Book Review: BLESS by Dave and Jon Ferguson

Over the past decade, the emergence of the missional movement has reawakened an interest in the missionary nature of the local church community. As another book in this reawakening of missionary nature, I was excited to have the opportunity to read BLESS by Dave and Jon Ferguson. This missionary adventure has also led to the development of an excess of resources and books exploring what an intentional and incarnational missiology would mean for our approach to ecclesiology. 

Though it may seem that we have exhaustively explored the theological and methodical implications of loving our neighbor, a study on the state of the church in some way reveals that we have not yet fully embraced this understanding into our communal identity as a local Jesus-following movement. Into that reality, pastoral leaders Dave and Jon Ferguson release a practical book, B.L.E.S.S., that is constructed in a way that embraces not only opportunities for self-reflection on this topic of incarnational-evangelistic-behavoir, but more importantly the framework of this book benefits groups as a communal study. This short read, explores five everyday ways to love your neighbor and change the world – so we can own the mission in our communal culture.

Dave and Jon are both pastors at Community Christian Church, which has campuses throughout the Chicagoland area. They both have released several books over the years, addressing church planting, missional engagement, leadership development, and church multiplication.  Both Dave and Jon have also been involved in coaching and resourcing church multiplication through their work with the NewThing network and the Exponential Conference. In B.L.E.S.S., they are concerned with providing a framework for readers (individuals, small groups, and church communities) to develop a better understanding of how they have been blessed, so that God can empower them, through their awareness of blessing, to be a blessing to others. For the authors, this idea of being blessed to be a blessing is as old as the Abrahamic promise, and an idea that that is fully realized and modeled in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Throughout this read, we are continually reminded of the idea that “our lives aren’t meant to be buckets of blessing for us to hoard and hold on to;”[1] a confession which Ferguson and Ferguson root in the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 12:1-3.[2] They understand that this early blessing that took root in and through Abraham, was “God’s very first strategy for reaching the world was blessing.”[3] They point out that this missionary-aspect of being a blessing is evidenced again in the life and ministry of Jesus, but it is also God’s plan for us as we look at the way Jesus sends out the twelve, seventy-two, and then commands them to go to the ends of the earth.

In the witness of Jesus, we realize that “not only are we to be on mission wherever we go and as we go,”[4] but that God desires us to realize that we have been “blessed to be a blessing.”[5] In looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, the authors identify how Jesus consistently utilized prayer, listening, eating, serving, and story[6] as tools to bless others, so that they could be reconciled with God the Father. After setting the stage for their understanding of being a blessing, the authors take time to explore each of these five practices – being in prayer, listening, eating, serving, and story - exploring each with scriptural witness, with transparent firsthand experiences, and through the vulnerable stories of others that have embraced these tools in their life and communities.

The book ends with a reminder on how these practices cannot be novel in our lives, but must be prioritized with great consistently and congruency in every area and arena. Adaptation to a new missionary nature needs an undeniable realization that God is always going and sending[7]; and that we need a sense of accountability[8], urgency, and committed groups[9] to see God’s blessing multiply[10] in the world around us.

While books on theology and spiritual formation are my normal reads, I appreciated the simplicity and communal/conversational nature of this book. As a pastor, I can see this resource fitting as a resource for small groups and/or a sermon series. It efficiently and concisely relays and adapts some thoughts, tools, and theology of a selection of the best missional theology and theologians out there. It is a book that explores these thoughts, tools, and theological understandings practically - with stories, encouragement, and tools. Any leader knows that it takes conversation and communal ownership to shift any culture or community, and the way each chapter offers an opportunity to reflect and discuss is a certain strength to this book, that I believe allows for ownership and conversation to develop a new communal ethos in a church community. Dave and Jon have developed resources to partner alongside this book – resources which include further reflections and materials to efficiently turn this into a sermon series or study.

The B.L.E.S.S. book might be another book on loving your neighbor with investment and intentionality, but it fits a unique niche. That unique niche is that the framework of this book makes this journey a group experience and conversation. The communal aspect will develop renewed culture in the church through the shared conversation, discovery, accountability, and stories. Missiologist Alan Hirsch points out that this book reminds us of the importance of “embedding common practices”[11] in our culture. This book also arrives at a timely moment, reminding us of the prophetic nature of the church in a time that Pastor Albert Tate identifies as “so much unrest and uncertainty in the world.”[12] I echo Theologian and Professor Scott McKnight who named the outcome of this book being that it “is all about loving God and learning over time to nurture a life that loves others: one prayer at a time, one conversation at a time, one act of service at a time, and living into one story at a time.”[13]

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[1] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, p.24.

[2] Genesis 12:1-3 (New International Version).

[3] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, p.19.

[4] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, p.20.

[5] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, p20.

[6] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, p.26-27.

[7] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, 150.

[8] Ferguson, D. and Ferguson, J., 2021. B.L.E.S.S.. Washington DC: Salem Books, 151.

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