Blog | Topic: Book Review

Early Decision: A Novel Based on a True Frenzy

ED“Somewhere along the line we’ve failed students. We haven’t listened to them enough. We’ve told them what to say and how to say it, but we haven’t listened.” – Lacy Crawford

Lacy Crawford was an independent college counselor for fifteen years. Her specialty was helping wealthy families get their children into elite universities. During this time she was also “coming of age” herself, going to graduate school, bouncing around working in different non-profits, living in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London.

Her novel, Early Decision, basically tells her story and the stories of many of the families she worked with over the fifteen year period. It follows five Chicago-area high school students from August to January, as they enter the competitive college admission process. But the book is about much more. In an interview, Crawford explains her motivation for writing:

“I began to write Early Decision to understand how thoughtful, dedicated parents can be so driven by fear of their children’s futures that they are willing to place enormous value in a system that is reductive with regard to character, and that is, if taken to its current extremes, harmful to a child’s development.”

Crawford is a gifted writer. Her writing style and story-telling ability, alone, make the book a delight to read. That she cares deeply about her students and youth culture, as evidenced in the quote above, gives the book added value, especially for those who desire to see young people grow into healthy adulthood.

If you are a person who cares about youth and families as well, perhaps a parent, teacher, coach, pastor or youth leader of some kind, here are three reasons why you should read this book:

First, the novel exposes the competitive nature of the college admission process and the place of “college” within American culture. The main theme of the book is college, after all. But, of course, college is about much more than a degree or even an education. For many, it is about status. It’s about future ambitions and a symbol of success.

While the book does focus on the elites (elite families trying to push their kids into elite schools), all parents and youth workers will be able to relate to these wealthy families in some way. The parents want what they think is “best” for their child. They have the means to provide resources to get what they want. But the book should give us pause, no matter our financial situation, because it forces us to ask bigger, better questions about the place of “college” in our culture. What is college for? Why do we send our young people to college? What are good reasons for going to college? Do teenagers we know and love even want to go to college? How should we define success and the “good” life? If asking these kinds of questions makes you uncomfortable, don’t read Early Decision!

hurt20.inddSecond, the novel is about the relationship between parents and teenagers. More specifically, Crawford does a masterful job at helping the reader see why it is often so difficult for parents and teenagers to have meaningful conversations. Parents are scared their kids won’t succeed in life. Teenagers are terrified to fail and not live up to parental expectations. While reading Early Decision, I was constantly reminded of Chap Clark’s important ongoing research and book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Clark’s research has shown that the defining issue for contemporary adolescents is “systemic abandonment.” Parents can be over-involved in the wrong things, and un-involved in the right things, both at the same time! Clark writes:

“We have evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture. We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together.”

At one point in the story, Crawford’s narrator makes a keen observation:

“Something came into clearer focus about the way the [wealthy family] had raised their girl, about the gifts they had attempted to give her, while overlooking the most ordinary things: taking her to visit refugee camps, for example, though they were never home for supper. As though they had taught her hand gliding while neglecting that boring bit about walking.”

Crawford is able to write in a way that is critical but not cynical. Her protagonist often empathizes with the parents’ primary concern (wanting what is best for their kids) while exposing the deeper pain the culture of achievement and abandonment has wrought. This makes the satire and criticism even more persuasive and ultimately more scathing. No one is innocent here. After reading this book, we all are forced to (re)assess our priorities and do a better job listening to our kids.

defineThird, the novel is about emerging adulthood and the challenges facing young people to “grow up” in today’s world. Not only does Crawford’s narrative provide insight about teenagers trying to get into college, but it also tells a story about a 27 year-old trying to make a life. Ann, the college counselor and central character, also struggles with career, educational decisions, romance and the prospects of marrying a boyfriend who just won’t commit. I was surprised by how compelling this part of the story was as well. This is a great book to read alongside of Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry by David Setran and Chris Kiesling as well as The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of them Now by Meg Jay.

Early Decision is about as good as it gets. The subject is important, the characters are authentic, the dialogue is believable, and the metaphors and analogies are literary without being snobby. I highly recommend it and anxiously await another novel from Ms. Crawford.

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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

SpiritualFormationTwo of the stated goals for this website are to provide information on emerging adulthood and resources for developing lasting faith. If the church is going to help young people develop a lasting faith, we need to have a good understanding of the cultural conditions in which they live (emerging adulthood).

Both of these goals come together very nicely in a new book by two college professors. David P. Setran (Wheaton College) and Chris A. Kiesling (Asbury Theological Seminary) have recently published Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry (Baker Academic).

