Book Reviews

Review: Thoughts to Leave Behind by Garris Elkins

31skPZB2qhL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Well it’s taken me a couple months to finish Garris Elkin’s latest book, not because it’s so long (only 75 pages) but because it’s so good.

Garris was my pastor for seven years. In 2014 he retired from pastoring after 33 years of serving churches, mentoring leaders and building the kingdom of God.

I’ve often said that I am more interested in what someone has to say at the end rather than the beginning. And even though Garris has many years ahead of him what you have in Thoughts to Leave Behind are tidbits of wisdom about life and ministry accumulated over the years.

I incorporated Garris’ book into my quiet times reading just one chapter (typically one and a half pages) at a time. I don’t remember how many times I said to myself, “Man…this is good, real good.”

Garris has written many books, all of which I’ve read and all of which I have really liked, but Thoughts to Leave Behind might be his best and the most important.

Whether you are a pastor or just a normal Christian trying to walk out your faith, do yourself, your soul, and your ministry a favor and get Garris’ book today. Don’t simply read it. Let it read you. How could a mere 75 pages be that good? I dare you to find out. You can find it here.

Book Review: The Wisdom of Wimber by Marty Boller



Since I follow Marty’s blog I was aware that he had been writing on the sayings, teachings, and philosophy of ministry of John Wimber, the founder of the Association of Vineyard Churches. Because of this, I was excited when I heard that he intended to put all of this down in one easy to read book. The Wisdom of Wimber is finally out.

There are three things that Boller has done that make The Wisdom of Wimber both helpful and enjoyable. First of all, he has identified what Wimber had to say about almost every aspect of church life. I don’t know how someone sets out to do something like that but Marty did. Second, each topic, or chapter, is short. This will encourage the reader to take things in little bites as time allows rather than looking for a large chunk of time to sit down and read one or two chapters. Third, at the end of each chapter Marty has provided a model prayer and questions for reflection. I could not help but think how easy it would be to put this book in the hands of your leadership team and then have them discuss some of the questions.

But coming back to these “Questions for you to ponder” as Marty puts it, this book was not written to be read through but to be meditated through. Don’t just read The Wisdom of Wimber but let the wisdom of Wimber read you!

Whether you are part of the Vineyard movement or not, whether you consider yourself part of the Charismatic stream of Christianity or not, there is plenty in The Wisdom of Wimber to inspire, instruct, and challenge your ministry and personal life.

Order your copy today!



Book Review: A Good Place: Walking with Hope through the Transitions of Life and Ministry by Garris Elkins


Garris Elkins’ fourth book: A Good Place: Walking with Hope through the Transitions of Life and Ministry’ reminds me less of a book on leadership and more of a spiritual and devotional tool one would thoughtfully go through if they were facing significant change or transition in life. Or better yet, think if you had an opportunity to sit down in a coffee shop with the writer and pull out of him all the things he’s learned so far as he now approaches the completion of his own ministry transition. If you can imagine this, then you’ve got a feel for what you’ll experience reading ‘A Good Place.’

In his dedication, Garris says: “I dedicate this book to those of you who are in the midst of a life transition. This will be a journey of the heart. Everyone eventually arrives at the end of a transition, but not everyone finishes well. The purpose of these pages is to help you end your transition with your heart still tender toward God and toward those with whom you have traveled.”

I found this to be a perfect description of what I had read. This short book covers 60 subjects, each one followed by a prayer. I have to admit that I enjoyed the prayers as much as I did the comments that preceded them.

The one problem with the book, as I see it, is that it is designed to be chewed on slowly like you would a chocolate truffle. You could easily take one chapter a day. This would probably be the best way to use this book except for the fact that the book is so good I can’t imagine anyone being that patient. Still…if you are facing transition try hard to limit your reading to two or three chapters at a time and don’t neglect the prayers at the end. The prayers really are powerful.

Here are some of the quotes that meant a lot to me:

‘Life is a collection of journeys, not just a single trip.’

What follows is Garris’ thoughts on how to make important decisions when you have many options. He speaks about the test of peace. “Over the years, this test of peace has never failed me. The test lines up all the available options and asks a simple question: which of these opportunities carries the peace of God?”

“The longer we do life and ministry, the easier it becomes for us to operate in our own strength. The longer we do life and ministry, the easier it becomes we develop new skill sets. We get good at what we do. Subtly, we can begin to exchange the power of God for human ability. This becomes especially dangerous when we are transitioning into a new season and crossing into unexplored territory.”

