Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Book Review

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years details Donald Miller’s experience re-envisioning his life into what he calls “a better story”. His premise is that when you see your life as a story, you need to decide if it is a story worth reading/living. As he says in the book “We (often) don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage”. This book details his re-write of his story.

My reaction to this book was mixed. I liked its message that our stories, or our lives and accomplishments, aren’t set in stone. We can change the kind of story we are living by how we act – our ambitions and actions determine how our story goes. Miller makes a powerful statement on page 69 that perhaps the point isn’t the search for a better story, but the transformation that the search creates. In other words it is the living of our story, the changes that take place in us as we live, that make our story successful.

On the other hand, I did not care for the book itself. The chapters were short, choppy vignettes of his life that did not tie together well. Miller tried to show some before and after so that we understand how and why his story changed, but in the end he did not hold my interest.

I think the premise of the book, searching for a better self, is worth exploring. However, Miller did not succeed in using his own example as a compelling illustration.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review of Social Entrepreneurship: The Art of Mission-Based Venture Development

Moving along with the book reviews, this one is focused on the non-profit world, another one of my passions.  This review is a bit more technical than some - just a warning that this book is not for light reading!

“Being businesslike can and should increase your capacity to do excellent mission, it should not in any way reduce your capacity to care, your concern for your community, or your humanity as an individual…”(2). What does this mean for supporters of non-profits, whether employees, funders, clients or other stakeholders? According to Peter C. Brinckerhoff, the author of Social Entrepreneurship: The Art of Mission-Based Venture Development, it means that it is perfectly acceptable and indeed desirable for non-profits to investigate innovative ways to expand programming and raise money to fund missions. The key is to utilize sound business practices and not be afraid to adopt reasonable risk if necessary. In this book, Brinckerhoff provides a thorough and logical guide to those seeking to evaluate risks and rewards of various development options.

Growing any aspect of a non-profit can be daunting. Is it a responsible allocation of resources, from employees to dollars? Does the organization have the capacity and ability to undertake the activity or business? How do you go about the whole process? Finally, what on earth is a “social entrepreneur”?

Brinckerhoff defines a social entrepreneur as someone who takes risks on behalf of the people his/her organization serves. He cautions that the role of a social entrepreneur is not to chase dollars, but to allocate resources according to sound investment decisions. Types of investments (or business development) include starting a new or expanding an existing product or service, expanding existing activities into new target populations or geographic areas, purchasing an existing business that is relevant to the organization or merging/partnering with an existing organization.
After an overview of social entrepreneurship in the first two chapters, Brinckerhoff discusses the seven steps a social entrepreneur needs to consider in the non-profit business development cycle. These are 1) review your mission; 2) establish the risk willingness of your organization; 3) establish the mission outcomes of the business; 4) idea generation; 5) preliminary and final feasibility studies; 6) business plan, including financials; 7) implementation plan with accountability. He finishes the book by cautioning the social entrepreneur against markets that move outside of his/her values envelope, customers that demand truly unreasonable changes in policy or program, chasing dollars instead of mission, and going for short-term returns instead of long-term gains.

If a step by step guide to social entrepreneurship or non-profit business/program development is what you are looking for, this book is a thorough resource. To the experienced programming or fundraising employee or volunteer, the book may seem like overkill. However, the book does provoke deeper analysis of motives and methods for anyone involved in non-profit social entrepreneurship. In all, this book is a good planning resource and guide that provides building blocks for expanding the capabilities and operations of a non-profit organization.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Called to Worship by Vernon M. Whaley

Combining my explorations of Christianity with my love of reading, I have recently become a reviewer for Thomas Nelson Publishers. My first book, Called to Worship, was a powerful and informative exploration and explanation of worship in the scriptures, from Genesis through Revelation. Examples of appropriate and inappropriate (in God’s eyes) principles and practices of worship throughout history are discussed, with guidance on how to apply lessons learned to our own worship experience.

To be honest, I began this book with some trepidation. Was it going to tell me that everything I had been doing in worship was wrong? Would I be bored to tears reading the nuts and bolts of biblical examples of worship? Happily, neither one of these occurred. Whaley begins at the Creation account and shows us how it is God’s call to worship for us. Working through the account the author reveals that through Creation, God established precedent for building relationships with people and showing them how to worship Him (12). Further study of the biblical books delves into worship wars (Satan’s desire to corrupt God and man), worship and promise (God’s lessons on obedience and reward), and other examples of worship as seen throughout the bible.

This book was both informative and thought-provoking. The author’s chapter on Joshua pointed out that obedience is the groundwork for authentic worship. I took that a step forward in my own meditations to debate active obedience vs. apathy. Professing to worship while simply going through the motions doesn’t count! The book provides many other opportunities for legitimate self-questioning.

In conclusion, the author’s statement on page 298 sums up why we should consider worship as more than just going through the motions: “…Jesus Himself made it clear that worship was about more than rites…It was also about charity, integrity, acts of service, attitudes…” Called to Worship is a book worth reading for all Christians who desire background, rationale and guidance for beginning or strengthening their own worship lives.