From their extensive background in college and young adult ministry, the authors were motivated by two questions:

(1) What does the gospel have to offer emerging adults as they are formed through the adult transition?

(2) What do emerging adults shaped by the gospel have to offer to the church and the world?

Their stated desire for writing the book is “to provide a ‘practical theology’ for college and young adult ministry, one that combines important scholarship, a Christian theological vision, and attentiveness to concrete ministry applications.” Baker Publishing Group invited me to read the book ahead of time and offer an endorsement. Here it is:

“Young adults need guidance and so do those who desire to help them mature into healthy adulthood. This book provides a lucid overview of the current research regarding emerging adulthood as well as accessible guidelines for reaching this generation with the Gospel. The authors make a strong case for why the church should take emerging adulthood research and emerging adults more seriously. Most refreshing, the central motivation behind Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood is not the desire to grow a church or young adult program, but to see young people grow up in Christ.”

I highly recommend this book for church leaders, college ministers and parents who desire to see young people embrace and live-out faith during the formative, young adult years.

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The Legacy of Francis Schaeffer: A Prophetic Voice, An Authentic Life

Schaeffer-Edgar-posterMy good friend Byron Borger is hosting the annual Hearts & Minds Summer Lecture at Robert Morris University tonight. The lecture will be given by William Edgar, discussing his new book Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality (Crossway). You can learn more about the event here. If you are in the Pittsburgh area you won’t want to miss it!

I was reminded of a review/reflection I did a few years ago  about a biography of Francis Schaeffer by Colin Duriez. If you are interested in a good introduction to Schaeffer’s legacy, I highly recommend Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Crossway). Here’s my review:

“Who is Francis Schaeffer?” The question came from a young, bright, Christian college student who over heard me talking about the new biography Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez. “Are you serious? You don’t know who Francis Schaeffer is?” I responded. It was as if someone from a far-off tribe had asked me “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth that you speak of?” My heart began to beat a little faster, and I had the privilege of introducing this young student to the giver of Christian intellectual life, my savior, I mean, my hero, Francis Schaeffer.

There was irony in this conversation, of course. I was talking to a young, Christian student, who is passionate about developing a Christian approach to sustainable agriculture, linking it to deeper, local community life. We have had numerous conversations about the church in the 21st century, the kingdom of God, and environmental concerns. She was beginning to make connections with her deepest convictions about the environment and the Gospel and was living them out at a summer internship on an organic farm. Connecting what she believed about the world with how she lived in the world, was being manifested (incarnated) in tangible ways, and she had a plethora of resources to draw from: books, conferences, mentors and MP3 lectures. Here’s the irony: while she had no idea who Francis Schaeffer was, he had pioneered a movement of Christians to not only think more deeply about the Christian faith and how it sustains the attacks of modernity and the scientific revolution, but he also pleaded with believers to live-out faith in ways that showed the world the “Truth” of the Gospel. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that if this same college student would have had similar convictions 50 years ago, the only place on the planet where she could have had an opportunity to wrestle with these questions, network with like-minded people and seek a Christian understanding of her concerns would have been under the teaching of Francis Schaeffer at his L’Abri ministry in Switzerland.

SchaefferI don’t want to overstate this. Certainly Francis Schaeffer wasn’t the only “thinking Christian” in the 20th Century. But it did dawn on me that while this student didn’t know who Francis Schaeffer was, she was certainly living in his legacy. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a Presbyterian pastor who became a missionary in Europe to expand a children’s ministry that he had started with his wife Edith. He was also deeply concerned with the “liberalization” of the church, especially the “higher criticism” approach to scripture. Not only did Schaeffer travel from city to city starting children’s ministries, but he would also lecture on the contemporary challenges to biblical, evangelical faith. In 1955, the Schaeffers started L’Abri (French for shelter), a place for “truth-seekers” to come and ask questions, wrestle with faith, and study Christianity more deeply. People came from all over the world, many converting to Christianity and many being energized to live-out their faith in powerful ways. You can learn more about this amazing ministry in Edith Schaeffer’s book L’Abri.

