Book Review: Church Diversity by Scott Williams

I’ve read and reviewed a good number of books this year and this one is certainly one of the best.  Scott Williams holds no punches in the sharing the sad reality most churches – and the American Church at large – struggle with: we are still a segregated community.

The book starts by reminding us of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”  Williams begins with this statement and then travels forward almost 50 years to paint the reality that while business, government, and education have adjusted to change the reality of segregation the church has remained largely silent.  And, white people, before you get defensive, I’ll let you know that Williams is just as critical of his own race as he is of ours.

The first chapter is spent laying the ground work and giving some history regarding Williams himself.  One of the statements that hit me square in the face was this one:

“Let me share a little more of my personal story and testimony.  I have not always been a pastor, and I have not always been a part of these game-changing movements that I’m referring to.  As a matter of fact, I spent 11 years, 44 days, and 8 hours of my adult life in the prison system.  It was as crazy as you can imagine: 8×10 cell, razor wire, bad food, pent up anger…PRISON.  Relax, I was actually a warden in the prison system.  Why does a brother always have to be in the prison system?  Unfortunately, some people did not even make it to this sentence as they said to themselves, ‘I’m not reading a book from a convict.’  For everyone else, the curious nature of human beings propelled you to read on.  Thanks for doing so.” (p30)

Throughout the rest of the book Williams lays down the reality facing us today, addresses it as the problem (sin) it is, shares stories of both success and failure as churches have addressed this issue, and lays out an outline for churches to begin working towards diversity.

If you allow it to, this book will convict, challenge, and motivate you for change.  I’m going to share one other statement from the book, this one actually quoting Pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow from San Francisco, California:

“If I had to choose one struggle, it would be around the issues of ‘color-blindness’ that many well-meaning people have.  The ‘I don’t see you as [insert ethnic group here]’ perspective, while noble, does two things that are not helpful.  One, it assumes that one’s race is something that the person wants someone to see beyond and, two, too often the ‘beyond’ we are striving for is simply a generic ‘white’ culture that, in the end, perpetuates a ‘lesser than’ understanding of people of color.” (p137)

For the record, Williams does not attack or condemn the church (either white or another racial distinction) as consciously creating a segregated institution.  He never suggests this is a direct sin of commission where people have said, “You stay away because you are [insert ethnic group]”  What he does do is come right out and say that this is a problem in the church and it needs to be addressed – whether it has been created by sins of commission OR sins of omission, whether it has been created and perpetuated by whites or any other ethnic group (I keep referring to whites because I am white).

The only criticism of the book I have is that it limits its focus to racial diversity and does not directly address issues such as worship style, age, or even income diversity.  To be fair, Williams gives a passing mention of these other areas early on in the book, but I wish more time would have been spent addressing them as well.  But over all this book hit the nail on the head in addressing the elephant in the room.  Now it’s just time for church leaders to step up and join Williams in addressing this great sin the church has perpetuated.

This book gets a solid 5/5 stars – put it on your must read list!   Please note, a complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an open and honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.


Book Review: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope by Trevin Wax

Counterfeit Gospels is one of those books every Christian leader – and every Christian should put on their “required reading list”.  It pulls no punches and will probably convict (offend?) everyone who reads it at some point within its pages.  Trevin Wax tackles one of the most important questions the Church is struggle with today: namely, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”  The heart of Christianity is the Gospel, but there is so much uncertainty and disagreement among Christians leaders (and Christians in general) over what “the gospel” is, it leads to disagreement over what it means to be a Christian.

Wax identifies a three-pronged approach to understanding and sharing the gospel: The Gospel Story, The Gospel Announcement, and The Gospel Community.  He identifies six different counterfeits in this book: The Therapeutic, The Jugmentless, The Moralistic, The Quietist, The Activist, and the Churchless Gospels, first identifying what the real Gospel is and then disarming each of these counterfeits.  I’ll be honest to tell you I was convicted during my reading of this book that I’ve fallen sway to varying degrees to some of these counterfeits, and I believe any honest believer would find themselves hard pressed not not find themselves in the same boat.  If you’re comfortable in your understanding of The Gospel and how you live your Christian life then this book probably isn’t for you, but if you want to honestly examine whether your beliefs measure up against the truths of Scripture then take the time to read this book and contemplate the truth found within its pages.  This is a definite 5/5 stars.

Transformation Church (Worship: Actively Embrace Jesus) by Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer

The 25 page chapter on worship in this book is perhaps the best writing I have ever read on the topic of worship and church music, period.  As a worship leader/church music director I’ve read a lot on the subject, but Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer hit the nail on the head.

Transformational Church is a book which reports the results of a ground breaking study done on the American Church which identified seven principles of what the authors term “Transformational Churches”.  What exactly is a TC?  In short, it’s a church where members are learning to live move like Jesus, where the church is growing not just in numbers but also spiritual maturity.

I’ll be honest and tell you up-front I didn’t read the entire book.  Instead, I decided to focus on that area of the book related to the ministry over which I have the most direct impact: worship and music.  I didn’t start that way, but after reading the introduction to the book where they lay out their research, summarize their findings, and also identify each of the seven principles, I decided to focus my time on the principal of worship.  So the only principal of the seven I read a chapter on was the principal worship.  For the record, then, I read chapters 1-2 and 7.   The 25 pages of chapter seven, however, took me three days to wade through (instead of less than an hour), and I’ll be going back to the chapter to re-read it again and again and I work to implement their suggestions in my ministry.

Will I read the other chapters?  Yes, but for now I need to focus on what I am responsible for and not allow myself to get side tracked.  I will say I did skim some of the other chapters, particularly the ones on mission mentality, leadership, prayer, and building relationships.  While the study focused on those areas from a church-wide perspective I was able to read the principles in relation to just the music ministry, so I will be going back to do a more focused-study of them later .  My theory on music ministry (and really leadership in general) is that the music ministry (or whatever ministry you are leading) is a microcosm of the entire church, so principles that can apply to the entire church can be applied in the specific ministry.

Let me speak specifically about the chapter on worship: it summarized the principles of worship precisely while at the same time bravely opening up Pandora’s box in discussing musical style.  While I take issue with their final conclusion on the issue of a blended service (something I’ll write more about on my blog, I Respond to Jesus, directed specifically towards church music and worship directors in the coming days), I agree with their over-all assessment, reminding the readers that in the end everything is about God and not about our own personal preferences.  Perhaps the best way to summarize where the chapter goes is to reflect on this question raised in the chapter: “Do we see evidence of God changing lives as a result of our worship services?”  If you want to see how to answer that question in the affirmative, then check out this book!

One final note.  While the book is published by Lifeway and the study was conducted by Lifeway Research, it is not a Baptist book by any means.  In fact, the churches studied in the book (and mentioned by name) are from many different denominations – I can’t even say the majority of them are Baptist.  They did a fantastic job of looking at the broad spectrum of churches in America today.

For more information on the study you can visit the Transformation Church website by clicking here, view an introductory video on YouTube by clicking here, or even access their online community on Facebook by clicking here.

This is a chapter that needs to be read by every church music director, and the book is one that really needs to be read in its entirety by every pastor and church leader in America.   This book definitely gets a 5/5 stars

Cross posted on I Respond to Jesus