Thinking Out Loud

May 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: AHA by Kyle Idleman

AHA Church Kit - Kyle Idleman - City on a Hill ProductionsAfter veering off into a more documentary style with the small group curriculum for Kyle Idleman‘s Gods at War, City on a Hill Productions returns to the cinematic type of production it does best: an integrating of multiple dramatic story lines with direct teaching. AHA: Awakening.Honesty.Action takes a modern look at the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel and has the courage to suggest that not every wayward son who has a moment of clarity while feeding the pigs actually makes it back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all six episodes. The video clips run about a half hour each. The acting is superb to the point where I wondered, with all the Christian movies releasing lately, if City on a Hill ought to be reaching for an even wider audience.

There are various applications to this curriculum. So far, Idleman, the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has released three books and three videos, plus the H20 video series (see the review linked below) which landed him on our radar. So that leaves you with several choices, and these are just my suggestions:

  • If I were working with new Christians or even seekers for whom the story of The Lost Son in Luke is foreign, I would probably use the video.
  • If I were working with people who have been Christians for awhile, I might do the book study.
  • If I were working with people who have been in small groups for a fair amount of time, and like to think and like to discuss, I would do the video.

The video really provoked some thought when we watched it as a family in ways that the book didn’t. And like the parable, not everybody lives happily ever after. But the book is excellent by itself as I stated earlier this year.  And the curriculum possibilities get even more complex:

  • The church kit comes with a leader’s guide and a journal. You could simply watch the videos, have a weekly discussion, and a small homework assignment for the following week.
  • You can also get a journal for each group member, for which a sample is included. It provides a day-by-day writing assignment between group meetings, so the teaching content remains fresh when the group reconvenes and there is opportunity for personal transformation.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might argue there’s nothing new here. In many respects, Idleman’s Gods at War covered material also found in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods or Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and AHA is reminiscent of Keller’s Prodigal God which Idleman quotes at one stage in both the book and the video.

But Jesus’ parable in Luke offers limitless applications; it’s the story that keeps on giving.

[Note: This is a review of the Small Group Kit; AHA is also available for a teaching series in your local church in a Pastor’s Kit, which is an entirely different product containing only short video clips at a much lower price.]

At the end of the last episode, we watched a couple of the features which clearly reveal the hearts of the director and cast. They are truly committed to excellence. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where City on a Hill Productions goes next. I leave you with their corporate tagline:

Story is the language of our Hearts
Media is the language of our times
We use both to share Jesus with the world

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September 9, 2013

Preview A Dozen Small Group Resources at One Low Price

A few months ago I reviewed a unique small group resource from Hendrickson Publishing, The Best of Small Groups DVD with host Brett Eastman. You can read that review here. Last week Hendrickson kindly sent me a copy of the second in the series, The Best of Small Groups Volume 2. Once again I was able to sample the first group session in DVD curriculum series from a variety of independent filmmakers and distributors. The DVD is also an end in itself, as home study groups can cycle through the material with a study guide that is sold separately. I really wish Zondervan or Thomas Nelson had a product like this. Failing that, I honestly can’t understand why they aren’t striving to get their product included in video samplers like this one.

Best of Small Groups Volume TwoThere are three repeat teachers from the first volume, Francis Chan, John Piper and Chris & Kerry Shook. Piper’s contribution, like the one in the previous edition is simply sermon video from a conference. It’s indicative of the range of the quality of material you find in a mixture like this, with variances in audio and video quality and overall length. I’m never sure that the Shooks know which camera they’re talking to, and at about four minutes, the Pete Wilson segment is less than half of the shortest video clips in the package and really isn’t fair to users who would be expecting something longer.

There are also variances in the amount of scripture content. On this front, I really enjoyed Bill Hull, author of The Disciple-making Pastor, one of two clips I would watch again. The other one was Nancy Guthrie, one of the three women featured in the DVD, ostensibly teaching on Genesis, but opening the first session from the perspective of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples (not among The Twelve) on the Road to Emmaus. Like Piper’s sermon, it was filmed with her standing in place for 30 minutes, but later I wished I had been paying more attention.

