Book Review: “Difference Makers: An Action Guide For Jesus Followers” by Scott Boren

photo“Difference Makers” by Scott Boren is a book written to encourage and challenge followers of Jesus Christ to make a difference for the kingdom of God in everyday, ordinary life. The book is written so that the reader can focus on one chapter per day. After you have done your reading you are encouraged to spend time prayerfully considering what God is saying to you through his Word.  Here are a few themes of the book that stood out to me:

Making a difference in everyday life: “Most difference makers have more in common with George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) than the heroes of the Avengers. They are ordinary people who make real differences in the small stuff of life, through the unseen actions that don’t appear significant and most often go unnoticed. They connect with neighbors and meet little needs. They befriend a homeless person and allow him to shower in their home from time to time. They tutor a child who needs extra help. However, the superhero trap invades our thinking. We assume that we have to do something big and noticeable to fix the world in order to make a difference. The call of the hero is the call to stand alone, to stand above the crowd, and to depend on one’s own resources to change what’s wrong. I always assumed that the real difference makers came in the form of preachers, foreign missionaries, and those who moved into the inner city to work with the impoverished. While I see no problem with taking on public roles that result in high-profile influence, we need to break the hero mentality and look at the ways God works in the world.” P.26-27

Emphasis on community: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The ‘you’ in this sentence is plural. It is not talking about ‘you’ as an individual. It is about who you are as part of a new nationality, a new citizenship, a new way of living. We are chosen to be part of this people, who are priests to the world together…Difference makers are part of a difference-making society. If you want to serve people at a homeless shelter, then go with a friend or go as a small group. If you want to mentor a child at a local elementary school, find someone with a similar longing and go together. If you want to invest in a family in need, then work with a few other people. Don’t think about what you can do. Think about what God wants to do through a group of his people.” P. 62, 64

Importance of prayer: “God fights for us in ways we can’t, don’t, or won’t. Making a difference is rooted in the action of God, who never stops coming against the lies we so easily believe. The mission of God’s people is to put themselves on the line between the revelation of God’s love and those in need of that love. We put ourselves in this place through prayer. We see the war for what it is. We know that we cannot make things right without tapping into what we cannot see. For a neighbor experiencing domestic violence, we pray. For a co-worker who’s angry with God, we pray. For a family down the street who cannot afford to feed their kids, we pray. We pray not as an alternative to doing something, we pray so that we might have the power to step in with more than good ideas or what we think they need. We pray so that we might act in God’s power and make a difference beyond logical answers.” P. 139-140

Another great quote about prayer is found on page 120, “Prayer opens the door for entry into mission.” What a great reminder for all of us who want to get out there and start making things happen. We need to patiently wait upon the Lord so that we are operating in the power of the Spirit.

Challenging the consumer mentality: “No church is perfect, but that’s not the point. We often miss out on what God is doing through the church because we expect it to be exciting and stimulating. We expect it to meet our needs, and then we go about our normal lives. Of course, that is the pattern of our culture. We participate in very little that fails to meet our needs or entertain us. It is impossible not to carry this mentality into the church. We consume church. Unless we confront this life of consumption, we will never grow up to practice a life that makes a difference. We will move from place to place and fail to stay put long enough with a specific group of people in a specific place to be a specific colony of heaven. Making a difference requires a mentality of investment, not one of consumption. As long as we consume church-in whatever our preferred form-we will miss out on the experience of being God’s colony in a country of death. Being part of a church requires us to stay put, to contribute, to work through difficulties, and to love others even when it would be easier to leave.”

A gospel focus: I am undeniably a gospel junky. Which means I immediately want to know if the author of any Christian book is keeping the gospel central to everything they write. Without the gospel we end up with good advice, no power when it comes to spiritual transformation.  So I was happy to notice that Chapters 22-28 are really all about abiding in Jesus Christ, not merely as an individual, but as a community of believers. The emphasis on the gospel is critical because the idea of sending people out to live as difference makers without abiding in Jesus is a frightening thought.

A good and challenging book that really functions as a devotional that you would read everyday and pray over. I recommend it!

Interview with Scott Boren

This interview was done a couple years ago while blogging for Missional in Suburbia…

Question: Thank you for being willing to answer a few questions! Tell us a little about yourself…

Scott BorenScott: Husband of a beautiful woman, father of four kids (all seven and  under), pastor and someone who cannot help but write and research. But  even more basic, I am a hay-throwing farm boy from North Texas who felt  God calling him discover what it meant to be a leader in the church. To  my surprise, I found that traditional church leadership did not fit me  well. This has led me down some wild paths, from extensive intellectual  pursuits to very practical hands on experiments of alternative ways of  being the church.

