed. Scandrette’s ministry, ReImagine, conducts “experiments” in living the Jesus way, and organizes participants into nine-month-long commitment groups called “Jesus dojo” which hold one another responsible to share these experiences. Though Scandrette doesn’t make heavy use of the word, this is a strong way of encouraging discipleship. It fits with people who are turned off by dogma, asks for a (relatively) short term commitment, but is a very high-standard model of faith community, emphasizing boldness and substantial transformation of participants’ lives. This is not an approach for existing traditional churches, and it doesn’t promise a way for pastors to make a living (or pay back seminary loans) but for people who are looking for a new way to follow Jesus in community, and willing to do so on a bi-vocational or volunteer basis, it’s an exciting fresh expression of faith. And yes, Scandrette does give plenty of hands-on, very specific details and stories of how to do it.