In terms of production values, it’s hard to beat Mark Batterson’s segment. He tracks with someone hiking across Antarctica against all the expected weather challenges. A little light on scripture, but we have to remember that (a) these are simply first episodes, and (b) we don’t know what is covered in the various study guides or leaders’ guides.

The strangest segment is by Dr. Byron E. Crute teaching on the opening to the Lord’s Prayer. People seem to get up and leave in the middle, and the segment ends with someone teaching a song, giving the whole thing the appearance of an outtake from a Christian television network. Mind you, it’s a nice song.

Tom & Chaundel Holiday from Saddleback have a segment on energy management, and Eastman’s wife Dee, also from Saddleback Church, teaches on health. James MacDonald doesn’t miss a beat in his segment, and after all these years, I finally found out who Cynthia Heald is, after being aware of her books for several decades.

Would I seek out the full curricula for some of these? Definitely the Bill Hull, Francis Chan. I’d recommend the Nancy Guthrie for women’s groups and for a younger demographic, possibly the Mark Batterson. Although I have mixed feelings about the whole patchwork quality of this and the first volume, I have to admit I hope there is a third edition, as these form a valuable service.

July 21, 2013

An Excellent Small Group Resource

You have three small groups doing the same curriculum, but one of them had to cancel one week due to illness and another is two weeks behind. So the problem is, how do you fill in the space for the groups that are ahead?

You find the glut of DVD study resources a bit bewildering and you want your individual leaders to be able to select their own studies, but the challenge is, how do they gain familiarity with the different authors, pastors and speakers?

Best of Small Groups DVDEnter a product from Hendrickson Publishing called The Best of Small Groups. This weekend I’ve been watching and listening to Volume 1 in the series. (Volume 2 is now also available.) The DVDs contain 12 samples — the full first week’s episode — of a number of DVD curricula from a variety of producers and publishers and can also be used with a study guide that is sold separately or available in a single copy in a packaged edition with the DVD.  Brett Eastman serves as a host creating continuity for the series through is introductions and closing comments for each one. The actual DVD presentations range from 16 minutes to the dramatic story of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which is 38 minutes.

Some of the videos are recorded before a live audience, some are shot on location, one is done like a Christian talk show format, but all represent the finest Bible teachers including Francis Chan, Kyle Idleman, Max Lucado & Randy Frazee, Chip Ingram, Erwin McManus, John Piper, and others.

The “cut and splice” nature of the product means there are some mis-matched audio levels, and not all the material is going to be of interest to every group, but generally speaking, this is a resource that deserves much broader recognition.

I’ve watched eight of the twelve sessions as I’m writing this and looking forward to hearing the rest, and hopefully somehow getting my hands on Volume 2 at some point in the future. Even if you’re not involved with small group ministry in your church, this product represents excellent value-for-money in terms of inspirational teaching and getting to know some great writers and speakers.

June 6, 2013

Kyle Idleman – Gods at War: The Video

Gods at War Video CurriculumThe Gods at War video curriculum is a six-week, interactive, DVD-driven Bible study for small groups that can be offered in a 90-minute weekly format, or if the group is time-constrained, in a 60-minute weekly format. The video clips themselves run 22 – 30 minutes. The curriculum is based on Idleman’s sophomore book with Zondervan by the same title, though the curriculum offers its own Follower’s Journal which retails for $9.99 US; therefor it isn’t necessary that group members read the book, although some will want to.

The Gods at War video teaching series is one of five major DVD-based church resources released from City on a Hill Productions to feature Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky; however unlike the Not a Fan and H20 group studies This one abandons the cinematic style that had him teaching on location and doesn’t have any scripted dramatic vignettes or story line. Instead, the teaching is interspersed with documentary style interviews with five individuals who have wrestled with various ‘gods’ in their past: Pleasure, love, money, power and self.

