Posts Categorized : Book Reviews

Discovering the Other: Asset-Based Approached to Building Community Together – by Martin Homan

October 10, 2014

Cameron Harder.  Discovering the Other:  Asset-Based Approached to Building Community Together. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2013 (Kindle edition).

Review by Martin Homan

Cameron Harder writes this book to assist the reader to find the other – the other in the congregation and the other in the community.  The author approaches these tools from the perspective of a pastor, seminary professor and a community builder in the congregation as well as in the community. The author works with community building tools that are community-based participatory research tools based on the work of Paulo Freire.

Harder moves the church from the pastor serving as the conduit for all stories and narrative to the congregation sharing and learning from one another’s stories.  Two of the community-based tools the author presents in this book are asset mapping and appreciative inquiry.  The author’s background for this book is his work as a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor in a Lutheran seminary in western Canada. His desire is to revitalize small congregations in this part of Canada.

Harder moves the user from shame-based deficit thinking in congregations to positive asset based thinking.  The author asserts that the church’s mission is God’s mission.  The work and the mission of the church is based on the life of the Trinity.  The author asserts that “If God’s mission is to build communities that reflect the quality of life shared by Father, Son, and Spirit, then the church must find its own calling within that divine impulse” (loc 277).  He suggests that we model our communities on the “social doctrine of the Trinity.”

This book is an attempt to weave community-based tools into a theological and biblical construct.  The author focuses on the divine community with the following line of reasoning:

  1. “All of creation is interconnected.”
  2. “This interdependence has been created and is sustained by God.”
  3. “All of creation is connected to itself through God is intimately involved with the life and history of creation.”
  4. “Taking on human flesh, God’s connection to creation becomes clearly visible to us” (loc 407-417).

I find it refreshing to follow a conversation that not only works on community-based public theology that has a Law-Gospel lens.  We are to look at the church as living and working in the community.  Rituals are important – liturgies for life – that “give communities a way to celebrate (harvests or holidays) or lament (deaths and disasters)” (loc 1111).

He weaves in Ed Chambers from Industrial Area Foundation (IAF). Chambers believes that churches can serve as excellent home bases for community building:

  1. “Almost all congregations own a building.”
  2. “Churches have at least one full- or part-time staff person who is trained in leadership development.”
  3. “Congregations have a fund-raising system.”
  4. “Churches have a network of volunteers who regularly offer, or are asked to offer, their time, experience, skills, and personal connections.”
  5. “Churches have grassroots membership and the respect of their communities.”
  6. “Most congregations are connected regionally, nationally, and globally through their denominations.”
  7. “Churches are concerned for and talk about the well-being of their communities” (loc 1214-1248).

Chapter 3 is a conversation on appreciative inquiry from a theological perspective.  Harder draws on Rob Voyle’s appreciative way and develops his own variation of appreciative inquiry.

Harder presents asset mapping and develops a theological perspective for this sociological tool.  He draws on the outline as developed by Luther Snow and other asset mapping materials from Snow.

In chapter 5, Harder focuses on the importance of going beyond strengths and focusing on weaknesses. The author advocates the importance of the small church and the web of relationships and community.  Do we need a new vision based on the role of the small congregation and discipleship?

Cameron Harder presents three appendices presenting the reader with three tools on appreciative inquiry that he has developed for use in congregations.  These tools were field tested by his seminary students as well as his own work in congregations.  These appendices are:

  • Appendix A: Sample Appreciative Interview Questions
  • Appendix B: Steps in Doing a Faith-Based Appreciative Inquiry
  • Appendix C: Doing an Appreciative Inquiry in Small Groups

I commend this book to the reader looking for a theological perspective and foundation for those using community-based tools in churches.

Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics – By Martin Homan

August 25, 2015

Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics – By Martin Homan

I was pleasantly surprised to discover this new book by Gil Rendle on Doing the Math of Mission. Gil has always been on the cutting edge of change and what it will look like in the twenty-first century church.

On September 22, 2014, the “Alban Weekly” published an article by Gil Rendle entitled Ministry Beyond Aspiration. With this article, Gil prepares the reader to move from intent to actionable change. Gil encourages the reader to move from intent into purposeful action.  Leadership is the mix of short-term experiments and actions to get closer to the long-term aspiration. Gil writes at the end of this article “Wanderers in a new cultural wilderness, such as we, are in need of find[ing] better tools, better questions, and better measures to move closer to a promised land we sense in God’s will for us.”

Much of the conversation in this book comes from Gil Rendle’s work initially with the Alban Institute and as of late with the Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin, Texas. Rendle develops these measurable tools and goals from his work with the United Methodist Church and the Foundation. I would agree with Rendle what is happening in the United Methodist Church is happening throughout the mainline denominations.

Gil affirms that the mainline church has been hard at work addressing the deep changes required by a changing North American mission field. Mainline denominations are in the midst of a perfect storm. As Rendle writes, “The missional church movement, the general captivity of the mainline church and the current unsustainability of the mainline church have converged to require substantive shifts demanding that congregations, middle judicatories and the denominational church rethink their very purpose”(location 44). We have an issue of accountability in the midst of much deep needed change. We recognize that deep change is necessary, but we are not sure how to get from here to there. What has worked in the past will no longer work in the future.