Your life has made a deposit and left an impact. In this life, you will not be able to fully define your influence. Eternity will reveal the significance of what you left behind.

“Some answers only come in times of separation.”

“Look again at your schedule. Make room for time away with God so he can make those subtle adjustments with you when he has your undivided attention.”

I’ve had the privilege of playing a small part in Garris’ own transition from senior leader of a church he’s had a long and fruitful ministry at. For Garris, the finish line is in sight except that as he gets closer he will see it doesn’t say “Finish Line”, it says, “Beginning Line.” If you need help and hope as you transition from from one stage of life or ministry, if you want to journey into your own ‘beginning’, get A Good Place today.

Book Review: God-Whispers by Garris Elkins


Ecc. 12: 9-11 says, “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one shepherd.”

Garris Elkins’ God-Whispers is not so much a book as it is a collection of well-driven nails collected over the years by this seasoned pastor. Even though it’s a short book, under 70 pages, it took me a couple months to finish it. The reason? I didn’t read it like I would any other book, but instead, I read it devotionally.

The best way to benefit from God-Whispers is to take it one page at a time. Slowly and meditatively read these nails until one of them stands out to you and then let that lead you into prayer, journaling, refection, etc.

I recommend God-Whispers to you as a great devotional tool to help you enter God’s presence. Here are a few of the ‘nails’ I highlighted:

We can make the word of God affirm things that speak to our bias.

Each generation will discover some historic truth, re-label it and call it “new”.

When you define a life make sure your definition does not include a label. Once a label is placed on someone true dialogue has stopped.

The person you used to be no longer exists except in the mind of those who have chosen to not forgive you.

If we don’t forgive those who betray us we will follow them out into the darkness of unresolved betrayal and like Judas we will ultimately experience death.

Don’t let an angry question rob you of a peaceful response.

Debates create winners based on the bias of the listeners.

The longer I walk with Jesus the more I realize some issues that used to concern me have now been placed on the shelf of insignificance.

We talk about our hope that God will catch us when we fall. The truth is, he never drops us.

In a challenging situation the quality of our response is everything. This is why we were given the fruit of the Spirit called self-control.

One of the challenges about holding an opinion is that the passion for our opinions can cause us to appear opinionated if we are not careful.

Stay put and don’t move until your heart changes. Making a life-change without a heart-change will become a regrettable choice.

Create a pathway of grace with your words so people can return from failure.

A life focused only on the pain of suffering, without Jesus somewhere in the picture, will become a life absent of the songs of worship and deliverance that are birthed in the bowels of suffering.

The answer is always found in a place of rest. The hurry, the rush and the urgent are not the wells from which we will draw what we need.

Book Review: Dirt Matters by Jim Powell

I’m genuinely excited about Dirt Matters, and not because I’m mentioned in it and Jim sent me a free copy.

Finally a book has come out with something new to say about leading your church into vibrancy and effectiveness. No kidding. Most books and organizations out there today that say their focus is church health rather than church growth really are about church health as a means to church growth. The premise typically is: Get your church healthy and it will grow. Dirt Matters is refreshing in a number of ways, one of which is that it avoids such promises.

So what’s the book about? Let me pull some of my favorite quotes from the book to tell you. Jim says…

“I am absolutely convinced that one of the main reasons so many churches are struggling and feel as though they are not reaching their full impact is because they are unaware of one of the basic elements of a healthy, vibrant, and effective congregation—the soil!”

“The issue is that every church has a unique culture that serves as the soil where its ministry occurs. A church’s culture is the somewhat nebulous and complex blend of norms, beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and practices that define the congregation. The culture establishes the environment that often predetermines the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of God’s Word within that body of believers. It influences a congregation’s potential impact more than techniques, programs, or pragmatic changes.”

“Soil directly affects potential outcomes despite what takes place above the surface. As a result, churches need to spend more time enriching the soil, making their environment healthier, and less time looking for external, superficial fixes.”

“My premise is that we have some control over the quality of soil inside the church, and focusing on that is ultimately a higher priority than just tweaking programs, activities, or creative delivery methods.”

“And, contrary to what some people think, the quality of the soil can be changed.”

“There are really only four ways to get good soil. One, we get lucky and stumble upon it. Two, we diligently search for it, and when we find it, we jump on it. Three, God supernaturally leads us to it like He did the Israelites. Or four, we develop it. We take what we have, and we nurture it, enrich it, and transform it into a higher quality. But doing this takes more than a sermon series, a program, a retreat, a class, or a congregational meeting. We must emphasize soil development systematically.”

