A Passionate Life(Mike Breen, Walt Kallestad, Kingsway Publications, 2005, 978-078144287-9)

What is it?

A Passionate Life is an easy to read guidebook (236 pages) that takes the reader through eight shapes providing memory models for key areas of discipleship. The book reads like an amalgam of a management handbook and a revision guide. This does make the teaching highly memorable.

The book has been developed into a training course with

  • an 8 session DVD featuring 15 minute presentations by Mike Breen and PowerPoint presentations for group leaders
  • a leaders' guide book
  • a participants' workbook

The resources are supported by a website that provides further stories, audio and video features and news of online training events.

Who has produced it?

Mike Breen was rector of St Thomas' in Sheffield where he used LifeShapes to grow a very large and young congregation. He is now on the staff of the Community Church of Joy in Glendale USA and is a teacher at Fuller Seminary.

Walt Kallestad is senior pastor of the Community Church of Joy. His books include Turn Your Church Inside Out and Entrepreneurial Faith.

What does it claim to do?

You will learn how to live your life the way that God intended. You'll learn to apply these steps to every situation and relationship in your life.

A key premise of A Passionate Life is that we remember longer what we see than what we hear. Hence the use of the eight shapes that are used to explain and commit to memory eight facets of discipleship.

  • a circle of repentance and faith
  • a semi-circle of rest and work
  • a triangle of relationships
  • a square of priorities
  • a pentagon of ministry
  • a hexagon of prayer
  • a heptagon of life
  • an octagon of peace

Does it do what it says on the cover?

By and large yes. The book is very engaging and the approach is refreshingly different. So too is the range of topics covered. The early chapters on the gift of work and work/life balance are particularly welcome. The chapters on prayer are also very helpful with the juxtaposition of the Lord's Prayer and Jesus' high priestly prayer especially stimulating.

The use of shapes as teaching and memory models is highly effective. Even those who prefer their learning linear will find the shapes helpful. The author of this review found himself using the shapes as teaching aids within days of reading the text.

What's missing?

A Passionate Life is thin on mission and service as key parts of the life of the disciple. Mission is talked of mainly in terms of personal faith sharing which, whilst vital, is not the totality of mission. There is little on social action or the struggle for justice. Likewise the outward corner of the relationships triangle could be more developed.

This reviewer is a tidy person by nature but even I was yearning for a shape that could not be drawn with a geometry set. An octopus type shape that recognised that sometimes discipleship is a messy business, either because of personal issues such as illness or grief, or because the disciple is called to grapple with complex issues such as the care of creation or justice.

The section on leadership could also be controversial, particularly in Churches that place a great deal of emphasis on community.

How simple is it to use?

As a teaching programme, A Passionate Life would be very easy to use. It lends itself very readily to both whole group presentations and small group discussions. LifeShapes could easily be presented/shared with very low level technology. A flip chart or OHP with pieces of paper and scissors would suffice. For those with more technology to hand, the DVDs and Power Point material would augment the teaching. Further material could be downloaded from the website.

Would it work in a fresh expression context?

Definitely. The LifeShapes approach is ideally suited for the creative approaches that are at the heart of so many fresh expressions. The format should work extremely well in a café church for example, with small groups studying the various shapes around the café tables. There is plenty of scope for creative reflection or activity; the different shapes could be sculpted, painted or made from twigs and leaves. Candles could be arranged in the forms of the various shapes or collages made. If young children are present they could easily join in the fun arranging shapes or making pictures.

In conclusion

A Passionate Life provides a refreshingly different approach to learning about and growing in discipleship. The course covers some areas that are not often dealt with and some familiar areas in a different way. It is not a complete course, with many areas not covered. In addition to those mentioned above, there is nothing on the sacraments, the Bible or dealing with ethical issues.

LifeShapes would work well in a fresh expression context and does resonate with both post modernity and the spiritual age that we live in.

How to obtain the material

A Passionate Life is published by Kingsway in the UK. The course materials are now available under the Lifeshapes name from the 3DM website in various formats.