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Book Review: Off-Road Disciplines by Earl Creps

Offroad_disciplines_2 Today I received my copy of the Winter 2007 issue of Leadership Journal entitled "Going Missional."  My abbreviated book review of Earl Creps's book Off-Road Disciplines appears on page 76.  I have posted the full 1000 word review below.  Earl has a website.

Earl Creps. Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006. 240 pp. $23.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0787985201. 

Reviewed by Andy Rowell, Christian Educational Ministries and Biblical Studies, Taylor University

Over the last few years, Earl Creps, director of doctoral studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, has interviewed hundreds of young innovative church leaders.  In his first book, Off-Road Disciplines, Creps takes the very best of their insights, adds his own wise reflection, and describes twelve ways pastors can keep their ministries relevant and healthy.  Pastors will greatly benefit from this book for three reasons. 

First, Creps tackles relevant and important issues.  For example, he brings up how to cope with feelings of failure when your church doesn’t grow as fast as you had hoped (ch. 1), how to assess how your church is doing (ch. 7), and how to resolve issues of young vs. old in the church (ch. 8, 11-12).   

The second strength of this book is that Creps looks at the issues with a balanced perspective.  Often books on church ministry are written by practitioners who inform us what worked at their church.  We immediately think of twenty reasons why it couldn’t work in our church.  Creps makes conclusions after consulting a variety of perspectives.   

Third, pastors will appreciate this book because the writing is so accessible.  Creps is a pastor’s pastor.  He graciously dispenses empathy, stories and appropriate challenge.

Below I have given a short description of each chapter with a few lines that struck me as particularly insightful and convicting. 

In the first chapter, “Death: The Discipline of Personal Transformation” Creps tells the story of bringing his “ministry paradigm of tidy principles” (8) to a small church in Maine and fully expecting attendance to boom.  He had been taught that the paradigm worked except in cases “of poor execution or weakness in leadership” (9).  “But our Mainers seemed to have missed a meeting somewhere” (9).  Creps calls this experience a “small crucifixion” (4). 

Then Creps describes the different ways pastors are responding to the coming “post-Christian generation” in his chapter “Truth: The Discipline of Sacred Realism.”  In chapter 3 “Perspective: The Discipline of POV” (point of view), he helpfully outlines a ten-tier scale to depict the varying degrees of how people are affected by postmodernism (36).

In chapter 4 “Learning: The Discipline of Reverse Mentoring” Creps describes the rich educational experience of humbly asking young people questions about things he “doesn’t get.”  He gives this advice: “don’t limit yourself to one person or format” and “check your attitude at the door. . . Remember, you are being crucified, not just educated” (49).

Creps urges pastors to develop relationships with non-Christians, whom he calls “the sought,” in chapter 5 “Witness: The Discipline of Spiritual Friendship.”  He reflects on the positive changes in his preaching style after he began to compose his sermons in a coffee shop where he built friendships with the non-Christians owners.  “The length of my talks dropped by a third, concepts and vocabulary grew simpler, and text on PowerPoint slides gave way to images or nothing at all” (69).               

Chapter 6 “Humility: The Discipline of Decreasing” invites pastors to wake up to our tendencies to: fake humility with a little self-deprecating humor (74), deliver infomercial monologues about ourselves (76), and bluff that we have read books we haven’t (78). 

Next, Creps reflects on “Assessment: The Discipline of Missional Efficiency.”  He urges leaders to evaluate things that deserve it, “not just the things that are easiest to count” such as bodies, bucks and buildings.  He briefly describes today’s Traditional, Contemporary and Experimental churches in chapter 8 “Harmony: The Discipline of Blending Differences.”  He sets forth a basic model for theological reflection in chapter 9 “Reflection: The Discipline of Discernment.” 

In chapter 10 “Opportunity: The Discipline of Making Room”, Creps describes how to create evangelism-friendly opportunities where the Spirit might move.  He critiques programs that imitate large successful churches but also criticizes those who would dismiss all forms of intentionality (143).  As a Pentecostal, Creps has done extensive thinking about the role of the Holy Spirit.  That pays dividends in his insightful description of the Spirit’s role in ministry.  The Spirit is not some “depersonalized vague form of divine background radiation” nor the “battery used to power big-personality leaders” (152).  Rather, the Spirit “fills individuals to make the mission of Christ a reality” and “reveals Christ to the sought” (153).

Chapter 11 “Sacrifice: Surrendering Preferences” is the only chapter in the book that seems particularly directed to younger pastors.  Creps shares his pain of being discriminated against by younger people (158).  He explains that young pastors may need to sacrificially give up some of their preferences, as Timothy agreed to be circumcised, for the sake of broader mission.  Chapter 12 depicts the role of the older pastor in this process.  It is entitled, “Legacy: The Discipline of Passing the Baton.”  Here Creps casts the vision for loving younger leaders and having enough faith in them to share power with them. 

You will enjoy reading this book more if I give you one piece of advice.  Don’t pay much attention to “disciplines” in the book’s title.  Though titled Off-Road Disciplines, the book has nothing to do with spiritual disciplines.  Don’t read this book if you are looking for insight into Christian practices, discipleship or spiritual formation.  The chapters make sense independently without that overarching structure. 

If you are a pastor from the Baby Boom generation, this book is primarily written with you in mind.  If you read this book, you will better understand the convictions driving younger pastors and will come away a more gracious, thoughtful pastor.  All church leaders will benefit from the wise and gracious coaching of Earl Creps.