Thursday, January 07, 2010

Book Review: Think Orange

Reggie Joiner is rightfully concerned that the Church, in general, isn't doing a very good job at family ministry. At youth ministry. At children's ministy. He's also rightfully concerned that families are struggling like never before, and that, in that struggle, our society is facing turmoil and upheaval at its core. Think Orange, the book and the philosophy, is his response, a challenge to the church to partner with the family in order to raise up generations who know what it is to walk "in the way," and in order to strengthen families in the here and now.

Joiner's primary image is this: The church is called to shine the Light of Christ in the world, illuminating the work of Christ and drawing people to Christ. (Hint: Light is represented by yellow). Families are the heart and soul of society, families are the primary location people learn of love, acceptance, sacrifice, and relationships. (Hint: Love is represented by red (think Valentine's Day)). When you mix red and yellow you get -what? Orange!

This is the heart of Think Orange - mixing red and yellow. The problem, according to Joiner, is that families are struggling to survive, parents are struggling to raise their children, young people are leaving the Church for the world in droves. . .and the Church is over in the corner, running programs that seem to have no effect in helping any of these problems. The Church, it seems, has developed a host of programs and ministries that help the individual groups: children, youth, and adult, but none of these maintain any synchronicity with a larger plan. The childrens' ministry does its thing, youth ministries do their thing, and adults go their way to study the theology of the minor prophets. Then families go home and struggle to make sense of it all in a confused and confusing world. As Joiner laments, "Most churches are characterized by random acts of ministry to the family." Parents have no idea how to impact the spiritual life of their children. Children don't know how to navigate the multiple messages that bombard them day in and out. Youth have no clue how all this 'church stuff' impacts their larger life.

The answer, says Joiner, is for the church and family to combine forces. "What we should really be concerned about is our collective ability to influence a generation to have a stronger, deeper, and more authentic relationship with God." All of this he summarizes with two important points:

1. Kids need parents who will help them advance in their relationship with God.
2. Parents need churches that will help them know how to be spiritual leaders.

Think Orange is not, then, another book on catchy childrens' ministry. It is, instead, a complete reworking of the junction where churches and families come together to disciple, raise, cherish, teach, and lead children and youth in their pursuit of Christ.

A couple of strengths of this book:
1) One of the earlier chapters lays out an impressive theology of family, something sorely lacking in the overall discussion.
2) The book is biblical - while it includes cultural references and sociological research, the ideas and plans are all soundly based within a biblical framework of ministry.
3) The book has lots of pictures and charts.
4) The book recognizes the reality that no family or church is perfect, that setting impossible standards only frustrates people; it is realistic in the goals it sets out, while still setting a high bar in pushing us toward excellence.
5) The book is a great place to even start the discussion. I bought a couple extra copies for a few people in our church, and hope this stimulates us toward new growth and a stronger overall sense of mission.
6) The book comes with a host of resources, and is backed up by Joiner's Orange Leaders website.
7) If anything, the book will challenge and stimulate your own thinking regarding how you go about your family ministry, the assumptions behind it, and why it may or may not be working very well.

A couple things about which I wasn't quite so impressed:
1) Honestly, at times the whole "orange" metaphor seemed a little stretched. By the time the metaphor was presented, I could have done without the multiple examples of Orange showing up in society. Perhaps, to this reader, it came too close to "cutesy" at that point. So what if somebody sells an orange amp? It doesn't seem to matter to the rest of the book.
2) There were other times when it seemed Joiner was writing primarily to large churches with multiple staff and large creativity budgets. The idea of regularly re-painting your children's area to go with that quarter's theme seems fun and exciting, but how many churches have the people and the finances to do that? Of course, the response would be that we all need to read with discerning ears and take away what we can, but I would have enjoyed some examples of how small churches with small budgets and small, over-committed volunteer staffs can bring these ideas to fruition.

Overall, I am glad somebody sent me a copy of Think Orange. I confess I probably wouldn't have picked it up myself, and I wasn't all that eager to dig into it, but once I did (mostly on a flight to Denver last November), I found myself drawn in, challenged, and encouraged by the vision it contains. As I said, I'm hoping it influences the vision and work of our church; I think it would be of value to any and all who are concerned about families and those who minister with and to them.


Beth B said...

Thanks for this review, Dan.

IMO none of this can happen until we reclaim the idea of authoritative community--note, that's authoroTATIVE, not authorITARIAN. Seven years ago a Dartmouth Medical report listed the 10 characteristics of such a community:

1) It is a social institution that includes children and youth.
2) It treats children as ends in themselves.
3) It is warm and nurturing.
4) It establishes clear limits and expectations.
5) The core of its work is performed largely by non-specialists.
6) It is multi-generational.
7) It has a long-term focus.
8) It reflects and transmits a shared understanding of what it means to be a good person.
9) It encourages spiritual and religious development.
10) It is philosophically oriented to the equal dignity of all persons and to the principle of love of neighbor.

Sadly, autonomy has so overwhelmed us culturally that I wonder if an "orange" (4) and (8) are possible!

What's especially disheartening to me is that when I mentioned the Dartmouth report in my blog,suggesting that it might be something we should look at in our youth program, I was perceived to be "critical," "unloving" and "unsupportive" by several people.

So, I'd suggest the followiing ammendement
1. Kids need parents who will help them advance in their relationship with God
2. Parents need churches that will help them know how to be spiritual leaders
3. Churches need parents who aren't afraid to establish clear limits and expectations, and who will help reflect and transmit a shared understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

Lori said...

This sounds like a book worth reading, but more so, a philosphy or idea (those aren't the right words but I am having a brain lapse) worth acting on. My prayer would be that we (yes myself first and foremost) would all take this to heart, parents especially, and work by the leading of the Holy Spirit to incorporate whole family worship, ministry, life etc.
I like the Dartmouth medical report list that Beth shared. The ones I take note of the most are the ones she highlighted, but also10. I am running out of time so I will comment further at a later time. Thanks for the review.