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The Missio Alliance Essential Reading List of 2016

Missio Alliance takes a somewhat unique approach to online publishing. Rather than hosting individual blogs or assigning writers to specific columns, we have invited a diverse group of theological practitioners to offer their voices and perspectives alongside one another across four Writing Collectives. Between our regular Writing Team, a smaller group of Leading Voices, and the contributions of others from our broader community, our aim is to bring the contributions of many to bear on four areas of special interest to those leading in church and ministry contexts across North America…

The formation of Christian disciples and leaders

Theological reflection on cultural trends

The witness of the local church 

A theological approach to ministry practice

As opposed to distant pontification, what we publish on a daily basis is emerging in real time from the “in the trenches” reality of our editors and writers and is likewise meant to help fund the imagination and otherwise equip an audience of those who are always looking to sharpen their own perspectives and skills as church and ministry leaders.

Behind the scenes of all this is an essential, if seldom recognized, community of people; namely, the authors of books that we are engaging in our own journeys of exploration and growth. Here then is a list of 15 books (published in 2016) that our Writing Team and Editors have identified as “essential reading” for those navigating the challenges and complexities of ministry in our time. If you haven’t come across these yet, we highly recommend them to you as resources of unique value!

In alphabetical order and accompanied by the publishers blurb…


Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission (InterVaristy Press)

In our quest to renew the church, Christians have walked through seeker-friendly, emergent, missional, and other movements to develop new expressions of the body of Christ. Now in the post-Christian world in North America we’re asking the question again: Is there a way to be the church that engages the world, not by judgment nor accommodation but by becoming the good news in our culture?

In Faithful Presence, noted pastor and scholar David Fitch offers a new vision for the witness of the church in the world. He argues that we have lost the intent and practice of the sacramental ways of the historic church, and he recovers seven disciplines that have been with us since the birth of the church. Through numerous examples and stories, he demonstrates how these revolutionary disciplines can help the church take shape in and among our neighborhoods, transform our way of life in the world, and advance the kingdom.

This book will help you re-envision church, what you do in the name of church, and the way you lead a church. It recovers a future for the church that takes us beyond Christendom. Embrace the call to reimagine the church as the living embodiment of Christ, dwelling in and reflecting God’s faithful presence to a world that desperately needs more of it.

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science

What do you do when God dies? It’s a question facing millions today, as science reveals a Universe that’s self-creating, as American culture departs from Christian social norms, and the idea of God begins to seem implausible at best and barbaric at worst.

Mike McHargue understands the pain of unraveling belief. In Finding God in the Waves, Mike tells the story of how his Evangelical faith dissolved into atheism as he studied the Bible, a crisis that threatened his identity, his friendships, and even his marriage. Years later, Mike was standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when a bewildering, seemingly mystical moment motivated him to take another look. But this time, it wasn’t theology or scripture that led him back to God—it was science.

Lord Willing? Wrestling with God’s Role in My Child’s Death (Herald Press)

Does God’s perfect plan really include this?

When her young son was diagnosed with brain cancer, Jessica Kelley couldn’t stomach Christian clichés. God’s will? Divine design? The Lord’s perfect plan? In Lord Willing?, Kelley boldly tackles one of the most difficult questions of the Christian life: if God is all-powerful and all-loving, why do we suffer? For Kelley, this question takes an even more painful and personal turn: did God lack the power or the desire to spare her four-year-old son?

For those dissatisfied with easy answers to why evil and tragedy occur, Lord Willing? offers a refreshing, hopeful journey straight to the heart of God. Be prepared for something more beautiful, more pure, and more healing than you can dare to imagine.

Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose Through Intentional Discipleship (Zondervan)

Though churches are filled with good ministry programming—activities, outreach events, and an endless selection of options—many churches neglect their fundamental mission: to make disciples and equip them for service. All humans are asking the same fundamental question: “What is my life’s purpose?” Through the pursuit of Christ and with a focus on his kingdom work, we find the answer to that question. Mentoring for God’s kingdom helps us find our purpose and prepares us to lead well.

In Mentor for Life, Natasha Sistrunk Robinson lays a solid foundation for mentoring as intentional discipleship, within the context of a small community. It is based on God’s kingdom vision, and challenge followers of Christ to consider the cost of discipleship.

Filled with examples from Robinson’s experience in the military and business world, this resource gives readers the wisdom and practical insight they need to disciple others. It proves an invaluable resource for pastors, small group leaders, seminary professors, and those who desire to take the initiate, make the commitment, and mentor others well.

