REVIEW: *What Comes Next? Shaping the Future in an Ever-Changing World. A Guide for Christian Leaders* Nicholas Skytland & Alicia Llewellyn

In What Comes Next?, Nick Skytland and Ali Llewellyn provide us accessible concept frameworks that make the elements of strategic foresight (“futuring”) meaningful and manageable. I find that motivating! Church, ministry, and agency leaders don’t need (or want) yet another book that is too simplistic–cool, but not practical; or too complicated–erudite, but inscrutable. Because navigating current chaos and future uncertainty is too strategic to our congregations and organizations for us to miss the mark on this.

As futurists, Ali and Nick have years of experience applying their professional expertise to help leaders work with relevant principles and practices. They aren’t here to TELL us what our future holds and what to do. Instead, they provide a roadmap that SHOWS us how to figure out what is POSSIBLE and then apply foresight principles in our own context for what is PREFERABLE. I see this as inspiring hope, and hope is an active verb.

While they acknowledge our mixed feelings about things to come and how emotions can hold us back, they help us hearken back to when we were all futurists as children. They use relatable examples of how play, imagination, curiosity, and exploration set the course for things to come. They implant and feed the seed that we can be active shapers of the future instead of passive clay that takes the imprint of whatever may happen. Yes, we really can impact the way things go! But how?

Nick and Ali detail Four Forces that form this main framework in understanding and applying What Comes Next?–purpose, people, place, and technology. This is not just a set of factors, but a system of forces. A system implies more interconnections and interactions among the members, not just a bunch of independent pieces thrown into a set list. So, various intersections among these Four Forces bring out important questions that help us find clarity in our current times, so we can then navigate our own local situations.

And, as they emphasize, “Clarity precedes strategy. ” So, their equipping process facilitates better discussing, discerning, and deciding. Leaders will (1) learn about navigating uncertainty, (2) apply curiosity and creativity to have more “successful failures,” and ultimately, (3) use these experiences for a more positive trajectory in ministry endeavors.

I appreciate how they’ve made this book engaging for people like myself who process information better in pictures more than words. And in fact, they provide elements that connect with a diverse range of ways people learn: theory and story, principles and practices, statements and questions. But then, that makes sense, if we’re to lead a flock or a team, we need a field guide to conducting and compositing a theologically sound “spiritual MRI” on trends and issues that directly affect us, so we can navigate our way forward with hope and confidence, even in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty.

What Comes Next? is definitely is a five-star field guide to equip us as explorers and shapers of our group’s most preferable future!

Note: I received an advance readers copy of this book as part of the launch team.

For more details about the book, see The Futures Framework website.

And be sure to check out the podcast series–several episodes have already been posted and the series will run from January through March 2021.

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Five Reasons Why *5Q* by Alan Hirsch is a Need-to-Read Book

NOTE: The beginning section of this review is cross-posted on the Amazon site for 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ, by Alan Hirsch (2017; published by 5Q).

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I know it’s not normal to write a review before finishing the book. However, in this rare case of Alan Hirsch’s *5Q*, I am. That’s because I’ve read enough to know that I WILL finish it, because the first quarter of the book (preface, intro, and first two chapters) provided more than enough threshold details for me to recommend specifically why I believe you should read it, too.

In a nutshell: I am convinced from a combination of constructive and destructive experiences in 40-plus years working with non-profits, church plants, and social change activism that applying paradigm systems theory is essential to successful, sustainable transformation. And, the way I see it, *5Q* provides a conceptual framework for identifying deficiencies in our system compared to the revealed ideal, and a set of practical skills and tools for filling in gaps and filing off excesses in our systems.

This means 5Q can drive both context-based intervention when things have gone toxic, and prevention of problems in our start-up and sustainability efforts. So, 5Q is valuable to those working in situations that focus on Kingdom embodiment and personal discipleship: churches, church plants, social transformation endeavors, community development, missional impact metrics, and spiritual abuse survivor advocacy.

