Review: The Connecting Church 2.0 by Randy Frazee

Cover of "The Connecting Church"

Cover of The Connecting Church

The Connecting Church 2.0 Beyond Small Groups to Authentic  Community by Randy Frazee

This book is not about church head hunting (my membership is bigger than your membership!), nor is it about success vs. failure in our churches (“God’s call is not for us to be successful; it’s for us to be faithful with what he gave us.”), nor is it a rant against modern decadent morals. It is not a new program to aid in increasing numbers in our congregations, or a program to prevent young people from leaving the church in droves. This book is basically about the principle that was found in the first 300 years of the early Christian church, the concept of being Jesus to our neighbors, and developing a deep sense of community with them.

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People in today’s consumer-oriented individualistic culture are hurting. There is an overwhelming sense of disconnection. This seems to be true of involved Christians working in their church ministries as well as among the un-churched of all age strata, and nearly everyone in between. “We were wired to require eye-to-eye contact. We were created for real hugs. While technology can be a good supplement and time-saver, it is not a replacement for a good ole-fashioned dinner with your family or holding the hand of a friend in trouble. Nothing can replace hanging out in the same room where someone involuntarily breaks out in an all-out belly laugh. Virtual condolences will never match the power of simply ‘being there’ when a friend is bruised in a relationship or broken by an unexpected announcement.” Community is not a luxury; it is a necessity for life. At it’s core, many of our problems within the church stem from lack of community. Instead, we have become more of a collection of individuals.

Most Americans see individualism as a positive trait that reflects their right to exercise liberty and freedom. Individualism is seen to promote free will, free choices, free markets, and good self-esteem. But it has an ugly side. We find ourselves increasingly lonely and isolated from one another. Because we feel isolated, we compensate with the things we buy. And so the cycle continues: individualism leads to feelings of isolation, which leads to consumerism. That in turn feeds right back into the individual again and continues the cycle. How can we bring back a sense of satisfying community without adding one more task to our list of things to do? That is what this book discusses so well.

The author divided the book into four parts and created a fictitious family, Bob and Karen and their children. Through them we see their family struggles as an analogy of the typical American family. Once the first section establishes the problems of individuality, consumerism, isolation, and the lack of community, he discusses God’s story, His basic nature as a being that exists in community–the three in one. What is the biblical concept of the church’s purpose and how it relates to community? C.S. Lewis said it so well…“The Church exists for no other purpose but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.” How do individuals fit into this purpose? Our identity begins with God. We have a purpose because of Him. Seeking our needs first is backwards to God’s plan. [See Matthew 6:33]

Part two offers clear suggestions on how to begin the process of connecting with our neighbors. Some of these suggestions may involve sacrifice on our parts, and re-thinking our way of living, including where we live. Bob and Karen are going to make some radical decisions to get themselves out of the trap of their isolated lifestyle.

In Part three, more is explained how consumerism works against community. “Consumerism is driven by a preoccupation to meet one’s needs and to protect one’s property and rights…” A good community is built on an entirely different foundation. “In a culture of individualism, people stop looking out for each other. And when this happens, the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the broken go unmet.” Self-sacrificial love for our neighbors is absent. In contrast to this, the early church experienced shared possessions. In their thinking everything was owned by God. We are merely the stewards or managers of them temporarily. Families like Bob and Karen’s are encouraged to place Christ in the center of their lives, over the desire and commitment for money and possessions. This concept of stewardship not only applies to what we own and our money; it also applies to our time and our talents.

By the end of part three, Bob and Karen know they need to make several lifestyle changes. They understand God has a purpose for them, and they recognize what is hindering that purpose from being fulfilled. They free up some financial resources, make changes in their time commitments, and begin to make plans for intentional inter-generational gatherings. In short, they will start to make themselves available and accessible to their neighbors. It will be a risk and they will be vulnerable. But over time, they will connect in a deep way that is much more satisfying than their isolation could ever be.

Part four covers much ground, mostly focusing on how the church can assist and encourage families who have committed themselves to building community in their local neighborhoods. In one chapter, Randy Frazee shares some personal lessons he learned through his own experiences. Chapter 15 names specific churches that have been successful in the goal of establishing a connection with several caring communities and stand as great working models. I especially enjoyed reading the note his daughter wrote about her experiences growing up in a close-knit community. What a shock it was to go off to college and find that practically no one else was blessed this way. There is also an Appendix and a section for notes of sources for some of the research mentioned in the text.

I think of this book as both a motivational tool for reasoning out why our American society is so sick physically and spiritually, and a guide for church leadership to put together this neighborhood concept and get it to work as it is meant to. The purpose of the book is to return us to God’s original will for His church, that of bringing others to Jesus, and being Jesus to our neighbors.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC), and Zondervan. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review: Freeing Tangled Hearts by Dolores Kimball

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Freeing Tangled Hearts by Dolores Kimball

“Women’s hearts become tangled and strangled in ways that are different from men. Our doubts and fears are very personal. We doubt our ability to be loved, to be good mothers, to maintain successful and meaningful relationships, and we doubt our own worth and value…Part of the battle women wage every day is the battle of our emotions. The goal is to manage our emotions instead of letting them manage us. The victory over our emotions enables us to recognize when they are lying to us, and to know what to do with negative emotions like fear, doubt, guilt, anger, bitterness, and envy in order to keep them from ruling our lives and tangling our hearts.”

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Dolores Kimball is a Bible study teacher, women’s retreat speaker, experienced editor and writer, and has worked for several large Christian ministries such as Focus on the Family, David C. Cook, and Compassion International. She speaks plainly and right to the heart of women in this book about matters that affect us all at some point in our lives. And while this is not a how-to book, the author does guide the reader through self-examination (chapter 2) as the first step in untangling our hearts. She balances her teaching with the physical aspect as well as the spiritual and emotional components of our lives. In chapter 3, she compassionately prepares us for the process by encouraging us to gird ourselves for a battle.

One of the principles Ms. Kimball shares with her readers is “Don’t live by your feelings.” It’s fine to have feelings; God has emotions too. But human emotions ebb and flow, are untrustworthy, and can erode relationships quickly. As Jesus’ followers, our goal is to distinguish between truth and feelings and live by the truth. In the subsequent chapters, the author examines fear, doubt, guilt, anger, bitterness, and envy under the magnifying lens of the Scriptures. All these emotions are aimed inwardly on ourselves. The opposite of these crippling feelings, faith, forgiveness, love, joy, peace and contentment focus on God. By training our focus on God instead of ourselves, we can prevent much of the entanglement that robs us of the fulfillment God wants us to have daily.

Is it possible to be able to put off fear and put on confidence and strength? Is it possible to put off guilt and put on joy and forgiveness? Read Ephesians 4:22-24. God will make it possible for us. I know this to be true, since I’ve had to go through this process myself, several times. I’m sure it won’t be the last time either.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the type of book that will be extremely helpful for anyone committed to working through the issues mentioned in the book through prayer and meditation on God’s Word. I would recommend using a journal and writing down your thoughts, struggles, prayers and answers to prayers, battles, and victories over time. I find a journal is especially useful to peruse from time to time to gain a perspective on our progress. Most persons can work through the book by themselves, but I would recommend an accountability partner, a prayer partner or counselor for guidance and direction. This book would also serve as an effective counseling tool for pastors, Christian counselors, and other leaders.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) and EP Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

“The authority the Master has given me

is for putting people together, not tearing them apart.”

-2 Corinthians 10:13 (TMB)

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