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Book Review: Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton

Well, I finally took the plunge and read a type of book I do not normally read by an author I have not yet read - Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton. When I'm reading non-fiction, I tend toward the social justice/ethics oriented books that are my passion. But I also have been wanting to find some books that would address other concerns of ministry in my current setting - things like stewardship and pastoral care.

I've found most 'leadership' books I've read (we had a lot of them to read in some of my less-than-favorite classes in seminary) wanting in quality and content, offering a lot of fluff and not a lot of depth. I've also particularly not picked up any of the many Adam Hamilton books, because, frankly, they are so over-advertised by Cokesbury. Maybe that sounds like a silly reason, but there it is - I resist marketing strategies sometimes.

So, finally, I read Leading Beyond the Walls. Revwilly should be pleased, since he told me I should add "learn to lead" to the list of things I want to do before I die. For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. The book is certainly readable - straight through would hardly take a day to read, but I took chapters at a time, starting with those that were most interesting to me, and going back to pick up what I'd missed.

I think Hamilton does tend to set up a "this model I have is the best model" scenario. I realize that success prompts confidence in this, but I think sometimes what he says borders too much on a "if you do this, then you will have these results" concept. I'm sure that's not what is meant, but that's how it sometimes read to me.

I was also irked by his dismissal of lectionary preaching - he gives it a little attention, but brushes it off pretty thoroughly: "I am aware that many reading this book are excellent lectionary preachers . . . I am also aware that most of the churches that attract large crowds of nonreligious people and introduce them to Christ do not use the lectionary." (pg. 91) I don't think Hamilton adequately talks about this or why this is so. The debate over lectionary vs. non-lectionary preaching is a long one with passionate voices on both sides. Right now in my own worship services, I follow the lectionary in one and not in the other. I think both can work in the right context.

What I did like?

Hamilton's book is inspiring. It makes me believe that my church in suburban Central New York can become all sorts of things that I am sometimes skeptical to believe. His writing makes me want to see the church grow in ways I usually doubt are possible. He makes me want to start working to make that happen right now. This kind of inspiration is sometimes exactly what I need.

I like his emphasis and ideas on evangelism and pastoral care. He has some great, tangible, and fairly simple ideas about how to connect with visitors, how to draw people in, how to relate in pastoral care, premarital counseling, funerals, etc. His ideas about following up on new visitors will be some of the first I want to actually implement in my congregation.

I also love his ideas about "mountain climbing" (pg 62-63), where his church offers "trail maps" for novice and more experience Christians looking for a path of discipleship, with connections to appropriate ministries in the congregation.

I think his suggestion of visiting "next tier up in size or scope of ministry" churches is a great one, and I want to check out where I should look at going.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a good mix of practical ideas with inspiring visions of where your congregation could be headed. It won't offer a sure-thing plan for you, but hopefully it will offer you some fresh ideas and fresh hope.


Revwilly said…
Glad you liked Hamilton's book. Regarding his comments on preaching I would recommend you read his book, "Unleashing The Word."
Anonymous said…
your recommendation at the end was super. You sure you are his PR :)

Revwilly said…
I know Adam Hamilton and he believes his approach to doing church is one way among many. It is what he knows and it works for him. He basically says, "here's what we do and how we do it. Try it,it might work for you or you may need to make some adjustments."

In my opinion, even though you did not ask the best book on leadership(at least of the hundreds I have read) is "The Leadership Challenge" by Kouzes and Posner. I believe it should be on every pastor's desk.
Anonymous said…
This post and especially the last comment has helped me articulate something that has been brewing for quite some time. I'm still not through with making it clear but hear goes...

What initially brought us into ministry? For me, my passion is solidarity with the opporessed, teaching, and bringing some integrity to sacramental worship. Others, I'm sure, say pastoral care. Still others say preaching. And yet others speak of an evangelical zeal.

Very few that I know of went into ministry to be 'a leader'. There are plenty of companies that need a CEO for people who want to be 'a leader' to exercise their passion.

