Book Review: Build A Better Life by Brandon Schaefer

Book Review: Build A Better Life by Brandon Schaefer. Photograph by Jeff McLain.
This is a book review of Build A Better Life by Brandon Schaefer. Released in 2015, by Brandon Schaefer and Five Capitals through Createspace, this book looks to help readers by providing practical tools and strategies to develop and lead their life and business in the way Jesus would. Schaefer addresses this book through the paradigm of a marketplace businessman and coach who is first and foremost concerned with discipleship and seeing the spiritual capital of every individual, organization, and business, recentered as the first and foremost important aspect of identity. For those of you who are familiar with Michael Breen, 3D Movements, and 3DM Publishing, you will find this as a further exploration of concepts presented in those camps.

This encouraging and engaging practical read, which is rather short and easy to read, spans seven chapters, but also an introduction and epilogue.  In many ways, the introduction lays a very important foundation for the book. It is in the first chapter that the author explains discipleship is not only the role of individuals and the church, but also the small and large business owners, and suggests that leaders, businesses, and individuals can learn a lot about the economic and business language and metaphors utilized by Jesus about our personal spiritual formation and call to Kingdom-minded mission and discipleship.

The first chapter looks at Jesus the builder. In this way, we look at how much of the world operates out of a marketing and advertising approach that communicates needs by reflecting on our shortcomings and inadequacies. For too long the church has also utilized this tactic. Rather, Schaefer suggests “An inadequacy gospel tends to produce people who take care of their lack, avoid the (eternal) consequences of their sin, and hunker down to survive their compartmentalized lives. [1] However, he does a good look at how “This is not the life Jesus desires for us [rather] he wants our story to be compelling and contagious…He wants us to live with God at the center of our story, at home, work, and in our communities.”[2]

The second chapter looks at development versus delivery. Organizations tend to frame everything in between the tensions of development and delivery. Delivery, Schaefer argues, “means profitability, execution, and productivity.”[3] Delivery of products isn’t everything in an organization, Development is also important because “as new products become old and dated, someone is always out there working to take our market share and woo our customers with newly developed products…Development is about infrastructure, innovation, training, ideas, experimentation, brainstorming, creativity, systems, and processes. This framework helps us manage everything we’re trying to deliver productively and efficiently.”[4] In Build a Better Life we are faced with seeing that even in our personal lives we gravitate towards one of these approaches. In Jesus’ life and ministry, we see the same tensions but identified as what we might call breakthroughs and blessings. Again, we tend to gravitate towards one of these or the other. I appreciated how Schaefer pointed out “that some love to linger in the blessing, and some pioneer leaders love to constantly pursue breakthrough…If we focus only on blessing without a breakthrough, we find ourselves merely indulging in the goodness of God. In that indulgence, we find ourselves missing out on the things he wants to expand into our lives…On the other hand, if we are all about breakthrough with no blessing, we find ourselves burnt out. Our lives will be defined by striving in constant work with no rest.”[5] The author goes on to suggest some practices and paradigms to hold this tension better in our lives. These practical practices and paradigms should not be overlooked.

Third, the book explores what are the right investments to pursue, invest in, and leverage in our lives. Here we begin to explore some of the economic language utilized by Jesus. In reframing well-known stories like The Rich Young Ruler, we come to see that “Jesus’ strange and shocking answer to the rich young ruler was not to tell him he shouldn’t seek the good life.” [6] Instead, “Jesus’ answer was basically to offer the rich young ruler an internship in which he would learn how to live the good life.”[7] In this chapter, we explore what are the right things to intentionally invest in and what it means to leverage everything on behalf of what truly matters in life.