Question: Please define a Missional Small Group and explain how it  is different than what we typically think of when it comes to Small  Group life.

Scott: Definitions  of experiences are hard in some ways, but I know they are necessary so  that we can try to get a common understanding of what we are talking  about. In my book, I talk about four stories of group life, the first  two being normal and the second two providing stories of missional life.  Missional small groups are about living a story of life together that  steps beyond the normal group experience. By normal, I mean the small  group that is a Christian add-on to the normal American way of living,  the nice weekly or bi-weekly Bible study that helps us be better  American Christians. Missional groups live out an alternative story.  This story is shaped by a set of rhythms of life that we practice as a  community.

Question: I really enjoyed this quote from page 139, “We no longer  need haphazard gospel sharing that is not supported by visible  community. We need much more than good sermons, big buildings, and  professional video presentations. We need a people committed to specific  places who are called to bring redemption to those places.”  Explain  why you believe it is so critical to missionally engage our  neighborhoods “together” as opposed to an “individual” approach?

Scott: I’m finding that many people want  more than the normal American church experience. They realize that they  should be living differently, but they don’t know exactly how. The  practices that I offer in my book aim to provide entry points for groups  to discover together what it means to move into this “more” experience  or this “missional story.”

Question: I was excited to see that you explained that being  missional is not just another thing we do in the church, being missional  is a actually part of our identity as followers of Christ. Why do you  believe this is so important for us to understand?

Question:Personal  or individual evangelism has been a major thrust of the church for  decades. However, the “good news” of Jesus is much more than a message  that I as an individual can offer one of my friends. The good news of  the Gospel is a way of freedom, an alternative life to the entrapment  and bondage of the normal life that we typically live today,  characterized by isolation, individualism, rampant debt, fear, etc. The  only way that people can receive the good news of the Gospel is when  they see it. There will be a few who can see what the Gospel through  words alone, but most people need to see and outpost of heaven in a war  torn world. And they need to see it happening on their streets, in our  neighborhoods and apartment complexes, in our schools and playgrounds.  They need to see the good news lived out as we love each other and enter  into honest conversations with people around us. This is the reason the  word “engagement” is so crucial to being missional. But that gets into  the next question.

There  is a lot of talk about “missional” right now and many a using the  Mission alongside the words Communion and Community to help clarify  three parts of the life of a missional community. I find this highly  problematic primarily because when we conceive of mission as part of our  life we turn it into something we do for outsiders. Communion and  Community is insider stuff, mission is outsider stuff. But “missional”  is a being concept, not a doing concept. This is rooted in a rich  theological heritage. God is a God of missional being, not of doing. He  is a sending God, in that he sent himself through the incarnation and  through the sending of the Spirit. God is an overflowing fountain of  love who send himself out of his self gift.

Question: You write on page 49 that “When the focus of group life is  on the meeting, we limit the gospel…” Explain what you mean by a  “limited gospel”.

Scott: This  is the reason I talk about the three rhythms of missional small groups  in different terms: Missional Communion, Missional Relating and  Missional Engagement. Some might think that this is unnecessary  verbiage, but I think it is absolutely crucial. And my experience  reveals this. When we think of missional as something we do, then we  have strategic plans and activities for reaching people for Jesus. But  when it is something we are, then our praying has just as much impact  upon our way of sharing Jesus with our world as anything else. And our  way of loving each other can be as good if not better than the best  evangelistic sermons. Being missional is about living an alternative way  in conversation with people in our neighborhoods. The point of my book  is to help people enter into that life.

Question: What would you say to encourage the average busy Christian  who just does not think they have the time to commit to a Missional  Small Group?

Scott: A  limited gospel might get us into heaven but we don’t allow it to change  our lives now. A limited gospel has enough good news to forgive our  sins, but not enough to set us free to actually love and sacrifice for  those around us. A limited gospel opens the door for a personal  relationship with Jesus but lacks the power to challenge us to be  disciples. A limited gospel calls us to go to church or go to a small  group but does not call us on mission with others.

Don’t  discount this idea by using the excuse that you are too busy. You might  look at this idea and think it is too radical for your life, but I  guarantee that if you really consider it that your heart will resonate  with the possibility of living on mission. Just consider it. Pray about  it. Listen to your heart. And let the Spirit of God do the work in you.  Don’t start with action steps or trying to make something happen. Start  by listening to the Spirit of God within you and a new hope arise within  you from the inside.

One final note: I have  written a new study guide to help groups work through the ideas found in Missional Small Groups. If provides a simple and realistic process to  help groups get started on the missional journey. And one more thing:  It’s free. It can be downloaded at http://www.mscottboren.com/id5.html