One of those interviews is with the late Chuck Colson, and that, as the saying goes was worth the price of admission. It’s a story about the lust for power that everyone needs to hear, not just Americans. But two of the interviews are with individuals, a woman and man respectively, who wrestled with same sex attraction and sexual addition and infidelity. For that reason, I suspect the DVD series may be a little to edgy for more conservative churches and/or certain teen groups. The intention is that for discussion purposes, small groups would split up into male and female subgroups, and in that context these portrayals are real, and honest, and probably a best fit for generating conversation.

The curriculum package retails for $59.99 US and contains a sample of the 208-page Gods at War Combat Journal — also available separately — which was written by Southeast’s Ross Brodfuehrer and offers two phases of processing the video material; as well as a 44 page leaders guide with discussion questions. The DVD also offers a 15-minute message from Kyle to group leaders with tips on managing discussion in a small group format, which should be required viewing for people using any DVD curriculum to lead a Bible study.  

The curriculum kit should not be confused with the Pastor’s Kit which retails for $29.99, not reviewed here, which is for pastors who want to teach through a six-week series on Sunday mornings and contains much shorter video clips.

With the Not a Fan book and video series still riding high on national sales charts, many churches looking for something else may want to move on to Gods at War. The book covers similar themes to Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, but the video series is more distinct. While I missed the full movie treatment used in previous City on a Hill series — I referred to H20 as Alpha Course meets Nooma — I think this series has the potential to promote life change even among those of us who would never think that idolatry is a factor in our lives, even if its expression in our lives is more subtle than those in the featured interviews. 

Watch the series 2-minute trailer here.

June 13, 2011

Not a Fan: The Fall Kickoff Study DVD You’re Looking For

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve reviewed the book by Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan.  If you haven’t read that, you might want to start with a general understanding of the major outline of the book, so just click here, and we’ll wait for you to get back.

…This, on the other hand is a review strictly of the six-part DVD-based study package available from City on a Hill Productions, and from retail stores which can order product through STL Distribution.

Since I’ve already devoted a lot of space on this blog to the H20 course, I want to make some comparisons, but again, if you’re not up to speed about H20 — which I always refer to as “the Alpha Course meets NOOMA” — you can click here for my review, and we’ll wait for you to get back.

…Wow.  Everybody back? So much to learn and we’re only four paragraphs in. But don’t let my meanderings cause you to miss my full endorsement:  This is a very high quality DVD production that is going to generate serious discussion and bring about some equally serious life change in people willing to take the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23 seriously and put them into practice.  In fact, I’d say that if you’re looking for some adult, college and career, or senior high curriculum to kick off the fall schedule, this is the the product to very seriously consider at the top of your list.

The similarities to H20 are many.

  • Same high quality of cinematography
  • The same mixing of storylines and teaching segments, some of which directly overlap
  • Same length per segment, at least 23 minutes min. and 34 minutes max.
  • Kyle Idleman, who has the ability to look at the camera like he’s looking at you, and you’re the only person in the world at that moment

The differences are worth nothing:

  • While H20 is ten segments, Not a Fan is six mini-movie segments
  • While H20 films present a variety of stories, Not a Fan is one continuous story
  • While H20 segments can be shown in a variety of sequences, Not a Fan episodes should be used in the order they are presented

Time for some of the DVD creators summary:

Jesus is NOT looking for fans…

He’s looking for followers.
Followers who understand that…

There is no forgiveness without repentance.
There is no salvation without surrender.
There is no life without death.
There is no believing without following.

Twenty times in the New Testament, Jesus Christ issued a compelling and challenging invitation: “Follow Me.”  Jesus is not interested in mere fans.  He doesn’t want enthusiastic admirers.  He wants completely committed followers.   Built around the engaging approach of Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, this one of a kind small group study examines what it means to deny one’s self and truly follow Jesus.

…Participants follow the journey of Eric Nelson, a man leading a compartmentalized triple life as a pleasure-seeking rebel, a cutthroat corporate executive, and a nominal Christian.  But when confronted with a near death experience, Eric embarks on a spiritual journey that transforms his commitment to Jesus Christ and tests the faith of his friends and family.