Our Global Families: Christians Embracing Common Identity in a Global World (Baker Academic)

There is an increasing awareness of global interconnectedness. As Christians, we belong to not only a diverse global Christian family but also a diverse human family. In this volume Todd Johnson, a noted expert on global Christianity and world missions trends, and Cindy Wu show how divisions within these families work against our desire to bring about positive change in the world. They provide an overview of global Christian identity, exploring how we can be faithful to our own tradition while being generous and engaging with Christians across denominations, be better informed about and form significant friendships with people of other religions, and be more realistic about our ability to solve the world’s problems. The book utilizes the latest research data on global Christianity and world religions and includes tables, graphs, charts, and end-of-chapter discussion questions.

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue (Zondervan)

Christians who are confused by the homosexuality debate raging in the US are looking for resources that are based solidly on a deep study of what Scripture says about the issue. In People to Be Loved, Preston Sprinkle challenges those on all sides of the debate to consider what the Bible says and how we should approach the topic of homosexuality in light of it.

In a manner that appeals to a scholarly and lay-audience alike, Preston takes on difficult questions such as how should the church treat people struggling with same-sex attraction? Is same-sex attraction a product of biological or societal factors or both? How should the church think about larger cultural issues, such as gay marriage, gay pride, and whether intolerance over LGBT amounts to racism? How (or if) Christians should do business with LGBT persons and supportive companies?

Simply saying that the Bible condemns homosexuality is not accurate, nor is it enough to end the debate. Those holding a traditional view still struggle to reconcile the Bible’s prohibition of same-sex attraction with the message of radical, unconditional grace. This book meets that need.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden faith Born of Suffering (InterVarsity Press)

Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, first published in 1966, endures as one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Japanese literature. Its narrative of the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan raises uncomfortable questions about God and the ambiguity of faith in the midst of suffering and hostility.

Endo’s Silence took internationally renowned visual artist Makoto Fujimura on a pilgrimage of grappling with the nature of art, the significance of pain and his own cultural heritage. His artistic faith journey overlaps with Endo’s as he uncovers deep layers of meaning in Japanese history and literature, expressed in art both past and present. He finds connections to how faith is lived in contemporary contexts of trauma and glimpses of how the gospel is conveyed in Christ-hidden cultures.

In this world of pain and suffering, God often seems silent. Fujimura’s reflections show that light is yet present in darkness, and that silence speaks with hidden beauty and truth.

The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (InterVaristy Press)

Public gatherings are vital for movement, but too often in our approach to planting churches, we haven’t paid enough attention to the difficult grassroots work of movement: discipleship, community formation, and mission. This book will help you start missional-incarnational communities in a way that reflects the viral movement of the early New Testament church.

JR Woodward (author of Creating a Missional Culture) and Dan White Jr. (author of Subterranean) have trained church planters all over North America to create movemental churches that are rooted in the neighborhood, based on eight necessary competencies.

The book features an interactive format with tools, exercises, and reflection questions and activities. It’s ideal for church planting teams or discipleship groups to use together.

It’s not enough to understand why the church needs more missional and incarnational congregations.The Church as Movement will also show you how to make disciples that make disciples. This is the engine that drives the church as movement, so that everyday Christians can be present in the world to join God’s mission in the way of Jesus.

The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (HarperCollins)

The renowned scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author widely considered to be the heir to C. S. Lewis contemplates the central event at the heart of the Christian faith—Jesus’ crucifixion—arguing that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in transforming our understanding of its meaning.
In The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright once again challenges commonly held Christian beliefs as he did in his acclaimed Surprised by Hope. Demonstrating the rigorous intellect and breathtaking knowledge that have long defined his work, Wright argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was not only to absolve us of our sins; it was actually the beginning of a revolution commissioning the Christian faithful to a new vocation—a royal priesthood responsible for restoring and reconciling all of God’s creation.

Wright argues that Jesus’ crucifixion must be understood within the much larger story of God’s purposes to bring heaven and earth together. The Day the Revolution Began offers a grand picture of Jesus’ sacrifice and its full significance for the Christian faith, inspiring believers with a renewed sense of mission, purpose, and hope, and reminding them of the crucial role the Christian faith must play in protecting and shaping the future of the world.

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire (Baker Academic)

During the three centuries before the conversion of the emperor Constantine, the Christian church grew in the Roman Empire. It grew despite disincentives, harassment, and occasional persecution. What enabled Christianity to be so successful that, by the fifth century, it was the established religion of the empire?