Where are our mainline churches in the conversation and the journey? Our author’s assumption is “. . . that our mainline church is only very early in its learning cycle on how to work with metrics and the development of accountability”(location 61). Rendle wants to move from countables to metrics. These metrics need to be a tool of ministry. He goes on to write “Our leaders need both more information and more tools to encourage the boldness of actually naming clear outcomes for their ministry and then seeking accountability to move toward these outcomes”(location 61).

Rendle challenges the reader to connect the local congregation to the mission field. For Rendle,”Conversation is the currency of change. What we invite people to talk about, to think about, to pray about determines the path that we will follow into the future”[location 683]. He encourages congregations to move from maintenance and preferential conversations to missional conversations. “Missional conversations focus on purpose and on the possibility of the future [location 702].  Specific goals and outcomes are key to moving forward. An adult learning cycle that assists the learner to move from reflection, connection, decision and action in a continual cycle.

As I read through this book, I notice many similarities to an earlier work by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann known as Holy Conversations. This book takes the reader as well as the practitioner to another level, a level of deep change in the twenty-first century. This book is “a collection of models, methods and tools of accountability using metrics. Theory is offered to substantiate the models, methods and tools. But when it comes to use -real, on-the-ground application -appropriateness is still the required standard”(location 79).

The Texas Methodist Foundation served as a “learning platform” to develop conversations about change in the mainline denomination. This book is a culmination of five monographs over fourteen months under the Foundation. Rendle offers this book as a conversation partner to help bring about deep change in mainline denominations. This book will serve the reader if the reader:

  • “takes, uses, adapts and experiments with the ideas and tools to be found here
  • approaches the ideas and the tools to be found here not as a program or a series of integrated steps to be followed but continually asks herself or himself what might be most helpful to try at any given moment
  • shares his or her experience with others to continue the conversation”(location 115)

This book serves to help the reader to understand the deep change needed for the survival of the mainline denomination. This is also a collection of new resources to be used in the twenty-first century church. They are not to be the only tools for the reader but rather a conversation about tools that are available to mainline churches. The publisher makes the second half of the book available as a PDF file to those who purchase this book. The first part of the book contains theory and the latter half focuses on application.

Gil Rendle divides the theory with related resources into six chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Counting Resources and Measuring Ministry
  • Chapter 2: Getting to Why: Turning Intentions into Outcomes
  • Chapter 3: Phronesis and the Task of Figuring It Out for Ourselves
  • Chapter 4: Counts, Measures and Conversations: Using New Tools for Fruitfulness
  • Chapter 5: Cascading Questions
  • Chapter 6: Be Careful What You Measure

The latter half of the book contains twelve resources connected with the six chapters earlier in this book.

Rowman & Littlefield provide these resources as a PDF file for those who purchase this book.  These resources are:

  • Resource  # 1: Counting and Measuring: A Systems Approach
  • Resource  # 2: Outcomes: A Working Definition
  • Resource  # 3: Learning to Talk About Outcomes Instead of Process
  • Resource  # 4: The Grameen Bank Ten Indicators
  • Resource  # 5: Three Essential Types of Leadership Conversations
  • Resource  # 6: Congregational Vitality Index
  • Resource  # 7: The Shape of an On-Going Outcome Conversation
  • Resource  # 8: Apgar Scores: A Tool of Measurement
  • Resource #  9: Likert Scales: A Tool of Measurement
  • Resource # 10: Logic Models: A Tool of Measurement
  • Resource # 11: Narrative Results Mapping: A Tool of Measurement
  • Resource # 12: Cascading Questions

This book is an outcome of the work that Gil Rendle has done as a senior consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). I would encourage the reader to go beyond this book to the ongoing work at the Foundation website (www.tmf-fdn.org) and to conversation as the currency of change (see  www.tmfaplaceatthetable.orgas a place where you can join the TMF conversation).

I would commend this book to the Intentional Interim Pastor as well as the middle judicatory to assist them in helping the congregation move beyond simply counting resources to measuring ministry. This work will be extremely helpful for those who want to move into conversations that matter for the future of the congregation in the mainline denomination.

Martin J. Homan
Intentional Interim Pastor

Professional Transition Specialist

Rev. Martin Homan has been an ordained pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He has served as an Intentional Interim Pastor for 20 years. He serves in pastoral size churches to very large churches in The LC – MS. He specializes in churches with multiple staffs and schools and in after pastor churches.  He is an active proponent of Intentional Interim Ministry in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and the IMN. He served as the newsletter editor for the LCMS Interim Ministry Conference newsletter.  Rev. Homan has a distinguished record of service to the Interim Ministry Network. He has been Chair of the Research Committee, elected to the Board of Directors, member of the Executive Committee and Vice-President. Is presently serving on the IMN Board of Directors, Faculty and is an Annual Conference Board liaison.

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