The storyline mentioned above with Eric Nelson is unique to the curriculum and not found in the book.  It’s safe to say here — it’s not a spoiler if it happens in the first five minutes — that this is a movie that is centered around a death, and as such it is a much more emotionally weighty production than H20.  The subject matter, the use of background music, even the fact that Kyle Idleman wears black throughout most of the production; all these combine to create a number of extremely evocative moments, playing perhaps on our past memories or our greatest fears.  Maybe for some the first episode will be an unexpected “downer;” but to do otherwise is to miss the whole point of the scripture verse on which the teaching is based.

Personally, I don’t think anyone can do this series and ever read Luke 9:23 the same again.  (My youngest son and I had both read the book cover-to-cover before watching the DVD, so we’re twice as aware of all that is implied in denying yourself and taking up your cross on a daily basis…)

The series comes with a leader’s guide and a 42-day, 160-page participants (followers) guide, of which extras may be purchased individually for $9.99.

I want to end this on a different note, however.

Because the Not a Fan DVD is essentially one two-and-a-half hour movie, I want to suggest an alternative way that this could be used effectively.  I’d like to suggest that, using the material in the leader’s guide as a discussion guide, Not a Fan would also make an excellent retreat program in lieu of a guest speaker.  For example:

  • Friday night: Session one
  • Saturday morning:  Session two
  • Saturday after lunch: Session three
  • Saturday after supper:  Session four
  • Saturday later evening: Session five
  • Sunday morning: Session six

I know this isn’t what the creators had in mind, but I think there could be some serious impact by showing it all at once, while the storyline and segments are all fresh and memory, and everyone in the “group” is in attendance for all the various  parts.  Of course, the traditional and intended format — using the 42-day guide — will work well, too. 

…I just finished re-watching some of the final episode before completing this, and was reminded of the multiple story lines I didn’t realize I’d been following.  Again, I’d write more, but don’t want to spoil anything.  Best just to say: This is a really well produced resource that shouldn’t be overlooked by churches, if for no other reason than that it has, at its heart, the core of the gospel.

Click this link to see a preview, and a message from Kyle to pastors and group leaders.


August 29, 2009

Reblogging The Best of September 2008

Even though the traffic was lighter back then, this one obviously resonated with a few readers:

Getting into Classic Authors

This week my kids and I are “binge reading” a number of devotionals from a collection by A. W. Tozer, one of the pioneers in the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination. His final pastorate was at the Avenue Road* Church in Toronto, Canada, which continues to this day as Bayview Glen Alliance. Tozer is one of a number of classic reads, in a list that includes D. L. Moody, George Whitfield, Watchman Nee, Jonathan Edwards, E. M. Bounds and others.

What is it that’s different about reading classic authors like these?

Language
– Right away you notice that they speak with a different voice, and having studied the Philosophy of Language, I know that our use of words shapes our understanding. There is also a greater economy of words on some points, but there is laborious repetition on others, so that we don’t miss something profound. Clearly, the did understand some concepts somewhat differently than many of do today; and the “spin” on some Bible passages is distinctive by our standards.

Intensity – These classic writers endure because they were passionate about living the Christian life to the nth degree. There is an urgency about their writings that is sorely lacking in some modern Christian literature. Were they preaching to the choir, or were they voices crying in the wilderness? Probably both, and with the same message for both.

Response – They wrote in response to the issues of their day, some of which are unknown to us now, but some of which are strikingly similar to the issues of our day. There was a concern for a general apostasy, a watering-down of the gospel and of Christian ethics. Is this just preacher rhetoric, or are things truly deteriorating with each successive generation? Or do Bible teachers and preachers just get so “set apart” that they start to view both the church and the world less charitably?

Wisdom – These books represent the cultivation of much wisdom in an era that wasn’t full of the distractions of our era. While we will inevitably turn back to our modern writers; there is much to be gained from seeing how scripture was interpreted in a previous century. They did their homework so to speak, and interacted with others who were on the same path of study; and some of them were simply a few hundred years “closer to the story” than we are today.