In this unique historical study, Alan Kreider delivers the fruit of a lifetime of study as he tells the amazing story of the spread of Christianity over its first four hundred years. Challenging traditional understandings, Kreider contends the early church grew because patience was of central importance in the life and witness of the early Christians. Patience was the virtue about which the patristic writers wrote most–Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine all wrote treatises on it. Patience entailed trusting God, who was inexorably at work; obeying Jesus, who embodied patience and called his followers to live in unusual, patient ways; and responding to people who were attracted to their life and message in such a way that they would be formed to become patient believers. Instead of writing about evangelistic method, the early Christians reflected on prayer, catechesis, and worship, all of which formed believers to have patient reflexes and to participate in a church that grew not by plan but by ferment. This book will benefit professors, students, and scholars of ancient Christianity, mission, liturgy, and Christian formation as well as pastors and church leaders.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (InterVarsity Press)

What you don’t know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships—and even keep you in the shallows with God. Do you want help figuring out who you are and why you’re stuck in the same ruts?

The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively. In The Road Back to You Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach—a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of ourselves, compassion for others, and love for God.

Witty and filled with stories, this book allows you to peek inside each of the nine Enneagram types, keeping you turning the pages long after you have read the chapter about your own number. Not only will you learn more about yourself, but you will also start to see the world through other people’s eyes, understanding how and why people think, feel, and act the way they do.

Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help take you further along into who you really are—leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become.

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook/Multnomah)

God once declared everything in the world “very good.”
Can you imagine it?

Shalom is what God declared. Shalom is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Shalom is when all people have enough.
It’s when families are healed.
It’s when churches, schools, and public policies protect human dignity.
Shalom is when the image of God is recognized in every single human.
Shalom is our calling as followers of Jesus’s gospel. It is the vision God set forth in the Garden and the restoration God desires for every relationship.

What can we do to bring shalom to our nations, our communities, and our souls? Through a careful exploration of biblical text, particularly the first three chapters of Genesis, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us what “very good” can look like today, even after the Fall.

Because despite our anxious minds, despite division and threats of violence, God’s vision remains: Wholeness for a hurting world. Peace for a fearful soul. Shalom.

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism (Herald Press)

What if racial reconciliation doesn’t look like what you expected? The high-profile killings of young black men and women by white police officers, and the protests and violence that ensued, have convinced many white Christians to reexamine their intuitions when it comes to race and justice.

In this provocative book, theologian and blogger Drew G. I. Hart places police brutality, mass incarceration, antiblack stereotypes, poverty, and everyday acts of racism within the larger framework of white supremacy. Leading readers toward Jesus, Hart offers concrete practices for churches that seek solidarity with the oppressed and are committed to racial justice.

What if all Christians listened to the stories of those on the racialized margins? How might the church be changed by the trouble we’ve seen?

You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press)

You are what you love. But you might not love what you think.

In this book, award-winning author James K. A. Smith shows that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. We might not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith helps readers recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices. He explains that worship is the “imagination station” that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom. This is why the church and worshiping in a local community of believers should be the hub and heart of Christian formation and discipleship.

Following the publication of his influential work Desiring the Kingdom, Smith received numerous requests from pastors and leaders for a more accessible version of that book’s content. No mere abridgment, this new book draws on years of Smith’s popular presentations on the ideas in Desiring the Kingdom to offer a fresh, bottom-up rearticulation. The author creatively uses film, literature, and music illustrations to engage readers and includes new material on marriage, family, youth ministry, and faith and work. He also suggests individual and communal practices for shaping the Christian life.

 

Water to Wine: Some of My Story (Spello Press)

Why would the pastor of a large and successful church risk everything in a quest to find a richer, deeper, fuller Christianity? In Water To Wine Brian Zahnd tells his story of disenchantment with pop Christianity and his search for a more substantive faith.

“I was halfway to ninety—midway through life—and I had reached a full-blown crisis. Call it garden variety mid-life crisis if you want, but it was something more. You might say it was a theological crisis, though that makes it sound too cerebral. The unease I felt came from a deeper place than a mental file labeled “theology.” I was wrestling with the uneasy feeling that the faith I had built my life around was somehow deficient. Not wrong, but lacking. It seemed watery, weak. In my most honest moments I couldn’t help but notice that the faith I knew seemed to lack the kind of robust authenticity that made Jesus so fascinating. And I had always been utterly fascinated by Jesus. What I knew was that the Jesus I believed in warranted a better Christianity than what I was familiar with. I was in Cana and the wine had run out. I needed Jesus to perform a miracle.”