Shortest Book Reviews

Hopecasting by Mark Oestreicher – A refreshing book that manages to unravel the tangled web of christian cliche to impact the heart and provide fresh perspective.  A great book for those in tough situations who want to see a brighter future and need some solid thinking to assure them. 9/10

A Man on Fire, The Story of Maynard James by Paul James – The story of an evangelist preacher who was a key leader in the UK Holiness Movement during the 20th century. A personal account that talks of the strengths and weaknesses of a man of faith as he sought to share the gospel message. 7/10


“Am I Missing Something?” – Ruth Roberts (book review)

Reading the book Am I Missing Something which is also subtitled “Christianity through the eyes of a new believer” was quite fun. As someone who has been a Christian for a number of years, it is very easy to forget what a challenge our faith and it’s practices can be like for those who are new to its strange ways. Ruth Roberts, a journalist, has an easy style of writing and in a wonderfully conversational way deals with the “Christianity that seems constantly at war with itself” whilst having made “a commitment to God… try to find Jesus and keep my eyes fixed on him”.
The book is simple, yet effective, in reminding us how ‘odd’ our church practices and beliefs can seem to those who are not familiar and it resonates with how many of my friends feel at my church and my beliefs. Ruth does not give theological answers but shares her own experiences and how she overcame some of the tensions. My favourite story was when Ruth was challenging herself to be more proactive in her witness, felt guilty for not being as upfront as she felt she ought but saw a great response as she sat silently with someone and their response was “thank you for noticing me”, a precious moment.
I was given this book by Ruth in a twitter giveaway, not a book that I would necessarily have chosen but one that prompted me to think differently, I enjoyed it as a refreshing reminder as we look to disciple new believers in the church. Ruth’s honesty and openness was appreciated and I imagine her thoughts and feelings would be shared by many who have begun their new life in Christ.
As a collection of shorter articles for Christianity magazine, this book is the completed selection.

: Understanding the Teenage Brain by @markosbeard


Some books leave you wanting more and this one is in that category. As a former youth pastor (and someone who still dabbles in youth ministry) and now as a parent of a teenager, I found that this book was extremely useful and practical in helping to understand a little more the complexities that a teenager faces in growing up.

Marko is great at drawing you in to his thoughts and helping (with practical illustration) to demonstrate that this is not just theory but also been proven through experience. He uses his own family as a guide and this helps to ‘earth’ his thinking.

The book sets out to achieve its goal of a ‘veneer’ of understanding which will require you to explore the ‘biological’ developments of the brain in greater detail. However, it is frustrating as it sets you on a journey, walks the first mile with you and then allows you to complete it alone…after a few days of frustration, you realise its brilliance, this is not a ‘how to’ manual but a thought provoker.

This book has to be recommended – it is superb. The title is misleading, it is not just for parents, it is also helpful for anyone with an interest in teenagers. Top marks from me.

As Marko says “Parenting teenagers is tough work, to be sure. But it’s also one of the greatest privileges we’ll ever have. Now, go shape that brain!”

: “unreached” – a book by Tim Chester

The tag line for this book is ‘growing churches in working class and deprived areas” – it will prove a decent seller in the Christian world as it promises to scratch where many evangelicals have started to itch.

The book was an easy read and was certainly competent in its work, that said, it did not inspire me in the way that I had anticipated, there was just something lacking. For those that have engaged in ministry in areas mentioned, there will be little new, rather a recognition of practices that will already be embedded in your life. For those that are exploring, it will be a useful guide.

There are plenty of anecdotes from those in the trenches (a limited few practitioners) that help to earth the theory and there are ideas that will be useful to those dipping their toes in the water. In truth this is a valuable volume with a poor working title – the book is worth reading as it will help you to think through mission in a particular context. However, the whole book could be summed up in one paragraph found halfway through;
“You don’t need a social science degree to work in urban contexts. You don’t need a theory of contextualisation. You need love. Love is the New Testaments core missiological principle” (p74)

Glad I read it, Yes! Although a day with one of the practitioners listed would teach you far more.

: Lead with Luv

This book was available for free as a kindle download, unfortunately that offer has ceased. The book is more of an interview by Ken Blanchard with Colleen Barrett but it is packed full of gems. The style of writing helps earth leadership and management tools and enables the reader to get a grasp of the practice that should follow the theory.
Colleen is an exceptional lady who demonstrates great leadership by showing”luv” – quirky stuff (well you can never escape these things). Some of the ideas expressed would be a step too far for many leaders, yet for Southwest Airlines, it worked, there is no escaping that.
Worth a read? Definitely. Will it change your style? Possibly. Would many people adopt it? Unlikely, because it means listening to others and losing an element of control.

Hood Rat – Britain’s Lost Generation (Review)

This book is written in three specific parts with time spent on stories from London, Manchester and Glasgow.  It pulls no punches as it shares of life from the inner city gang cultures that we so often hear about in news items.  The book is easy to read and follow and engages the reader by working through examples in the lives of specific individuals.