For those not yet acquainted with the core concepts of 5Q, here’s the kernel of the system. Ephesians 4:11-13 specifies a fivefold structure of giftedness in the Body of Christ. Using the acronym of APEST, these are: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. The APEST giftings are meant to work together. Christ manifests all five and they are key to the Church universal’s genetic code. As with any genetic aberrations, a deficiency or duplication of any fivefold chromosomal element can lead to chronic illnesses, sterility, or even premature death of a body.

*5Q* is an intermediate introduction to Alan’s lifetime work in missional ministry. In it, he presents (1) the revelational and incarnational bases for the APEST typology as the Body of Christ’s genetic system, (2) practical outworkings of the system for individuals and organizations, and (3) solutions for addressing related problems. Additional component trainings and tools are available from “5Qcentral,” making this a robust, holistic system for context-sensitive ministry movements.

Here are my five observations from the first 25% of the book that convinced me to read the rest. I hope you’ll find reasons to read it in these as well! Continue reading

The Benedict Option: Sam Rocha’s Critical Review and Robert Webber’s Secular Saint

There’s been quite the discussion about Rod Dreher’s recently released book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. It seems to me there’s a lot of hype surrounding its content and applications. It reminds me of what we saw in the “emerging ministry movement” of 20 years ago, with leaders looking for The Next Big Idea that would supposedly change the playing field for relevant ministry. However, such answers often ended up being lists of glib tips and methods and models that supposedly worked anywhere — a nice bypass for the painstaking local work of cultural exegesis and careful contextualization.

I’m not a fan of hypeful answers to complex questions. I prefer figuring out the broader context as a better way to give a more reflective response instead of universal principles that easily slip into quick-fix programs. And, since I have been writing about many things post-modern, post-Christian, and post-Christendom for 20-plus years, I thought it might be helpful to post several resources and thoughts to contribute to the discussion. Continue reading

Review of *UnLeader* by Lance Ford

Hear ye, hear ye … I have just posted my first-ever book review on Amazon!

It is for UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership … and Why We Must, by Lance Ford (Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2012). I received a review copy in September 2012 and read it then — and have peeked at it (and the stack of notes I wrote!) off and on ever since. I was planning to post a review last year, but other circumstances took over for a while and many things disappeared into that vortex.

However, what the time-lag added to the writing of my review was the reality that for 16 months, UnLeader keeps coming back to mind as really something extraordinary. I hope what I’ve posted will give a fresh and helpful perspective on grasping the value of what Lance Ford has produced, and the gift it is to the Kingdom. I also hope you will buy a copy, read it, and be changed by the  powerful and empowering message that Lance Ford offers!

And here is that review … Continue reading

Seven City-Reaching Systems

Summary: The recent process of evaluating Pastor Tim Keller’s “gospel ecosystems” approach to city-reaching inspired me to think about other approaches that I’m aware of from the past 20 years of experience and research. And so I wrote this post to offer an initial overview of seven distinct systems for reaching cities for Christ. The overview for each approach includes something about its ministry emphasis, theology, and generation-group appeal. If we look at these approaches as a set, I suspect we’ll be better able to develop a more comprehensive and contextual strategy for wherever it is that God’s providence has rooted us in. Continue reading

“Gospel Ecosystems” and Its Organic Features

Summary: This series began in response to a blog post by Dr. Dave Fitch on Pastor Tim Keller’s concepts and practices of “gospel ecosystems.” My previous post in this series about Keller’s approach to collaborative city outreach was “Gospel Ecosystems” and Organizational Systems. There I summarized Keller’s key elements in organizing people and processes as best I could from the information in his white paper and video, and then suggested where we’d need more information to evaluate his approach more fully and fairly. Finally, I focused in on research and development topics related to church planting assessment tools. I see this as a crucial part of contextualized ministry for emerging paradigms and cultures.