On top of that, we are ordained to Word, Order, and Sacrament. Yet most of my required reading list when I was a probationer was Will Willimon, Adam Hamilton, Mike Salughter, Rick Warren and others of the same ilk. I'll be generous and place that under 'order'. There was a little reading on 'Word' and none on sacrament. In 3 years time, right in the middle of our denomination's study process on the Eucharist and not one thing on eucharistic theology or practice was read.

Let me say that I'm not poo-pooing Hamilton. Of all the books on ecclessial leadership, I appreciate his the most. I agree with Beth. The best points of the book she pointed out were what I walked away with.

But I guess I'm asking a bigger question: are our boards of ordained ministry intentional about continued formation in ministry or are they jumping on the next-great thing. And I'm not really certain if I want to know the answer.

If its haphazzard, thats scary about the lack of thought put into such a wonderful opportunity a 3 year curriculum of continuing education could bring to new clergy and their churches.

If this intentional, that might be worse because it speaks of a lack of depth and steeping in the tradition the church. Rather, it is an intentional grab of whats on the end rows at Cokesbury.

I applaud you, Beth for stepping out of the box and reading something like Hamilton without being under a forced march. I know I wouldn't.

Let me also tip my hat to you for posting your ordination questions. That takes guts.
revjack said…
dam Hamilton came to the Oklahoma Conf. last year and spoke to the clery on worship... AS one who serve in a church that's worship traditional (high church), which I like and yet I desire, strive, and are learning about a more postmodern, emergent or alternative worship…. And I must say I haven’t read this book… but from what I gathered by is lecture/workshop… I it bothered me about the non-lectionary thing also… I find deep meaning behind the body of Christ wrestling with a set of scripture at the same time… Generally, I would say he is a moderate that is very practical, on church growth.

I struggle with many of the church growth strategies yet I believe that if we are disciplining (making disciples) and caring for each other (as a community) then we (the church) will grow. As a liberal that never took any evangelism classes because it seemed… I’m not sure but now I regret not knowing what I missed.

So who know maybe a few inspiring visions might be helpful….
Jonathon said…
I havent read Adam's book, but I'm sure that I would disagree with the thoughts on lectionary vs. non lectionary preaching.

good and prophetic preaching is good prophetic preaching if it: eaches people in their context, invites the biblical narrative to dwell in their context, and nudges them to draw closer to God and neighbor.

I dont think lectionary or nonlectionary preaching has anything to do with that. I myself LOVE using the lectionary and feel very comfortable speaking, teaching out of it and I feel it can be very powerful. It is also a wonderful way for all people- churched and unchurched to be connected with THE CHURCH at large. just some random thoughts. thanks beth.
Revwilly said…
David Grady wrote:"Very few that I know of went into ministry to be 'a leader'". Does not a shepherd lead the flock? I don't see that being ordained to Word, Order and Sacrament as being antithetical to leading. And isn't interesting that the pastors of the largest churches (the churches that have invited the most people to follow Jesus, the churchs that send the most out into mission and ministry, the churches that pay the most apportionments, the churches feed the most hungry, etc.) are great leaders? John Wesley was a great leader. Will you be?
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, deleted first comment. I was reacting too much.

You are correct, a pastor leads a folk and many of the largest churches in America have dynamic leaders.

There is something too utilitarian about that response. It does not look at substance and only at end results. This kind of 'go with what works' has inundated the UMC--at least here in the SE Jurisdiction-- with people who are not shaped in classic Wesleyan spirituality and practice. Rather we have people steeped in neo-calvinism and last month's Good News Magazine.

I am not sure of the source but when I served in the UK, my mentor shared with me that the movement almost collapsed on itself before Wesley died, only to grow after he passed and the Committee of 100 took over. So I don't know if our modern use of the word leader like we use it to describe pastors in our 'leading' congregations is appropriate.
Revwilly said…
I hope I am not misunderstanding you, but you seem to be saying some things I find disturbing. First you seem to say that you cannot have quantity and quality at the same time. To put it another way, you can't have a big church with any kind of spiritual depth. Do you really believe that? Experience has taught me that the larger churches have more spiritual depth which is one of the reasons they attract people and keep them.

