Thursday, September 22, 2005

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.
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