Christian Non-Fiction

911 Memorial at Breezy Point, NY. Image copyrighted by CLS.
911 Memorial at Breezy Point, NY. Image copyrighted by CLS.

 Bob Russell reflects after 50 years . . .


by Bob Russell, 224 pp.; Moody Publishers.
by Bob Russell, 224 pp.; Moody Publishers.

After 50 Years of Ministry: 7 Things I’d Do Differently and 7 Things I’d Do the Same by Bob Russell, 224 pp.; Moody Publishers. Pre-order price, $9.40 (USD) hardbound edition (expected release date 7 June 2016). Kindle edition
now available for $8.93 (list, $11.99, both USD).


Given a choice, I’d much rather learn from the mistakes of others than make my own – not that I always see the choice in time – so I was intrigued to learn what retired megachurch pastor Bob Russell had to say about the things he wishes he hadn’t done, as well as the things he’d do all over again, given half a chance.

The insights aren’t startling – after all, there is nothing new under the sun – but I love the plain-spoken way that Russell presents his seven “Don’ts” and his seven “Dos” because these are exactly the kind of lessons I learn best when they are spelled out for me rather than disguised beneath inventive images and lyrical language. He doesn’t pull punches, whether he’s exposing his own errors or holding up a mirror to ours, but he does write with a comforting sense of humility . . . and humor.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect:  I’ve never thought God might be calling me to any kind of ministry, and I’m much more comfortable – and accountable – in intimately small churches than those where thousands, let alone tens of thousands, congregate. For the first few minutes, I thought this would be a pretty good book for the clergy.  For the next few minutes, I thought this would also be a pretty good book for lay leaders.  Before long, I decided it is a pretty good book for Christians, no matter whether they are called to the ministry, leading as laity or sitting on a pew in the back (my favorite spot).

Clerics have reviewed the book, and they’re in the best position to tell other clergy what they’ll get out of these 14 lessons.  But, even those of us who like to sit silently in the back can, and should, get a lot out of Russell’s easy-to-read essays.  Some of us may not realize how much we could do to support our own ministers – or, worse, how much we are doing to undermine them unintentionally! Many lessons should resonate with clergy and laity alike, especially Russell’s recognition that mindless television is not the best way to wind down at the end of the day.

“The bloody violence, frequent profanity, worldly propaganda, and graphic sexuality available on television does more than entertain, it can pollute our minds, desensitize us to evil, entice us to lust, quench the Holy Spirit in our lives and dull the edge of our sword,” he writes.  And, later, “Instead of looking for something to occupy my time I’d try talking to my wife or family members.”

Who of us shouldn’t spend more time talking to our spouses, our children, our parents or even our intimate friends?

On the other hand, Russell points out that we all have some people we should spend less time talking, or listening, to – those who criticize anonymously or unjustly – and he offers some specific suggestions on how to let go of the trash these mean-spirited minority want to dump on us.  Who couldn’t benefit from a bit of advice here?

Finally, I love the organization of the book:  Russell begins with the seven things he wishes he hadn’t done, or had done less often, and he finishes on higher ground by asserting the seven things he’s truly glad he did, and wishes he’d done more often.  No matter where you are on your own spiritual path, these seven “don’ts” and seven “dos” can help you stay on that path and can encourage you as you go wherever God is leading you.

Note:  Moody Publishers gave Sis a complimentary advanced reading copy via NetGalley.  The review reflects her own and only her own opinions, and Sis believes neither the pastor nor the publisher would expect anything different.

About the Author:  At just 22 years of age, Bob Russell became pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members grew into one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending four worship services every weekend by 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches and conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups. An accomplished author, Bob has written more than a dozen books. Bob and his wife, Judy, have two married sons, Rusty and Phil. In his leisure time he enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville football and basketball fan.

NIV, Once-A-Day: Men and Women of the Bible Devotional, eBook: 365 Insights from Scripture’s Most Memorable People

Zondervan Publishing, 384 pgs. Kindle list price, $7.99 (USD); Paperback list price, $14.99 (USD)

I haven’t done the best job of keeping up with this daily devotional, but that is a reflection of how 2016 has started for me and not on this little gem.  When time permits, I go back and pick up on those men and women whose stories I’ve missed.  When it doesn’t, I read about the character chosen for the date. Still, it stays on both my “devotional” Kindle Paperwhite and my “reviewing” Kindle Fire HD 6 — because the former is always with my prayer journal while the latter is never far from me.  I do enjoy printed books, but e-readers eliminate one excuse for leaving gems like this behind when I’m away from home, for a few hours or a few days.  I’d be even further behind if I had to lug this along with Bible, prayerbook, prayer journal and other devotional readings plus my “fun” reads.

For me, and I’m sure for other readers, some of the characters are more interesting than others.  Some of the stories hit closer to home.  Some of the lessons resonate with more power.  Like this one:

“Due to circumstances beyond my control” may be a reasonable excuse for losing an umbrella in a hurricane, but there’s no good reason to entertain pagan worship. Aaron, spiritual leader of Israel, should have stood stronger for God’s truth. The lesson he learned carried a high price.

No, I’m not melting down gold and praying to my own creations . . . but could I honestly say I’ve never put anyone or anything before God? Never neglected to pray? Not spent too much time or attention on books, clothes, pretty things? No. No, I can’t. Nor can I always blame circumstances beyond my control.