Dirt Matters provides a systematic approach to enriching the soil of your church. Whether your church is small, large, or somewhere in between, Jim Powell has written a book that will be a help to all who lead congregations.

Part of what I do as a coach and church consultant is to provide and recommend resources that work. With Jim Powell’s Dirt Matters I feel I have a new tool to pass on to pastors and church leaders who want to lead their church into change or are trying to lead their church into change and wondering why it is so hard or seemingly impossible. Dirt Matters doesn’t remove the ‘hard’ but it does remove the mystery.

Check out these Dirt Matters trailers!



Jim Powell is the lead pastor of Richwoods Christian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and director of the 95network, a nonprofit organization focused on encouraging and equipping the 95 percent of church congregations in America that are under 800 people in size.

Book review: The Grasshopper Myth by Karl Vaters


The main reason I’m happy about Karl Vaters’ The Grasshopper Myth is that there is now one less book that I have to write. But seriously, if I were to write a book to encourage pastors of smaller churches it would look like The Grasshopper Myth, but probably not be as good.

Karl says, “Healthy churches do not grow under the guidance of disgruntled, demoralized pastors. One of the primary reasons for writing my story was to help other small church pastors do what it took me too many years to do–stop being upset about what I’m not and start discovering and enjoying who I am.

We need to stop using numerical growth as the primary indicator of success in ministry and start looking at health as the primary indicator of success in ministry. It may all start with this premise–a healthy church that’s not growing numerically is better than an unhealthy church that is.”

And again,

“…this is probably the first book you have read on the subject of pastoring that wasn’t written by a mega-church pastor or by a researcher whose main focus has been to make mega-churches. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way it is.”

If you are expecting a lot of mega-church-bashing you won’t find it here. Unlike many books written from a small church perspective that feel a need to explain why small churches are better than large churches, Karl actually appreciates larger churches, and sees them as part of a wide range of church size, all of which have their place. The book is subtitled, “Big churches, small churches and the small thinking that divides us.”

When I first received the book in the mail three things stood out to me: first, the name of the book and the cover of the book are really sharp. Second, the great group discussion questions in the back. And third, some of the chapter titles such as:

How trying to build a big church nearly killed me–and my church.

Don’t despise the size.

So what’s wrong with church growth?

Small church big vision.

God doesn’t take attendance.

A new way to define success.

Stages in the emotional life of the small church pastor.

Those are just some of the chapters.

If you feel like you need some help getting your head screwed back on straight, this is the book. If you feel you’ve lost your head altogether, Karl will help you find it again and screw it back on.

Here are a few places I underlined:

“…our small size is not a problem to be fixed, but a strategic advantage God wants to use.”

“This drive for greater numbers and larger churches has probably resulted in more pastoral burnout than healthy, growing churches.”

“Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them, or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.”

“I have become convinced that most small church pastors go through emotional stages. At the end, they either burn out and leave the ministry, or they go through that wall to effectiveness and fulfillment in ministry.”

The Grasshopper Myth is my new book to recommend for all pastors, but especially those who serve in smaller churches. Buy it today.



Karl Vaters has been a small church pastor for about 30 years, 20 of which at his current church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California.

Read These Or Go To Jail


Every once in a while you run across a book or an author that speaks to those called to pastoral ministry in a unique, authoritative, essential way. Eugene Peterson is such an author.

I’ve often said that a law should be passed making it mandatory for every pastor to read these five books by Peterson:

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.

The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the art of spiritual direction.

Under the Unpredictable Plant: An exploration in Vocational Holiness

The Pastor: a Memoir

Which of these books have you read?

Book Review: In The Name of Jesus: Refections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen


One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the books of Henri Nouwen is that they are all relatively short, at least most of them. In The Name of Jesus, is no exception. This small book of only 81 pages is so simple in its message to those who are privileged enough to lead God’s people that I am surprised it is not required reading for all ministry students.

Nouwen often reminds me of a Catholic version of Eugene Peterson in that he, like Peterson, is constantly taking the North American pastor back to their roots. For Nouwen the effectiveness in ministry does not lie in the intellect but in the soul. Nouwen is not impressed with busyness but with closeness. In The Name of Jesus is Nouwen’s way of gently calling out to pastors, “Over here, over here. Come away and be with Jesus.”

