Staying Alive by Mark Wingfield (Lucas Parks Books)
Veteran Baptist journalist Mark Wingfield, who has served the last eight and a half years as associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, spent a six-month sabbatical visiting 15 congregations of varied denominations in major metropolitan areas around the country and talking with their leaders. Each congregation sees itself as traditional—whether in worship style, programming and organization, denominational identity or all of the above—and each is thriving. His research yielded this helpful and hopeful book that carries the subtitle, "Why the conventional wisdom about traditional churches is wrong."
Healthy traditional congregations understand their identity and embrace it, rather than copying what works for another church in a totally different context, he observes. Vibrant churches exhibit three key characteristics—excellence, intentionality and creativity—and those traits transcend contemporary or traditional categories. Wingfield examines best practices in areas such as worship, adult education, children and youth, missions and hospitality. And he emphasizes the need to change and adapt, while holding true to core identity.
Wingfield readily acknowledges the success of seeker-sensitive churches in reaching previously unchurched people, but he also points to the value of congregations securely grounded in faith traditions that can guide believers to the next level of spiritual maturity. He rightly asks, "Is it possible that in God's economy, both types of congregations are needed for different purposes?"
Ken Camp, managing editor
The Captive Heart by Dale Cramer (Bethany House)
Dale Cramer sets The Captive Heart in the rugged mountains of Mexico during the turbulent 1920s. Based on the true story of an Amish colony, the novel details the struggles of the Bender family to eke out a living despite deadly diphtheria and dangerous desperados.
The second of The Daughters of Caleb Bender series focuses on 19-year-old Miriam. Her passion for children leads her to teach reading to local boys and girls. The Benders' handsome farmhand Domingo attends some classes, and Miriam feels drawn to the non-Amish man.
Domingo emerges as Miriam's gentle but fierce protector. He manages to save the Amish from El Pantera, but the bandit vows revenge. With Domingo far away, the desperado attacks, leaving Miriam's brother for dead and kidnapping her sister Rachel. When Rachel's fiancé impulsively rides after her, Domingo follows. Can they save her and at what price? And if they do, how will Miriam's future change?
The best-selling author's research leads to a novel steeped in history that reflects today's headlines. Cramer fills the pages with action and leaves the reader guessing until the very end.
Kathy Robinson Hillman, former president
Woman's Missionary Union of Texas
A Vision for the Aging Church by James M. Houston & Michael Parker (InterVarsity Press)
A Vision for the Aging Church is an impressive and valuable work for any church leader in our aging society. Houston and Parker provide many insights that society in general and churches in particular will face in the near future. They say the aging church is no accident, since God has granted longer life and speaks clearly about the biblical role of elders.
Houston and Parker address the older generation's consistency in worship and devotion to prayer, as well as their steadfast and sacrificial spirit. The authors remind us God speaks of the church's responsibility with regard to honoring and caring for elders.
The book dispels myths of aging like "to be old is to be sick" and "the elderly don't pull their own weight." The book also addresses issues from caregiving to senior ministries that are well established in many churches. Readers will learn about issues of faith, disabilities, depression, dementia and other subjects.
A Vision for the Aging Church not only will provide a strong biblical basis to minister to senior adults, but also will open eyes to ways these adults can provide great wisdom and inspiration to the younger generation.
I personally was blessed greatly by the careful research and the insightful work of James Houston and Michael Parker. The young and older reader will be blessed, and perhaps a "new vision" for your church will emerge. I commend A Vision for the Aging Church to be carefully digested and applied in any local church's situation.
Leo Smith, retired executive director
Texas Baptist Men