Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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retirement sabbatical
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Retirement Sabbatical: Identity and Calling

In a previous post, I mentioned starting retirement with a sabbatical. In this post and the next, I will explore the benefits a sabbatical brings at the start of retirement. Specifically, I want to describe the anatomy of a sabbatical resulting in discerning identity and calling in retirement. Then, the following post will explore coaching and mentoring in retirement. In other words, this post deals with our self-awareness, and the next post our relationship to others.

Anatomy of a Retirement Sabbatical

I have a confession to make. I’ve never taken a sabbatical. Furthermore, I’m not retired yet (that comes on January 1, 2022). Yet there are helpful guides for taking a sabbatical. In chapter two of An Uncommon Guide to RetirementJeff Haanen outlines nine practices to consider as we plan our retirement sabbatical.

1. Prepare

A retirement sabbatical needs to be intentional. Notably, Haanen suggests taking two to three weeks just to structure our sabbatical (p. 43). Likewise, C. J. Cagle emphasizes planning:

reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually reexamined in the light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practices. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people.

C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 814.
effective organizational cultures
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What makes an organizational culture effective?

Cross-cultural workers spend a lot of time thinking about, discussing, and examining cultures. Ethnography is a foundational skill for missionaries. But I have found that we are much less adept at understanding and describing organizational cultures, even the cultures of the organizations in which we serve. What does an effective organizational culture look like? What kind of organizational culture would lead to greater fruitfulness and well-being of our members? Even more mysterious is how leaders can nurture the organizational culture they would like to prevail. Or can we even change or develop our organizational culture?

I have just finished “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle. I believe that this book begins to answer some of these questions, at least for me. Coyle set out to discover the reasons why some groups, teams, or organizations accomplish far more than what we would expect of them if we only looked at the sum total of the individual talents of their members. His research has resulted in an excellent and fascinating book about group culture. Coyle believes that these cultures don’t just “happen” but are intentionally created by learning and practicing a specific set of skills.

In his book, the author describes 3 essential “skills” of highly effective groups:

effective organizational culture
  1. Build safety
  2. Share vulnerability
  3. Establish purpose

Coyle devotes a section of his book to describing each skill. Each section includes multiple stories about great teams and organizations. Then it concludes with a set of suggested action steps for developing that skill.

Build safety

The first skill is all about the value of belonging. As cross-cultural workers, we are very familiar with the feeling of not belonging. Thus, we are often not able to contribute fully to the discussions and decisions in the cultures and communities in which we live. We long to belong, to be accepted, to be valued for our contribution. Even as we recognize that we will always be outsiders, we want to become “acceptable outsiders.”1 See Joann Pittman’s article “Learning to Be an Acceptable Outsider” for a better understanding of this term. We want to feel that it is not only safe to live in these communities but also safe to contribute meaningfully to its well-being.

Teaching and Learning: a review of two great books

Two great books on teaching and learning have been published in the last two years. They complement each other well. In 2020, Duane and Muriel Elmer’s The Learning Cycle: Insights for Faithful Teaching from Neuroscience and the Social Sciences was published by IVP. And this year (2021), Baker published Craig Ott’s Teaching and Learning Across Cultures: A Guide to Theory and Practice. The authors bring both extensive research and experience to the discussion of teaching and learning.

The Learning Cycle by Duane and Muriel Elmer

The Learning Cycle book

In a sense, this book is a capstone of Duane and Muriel Elmer’s writings and ministry.1 Many of Duane Elmer’s books have been foundational training materials for cross-cultural missionary service. See a review on this blog of one of his books, Cross-Cultural Servanthood. Duane created “the learning cycle” as part of his doctoral research at Michigan State University (p. 6). Subsequently, Muriel added the “barriers to change” to the cycle. Furthermore, they have both practiced the model throughout their teaching careers in various contexts. The insights from neuroscience do not dominate the text and come from “the more stable insights from the brain literature.” (p.11)

The Learning Cycle Model

The Whole Christ: A review

The Whole Christ

I recently watched a breakout session from The Gospel Coalition 2021 National Conference (TGC21) discussing grace and works in the Christian life. Specifically, the question that was posed was “Does grace oppose hard work?”. However, the breakout session did not resolve the issue. Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters provides helpful guidance. Because these issues are vital for evangelism and discipleship, this book is an important resource for missionaries.

