JAC Online

Five Books
by Major Peter McGuigan


By what one might consider a confluence of complementarity and destiny, I was born with a passion to write and a curiosity about nuance in language. From a young age, the meaning of words and how they fit together has intrigued me. My mother puts it down to a literary gene in her great-grandfather resurfacing five generations later in her Salvation Army officer son! Herman Windolf was a Baptist minister who migrated from Germany to Australia in 1878 and settled with his family in a rural community in the state of Queensland. There he wrote many books, some of which can still be found in the Queensland state library.


Twelve of my now 56 years have been spent in formal editorial/literary work, and more in the wider field of communications. Writing and reading during these years became more than a passion. They were elevated to the level of discipline and responsibility, such were the demands upon a religious editor and communications practitioner to know the state of affairs in both church and world, and, subsequently, to publish material that would inform, challenge and inspire readers. It was never about filling column inches on pages (only) or devising clever communications strategies (only)! Throughout my adult life I’ve written for one journal or another, have been editor for projects large and small; and have written and been a contributing writer for several books. All along, my reading has influenced my writing and, of course, my life.


Categories of books I’ve been interested in have varied according to my personal journey at the time. As a 26-year-old, fresh out of The Salvation Army Officer Training College in 1987, my interest was almost exclusively in growing my corps with people experiencing new life and hope in Jesus. My writing and reading reflected this focus. I devoured books by church growth practitioners who had become prolific authors. The big three were Donald McGavran, C. Peter Wagner and Paul Yonggi Cho. Understanding Church Growth, Leading Your Church to Growth, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow, More Than Numbers and Prayer: Key to Revival are five books from that period that still find space on my bookshelves. Their content flamed my mission and shaped my vision profoundly.


Today, through the lens of hindsight, we question the Church Growth movement and how it morphed into a science with a focus on formulae that burdened the Church. But the pure water of Church Growth – that the life-transforming love of God in Christ is most effectively communicated through relationships and along cultural pathways, underpinned by powerful prayer – was deeply birthed in me and is still a part of what drives my personal Christianity and my passion for The Salvation Army to be a world-transforming movement of God.


Later, spiritual renewal became a major focus and continues to be an intrinsic part of what I believe is necessary both for my own life, daily, and for the Church of God as a whole. My writing has reflected this focus too – again, shaped not only by personal experience and by observing the experience of others, but also by my reading. Henri Nouwen comes to mind with his profound and beautifully written book In the Name of Jesus. John Larsson’s The Man Perfectly Filled with the Spirit has been a constant reference, not to mention the more recent Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala and Other Voices by Major Christine Faragher. The latter helps Salvationists particularly as it explores contemplative spirituality in the context of The Salvation Army. Five excellent books!


Throughout the span of my ministry, I’ve also had a focus on leadership. This has intensified in recent years, as we have increasingly realised the critical place of leadership in the Church of God, pushed by the global development of leadership as an academic field of study. Five books that have helped shape both my leadership practice, and, therefore, my writing on leadership, are: Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, Leading Change by John Kotter, Authentic Leadership by William W. George, Focus by Daniel Goleman and Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels.    


I must confess to being increasingly drawn to biographical writing over the years. With biography, including autobiography, the reader is influenced by the power of story that weaves together the progression of a woman’s or a man’s life and the principles and priorities that drove them through both adversity and triumph. I find this inspires me more than any other kind of writing. The reading leaves its imprint upon me; principally, to be a better and more faithful steward of my life and my ministry, my relationships and my contribution to humanity.


So you can imagine that I have devoured Salvation Army biographies and autobiographies such as Arnold Brown’s The Gate and the Light, a superbly written book that tells the story of a man with tremendous gifts, a humble heart and a deep love for his Lord who as a cadet never would have dreamt of being General of The Salvation Army. Like a well-written biography should, the book has significant historical value. Brown discusses critical periods in the life of The Salvation Army with great statesmanship and sensitivity.


Other biographies that have impacted my life include A Very Private General by Ronald Thomlinson, about the life of General Frederick Coutts; If Two Shall Agree by Carroll Ferguson Hunt, about the lives of General Paul A. Rader and Commissioner Kay F. Rader; Saying Yes to Life, the autobiography by General John Larsson; Truman by David McCullough, about the life of former US President Harry Truman; and Long Walk to Freedom, the autobiography by Nelson Mandela.


Finally, when I became a Christian after going my own way for a while as a teenager, John Pollock’s Billy Graham came into my hands. The writer somehow seemed to see what was happening in and through Graham’s life from a heavenly perspective and conveyed this with great profundity in print. There was an aura around Billy Graham and the crusades that developed around his preaching. One could only describe this as an immense anointing of the Holy Spirit on the great evangelist’s life and the power of Christ within to keep him and his ministry in a place of full integrity – a state of mind and heart and practice that continued despite the challenges to integrity that world renown must have brought with it.


I always felt there was no guile in Billy Graham, and Pollock’s book inspired me at the very beginning of my Christian journey to follow the evangelist’s example of a life totally dependent on God’s power and given fully to God’s saving purposes in Christ.


All of these outstanding books are still available for purchase.











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