Below are some of the passages that stood out to me:

God is a God of the present and reveals to those who are willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live the steps they are to take forward in the future.

What decisions have you been making lately and how are they a reflection of the way you sense the future?

Nouwen asked himself, “Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?”

If there is any focus that the Christian leader of the future will need, it is the discipline of dwelling in the presence of the One who keeps asking us, “Do you love Me? Do you love Me? Do you love Me?”

The central question is, are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and taste fully God’s infinite goodness?

For the future of Christian leadership it is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every advice given, and every strategy developed can come from a heart that knows God intimately.

Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.

Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of the ministry.

God’s presence is often a hidden presence, a presence that needs to be discovered. The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the soft, gentle, and loving voice of God. A Christian leader is called to help people to hear that voice and so be comforted and consoled.

The oldest, most traditional vision of Christian leadership is still a vision that awaits realization in the future.




Book Review: The Wind and the Rudder: How to Live in the Power of the Spirit Without Becoming Weird by Dan Smith

The Wind and the Rudder: How to Live in the Power of the Spirit Without Becoming Weird (Dan Smith)

It seems like it’s been a while since someone wrote a book on the Holy Spirit, His ministry, His gifts, His desire to move among His people. I, for one, welcome the return to a topic that once was on many believers minds but has now become forgotten or neglected. Vineyard Pastor Dan Smith’s The Wind and the Rudder: How to Live in the Power of the Spirit Without Becoming Weird is such a book.

Dan says,

“The outpouring of God’s Spirit is the primary thing, but not the only thing we need. There have been many times in history when the wind of God’s Spirit has begun to move powerfully through an individual, in a city or across a nation, only to see healthy, long-lasting revival aborted due to the lack of a rudder. One of the attempts of this book is to help provide the stabilizing force of a strong rudder during times of dramatic renewal and revival.”

and again,

“The burden of this book is really two-fold: To help an ocean of Jesus-followers discover the thrill, the adventure, and the passion of the Spirit-filled life they have been called to, and to help other believers, who have had some experience of the Spirit, to discover balance, understanding, and a new sense of mission. We must have both the Wind and the rudder.”

and again,

“My heart’s desire is that you and all who read this book would capture a fresh excitement and yearning for all that the Spirit wants to do in and through you.”

I’m not sure those outside of the charismatic stream will appreciate or relate to this book as much as those within it but you never know. It seems to me like there are less arguments these days about the Holy Spirit than there were when I started out in the 70’s.

Here’s what stood out to me:

We are addicted to activity, to being busy, because we tend to feel that if we’re not busy, we’re not being productive.

When the Spirit begins to initiate ministry of some kind—an unexpected encounter, a burst of inspiration, inner impressions or “pictures,” etc.—we must learn to pay attention, to “let go” of our agenda, schedule, other priorities, and follow His lead.

What would happen if someone in your church experienced a real miracle? I’m not talking about God healing someone’s headache or sore elbow, but an indisputable miracle, like someone whom everyone knows is blind, and has been blind from birth, who’s been sitting next to her seeing-eye dog in church every week, and someone lays hands on her and she’s instantly healed and can see with 20/20 vision! Can you imagine the repercussions?

The purpose for the power of the Spirit is to equip believers to help bring Kingdom transformation to unchurched people, cities, and nations.

Our starting point in any kind of discussion about spiritual phenomena must be scripture.

No matter how wonderful it is when the wind of the Spirit blows, without a rudder we can easily end up on the rocks of burnout, devastation, or error.

It is essential that we learn to discern what is genuinely from God versus what is merely the product of our imaginations or emotions.

I found The Wind and the Rudder a fast read and well researched and written.




Dave’s book review of Ed Stetzer’s: Comeback Churches

If your church has been in a significant period of plateau or decline Ed Stetzer and his team did a study of churches that turned things around. Comeback Churches is a result of their findings when they interviewed pastors and leaders of comeback churches. Here are some of the quotes that I hope will whet your appetite and peak your curiosity enough to get the book.

Helping churches “come back” after being at a place of plateau or decline is the reason we are writing this book.

Three hundred and twenty-four comeback churches from ten denominations participated in a phone survey about revitalization. Comeback leaders described a process of intentional change, especially in the areas of leadership, renewed belief, lay ministry, and evangelism.

We have studied more than three hundred churches that have recently experienced renewed growth after a significant period of plateau and/or decline.

We wondered, “What principles from Comeback Churches could guide pastors and churches down the path of revitalization?”