The fourth chapter explores five capitals. Every business is aware of what capital they have to steward, invest, and leverage for their identity and mission as an organization. This chapter is about looking at what kinds of capital has God invested in you. Schaefer asks us to consider “What skills and attributes has [God] grown into you over the years? Have you taken advantage of these? Are you using them? Are they producing a return for you and your family?”[8] Also, Schaefer argues for us to see our life and vocational calling in light of the five capitals that we find in Jesus’ teaching and at play in each of our lives. This is the meat of the book. If you read and become familiar with one chapter, I think this is the most essential. I have found this framework of the Five Capitals to be super helpful in counseling and discipleship relationships, but also looking at the offerings or organizations, churches, and preaching schedules. Those five capitals include “financial (the most tangible and highly valued by most people), spiritual (actually the most valuable), physical (apparently somewhere in the middle), intellectual (creative ideas), and relational (investment in people).”[9] However, the order in which we steward, invest, and leverage these as part of our identity and mission matters. This chapter looks at scripture to see what order, investments, and stewardship should look like in these five capitals in our lives and in the lives of our organizations.

The fifth chapter looks at what it means to integrate the five capitals into your daily and everyday lives. Schaefer presents a challenge that “God wants us to flourish in all five capitals, not just one or two. A well-lived life means whole-life abundance.”[10] The reality is that “we tend to build our investment strategies on “quick returns” rather than patiently waiting for more valuable investments to mature over time.” [11] Because “Financial capital gives us the quickest return, and so we tend to focus our investment strategies there.” [12] We underperform in the others because “all the capitals above financial take longer to grow, but they are also more valuable and last longer. Spiritual capital, the most valuable capital, lasts forever.”[13] I appreciated the way that Brandon Schaefer broke down how these priorities often become mis-prioritized in the world of business, the world of academia, the entertainment world, the church world, and in our family – but also based on our temperament. This is perhaps the second-best chapter for me.

As the move moves into the next chapter, Chapter Six discusses what practices will make a difference in light of these understandings. Perhaps the most important aspect Schaefer explores is the importance of sustainable support, coaching, and accountability in our lives. As Schaefer points out, even in the movies, “Every great hero has a counterpart, a helper – a team.”[14] He then points out that the same is true in some of the most compelling stories of the Old and New Testament, many of our favorite biblical stories have had great victories but not on their own great power, and never by going it alone. An important takeaway from this chapter is that “we’re the most vulnerable when we’re alone. Our minds mess with us and lead us into temptations and tendencies that we would never fall for in the safe, healthy context of good friends and teammates.”[15]

The last chapter, Chapter 7, continues to look at what it means to live all of this out. This chapter reminds us of what it means to truly listen to God to discern our God-given vocation and then to strategically act obediently to the God-given vocation of our life. As Schaefer points out, “If you want to increase your influence and impact, then spend time discerning how the Father speaks to you.”[16] Learning to sit with God, and investing in our Spiritual Capital first and foremost helps to realign the rest of the areas of our lives and organizations.

In Build a Better Life by Brandon Schaefer, we find practical guidance on aligning one's personal and professional pursuits with the principles exemplified by Jesus. This book is not academic nor is it super exhaustive, but it does give us enough fodder, and draws from biblical teachings and contemporary insights, to emphasize the importance of stewarding our life in light of the five capital framework and adopting Jesus' perspective as a builder in both life and business endeavors. Through this book we are challenged to make sure God is at the center of our story, fostering spiritual growth, relational equity, physical well-being, intellectual curiosity, and financial stewardship. Through our time in prayer and listening. Schaefer highlights the need for balance between delivery and development, urging readers to persistently integrate their lives in pursuit of holistic abundance. By prioritizing humility and courage, individuals can build a solid foundation for lasting impact and fulfillment, embodying the wisdom and power of a life led in alignment with Jesus' teachings.

If you are not familiar with the Five Capitals organization, I would also encourage you to check out their resources. I have found some of their assessments to be important ways of looking at the out-of-place priorities in my life.

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Highlights & Quotes

[1] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 12.

[2] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 12.

[3] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 28.

[4] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 28.

[5] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 31.

[6] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 49.

[7] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 49.

[8] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 59.

[9] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 63.

[10] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 80.

[11] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 80.

[12] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 80.

[13] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 80.

[14] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 92

[15] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 97.

[16] Brandon Schaefer, Build A Better Life, 1st ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: Createspace, 2015), 108.




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