Vibrant Churches: How Reading Can Transform and Strengthen


Rev. Marilyn Wadkins, who currently serves as a Directive Coach in the TAC Vibrant Church Initiative process, loves the phrase “readers are leaders” because she finds reading is much like a treasure hunt for nuggets of wisdom that provide new ways to strengthen individuals and congregations. Read these highlights from some of her favorite sources of inspiration.
To avid reader Rev. Marilyn Wadkins, finding a Recommended Reading list is like winning the lottery – only much more eternally gratifying. “During coach training for VCI, I was thrilled to find my training manual had an exciting list of books focused on taking churches from great to greater,” she says. “I discovered several of them were a part of my library – including Hit the Bullseye and Direct Hit by Paul D. Borden, two relatively small books that are packed with wonderful information and inspiring challenges.”

She is currently reading and enjoying Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese. The 40-day prayer journal that accompanies the reading has a place after each journal reading to make notes, draw, or write thoughts. “I love the fact that there is a section in the instructions for the prayer journal for Prayers-for-the-Can’t-Sit-Still and Artistic Types!” she adds. The author states:

  • “Not everyone thinks, works, learns, or prays the same way. Some people are highly creative and learn best when they use their hands, voices, bodies. Do what works for you – do what you love. Draw, act out parts, sculpt a model of the scripture! Some of us pray best while moving or talking.”
Shares Marilyn, “Creative projects are popular at retreats and presentations for groups of people because incorporating right- and left-brain processing helps information stick.”
Another of Marilyn’s newest treasures is Ultimately Responsible by Sue Nelson Kibbey. “Most of my double-folded-corner, highlighted, and starred pages are in Chapter 4 – Unleashing Servanthood,” she says, adding that the following highlights “made my heart beat stronger:”
  • Bringing hope and healing to those in need is the sole purpose of a life lived in harmony with God’s intention.
  • No believer is just a spectator.
  • Every class we offer, every worship service we plan, every committee that meets – everything we do has the same purpose: to prepare us to be unleashed to serve the needs of our world through the powerful love of God.
Her favorite quote from the book is: My God-given leadership responsibility is to share the work of ministry with as many others as possible (body of Christ principle), not do it all myself.”
How can books mobilize congregations to greatness?
Marilyn suggests that, much like the process used with Vibrant Church Initiative, Bible studies or specially-formed reading groups can select a book of their choosing and host a Book Club. “Ironically, people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex. When church leaders and members focus together on books such as Simple Church, for example, it has been a challenging experience. Church leaders must define more than the purpose (the what); they must also define the process (the how).”
Many people are familiar with the book Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. When Alice comes to a fork in the road and meets The Cheshire Cat, this conversation follows:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” replied the cat.
“I don’t much care . . . “ said Alice.
“Then it doesn?t matter which way you go.”
Marilyn continues, “A clearly defined process encourages people to progress through it because they know the expectation. I strongly encourage leaders to form a reading group and start reading together the books recommended in the Vibrant Church Initiative process.”
Bishop Janice Riggle-Huie adds, “Over and over the people of the Texas Annual Conference have expressed a desire for their churches to become vibrant, growing congregations making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. A key challenge is learning how to do that effectively for each congregation’s unique mission field.”
Marilyn believes the time is now.  She says, “Our communities are struggling. When we wait for them to come to us, we will miss what their needs are. People are hungry for good news. Fan the flame, ignite a desire to make this world a better place. Christ did not come into our lives just to make us better but also to give us power to make the world a better place through our ministry and service to others.”