We asked, “What can be done to change the direction of churches that are merely existing or that are dying?”

…don’t expect to read this book and conclude, “If I do A and then B, C will automatically occur.” There is no “plug and play” formula, and anyone who says there is wants to sell you a product and not help transform your church. Instead, read this book with others, listen to their advice, then seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Your leadership is absolutely essential in guiding your church to be a comeback church.

Church leaders get entirely too busy, and prayer is often what is neglected. We are so busy in the work of the Lord we have little time for the Lord of the work. Oswald Chambers puts it all in perspective when he writes, “Remember, no one has time to pray; we have to take time from other things that are valuable.

One of the most important conclusions we’ve drawn from our study of comeback churches is that they first had a spiritual experience that redirected and reenergized their lives, beginning with their leader.

First, most churches will not admit how bad it is. Second, most churches will not make the needed changes.

Of those churches that are “growing,” most of the growth is from transfer growth and not the result of making an impact among the unchurched.

Churches wanting change must discuss, discuss, discuss. The church really needs to take a realistic look at its current effectiveness. This does not mean just the pastor and lay leaders. The entire church must embrace its current state before it can move forward. It needs to take an honest look at its current situation so that it can make an honest effort toward revitalization.

If your church is like most churches, one of your greatest obstacles to growth is not one of vision but of visions. Every person who attends or has attended your church has an idea of what the church should be or do.

Leadership was rated as the number one factor by the churches that experienced revitalization. Leadership and vision are major keys to any type of turnaround in churches.

Leadership Journal studied 761 respondents from thirty-one churches to analyze the factors leading to church revitalization. They found five key factors, the first of which was helping the church get honest about its condition. They said that, “Turnaround leaders distinguish between obvious symptoms and underlying problems. The first step is helping the congregation admit there is a problem, and find the underlying (foundational) causes.”

Comeback leaders took the initiative for change.

Comeback leaders shared the ministry.

Comeback leaders made choices about those in whom they invested their time and how they invested their time.

Comeback leaders quickly gave away non-ministry tasks.

Bob Biehl has written, “In determining your leadership competence, your ability to delegate effectively is far more important than your innate intelligence.”

You can’t change a church without changing your schedule.

Comeback leaders intentionally used their time and the time of others differently.

Comeback leaders intentionally planned to spend more time doing “people stuff.”

Comeback leaders agreed that having a clear and compelling vision was foundational in the transformation of their churches.

Comeback leaders multiplied themselves.

Too often, churches are interested in the wrong issues. The Church Growth Movement has declined because people became tired of its perceived emphasis on endless lists of nickels, noses, and numbers.

A comeback requires at least three elements:

First, there is spiritual energy in the lives of individual believers and the church family as a whole, brought about by revival.

Second, the church is restructured around its missional purpose.

Third, there’s a long-term commitment to change.

We rated in the survey—intentional, specific growth goals, more strategic prayer effort, reconciling interpersonal relationships, a renewed attitude for servanthood, and a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church. While each factor is important, three stood out. We believe these Three Faith Factors help a church regain a missional focus and are always necessary to lead a comeback church:

1. Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church,

2. Renewed attitude for servanthood, and

3. More strategic prayer effort.

Most American churches today are well suited for ministry in a different era. All churches are culturally relevant; the question is whether they are relevant to a culture that currently exists in their community or to one that disappeared generations ago. Internationally known church consultant Lyle Schaller frequently asks the same question when beginning to consult with a church. Lyle asks, “What year is it here?” Every church is living in some era. The issue is whether it aligns with the reality of the era where the gospel needs to be proclaimed.

You can’t change a church suddenly and without the church’s permission. (Well, you can, but you will probably end up worse off or at another church.) Instead, involve them in the process.

Developing an effective evangelistic strategy requires a good plan and people who are willing to go “fishing” with more than one type of lure.

Comeback churches used strategies that help people stay and grow.

“Structure breeds confidence.”


Comeback leaders helped people to see the reality of the situation.

Ask the tough questions like:

How many unchurched people are we reaching?

Ask yourself, your leaders, your church:

When was the last time I witnessed to someone?

Are the programs and events we’re doing producing effective results?

Do we need to sacrifice some “sacred cow” ministries?


Dave: I know this sounds like self-promotion but I believe if someone wants to use this book as a resource and strategy to turn their plateaued or declining church around that this would be best accomplished with the help of an outside coach. If interested, send me an email.