Colin Duriez’s biography is an excellent place to start to learn more about this remarkable man. I recommend it highly, not only for those wanting to learn more about Schaeffer but for anyone who is interested in a deeper engagement with the Christian faith and culture. Schaeffer’s story needs to be known for generations to come and Duriez has told his story beautifully. Instead of retelling his story here, I’d rather discuss what I learned. What follows are three important things that I learned about Schaeffer through reading this book, and why I think each one is vital for the church today:

First, Schaeffer was not afraid to ask tough questions about his faith. Before starting L’Abri, Schaeffer went through a grueling period of doubt and reconsideration of the Christian worldview. In fact, his wife thought that there was a chance that he was going to walk away from his faith altogether. Fortunately, this crisis of faith led Schaeffer to an even deeper commitment to the Truth of the gospel and to starting one of the most influential ministries of the 20th century. Probably the most significant aspect of Schaeffer’s legacy is his belief in the Christian faith for the sole reason that it is True. Because of this, he wasn’t afraid to meet intellectual challenges head on, even opening himself up to the possibility that he could be wrong. Humility became one of his defining characteristics. What a legacy for the church to consider. Do we, as the body of Christ, welcome times of questions and doubts? Do we take the time to fully understand opposing viewpoints? Is humility one of our defining characteristics? In order to engage the culture around us in effective ways, we can learn much from Schaeffer’s approach.

Second, Schaeffer was not only concerned with a “thinking” faith, but also a “living” faith. Schaeffer thought that too many Christians were not living out what they believed. Following his faith crisis, Schaeffer was determined to live in a way that revealed the Gospel to be true. If there truly was a God who was present, working in history and in our lives, then we should live in a way that conformed to this reality. We should expect God to meet our needs, provide opportunities to minister and make Himself known to others. In many ways, L’Abri could almost be seen as Schaeffer forcing God’s hand, making Him be true to His word. And the story of L’Abri is, itself, confirmation of the Truth of the Christian faith. Do we live in ways that require the Gospel to be true? Or do we simply live out an American, Western lifestyle and hope God is there to bless us? I think Schaeffer would challenge us to evaluate our lives to see if we really live as if the Biblical story is the True story of the world. Schaeffer’s words from an interview in 1980:

“I think there are many Christians – I mean, real Christians, real brothers and sisters in Christ, people I’m really fond of – who believe that certain things in the Christian faith are true, and yet, somehow or other, never relate this to truth. I don’t know if it comes across, what I’m trying to say, but I believe it’s truth – and not just religious truth, but the truth of what is. This gives you a different perspective.” (p. 189)

Third, Schaeffer was willing to partner with people outside of the evangelical Christian faith who supported a common cause. While not wavering on his personal convictions regarding evangelical faith and the authority of Scripture, he had no problem joining others who had similar concerns regarding public policy and social justice. This is certainly more widespread today, but in Schaeffer’s day, as a reformed Presbyterian pastor, it was almost unheard of to work along side Catholics or Mormons or agnostics who were united to confront injustices in the world. The church today should glean needed wisdom from Schaeffer’s willingness to work with and learn from others outside of his Christian tradition.

Schaeffer’s story is one that needs to be told and retold. Thanks to this new biography, more people can learn about this important person in Christian history. Christian college students, especially, need to be reminded of the coherence and Truth of the Gospel and how it applies to all areas of life. Duriez’s biography reminds us that the life and writings of Francis Schaeffer is a good model for how to put this into practice.

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Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional

dCBrian McLaren, the often cited “theologian” and “father” of the emerging church movement, wrote something in the introduction to his book A New Kind of Christian that has always stuck with me. He had grown up in a fundamentalist sub-culture, had been pastoring an independent community church for many years and was writing about his crisis of faith. He recalls having a moment of clarity when he realized he had a major decision to make: (1) he had to stop being a Christian or (2) he had to find a new way to be a Christian. Even though he didn’t use this language, he was, in a sense, looking for a third-way.

I had a similar “faith-crisis” experience in college, so as I read A New Kind of Christian, I had mixed emotions of frustration and gratitude. I was frustrated because the strength of the new “way” McLaren was looking for, I had found in historic (reformational) theology. My newly energized faith was being built on the biblical theology of Herman Bavinck, the cultural criticism of Herman Dooyeweerd and the cultural engagement of Abraham Kuyper. I was also being nurtured by more recent expressions of culturally engaged evangelicalism from Lesslie Newbigin, Al Wolters, Os Guinness and John Stott. As I read McLaren’s supposed “new” way to be a Christian, I kept thinking: “Why doesn’t he know or cite these Christians!” I often contended that had McLaren (and others) read Creation Regained (Wolters), The Transforming Vision (Walsh & Middleton), Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Wolterstorff), or When the Kings Come Marching In (Mouw) the whole emerging church movement may never had happened.

In Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, Jim Belcher makes a similar case. He points out that a third-way is possible, but that many of the emerging church leaders have failed to see that it was here all along. First, he defines and separates the emerging church family into three helpful types: (1) Relevants: leaders who are not as interested in reshaping theology as they are in updating worship styles, preaching and leadership; (2) Reconstructionists: leaders who are mostly orthodox theologically but who focus on changing church structure, often moving toward more informal forms of worship; and (3) Revisionists: leaders who question evangelical theology and pretty much everything else.

Making these distinctions is essential in order to get a better picture of what the emergent movement is trying to do and to better clarify our critiques. Most relevants are simply evangelicals that want to attract more people to church; most reconstructionists are evangelicals who don’t see the value in the “organized” church; and most revisionists are Christians who aren’t sure they want to be evangelicals. If you have a problem with seeker/market driven/hip mega-churches, take your shots at the relevants. If you think formal church structures and denominations are vital (even biblical), criticize the reconstructionists. If you think orthodox/evangelical theology as outlined in the creeds and confessions of the traditional church is essential to following Jesus, revisionists will drive you nuts. But, with the help of Belcher, at least we have a better sense of where the lines are drawn.

I grew up in the Lutheran church, was a part of a “free church” for ten years and currently worship in a Mennonite community. I deeply resonate with Belcher’s longing and need for tradition. I’m impressed by the way he has discovered an implemented a third-way at his church: especially his well-rounded, blended forms of worship music and weekly communion. I also appreciated that Belcher affirms the emergent emphasis of “belonging before believing” and yet challenges the emerging churches to call people to commitment.

For my work, I was most interested in Belcher’s story of how learning about the Gospel of the Kingdom revolutionized his college experience. As a college student he realized that his faith was indeed “something big enough to base my life on.” I had a similar conversion experience toward a more holistic, culture engaging Gospel during my later years of college and early young adulthood. Belcher and I have been aided in this journey not so much by re-inventing or re-imagining a new way to be Christian, but in realizing the many faithful Christians of the past who have wrestled with similar concerns and provided the church with helpful tools to navigate faithfulness.

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Dallas Willard and the Kingdom of God: A Tribute

DallasIMGmedDallas Willard, USC philosophy professor and Christian writer, died of cancer yesterday. It is being reported that his last words were “Thank you.” Fitting. I have only known Dr. Willard through his books and speaking, but it was obvious that he lived a life of grace and gratitude. His books were a gift to the church.

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God has been one of the most important books I have ever read. It had a memorable entry into my personal library. It’s hard to forget. I bought the book on September 10, 2001 from Hearts & Minds Bookstore (recommended by my good friend Byron Borger) and started reading it on September 11th around 8:30am. I put the book aside at 9:05am to turn on the TV to see who had won the Monday Night Football game the day before. I don’t remember who won. But I do carry with me two profound memories from that day: the sight of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and reading this paragraph from The Divine Conspiracy:

“Jesus came among us to show and teach the life for which we were made. He came very gently, opened access to the governance of God with him, and set afoot a conspiracy of freedom in truth among human beings. Having overcome death he remains among us. By relying on his word and presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life in the infinite rule of God. And that is the eternal kind of life. Caught up in his active rule, our deeds become an element in God’s eternal history. They are what God and we do together, making us part of his life and him a part of ours.”

It is, perhaps, my favorite paragraph about Jesus. I reflect upon it every Christmas. I thought about it yesterday when well-intentioned people broke the news by saying “Dallas Willard has gone to be with the Lord.” I understand and appreciate the sentiment. And it is true. Dallas Willard is now with Jesus. But I couldn’t help but think about how much of his life he devoted to inviting people to see that Jesus is with us now. Today. The Kingdom is “at hand.” Jesus is in our midst this moment. No other writer has made me more aware of that reality.

Here are a few other things I learned from Dallas Willard:

Dallas Willard was an astute observer of cultural trends. In The Divine Conspiracy he retells a story of a Harvard University student who received all As in courses on “moral reasoning” and “ethics” and yet continually, sexually harassed a female classmate. He writes, “There now is no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based.” (Dr. Willard’s book Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge more fully addresses the disconnection between character formation and education.) But my favorite cultural observation is this:

TDC“And just think of a world in which little children sing, ‘I wish I were a [certain kind of] wiener. That is what I really want to be. For if I were [that certain kind of] wiener. Everyone would be in love with me.’ Think of what it would mean to be a weenie, or for someone to love you as they ‘love’ a hot dog. Think of a world in which adults would pay millions of dollars to have children perform this song in ‘commercials’ and in which hundreds of millions, even billions, of adults find no problem in it. You are thinking of our world. ”

