To End, to Follow, to Believe
By LeRoy Lawson
Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships
that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward
New York: Harper Business, 2010
Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011
Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010
Not long ago a friend urged me to read Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings. It has inspired and instructed him, he said, because as he leads his megachurch into its next phase of growth, he knows he faces some very difficult decisions. Some programs need to be killed or redirected. Some employees aren’t keeping up and must either change or be gone. These tough calls will cost my friend some popularity, even some members.
His reading of Necessary Endings has given him the courage to do what he has to, he says. Cloud builds on the pretty obvious metaphor of the rose bush: there will be no prize-winning roses without careful, measured, sometimes painful pruning. So it is with building prize-winning organizations.
His writing is simple, even simplistic. Few readers can fail to profit from advice like this: “The fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it.” This comes from his conviction that there are three kinds of people: the wise, the foolish, and the evil. Prudent is the leader who adjusts his management style to match the type of employee or volunteer worker he is dealing with.
I like the counsel he gave a friend who had been asked to dinner by his daughter’s boyfriend. Marriage was in the air. After the appropriate small talk was over, Cloud said, “Tell him that you would like to see his credit report and his last two years’ tax returns.”
That had to be a stunner to the bewildered father. Cloud then explained that he’s not trying to get the numbers, but to discern the young man’s reliability. Does he fulfill his obligations? Can he be trusted? It’s not what’s on the tax return that matters so much as whether he has filed them. His past gives a clue to his future.
Similar anecdotes fill the book. Cloud is too often the hero of his stories, always seeming to have the exact solution. Life’s messier than that, I’m afraid. The truth is, though, he is right often enough to make this a helpful little volume on a subject we’d most like to ignore: how to bring an end—in the church, in business, in relationships—to what needs to be pruned so new growth can occur.
Deciding to Follow
Another young friend insisted I read Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan. “It was life changing for me,” she said.
I must confess it’s taking a little adjustment for me to get excited about books written by authors in my grandchildren’s generation! What can such inexperienced people know when compared with the gray-haired, wrinkly-skinned (wrinkles aren’t all bad—brains are wrinkled, you know) sages of my generation?
Well, for starters, they know how to communicate. Idleman writes in a casual, almost breezy prose style, assuming the reader has more than a passing acquaintance with what’s happenin’ now—but not assuming the reader has any solid understanding of the Bible. The result is a book that’s easy to read about expectations in the Christian life, but not easy to apply. Idleman leaves little room for excuse making.
It is, as the title warns, a book about discipleship. When a member of the huge Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where Idleman is one of the ministers, sent an e-mail asking to be removed from church membership (“I don’t like Kyle’s sermons” is all he said), Idleman phoned and asked for an appointment. He wanted to know why the man found his preaching offensive. “Well . . . whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.” Exactly.
He’s doing the same thing in this book. No more easy believism for this author. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer before him, he bids his reader come to Jesus and die.
This is not a scholarly book. Idleman doesn’t quote widely. Most of his illustrations are personal, coming from his own life or the lives of those whose testimonies he includes.
If applied, though, reading Not a Fan can, indeed, be life changing.
Learning to Believe
The last paragraph of Stanley Hauerwas’s memoir Hannah’s Child captures the quirky, perceptive, puzzling but always fascinating nature of this noted theologian’s personal, intensely personal, faith:
As I shared this manuscript with friends along the way, someone asked me what I had learned in the process of writing Hannah’s Child. I am tempted to say that I have learned how fortunate I am to have had such good friends, but that would be stating the obvious. I might also reply that I now realize how lucky I have been, but that would be killing time in the hope of discovering something to say. There are other possibilities. But in fact what I have learned is quite simple—I am a Christian. How interesting.
How interesting that he should characterize the essence of becoming a Christian as simply “interesting.”
This insight comes from a man who “slowly learned . . . that to be a Christian meant that you could never protect yourself from the truth.” He has accepted that “for me, learning to be a Christian has meant learning to live without answers. Indeed, to learn to live in this way is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers.” Yet the search for the answers is precisely what propels one to a study of God.
First he became a theologian, and then he became a Christian. Not your usual order of things. How that happened is the subject of this most unorthodox seeker after orthodoxy. Who else can you name who wraps his Evangelical Christianity in high-church liturgy? What other pacifist do you know who so openly admits his unpacifistic temper? And for my Restoration Movement brothers and sisters, what surprises are in store as you learn of his convictions regarding weekly Eucharist (Communion) observation and adult baptism by immersion.
I have come late to this man. I intend to get to know him better. I admit his salty vocabulary (which he blames on his working-class origins—a feeble excuse) is a turnoff. On the other hand, his faithfulness to his mentally ill wife of 24 years and his intense love of their son compensate for a host of shortcomings. His devotion to the church, his love of his academic discipline and of the students he has nurtured, endears him to this preacher/teacher as well. I enjoyed getting to know him.
Now I must get better acquainted with his theology.
LeRoy Lawson is international consultant with CMF International and professor of Christian ministries at Emmanuel Christian Seminary in Johnson City. Tennessee. He also serves as a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor and member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee.