[nick duffel]

thoughts on leadership, books, design + more.

BOOK REVIEW: “Insight” by Tasha Eurich

Insight-Cover-nytInsight, by Tasha Eurich, is the self-awareness manual we didn’t know we needed.  We didn’t know we needed it, but it turns out we do—desperately so.  As Eurich herself points out in chapter one, “self-awareness is the meta-skill of the twenty-first century.”  So rare is this skill, and so powerful a determiner of success in both business and relationships, that we cannot afford not to develop it.  Eurich defines—really, hacks the definition of—self-awareness, convinces the reader why it matters so much, and then gives pages of practical application.

The “definition hack” mentioned above is really the key point of the book: that there are two parts to self-awareness.  There is internal self-awareness, which has to do with seeing yourself clearly, and there is also external self-awareness which is knowing how other people see you.  You can have one of these two parts without having the other.  According to Eurich, this explains how there can be an increase in business books calling for greater Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness, etc. but a general decline in these skills across the board.

The first half of the book focuses on roadblocks to self-awareness and on internal self-awareness.  A critical point in the first half is the inadequacy of introspection to help us discover ourselves.  “Thinking isn’t knowing,” Eurich points out.  She offers tried-and-true—and often counterintuitive—ideas for really seeing and understanding yourself clearly.  One section, about the power of self-compassion, was transformative for me, and I believe it could help many others.  Listen to this: “The problem is not being aware of yourself but loving the person you find out you are.”  Powerful.

That said, I benefitted even more from the second half of the book.  Eurich transitions to talk about external self-awareness, which is painfully elusive to so many of us because we are reluctant to tell each other the truth.  She offers page after page of helpful wisdom, and much of it is counterintuitive (a common theme).  The book offers many assessments that are sure to provide many “wince moments” and insights into our own blind spots.  There is also a section dedicated to building self-aware teams that on its own is worth the price of the book.  Finally, Eurich tackles the subject we all hoped she would: How do I deal with the unaware leader that I work for, and can they really change?

All throughout the book, Eurich writes with a playful, yet authoritative tone.  At times, I laughed out loud, and other times I found myself getting emotional.  She isn’t afraid to tell less-than-rosy stories about herself.  Her conclusions and insights come from very thorough research, but she never comes across clinical or dry.  In short, she seems to be the perfect author for a book like this.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope and pray it ends up in as many hands as possible.  It needs to be read, and widely, because the more who read it, the better off our world will be.  Did I just say this book could make the world a better place?  Yes I did.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: “The Imperfect Disciple” by Jared C. Wilson

9781683665793In his book The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, author Jared C. Wilson sets out to write a discipleship book for the rest of us.  His assertion is that too many discipleship books are written for people who have it all together, or at least are good at making it look like they do.

This book succeeds because Wilson speaks on a raw, blue collar level, but with the theological chops of a seminary professor.  He is both painfully honest about his failures and scholarly in his theological musings.  He has a contagious passion for the message of the gospel—he wants this message front and center—and he reminds the reader why this all matters so much in the first place.  It all matters because God loves and values people—messy, distracted, petty, wandering people.

Wilson begins every chapter with a metaphor, comparing the gospel to things like a burning ember or a well-worn book.  His goal is to lead the reader to understand the gospel on a visceral level, and not just an intellectual level.  When Wilson shares from his own life, he is uncomfortably honest about his shortcomings, struggles, and failures.  He is very funny, and his humor is often self-deprecating.  This also demonstrates to the reader that the gospel is something Wilson lives, not just something he believes or teaches about.

The biblical story he uses to frame this gospel treatise is the controversial, touching conversation recorded in Matthew 15 between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  Is Jesus being mean by calling her a dog, and why does she respond this way? Wilson holds the reader in tension with stories like this, bravely confronting the failure in himself and all of us, while emphasizing the glory of Christ.

I believe the greatest praise I could give this book is that it makes the gospel of Jesus Christ look really, really good.  I believe that was Wilson’s goal.  One standout chapter is entitled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed,” with the subtitle, “When You Think Church Would Be Better Without All the People.”  This chapter is one of the best visions of church life I have ever read or heard.  As a church leader, my soul was encouraged.  Also, the last chapter, “Lurv Wins,” stands alone as a beautiful essay on the unfathomable love of God.

Highly recommended.

Steven Roy Grimsley does a great job of narrating the audiobook version.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

BOOK REVIEW: All These Wonders by The Moth

04BOOKBURNS-facebookJumboAll These Wonders: True Stories About Facing The Unknown, a collection of stories from The Moth radio program, is a generous gift of a book.  Through these stories, originally told in front of a live audience and now captured in written from, we come to know the storytellers intimately—and we get a better understanding of the human experience as a whole.  Stories are precious because of this universal truth: through the story we get to know the teller.  As Neil Gaiman puts it in the foreword, “Honesty matters.  Vulnerability matters.  Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.”

I am thankful for this book.  I am grateful to the 45 storytellers who had the courage to stand on a stage and tell their story.  They come from a variety of backgrounds: artists, scientists, humanitarian workers, spies, refugees, authors, actors, and more.  There are moments of real, raw emotion where I cried, and other moments where I laughed out loud.

I “met” people in these stories that I never would meet otherwise, and their experiences and viewpoints challenged me greatly.  Even if I disagree with a worldview, it’s impossible to disagree with someone’s story of their experience.  This book taught me to listen to others better; people that I encounter on a day-to-day basis.  I learned to value stories more, and to take the time to hear them.

Having said that, I make this declaration: reading this book might just make you a better human being.  Highly, highly recommended.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Chazown by Craig Groeschel

9781683662556“Everyone ends up somewhere in life, but very few end up somewhere on purpose.”  That is the main premise of Chazown by Craig Groeschel.  “Chazown” is a Hebrew word that means “vision” or “dream,” and is used by Groeschel to describe that purpose for which God created you.  The book Chazown is meant to be a guide for discovering that ultimate purpose, and fully living in it.

Chazown is not a long book, and it is composed of several very short chapters, giving the book a quick, fun, effervescent feel.  Groeschel’s light-hearted and approachable writing style only adds to this particular pathos.  He comes across as a trustworthy guide, and when dealing with topics as touchy as life-direction and identity, this is probably a good thing.

Groeschel points out that every person’s chazown is discovered where their core values, spiritual gifts, and experiences overlap.  He then turns his attention to the practical: how do you live out your chazown?  Five “spokes” are identified that need to be in place for successful living of a chazown.  These are areas where we must “succeed small in order to succeed big.”  The five spokes are: relationship with God, relationships with people, finances, health and fitness, and work.

Chazown succeeds as a self-help book in two ways.  First, it isn’t really a self-help book as much as a call to draw near to God and listen closely in order to find life purpose.  Unfortunately, this activity is foreign to many believers and many live aimless lives as a result.  Second, Groeschel is able to be systematic and comprehensive without coming across as constrictive and clinical.  His outline for discovery and execution leaves room for people to “move around” as they work to discover their unique design.

I think this book works best as a focused call-to-action.  Groeschel’s purpose is to get the reader moving and working for the expansion of the Kingdom of God.  But he isn’t content just to call the reader to action; he wants movement with purpose and direction.  I recommend this book for any and all who have yet to find their “sweet spot” in the Kingdom.  Read this book, and go find your chazown. 

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: “I Am N” by The Voice of the Martyrs

9781633897052.jpgAs a Christian living in America, stories of Christians being violently persecuted always seem to have an other-worldly quality.  These things don’t happen now, do they?  These stories seem to belong to another time, and another place, with Colosseums or Nazis.  And that is why the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs is so important, and why we who live in the West cannot let our brothers and sisters suffer alone and in silence.  I Am N, a collection of true stories of Christians facing persecution Islamic Extremists, is just the wake-up call we need.

This book is all about finding love, grace, courage, and hope in the most unlikely of places.  I found myself examining my own level of faith in Christ and commitment to Christ as I heard these stories.  I was driven to prayer for the persecuted church, and compelled to worship of God for his incredible faithfulness.  The most impacting stories were those of believers who were tempted to retaliate because of the violence against them, and yet they chose instead to respond with grace and love.  How often do I retaliate for offenses that are so much smaller than these?

I highly recommend this book for all believers.  We need to hear these stories, and we need to stand in solidarity with the persecuted church.  Our understanding of the world is often painfully small, and this book is designed to shatter our safe perceptions of faith while propelling us into deeper levels of devotion.

Marco Prentice and Amara Delaney do an outstanding job on the narration of the audiobook version.  I recommend experiencing this book in audiobook form because the narration is so well done.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: People of the Second Chance

firebrand_21.jpgOne of the keys to encouraging vulnerability in another person is the willingness to vulnerable yourself.  For many of us this is doable, and yet we have invented an imaginary line of “appropriate vulnerability” that seems to say, “I am ok being this vulnerable, but beyond that is too much.”  In People of the Second Chance, Mike Foster argues that real thriving only comes when we embrace the darkest and most uncomfortable parts of our story.  And then he boldly crosses the “appropriate vulnerability” line and models how to embrace embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, failure, and pain in a way that allows God to redeem it—unimaginably—for good.

To be clear, these are not the typical confessions of an author or speaker trying to “emotionally connect” with the audience.  This is some really raw stuff.  There were times I literally squirmed as I read, feeling embarrassed for Foster, only to find myself completely amazed by how he speaks of God’s unconditional love.  Foster seems to be a man growing more at ease with his failures and his painful story, quick to  bring them to God so that the relationship can be that much deeper.  What a powerful example!

Foster also includes examples in the book from the stories of others.  Many of these are people that Foster has met through his organization, also called People of the Second Chance.  One particular story that impacted me was that of Heavy, an incarcerated man for whom Foster and some others threw a “prodigal party.”  Foster speaks lovingly of this hardened man, and then he turns his attention to the dignity-stripping environment of the penal system.  His critique of this broken system is made more credible by his ministry to those inside.  He speaks of others who are tackling this same system and he challenges the reader with, “We will never change the world by doing things that make sense.  Societal and religious norms must be pushed to the brink of absurdity sometimes in order to move us forward.”  Foster champions the restoration of dignity on an individual as well as systematic level all throughout the book.

Along the way, Foster also ventures into other dark territories including abuse, the comparison game, judging others (with an amazing bacon analogy), and depression.  I can imagine this book setting so many people free by becoming a manifesto for imperfection in a society that is uncomfortable with this level of vulnerability.  Will we trust God—and others—enough to courageously admit our imperfections, and create a culture around ourselves where others can do the same?

I highly recommend this book, particularly to those in the helping professions that would regularly encounter those with deep hurts.  However, I would say this book is meant to be ruthlessly applied to ourselves first, and I certainly have benefited from Foster’s raw wisdom.

Foster does a great job narrating the audio version of his book.  I cannot imagine anyone else narrating a book so intensely personal, so I am glad he did it himself.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

A physical copy of this book was also gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Designed to Lead

9781633898912Should business management principles be applied in the church?  Does the Bible actually speak to leadership development or is that a misappropriation of larger churches with misplaced priorities?  These are tensions that have been at the forefront of the church growth conversation for at least the last three decades.

In Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck address these “big picture” tensions as well as the smaller day-to-day ones by focusing on something much older than the church growth movement—the purpose and mission of the church.  This is a book that incorporates the theological as well as the practical in such a concisely comprehensive way, that it seems destined to become a go-to manual for church leaders for years to come.

Geiger and Peck are stubbornly theological, using the Bible as a starting point and not a proof-text reference.  Also, they are “high church” in the best was possible: insisting that the church should be the primary leader-producing entity in the world.  And not just leaders for vocational ministry, but leaders in every sector of society.  The fruit of discipleship in the church should be transformational leaders in the culture—and so culture is transformed for Jesus.

On the “practical” side of the equation—although something tells me the authors would not appreciate “theological” and “practical” being separated—the book is a gift in so many ways.  Geiger and Peck synthesize ideas from books that have been very influential for me: Good to Great, Scaling Up Excellence, and Simple Church, the latter also being co-authored by Geiger.  I also appreciated insights that I assume were brought to the table by Peck, who is lead pastor at The Austin Stone, a church I follow closely and respect greatly in the area of leadership development.

Designed to Lead follows a logical progression, starting with chapters on “Convictions,” moving to chapters on organizational “Culture,” and finally addressing “Constructs” of leadership development.  This layout ensures that readers are developing leaders from a place of biblical conviction in a church culture that won’t be counterproductive.  The authors acknowledge the temptation to skip straight to the practical constructs, but of course they advise against this.  A wise leader will heed this advice because the journey is important.

I highly recommend this book for church leaders who want to take seriously God’s call to make disciples and equip leaders.  This book will make you think, give you the courage to address cultural issues, and move you from theory into the messy trenches of building leaders.