Dallas Willard challenged Christians to reconsider the content of the Gospel message proclaimed by the contemporary church. I think this was his greatest contribution. He identified the “Gospel on the right” with only having “good news” for overcoming death and he identified the “Gospel on the left” with only having “good news” for the oppressed. He writes:

“The disconnection of life from faith, the absence from our churches of Jesus as teacher… is largely caused and sustained by the basic message that we constantly hear from Christian pulpits. We are flooded with what I have called ‘gospels of sin management,’ in one form or another, while Jesus’ invitation to eternal life now—right in the midst of work, business, and profession—remains for the most part ignored and unspoken.”

Dallas Willard concluded that many of the problems we face is “nothing but the natural consequence of the basic message of the church as it is heard today.” He continues, “It would be foolish to expect anything else than precisely what we have got.” Dr. Willard offers three important questions to consider when presenting the Gospel:

1. Does the gospel I preach and teach have a natural tendency to cause people who hear it to become full-time students of Jesus?
2. Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural “next step”?
3. What can we reasonably expect would result from people actually believing the substance of my message?

Dallas Willard helped me to ask better questions about things that matter most. His writing has had a profound influence on my life and work. One more favorite quote from The Divine Conspiracy:

“We are, all of us, never-ceasing spiritual beings with a unique eternal calling to count for good in God’s great universe.”

Amen. Thank you, Dallas Willard.

I highly recommend these two, short articles as a good introduction to the work of Dallas Willard:

Who Is Your Teacher?

Rethinking Evangelism

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The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings

SlowFadeIt’s no secret. Many young adults are no longer finding a “home” in most churches. This common trend used to be dismissed with the pithy response: “They’ll return when they get married and have kids!” But that’s no longer the case. For one thing, more and more young adults are prolonging marriage. What’s more, waiting for people to get married in order to have them fully participate in the life of the church is not an effective or biblical strategy. The church needs to disciple people regardless of their marital status. In fact, the young adult years are considered by many to be the most formative years in a person’s life. But why has it become so difficult to reach emerging adults? What can the church do to more effectively connect with the next generation?

Equipping the church to wrestle with these questions is what inspired the authors of The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings (David C. Cook). Reggie Joiner, a senior pastor, Chuck Bomar, a college pastor, and Abbie Smith, a twenty-something, offer insight into the often hard to reach college aged crowd. When many churches seem to be looking for the latest and greatest program to attract young people who have slowly faded away from church, these authors provide a simpler, more biblical approach: mentoring. Their plea is for the older generation to take the younger generation more seriously by investing their time in developing meaningful relationships with young adults. According to the authors, “Halting the slow fade happens when adults start investing in the college-aged people.”

Most notably, they are suggesting that the church re-think its finish line. For too long, the church has seen graduating from high school as the big “finish” before moving off to college. The authors ask a perceptive question: “If the slow fade in someone’s faith begins to occur at the point he or she goes off to college, then why don’t we focus some of our best energies on the first few years of college?” What would it look like if the church pushed back its finish line to age 20, or better, didn’t have a finish line at all? It would require a major paradigm shift in the way most churches think about youth and youth ministry.

The authors realize that mentoring is not easy and offer wisdom and guidance to be more effective and authentic disciple makers. Church leaders who care about seeing young people grow in faith should not miss this book. Confused parents who are struggling with their young adult son or daughter will gain valuable insight into why he or she is no longer apart of the church. The Slow Fade will open your eyes to the needs of young adults and provide steps forward for reaching them with a faith that lasts.

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Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story

Fatherless GenerationFatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story (Zondervan) by John Sowers offers an eye-opening, bleak, but ultimately hopeful look into a generation growing up without fathers playing an active role in their lives.

The first half of the book paints a dismal picture of fatherlessness in America. Thirty-three percent of youth—over 25 million kids—grow up without a dad. According to Sowers “the fatherless boy lives with the nagging accusation that he will never be adequate, never measure up, never really be a man.” And, “while our fatherless sons rage, our fatherless daughters decay. Driven by a crippling sense of unworthiness and a gnawing hunger for Dad, they are emotionally and sexually promiscuous.” Citing various sources, Sowers concludes: “The fatherless generation is accountable for most of the serious problems we face today…”

63% of youth suicides
71% of pregnant teenagers
90% of all homeless and runaway children
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions
85% of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger
71% of all high school dropouts
75% of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers
85% of all youths sitting in prison

But there is hope. The second half of the book is an urgent plea for churches to invest in intentional mentoring programs. Sowers is currently the president of The Mentoring Project, which “seeks to respond to the American crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys.” He offers countless stories and statistics of boys and girls who made successful and healthy transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The common denominator was that they had mentors in their lives, showing them want it meant and looked like to be men and women. Understanding the daunting task of being a mentor, the book concludes with helpful and inspiring advice on how to engage the fatherless among us.

