Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review of Jennie Allen's "Restless" Curriculum

I received a free copy of this study after being contacted by a publicist, for the purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

The study is eight lessons (including one introductory lesson) that can be used in small or large groups, and there are different tools available (the video, the conversation cards) to allow the study be flexible.

Leader's Guide
The Leader's Guide is easy to understand and follow.  There is a repeated emphasis on the leader needing to be open, authentic, and vulnerable.  If this is difficult for a person, my recommendation would be for the leader(s) to do the study with each other ahead of time to feel more comfortable.  Unfortunately, this guide did not correct the misconception that was in the guide for Chase that shyness and introversion are the same thing (page 18).  Introverts like to think before answering and that is why we may be quiet.  I know my input may be valuable in a group setting and I need time to formulate what I am going to say. Don't call on introverts before they are ready. A lack of talking is not the same as a lack of interest and does not mean she is holding the group back!  Just because a group member does not verbally participate as much as the others does not need a talking to!  Forced vulnerability is not ideal.

Participant's Guide
The Participant's Guide is also easy to follow.  It is set up in sections:
  • short story/essay by the author
  • reading and questions of a portion of scripture from Scripture
  • other verses and more personal questions
  • a "project" that could involve journaling or drawing
  • conclusion, with more questions

The DVD sessions are a good length, ranging from 18-24 minutes.  I wasn't crazy about some of the presentation and I have some different theological views than some of what is presented and I got confused at times where I thought she was contradicting herself--though this could likely be due to our differing theological perspectives.  I really liked the setting of the videos; it was designed to be a bright and welcoming atmosphere.

Conversation Cards
As with the last time, I wasn't crazy about the conversation cards.  While they had some good questions on them, I'd rather see them included in the study guide so that participants have the opportunity to write down or even journal their thoughts about them instead of just answering them off the top of their heads.

Overall Impressions
There is so much great stuff in this study that both women and men can benefit from, so it's a little too bad it is only marketed toward women.  So many people are restless and wondering what to do with their lives (Bill Hybel's 2007 book, Holy Discontent, similarly explores this idea)  Throughout the participant's guide, there are so many fantastic questions that work to get people to think about what their dreams are and what is holding them back.  It really makes people be introspective, which means that if this study is done in a group where people do not know each other well, it may not have the intended effect.  Some of the questions are:
  • When was the last time you dreamt about doing something specific in your life?
  • Are you coming into this study with any hurt and disappointment regarding your dreams?
  • Describe some of the tensions that occur when many unique pieces are challenged to worth together as one body for one purpose.
  • Do you think this restlessness is discontentment or a restlessness from God wanting to move you toward more?
The idea that we should look at what our dreams and gifts are and what is holding us back is something we should all evaluate (and not just once in our lives, either) and that is the strength of this study.  The "projects" included in each session are valuable tools; they point people to some specific ways of evaluating their lives.  

What I found lacking, however, was the tie-in to the life of Joseph.  There are a few places where I found myself confused as to the conclusions she came to, such as "Joseph hoped his gifts were for his own glory" (64) or relating Joseph's experience in Egypt to Jesus' command to his followers to make disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 (page 103).

There were also a couple of places where a distinction was made between genders, which I found to be quite unnecessary.   On page 56, she writes about a friend who is strong and wonders "Why would he give a woman all this strength?" and on page 67 she describes Joseph as "an excellent leader, good with people, and great with business and strategy", but goes on to say "these were his strengths as a man" (emphasis mine).  I would say that the first question does not need the qualifier of "woman".  The question is "Why would he give a person all this strength?" and the answer is "to use it!"  For the second, the strengths are not Joseph's strengths as a man but rather, simply just his strengths.  

I think that in addition to people feeling "Restless", once they find their gifts and passions, there needs to be a place for them to use them.  To go through this study and have a better understanding of one's identity and gifts is fantastic, but there are too many times when doors get shut in people's faces, and that's discouraging.  If women are to be encouraged and equipped and unleashed, there needs to be openness and a place for them to do what they are called to do.  For example, if a woman goes through this study and realizes she is gifted and called to be a pastor, and her denomination forbids it, then she is likely still going to be "Restless".  

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