Jim Denison does an outstanding job on the narration of the audiobook version.  His voice is perfectly suited for the tone of the book.  My one quibble with the audiobook version is it is hard to go back and reference ideas and constructs.  After listening I bought a print version of the book that I can highlight and write in, and use for later reference.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

BOOK REVIEW: “Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith & Art” by Madeleine L’Engle

51817536.jpgWhat comes to mind when you hear the expressions “Christian art,” or “Christian artist”?  For many, the connotation is negative, conjuring images of subpar work with some Jesus messages tacked on.  In Walking On Water, fiction writer Madeleine L’Engle reflects on the intersection of faith and art in a series of connected essays.  This book has become a classic since its publication in the early 80s, and rightfully so.  L’Engle not only redeems the idea of Christian art (a term she avoids), but she elevates it as well.

L’Engle undoubtedly values words.  Not just because words are her livelihood, but because she knows the damage that can be done when words are misused.  Words like “story,” “true,” “zeal,” “grace,” “human,” and “inspiration” are no longer allowed to lie lifelessly and uselessly on the page.  L’Engle coaxes the artistic and existential meaning from each one.  Along the way we get gems such as, “The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions,” and “Story was in no way an evasion of life, but a way of living life creatively instead of fearfully.”  Perhaps the best blow she lands in the struggle for the validation of “Christian art” is, “If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.”  In this statement she indicts both the world that would marginalize, and the artistic Christian—“Christian” is a better noun than an adjective—who would shrink back in fear.

I highly recommend this book, which left me both shattered and reflective multiple times, putting words to things I’ve felt, but never been able to speak.  L’Engle speaks for the artist that lives in all of us; calling it out like Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

BOOK REVIEW: Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw

23648884There are endless stories lurking in the dark, historic corners of World War II Europe just waiting to be told.  Some of these stories are historical fiction, borrowing against the high drama of the war and the epic struggle between light and dark it represented.  There are also many true stories, no less dramatic, if not always as Hollywood-ready.  And these stories are precious; as the generation that remembers them quickly begins to fade, these stories cannot be told fast enough.  Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a true story that reads like a thrilling historical fiction.

Kershaw tells the story of an American doctor, Sumner Jackson, and his wife and son who live in occupied Paris.  The family joins the French resistance to the Nazis, putting themselves at great risk since the Avenue Foch—their street of resistance and the titular “Avenue”—is also a hotbed of Gestapo agents.

The book is truly thrilling and rich in history.  I found myself writing down place and people names to look up later, as well as carefully reading through the 40-page notes section in the back of the book.  Kershaw has obviously done his homework, but he strings together a narrative with his research, sounding neither rote or sensational.  Kershaw also gives a sense of the scale of conflict that frames the story, but his focus stays unwaveringly on the family at the center.  By the end, the reader cares deeply what happens to this family.

I recommend this book whether or not you are a World War II history buff.  Woven through this narrative are themes of sacrifice and family that are timeless and striking.  What would you do if called on to put your family at risk in order to fight a great evil?  In smaller ways than the Jackson family, we are confronted with value decisions like this on a regular basis, and so this story speaks to something universal.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Wreck My Life by Mo Isom

9781633896567What does true brokenness look like?  What does it mean to truly surrender our lives to Christ?  Soccer star Mo Isom tells her powerful story and gives us a vivid picture of both brokenness and surrender in Wreck My Life.

I should state up front that I am not a huge sports fan.  And my understanding is the market for books written by sports stars relating their faith journeys is a crowded one indeed.  Be that as it may, Isom tells her particular story with an almost shocking honesty and intensity.  She shows she isn’t concerned with maintaining her image as she graphically describes her struggle with an eating disorder, how the suicide of a loved one rocked her world, and how a car wreck revealed her life for the spiritual wreck it was.  Her humility is obvious, and she speaks as one who has overcome a crippling insecurity because she knows the One who offers true security.  Her boldness isn’t a star athlete’s bravado, but a committed believer’s quiet strength.  She knows that in her weakness she is strong, and she lives it.

Isom’s story will speak powerful truth into the life of any young person who will care to listen.  She knows firsthand the pressures faced by those who place too much hope in academics, athletics, appearance, achievement, or popularity.  She encourages us to learn from her mistakes, and she presents an example that is worth following.  To top it off, she writes very well, and the reader feels along with her the joy, anguish, fear, disappointment, anger, and shame of her experiences.  She also does a great job narrating the audiobook version.

Isom’s story will inspire you—and I really mean that.  Highly recommended.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.