Five Sentence Review:
I stumbled across this book on theresurgence.com while trying to study for a message about preaching the gospel to yourself. Let me just say, this is a wonderful resource. Fight Clubs is only 56 pages long, extremely accessible to a wide variety of readers, and absolutely useful for churches and individuals looking to teach about gospel-centeredness. This is the resource I’ve been looking for; it takes big concepts and makes them easy to grasp. Highly recommended!
Five out of Five cups of black coffee.
My brother Andy has been telling me about C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries for a while now. So, digging into a Mahaney book was really only a matter of time. Andy and I like to talk about books and ministry and theology because, well, we’re both pastors. But the actual reason that I picked up this book was to review it. I wanted to see if it might be a useful tool in a discipleship program that I’ve been working on for my church. Nathan Loxley (our worship pastor) and I were looking for a book that would be pretty accessible for the average person, but also really foundational. It needed to be a book that would teach doctrinal truth, but stay applicable. And I think we found the book with Living the Cross Centered Life.
Living the Cross Centered Life is a relatively small book (166 pages to be exact) about the theology and practical application of the cross of Jesus. It should be explained that this book is really a combination of two other Mahaney books: The Cross Centered Life and Christ Our Mediator; the new version of the book combines these two books and includes additional material. The focus of the book is this: the truth of the cross is not just for new believers, but for all believers in all parts of their lives. As Mahaney says in the first chapter, “Too many of us have moved on from that glorious plan [the plan of responding with our whole lives to the gospel]. In our never-ending desire to move forward and make sure that everything we think, say, and do is relevant to modern living, too many of us have stopped concentrating on the wonders of Jesus crucified” (18). This is glorious truth and often overlooked. Many times Christians think they are saved by God’s grace, but then after that it’s all about what they do. Wrong! It’s all about what Jesus did from beginning to end.
Mahaney takes his readers through a brief, but thorough understanding of the cross in the first half of the book. He then moves on to explain how the cross helps us when we suffer, how it brings us joy, and how it defeats legalism and self-condemnation. He ends by giving practical advice for keeping the cross central on a daily basis. I love this nod towards the practical. As Mark Dever says in praise of the book “You’re holding the book you want to read to begin living the Christian life. You’re also holding the book you want to read to help you continue living the Christian life” (1).
Why I love it
Living the Cross Centered Life is a great book! It’s doctrinal, accessible, and practical. C. J. carefully examines the cross, teaching theology as he goes, but keeping the picture of Jesus vivid the entire time. Mahaney is honost and practical as he writes; he seems to me to be the type of guy that anyone would love to hang with.
The part of this book that will probably stick with me the most is the concept of “preaching to yourself” rather than “listening to yourself.” Mahaney talks about how prone we are to let our emotions control us. We begin thinking all kinds of negative and prideful thoughts in our heads rather than preaching the truth of the cross to ourselves. He encourages readers to make decisions in life based on the truth that they know is right (the cross and it’s accomplishment) rather than making decisions based on how they feel emotionally at any given moment. This is a really good insight that has already begun to effect my life. I’m grateful for this little book, and even more grateful for Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection! I highly recommend Living the Cross Centered Life and am already making plans to implement its use in the life of 24church.
I recently read through Creating Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, and I must say that it is the most helpful and insightful book on small group ministry that I have ever read. The book describes the small group ministry of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, asks ministers to answer probing questions about their ministries, and all-the-way-around is a great “how to” book for small group ministries. Since I’m a Discipleship Minister, and the primary person in charge of small groups at 24church, I need to read books like this often.
Andy Stanley is one of the best strategists and most insightful thinkers in the church arena today. Highlights to NPCC’s strategy include:
1) A closed-group system rather than an open-group system. (The individual small groups covenant together for 1.5 – 2 years and new members do not join.) This helps prevent an ADD mentality within the group and allows close relationships and deeper spiritual growth to occur. At the same time (just in case you were wondering) the group still seeks to reach outsiders / non-Christians, but not through inviting them to their small group.
2) A good strategy for forming new small groups. NPCC has a group forming strategy known as GroupLink. GroupLink is an event that happens quarterly at NPCC and allows people interested in small groups to meet other interested people and join a group. However, members don’t sign the group covenant until they have tried out the group for 6 weeks. This is NPCC’s “try before you buy” policy; it helps to eliminate bad group situations and alleviate stress in people thinking about joining a new group.
3) A childcare policy. NPCC will reimberse anyone who needs help paying for childcare while their group meets. This is a great idea because even though childcare is expensive, it is still millions of dollars cheaper than building Sunday School space in a building that will remain empty and unused for most of the week. (Small groups just make more sense to me than Sunday School in a new church situation.)
4) A multiplication plan. Each group covenants together to help start a new group by the time their group ends in 18-24 months. Since teaching and leadership tasks are shared by everyone in each group, leaders who could eventually start a new group naturally emerge as they help lead their current group.
These aren’t all the details, but they are some of the highlights of the NPCC strategy. I’m pretty encouraged after reading Creating Community, and I’m in the midst of reformulating and rethinking 24church’s small group strategy.