When you talk about the "go with what works" as perhaps not being the best thing to do, are you saying we should go with what doesn't work? One could make the case that many UMC pastors do that.

And, to my knowledge the meaning of the word leader has not changed in the past 200 plus years. The Committee of 100 stepped in and took on the leadership of the church which thrived because of the leadership it gave. And no doubt there was at least one or two of the Committee who had great leadership skills.

I see no contradiction between being a good leader and a good pastor. To me those two concepts are complamentary. My Staff Parish Committee tells me that I preach well, pastor well and lead well. In fact they want a strong leader who will help them go places and do things they cannot go or do on their own.
Anonymous said…
Well, I think we're both jumping on something and trying to make wedge issues out of it, but I'll bite.

All I am saying instead of training, shaping, and forming people in the Zig Zeiglers of Christendom (the names of which have already been listed above), maybe we ought to, instead, be steeping ourselves in better homiletics, better worship practices, more time devoted to prayer, more time to teaching.

Not all of us have the personality type to be 'dynamic leaders' a la Hamilton, Warren, Slaughter, or even someone like a TD Jakes or Joel Osteen that is on TV every time we turn around (yes he has the 'largest church in America' but also has no theological education--something that Methodists have ALWAYS said is important).

Are we moving to a model of church where the pastor must be of that mold? Are we saying that the only type of 'effective' preachers are the ones who are extroverts and sacrifice family over career (Rick Warren was on book tour while his wife was battling cancer. No thanks)? What about the rest of us?

Are we not called, too?

What about those of us that see the recently passed Bro. Roger of Taize as someone to model our life and ministry after? What about those of us that think in a post 9/11 world we ought to be making our probationers read Neibhur, again, and reflect upon his writings. I think that everyone in Christian vocation needs to read Moltmann's latest book. Invaluable in a time of little hope and where we so often mistake transitory emotions for the deep affections (Don Saliers, anyone?).

Of course, I guess it could be argued that a good leader does those kind of things on their own. But it just seems a little weird to me that all those so called experts in church leadership spend just about as much time flying around the country as they do leading in their own congregations.

My SPR has good comments for me, too (well, at least they did at my eval last week) but I know I am not hard-wired to be the kind of leader that all these 'leadership' books point out. They give me the occasional 'tool' but when I want a real book on real pastoral leadership, one that hits the road where the rest of us serve, not just in affluent, primarily-caucasian suburbs of major American cities, I read Tom Franks' "Soul of the Congregation". Best book on pastoral leadership in the 'real world' that I've read.

One last thought--I never said anything about the depth and soul of the megachurch, that's all you. However, having served at a 7K+ member church until January, I can say that much spiritual depth can be found there but I also know that on more than one occasion I had to boil something down (dumb it down, remove the prophetic edge, etc) or cancel something in order to to attract a larger number of folk. I also know that Hybels advocates being homogenous (in every way possible--race, socioeconomic status, neutral on justice issues, target the same education level) so that one does not offend people. When was the Gospel homogenous? This model of church can't be a mile wide and a mile deep. I also know that Hamilton wants guys to wear Brooks Brothers suits so as to make the professionals 'feel comfortable' (he said so in the seminar I went to. He also had no clue what to tell women to wear. Oops. Guess he forgot we're still ordaining women in the UMC). What about creating a church where blue-collar people feel comfortable or, shock, homeless. Or better yet, what about a model of church where it does not matter the size of your pay check or what you wear?

One of the things we are doing in my congregation is creating an intentionally racially diverse environment in the middle of a community where many still fly the old Georgia flag in their front yard, just because it has the COnfederate flag in it. That's the kind of leadership I want to read and see more of. Nay, that is the kind of leadership I need to read more of to be effective in my current context.
Revwilly said…
You seem to have a very narrow image of what a leader looks like, acts like, talks like, etc. I do not believe we should all look like Zig or any other the other pastor/leaders you mention. Can we learn something from all of them? Yes. Do we need to take the princples they teach and share and apply them in our own personal style? Yes. And to my knowledge none of the leaders you have mentioned would every diminish the importance of prayer and teaching. Perhaps one of the reasons they are so effective in reaching people for Christ is that they spend much time in prayer and teaching.