Sowers forces us to open our eyes to the devastating crisis of fatherlessness. It is pervasive. And because it affects everyone in some way, everyone should read this book. If you come from a fatherless background this book will help you to make sense of your situation. Youth workers should read this book in order to better understand how to serve the fatherless in their congregations and communities. And, finally, fathers should read this book to be reminded of the importance and challenge of being a faithful dad.

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InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives

InSideOut CoachingAre you looking for a great Christmas gift to give a coach or to anyone who loves sports? I highly recommend InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann.

Parade Magazine called Joe Ehrmann “The most important coach in America.” Here’s why: Ehrmann cares deeply about his players and wants nothing more than to see them mature into responsible adults. InSideOut Coaching tells the story of how he began to see the transformational power of sports and how he intentionally integrates his faith with coaching.

Everyone who cares about young athletes (coaches, parents, pastors) should read this book. It is a reminder of how sports are meant to be played and why they can and should have a positive impact on young people.

Learn more about Joe Ehrmann here.

Related Resources:

Book: A Season for Life:A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx (A book about Joe Ehrmann and his unique coaching style designed to “build men for others.”)

Video: Watch videos featuring coach Joe Ehrmann here.

Seminar: Only a Game? Why Sports Matter

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What is Vocation? Helping Teens Understand Their Calling in Life

According to a recent study conducted by Stanford University, only 1 in 5 (20%) of teenagers “express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and why.” Many youth workers and parents are concerned with teen apathy and directionlessness. Even Christian teens seem to have a difficult time connecting their faith with their future plans and career aspirations. What is needed in many churches and youth groups today is a robust theology of vocation. Enter Stephen J. Nichols and is very helpful booklet (only 30 pages!) What is Vocation? (P&R Publishing).

While this booklet is useful for everyone in the church, much of the content and concern derives from his work with teens during the formative years as a college professor. He writes, “It’s the goal of this booklet for you to see all of your work, whether you get a paycheck for it or not, whether it’s considered a noble profession or a menial task, as germane to your calling as a child of God and a disciple of Christ… The doctrine of vocation enables us to see our work, all our work, as a means by which we can serve, worship, glorify, and enjoy God.”

Not only does the booklet provide a biblical, theological and historical overview of the doctrine of vocation, but it also makes connections with personal stories and popular culture. This is recommended reading for anyone who desires a deeper understanding of calling. It would be especially helpful to youth workers and parents who want to instill the value of calling and purpose in their teens.

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Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College

Is your son or daughter planning to go to college? Do you assume that someone, maybe a guidance counselor, will help him or her get into a college? Are you confused by the college admissions process? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I highly recommend Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College  by journalist Andrew Ferguson. It is an entertaining and engaging read, combining a good blend of laugh out loud humor and informative advice.

Ferguson writes about his experience walking through the process with his son. “For Americans who had gone to college in the fifties, sixties, or early seventies, a process that had seemed rather straightforward—find a school, preferably nearby, figure out how to pay for it, leave home, study, flirt, party—now appeared unexpectedly elaborate and crucially important, complicated by a bewildering array of plausible options and eager come-ons. Parents seemed slightly stunned, and then uneasy, and then confused.” As a journalist and parent, Ferguson was compelled to write a book to help eliminate the confusion. He explains, “For every piece of advice or information a parent or child receives while applying to college, there is an equal and opposite piece of advice or information that will contradict it.”

What’s most appealing about this book is that Ferguson isn’t afraid to challenge the assumption that everyone should go to college or even that one has to go to college to be successful. He challenges readers to consider why they want their child to go to college and whether or not a bachelor’s degree is the best way to meet their aspirations. Ferguson is especially concerned about the cost of college and wants to prevent parents from spending too much money on something that may not ultimately deliver what they want: a child with marketable skills and job prospects. Crazy U is worth reading by anyone trying to sort through the college admissions process and the proper place of education in the lives of young people.

Watch a video with the author and his son here.

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