In this post, I take a similar approach, but addressing aspects of organic systems that could make or break “gospel ecosystems.” After summarizing Keller’s elements, I list areas that need more detailing. Then I focus on prevention and intervention related to various agents that would subvert the system and make it unsustainable. I conclude with an Afterword about the overall topic of “city reaching strategies,” and give some initial thoughts on the approaches I have seen in the past 20 years. Continue reading

“Gospel Ecosystems” and Organizational Systems

Summary: In my previous entry, Thoughts on Pastor Tim Keller’s “Gospel Ecosystems,” I noted that I planned to post a section of “appreciative inquiry” to summarize what I think his approach offers for social transformation enterprises. I prepared for this by viewing the Cape Town Lausanne video of Pastor Keller that Dr. Fitch linked to, and reviewing Keller’s Cape Town white paper PDF: “What Is God’s Global Urban Mission?”

In working through reflections on this material, the product didn’t turn out as I originally expected. It ended up as two posts, one with a summary of positive points in his organizational systems, the other on his organic systems. Each includes my concerns and what I still can’t figure out from the links Dr. Fitch provided in his post on the subject. I do apologize that there is repetition in these from my last post, and also that, unfortunately, I don’t have the time right now to merge these posts or to search for answers to my remaining questions. But I would rather post it now, repetitious and open-ended, rather than wait to I can merge the material … which could be an unknown span of time, given priority projects I must finish on deadlines.

Anyway, the writing process helped me clarify my own thinking in general about systems approaches to collaborative Kingdom enterprises for social transformation. Meanwhile, for a snapshot of my recent views on ministry collaboration systems that are organic, contextual, and transgenerational, see my post that overviews developing a 100-year missional plan. Continue reading

Thoughts on Pastor Tim Keller’s “Gospel Ecosystems”

Dr. David Fitch recently posted Tim Keller’s “Gospel Ecosystem”: 3 Dangers In a Noble Idea. He invited feedback on the accuracy/validity of his take on Pastor Keller’s approach to urban transformation. Dr. Fitch was especially interested in whether the planks in Keller’s “gospel ecosystems” are (or could be misused to be) as (1) reductionistic and/or (2) potentially imperialistic. Also, to paraphrase, he wanted to know (3) whether Pastor Keller’s approach assumes that social structures are neutral and need only be improved by influential Christians, or whether there are personal forces of evil at work that must be resisted and sometimes the existing social structures must be resisted or replaced.

My short answers are: (1) Yes (probably). It appears to be incomplete and not fully interconnected. (2) Yes (potentially). Anytime you talk about influencing culture, and you don’t talk about the wisest and worst ways to do that, you leave the way open for horrific misapplications. And (3) I don’t have a yes or no due to insufficient information. But I do believe this is a particularly crucial issue. Some theologies don’t believe in Satan as a personal force of evil and that means social action is merely based on enlightened decisions by people instead of also spiritual warfare against an enemy who would rather see us enslaved or dead. Other theologies give principalities and powers too much purchase, and therefore overfocus on spiritual warfare in their attempts at solutions for social transformation. This post gives a more detailed expansion of these espresso answers to Dr. Fitch’s questions. Continue reading

Sweet Notions Already Shows What Future Mission and Ministry Will Look Like

Summary: This post profiles Sweet Notions, the most recent social enterprise start-up element in the Matryoshka Haus international network. I see this decentralized network as a forerunner in missional ministries and Kingdom enterprises. With nearly a decade track record to its credit, Matryoshka Haus continues to develop organically with components of contextual discipleship, creative collaboration, micro-businesses, and social transformation movements.

Sweet Notions “rethinks * restores * and reclaims” through sales of donated fashion accessories. It also sponsors Design Camps – a safe environment for empowering women by training them in marketable skills to “upcycle” accessories. Sweet Notions is definitely an ongoing case study to watch, if you want to see more than glimpses now of what holistic mission and ministry will look like later.

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