Effective leadership has absolutely nothing to do with one's personality. I know very effective pastor/leaders who are major introverts. Leadership has to do with a set of skills that just about anyone can learn and apply.

You remark that the mega-church pastors you mention had no theological education and that we UMs value that. I'm not opposed to education but it can be argued that the education we receive as pastors in your seminaries is not helping us be effective. I believe we should should knowledgable in theology. But my experience in seminary did not teach me a thing about how to be an effective pastor who could lead and develop others to make a difference for Jesus Christ. I had to learn that on my own. Thankfully my seminary has caught on a little and is requirinc courses in leadership and the day-to-day operation of a church. So here's the question: is seminary really necessary? Early Methodism spead like fire without seminary educated pastors.

One of the things I have noticed in the blogging realm is that many(not necessarily you) of the liberal pastors are skeptical and highly critical of the mega churches. In some cases the skepticism is warrent, but in most not. There seems to be a mind set that a church beyond a certain size is not good. It almost seems like small is better. Many seem to think that quantity and quality(spiritual maturity) are mutually exclusive.

You need to be careful about statement you make about some pastors. For example, it is a fact that Rick Warren was not on book tour during his wife's battle with breast cancer. His church gave him the time off to be at home with her. And I would challenge you to show me were Bill Hybles advocates being homogeneous. Have you ever been there on a Sunday? I have and I was amazed at the various colors in the room. It is true that the area that church is in draws a certain demographic. It is also true it sends out thousands of minister(lay people) do the poor and dispossed every day. As to Adam Hamilton's comment about Brooks Brother's suits I won't argue with what you say you heard. I could imagine that Adam might say that clothes can be a factor in helping certain people identify with you, but certianly not the only thing or main thing. On Sunday mornings Adam wears a robe and the majority of the congregation is casually dressed.

I greatly enjoy our conversations.

Without wax,
Will Clegg
Anonymous said…
Beth WAS brave to post her ordination questions but Rev Willy you are also right to question where ordinations committees and the like are going.

I long for some real mentoring and it just isn't coming - and there is only so much you can get from books, even good ones.

I'm tired of Rick Warren, and church growth stuff I really am. Yet I want God to reach out communities and make a difference ... therein lies the dilemma.

thanks for hosting such interesting discussion here Beth :)
Revwilly said…
I made an appointment with a pastor of a church much larger than mine and asked him if he would meet and have coffee with me several times a year. He agreed. Each time we meet I have specific questions I ask him about leadership and pastoring a large church. I've learned more from him than I have in many books I have read. If you are going to be an effective pastor, reaching others as you desire, you have to hang out with the ones who are successful in doing what you want to do.
Revwilly said…
Why don't we take this discussion to your blog?
Mike said…

I'm actually at a Church of the Resurrection Conference right now. While it has been an inspiring conference, realizing that there is a signficant role the United Methodist Church could play in our current context if we were to practice our faith "well," I've left the conference feeling like there is something deeper that COR misses. I certainly do not think this is unintentional. It seems as though COR is mostly focused upon brining in new Christians. And so, they're practices are arranged so that new Christians will feel as though they can be readily integrated into the Church and its life. I wonder, however, if there are other Christian practices that would deepen the faith of Christians are put off or not emphasized by the Church because of this institutional design.

Good luck with ordination! I'm just 2 1/2 years behind you...
Anonymous said…
I'm not one to stray very often from the lectionary, although we've expanded the Philippians readings so as to read (and preach a series on) the whole letter. I recognized Hamilton's name but couldn't place it until I followed the link to COR. We read a book of sermons (a "hot potato" series) by him in seminary in social ethics.

Why is it that the churches most likely to accept (embrace, hug, go to bed with) the "whatever works" approach to worship and membership recruitment (a.k.a. "evangelism" but evangelism, of course, is more deep and broad than that) are often the churches least likely to be cutting edge in their evangelism through compassion/justice issues, and least likely to be cutting edge in their theology?

Sign me: Trying to be evangelistic AND prophetic in Minnesota

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