At times you are left questioning and wondering if there is any hope – this is wonderfully dispelled in the stories of Glasgow.  There is hope, there are ways ahead and there are people who want to help bring change.  The later edition has a short response from Gavin Knight to the riots of 2011 – this alone was challenging and worth the book price as it challenges some of the popular notions of who engaged in the riots and why.

A good, solid read – if you are involved in the inner city with young people then it will be worth spending some time with it.

There is comfortable, middle-class economy.  Then there’s the inner cities.” Gavin Knight

book review: Right Here Right Now, Hirsch & Ford

Being missional is quite a trendy thing these days.  The difficulty is understanding what people mean by ‘missional’ – there are far too many interpretations and ideas that people ‘put out there’ are often beyond the average church member.  This book, Right Here Right Now seeks to put things straight and is an excellent read.

There are 3 sections, after a lengthy scene setter, from getting our hearts into it, understanding it and the finale of actually doing something.  The book itself is an easy to read example of theory and practice intertwined and this is why it is such a good book.  You can’t simply read and ignore what has passed your eyes, you need to respond.  Simple actions as being aware of your environment, living what you believe, showing hospitality, all shine like beacons of hope from the pages.  Is there anything revolutionary here – no!  However, it is a practical wake up call to get out of the pew and actively seek to engage in our community with the gospel.  Hirsch and Ford give a great mix of theory, illustration and practical output.

There is a need to read (or at least understand) the previous Hirsch books to aid your reflection but it is not an absolute necessity.  My personal view is that you should go and read it – it will be worth the investment.

no more consultants

Enjoyed reading this little book.  It may be obvious why I chose to read it by the title but the truth is – the title is mis-leading.  The subtitle is a more accurate reflection of the book as it underlines the truth that, ‘we know more than we think’.

Much of the book reflects on a consultation that the writers did with BP and others and uses a system they developed – it is a useful tool but personally found that the value of the book lay in some old nuggets of gold that were brought back to the attention.  The essence is that, people with whom you work have knowledge that can be shared – use it before you get the consultants in.

Some quotes to give a flavour;

Say to yourself, ‘someone out there has already done what I am about to do.  I wonder who, and what community, I should ask’

All too often we look to problem solve rather than look for a strength to build on and report.

The politics in some organisations can generate a culture in which people are reluctant to offer up good practices because they are afraid of the personal cost

People spend pennies in mining their own internal knowledge and expertise compared to the multi-millions spent on going outside first.

A handy little tome but not one that everyone will find useful – it just may be that you have the answers yourself, or in your team.

mend the gap – jason gardner

mend the gapJust finished reading Mend The Gap from Jason Gardner.  It was a well researched book that I did not want to put down.  Whilst it looks at bridging the gap of the generations across churches, it does this from a youth perspective and provides some good insights to the changes in society, people and the wider world.

The book is written in 3 parts that deal with ‘youth culture and consumption’, ‘generational tensions and the church’ and ‘being God’s kingdom community’.  Jason brings a strong insight into both the positive aspects and problems of youth culture and relates this well into the way the church handles young people.  The end of the book has a variety of possibilities/solutions  and opportunities for churches to bridge the gap between the generations whilst there is also recognition that this will be a costly or sacrificial exercise – but doing nothing could mean a greater cost!

It is certainly a book that youth workers will enjoy and talk about, church leaders will accept but struggle to apply and the wider congregation shout a loud amen to and then probably ignore.  However, my hope would be that people would read this and respond – the gap can be bridged but it requires we all play our part, it is not an easy road.

My favourite line from the book (it stung me and has hung with me since) was: “In short, youth work empowers young people, listens to them, plays to their wants, but adult church is then perceived to rob them of their power.” p.83

I would recommend this book and if we apply some of its workings we may empower the young people throughout their lives and not just in their teenage years.

youthwork after christendom

youthworkafterchristendomhave finished reading “youthwork after christendom” and enjoyed it.  It is not a huge book but is packed with nuggets that are useful for youth ministry and rather than providing a way forward in youth work it provides a few roads that you may wish to travel as you work with the young people.

A historical context of christendom and youthwork is the starting point (very much in a UK context) that then develops into a perspective on spirituality and young people leads into Mission and the directions we can travel in youthwork in the new environment.  The 4th chapter dealing with the mission of God and the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP) were interesting and provided some insight into how this can work in different settings.  Some short work on the “process v product” of the ministry was challenging and for some youth bods would be worth the price of the book alone.

The book does not provide a “how to” guide but does ask questions whilst underpinning the need to KNOW THE CONTEXT of your work.  Yes, I am shouting that bit – whatever your work/ministry is, it needs to relate to context.  There are illustrations littered throughout and it is definitely worth a read.