The practical problem of evil

Apparently it never occurred to the early Christians to question their belief in God or even God’s goodness because they were unjustly suffering for their beliefs. Rather, their faith gave them direction in the face of persecution and general misfortune. Suffering was not a metaphysical problem needing a solution but a practical challenge requiring a response.

— Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences

The key to effectiveness in today’s mission field

The models of organizational success that dominated the twentieth century have their roots in the industrial revolution and, simply put, the world has changed. The pursuit of “efficiency” — getting the most with the least investment of energy, time, or money — was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, no efficiency, must become our central competency.

The quote above comes from Team of Teams, a book about the lessons learned about effective organization by the United States special forces during the war with Al Qaeda in Iraq. It is not a book about war, but a book about how organizations can be effective in the fast-changing environment of the 21st century.

I’m not sure exactly how to take the lessons in the book — which I am still reading — and apply them to the church, but I’m convinced we have a lot to learn. An argument can be made that Methodism endured and expanded in the 18th and 19th century because its organization was uniquely fitted to carry its theology into the world.

It is hard to argue that our current organization is well fitted to our environment.

I hope to share more thoughts as I read this book. I’m curious, though, about the contrast raised in the quote above.

Do you think adaptability is the key to effectiveness for the United Methodist Church today?

Can you think of ways we might foster such adaptability?

A good book on doubt

My blogging friend Talbot Davis sent me a copy of his new book, The Shadow of a Doubt, recently. In honor of a regular feature on his blog, I’d like to share my Top Five Things I Like About This Book.

5. It engages an important pastoral topic in a faithful way. The book is based on a sermon series Davis preached at Good Shepherd Church on the topic of doubt. This is an important topic, but one I’ve heard handled in unproductive ways in the past. Davis acknowledges doubt — including his own — without praising it. In five sermons, he tackles important questions about doubt and makes relevant connections to people’s lives.

4. It displays Davis’ skill as a preacher. The book chapters are edited versions of Davis’ sermons, which makes this a bit of a sermon anthology for preachers such as myself who are still mastering their craft. Davis is a big fan of Andy Stanley’s one-point preaching style. If you’ve ever read Stanley’s book on preaching and wanted to see how such sermons look in actual practice, this book is a great resource. It also demonstrates Davis’ wonderful use of language and deep engagement with the biblical texts. Which brings me to ….

3. It is biblical. Each chapter takes a close look at a key text. This is not a book collecting what secular authorities say about the topic of doubt. It is a book that brings our questions to the Bible and lets the Bible shape our answers.

2. It would be perfect for a small group. Each sermon is followed by well-crafted questions designed to promote small-group conversation, devotional activities, a prayer, and some scripture readings for the week ahead. This would be an easy and interesting five-week small-group curriculum.

1. My copy is autographed. I’m sure if you asked, you could get an autograph, too. I understand Davis will be signing books at the upcoming New Room Conference.

I recommend the book, especially as a resource for small group ministry. At 112 pages and $9.99, it is well worth the price.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was provided with a free (autographed) copy of the book and asked to write about it. I was only too happy to do that for a pastor who has a vital ministry in the United Methodist Church.