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Missional Reading | Part 1

June 3, 2010

Aidan: We spend a fair amount of time on this blog talking about starting missional movements, spiritual formation, leadership, etc. You talk so fluently on these subjects…I wonder if you could point us to some of the books that are user friendly that have really informed your thinking.

Mike: Sure! Maybe we can split these up into three chunks and I’ll look at 10 books that have really shaped they way that I looked at things, or were able to connect dots together in ways that I knew existed, but couldn’t quite put together. I’ll just give a comment for each and maybe we can put up a short Amazon review and link for each?

Book 1 | Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Mike: Really insightful look into why people are successful. What differentiates them from other people? I really liked that Gladwell disproves the myth that people are either born to be successful (destiny/fate) or that simply by pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and willing yourself hard enough, anything can happen. There’s no such thing as the self-made man. He looks at the unique set of things that need to happen for someone to succeed. But what really makes this one of my favorites is his examination of the 10,000 hour rule.

Amazon review: The main tenet of Outliers is that there is a logic behind why some people become successful, and it has more to do with legacy and opportunity than high IQ. In his latest book, New Yorker contributor Gladwell casts his inquisitive eye on those who have risen meteorically to the top of their fields, analyzing developmental patterns and searching for a common thread. The author asserts that there is no such thing as a self-made man, that “the true origins of high achievement” lie instead in the circumstances and influences of one’s upbringing, combined with excellent timing. The Beatles had Hamburg in 1960-62; Bill Gates had access to an ASR-33 Teletype in 1968. Both put in thousands of hours-Gladwell posits that 10,000 is the magic number-on their craft at a young age, resulting in an above-average head start.

Gladwell makes sure to note that to begin with, these individuals possessed once-in-a-generation talent in their fields. He simply makes the point that both encountered the kind of “right place at the right time” opportunity that allowed them to capitalize on their talent, a delineation that often separates moderate from extraordinary success. This is also why Asians excel at mathematics-their culture demands it. If other countries schooled their children as rigorously, the author argues, scores would even out.

Gladwell also looks at “demographic luck,” the effect of one’s birth date. He demonstrates how being born in the decades of the 1830s or 1930s proved an enormous advantage for any future entrepreneur, as both saw economic booms and demographic troughs, meaning that class sizes were small, teachers were overqualified, universities were looking to enroll and companies were looking for employees.

In short, possibility comes “from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.” This theme appears throughout the varied anecdotes, but is it groundbreaking information? At times it seems an exercise in repackaged carpe diem, especially from a mind as attuned as Gladwell’s. Nonetheless, the author’s lively storytelling and infectious enthusiasm make it an engaging, perhaps even inspiring, read.

Book 2 | Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark

Mike: Here’s the base question of the book: How did Christianity go from 120 people in an upper room to 56.6% of the Roman Empire in less than 300 years? Rodney Stark looks at the growth of the early church through the lens of his professions (a sociologists) and I think it gives us some real insights into the church for today. Also, interestingly, Rodney was not a Christian when he started writing this book and became one during his research and writing.

Amazon review: Accused of superstitious atheism, and persecuted to the death, early Christians overcame all challenges to overwhelm the pagan world with superior morality and ethical behavour. Rodney Stark combines historical evidence with current sociological theory to explain how. Chapters on the mission to the Jewish diaspora, the role of women in the early church, how social networks functioned during epidemics, and the rationality of martyrdom demonstrate the deeply transforming nature of the Christian religion on Greco-Roman civilization. For anyone who wonders what difference Christianity made in the beginning, and what difference it can make today, this book is a must read.

Book 3| The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost

Mike: This is probably the best entry point book for someone looking to explore how churches will probably function in the world we now live in. The authors describe several different ways churches are using new models and new approaches to bring the gospel into local mission contexts and seeing it flourish there. St Thomas, the church I led for several years, also gets a shout out in the book.

Amazon Review: If you want to be challenged in your thinking about how we do church and mission you have to read this book. Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch are among the foremost thinkers in the world on these areas. They describe the present state of the church acurately and they articulate a method of contextualization that is reproducable anywhere because they don’t tell you to adopt their ‘model’, but instead give you the tools to incarnate the gospel in your own context. This is especially valuable as quite often many books on mission say “Do it our way”. Often what works in one culture will not work in another. This book seeks to articulate the theology and methods that can be appplied as easily in North America as they could be in the middle of Africa.

Mike and Alan are evangelical in their theology and uncompromising on the gospel, but they will not hesitate to challenge and overthrow our sacred cows that hinder our mission to ‘not yet Christians’. In their methods they are often radical, in their mission they are always passionate. This book will be a great read even if you don’t agree with everything they say. If you want to start thinking outside the box, let me encourage you to read “The Shaping of things to Come”.


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