============

What classic authors do you enjoy?

What about material that pre-dates this, what we call “early Christian writings?”

Why did I not mention Charles Spurgeon?

*Gotta love the redundancy of the name, “Avenue Road.” Still exists, running parallel to Toronto’s main drag, Yonge Street. (Pronounced “young street.”)

This next post is about blogging itself and my initial realization as to what it meant to be part of the blogging community.

A Great Big Blog Hug

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and suffer with those who suffer.

Blogging introduces you to a worldwide collective of people you will probably never meet in this life. Nonetheless, the online connection means that you can be a source of encouragement to many, many people. The right words, fitly spoken at the right time, can really make a difference in a person’s life. That’s why I like this picture. The words are coming off the page to bring comfort. Everybody needs a bit of that now and then. The best things that are happening in the blogosphere aren’t always happening on the blogs themselves, but in the meta. When you get to follow-up with someone who has a particular interest. Or try to offer some direct, offline advice to someone who might appreciate a bit of a challenge. Or know of a third-party resource that could be of great help. Or just to say, “I really don’t have a clue about your whole situation, but I want you to know someone is reading your blog who really cares.” Or offer to pray for them. To actually pray for them.

Words communicate. People are listening. You can have a part in what they hear.

Finally… it turns out there’s enough stuff from September to do two installments in this series, so that’s what we’ll do.   Here’s one more to cap off today though, because I’d hate for anyone to miss out on this excellent resource.

Delving into Prayer with Philip Yancey


Thirteen years ago, when we changed from being a ‘behind the scenes’ promoter of Christian books and music, to being a front line retailer with our own stores, our first bona fide bestseller was the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. Although I was familiar with his writing from Campus Life magazine and the NIV Student Bible, this was the first book by him I had ever read, and with my recommendation, the book remained our number one bestseller for more than two years. I still have the ISBN memorized!

So when the curriculum DVD for that book was released, I was a little disappointed. It was Philip, who is very softspoken, sitting in a dark studio, speaking in a low tones. The clips were short, too; as this kind of product is intended to be led by a small group chairperson, with the DVD serving as a supplement. Later on, Zondervan would produce some excellent DVD material for author John Ortberg (who is now linked on our blogroll on the right side of your screen under ‘sermons’) which were filmed on location. I made a mental note that the quality of these things was improving.

This weekend I watched all of the DVD material that goes with Philip’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? There are six weeks in the DVD study, with each one having at least three film clips, all of which were filmed in various parts of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The scenery certainly draws you in to the discussion of the topic, and Philip seems much more relaxed in front of the camera, and much more himself in the context of his favorite hobby, mountain climbing. (Do you have an altimeter on your wristwatch?) If you’re going to use visual media, it’s important that it look good, and this does.

I felt that the last session sometimes seemed to start to stray a little from the core discussion; but otherwise, this is an excellent lead-in to some good discussion; and since all Christians (and not a few non-Christians) pray at various times and in various ways, this is certainly going to bring out a lot of comments from your small group; many of which will be subjective and some more objective. Frankly, I would love to have some context to share this series with a group of people. (The church I attend has a policy that all small groups cover the same material; so there is no room for electives.) I think it would be an interesting process to explore something so basic to our Christian lives, yet reflects so differently in each of us, including the complexity of dealing with unanswered prayer, which is discussed in the fourth session.

You don’t need a DVD player in the home to run a good small group, but good resources like this are available, and are increasingly being released at lower cost.* Conversely, you don’t need to have read the book to use the DVD and the participant’s guide, but the book is probably one of the best and most thorough treatments on this subject. With small group season about to kick off; I give the book and DVD a five star rating.

~Paul Wilkinson

* Prayer DVD U.S. SRP is only $24.99 Each session begins with someone placing an envelope into a mail box, but when it comes to the one called “prayer problems” that deals with unanswered prayer, the letter becomes a thick package! Ain’t that the truth.

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