The Marrow Controversy

The historical background of Ferguson’s book is a debate in the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century. Now, the term “marrow” seems a bit strange to our ears today. Yet, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it described the seat of a person’s vitality and strength, the essence of a subject matter.1Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ, Crossway, 2016, p.22. The controversy acquired its name from Edward Fisher’s book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, written in 1645. As Tim Keller points out in the foreword, the author “does a good job of recounting the Marrow Controversy in an accessible and interesting way”2 (p. 11).

Emotionally Healthy Discipleship: A review

Most times when I read a book, it leads me to another book.  Sometimes the new read is a supporting work that is cited in the first. At other times I am intrigued to read more writings on a particular topic. Reading Gwen Adams’ newly published book Crazy Church Ladies: The Priceless Story of an Unlikely Group Winning the War Against Trafficking was no exception.  Gwen mentioned that in her years of leading church ministries, she had prioritized her spiritual growth, but not her spiritual health.  Is there a difference and why does it matter? My piqued curiosity then led me to read Emotionally Healthy Discipleship by Peter Scazzero.  In short, the book argues that spiritually healthy disciples can only be as mature and deeply rooted as their leaders and disciple-makers are.  

emotionally healthy discipleship

As I looked at the chapter titles, I immediately became aware that this book was more than a curious read and was going to be a convicting, challenging study.  The book is divided into two parts—the current state of discipleship and the seven marks of a healthy disciple.  The book begins with the personal story and experiences of Peter and his wife Geri. It will be familiar if you have read any of their other works.  In fact, this book started as a re-write of his previous book “Emotionally Healthy Church”. After realizing 75-80 percent of the content is new, he decided to change the title as well.  

Book Review: Relational Missionary Training

In 2006 Enoch Wan introduced his paradigm of “Relational Realism” in an article in the Occasional Bulletin of the Evangelical Missiological Society. This paradigm sees reality as defined by the vertical relationship with the Triune God and the horizontal relationships between created beings. In 2017, together with Mark Hedinger, he published the book, Relational Missionary Training: Theology, Theory, and Practice. Essentially, the book applies the relational realism model to the task of training missionaries.

The book aims to provide a foundation for this paradigm. Therefore, the authors look at theological, educational and practical aspects of the model. Their purpose is to describe the paradigm and show how a training program could be developed along these lines.

Relational Missionary Training

The authors also note that the book is written with missionary trainers in mind.1p.15 So, that makes me part of the target audience.

The book contains four parts:

  1. Theology (Chapters 1-3)
  2. Theory (Chapters 4-5)
  3. Practice (Chapters 6-8)
  4. Summary and Conclusions (Chapters 9-10).

Stott on The Christian Life: a book review

John Stott’s messages at the Urbana Mission Conferences greatly influenced a number of missionaries of my generation. So, when Stott on the Christian Life: Between Two Worlds by Tim Chester came out this past summer, I decided to review the book. It is #16 in the Crossway’s series, Theologians on the Christian Life. See my post a few years ago on this series, and why it is a valuable resource. Why should missionaries read this particular book? I will focus on some key themes that make this book (and John Stott’s writings) an important read for missionaries.

Shaped evangelicalism

Throughout the book, Chester emphasizes how Stott’s life and ministry has shaped evangelicalism. The author writes in the Introduction:

. . . the more I have explored his theology in its historical context, the more I have realized that it has been Stott, perhaps more than anyone else, who has influenced the evangelical world I inhabit. So it is not just that Stott reflects evangelicalism; evangelicalism reflects Stott. A contemporary evangelical understanding of the Christian life was not simply something Stott regurgitated; it was also something he significantly shaped. 1Tim Chester, Stott on the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 2020, p 12.

Shaped the Lausanne Covenant

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