QUICK HIT: If you enjoy Ann Voskamp’s speaking and writing style, then you’ll enjoy The Greatest Gift, a small group advent devotional that’s all about celebrating the gift of Jesus. This four week series focuses on four words: Look, Linger, Laugh, Love. For me personally, Voskamp’s saccharine-sweet tone was a bit grating, but there’s no doubting that she has her fans. Check out her teaching style, and if you enjoy it, you’ll love this one.
Nobody expected Ann Voskamp’s debut memoir One Thousand Gifts to hit the NY Times bestseller’s list. Nobody expected it to then stay there for sixty (that’s right, six zero) weeks. Sure, she’s run a successful blog over at A Holy Experience, but that sort of wild success is almost unheard of. There’s obviously something about her writing that has captured people.
Her follow-up book, and small group series, focuses in on the subject of Christmas while still holding to the overarching “gift” theme of her writing. The Greatest Gift is meant to be an advent devotional celebrating the gift of Jesus through the Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree.
The Jesse Tree is a way of celebrating Advent (the weeks leading up to Christmas) that focuses on the genealogy of Jesus, who is part of the family tree of Jesse, the father of David. But more than that, it’s simply a focused, daily look at some aspect of the Messiahship of Jesus.
In this four-week study, Voskamp takes her listeners through four different sessions:
- Look…for Hope
- Linger…for Peace
- Laugh…for Joy
- Love…for Always
Each lesson lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes, giving about forty minutes for discussion time in an hour-long small group time. Because the discussion guide only includes four to five questions, it is important for the group leader to be on top of the reading and be able to formulate their own questions for group discussion. This is will not only help foster discussion, but will help tailor the lesson plan to your specific group.
The first lesson focuses on Jesus’ genealogy and how we ourselves have been grafted into the story and the family of God. In my opinion, this should have been the longest of Voskamp’s sessions and not the shortest. This whole idea of identity in Christ is a concept that Christians struggle to grasp. Opening their eyes to the power they have as a child of God is great first step into leading them into living out the Christian life.
The second lesson focuses on settling down and choosing peace over pace, on giving over receiving. That’s a great lesson to learn in a society where the drive for consumerism is greater than ever.
The concluding lessons focus on joy and love, respectively. I didn’t find these lessons to be as strong because they, to some extent, repeat the material of the first two lessons. Knowing your identity in Christ is to know the love of Christ and the lesson on joy again focuses on toning down the busyness of the season.
My primary criticism of the series is one that I hate to give because, after having listened to her for an hour and a half and read her blog, it’s a deliberately chosen style. Voskamp writes with a poetic and prosaic structure. Her way with words is smooth, intricate, and engaging. I’m convinced it was her writing style and not her content that got her debut novel to stick on the bestseller list so long. There’s a poetry to what she writes.
Unfortunately, she talks the exact same way she writes and everything from her obviously perfectly-scripted narrative to her over-the-top metaphors to her sickeningly-sweet voice is, frankly, obnoxious. I thought it was just me. Maybe my man-brain could just not appreciate it for what it was. So I unplugged my headphones and allowed Voskamp’s voice to flow out through the speakers. It took about thirty seconds for my wife to demand I stop it.
I don’t say this to be mean. This is not an attack on Ann. But what I found to work (mostly…I still find it overblown) in her books comes across as obnoxiously saccharine sweet in her speaking. It sounds fake. It sounds like a parody of a Christian teacher. It’s so over-the-top that…yeah I’ll stop now…I’m sure there are people that love it. The sales and the fawning over her books say that I’m in the minority.
In the end, my advice to you is to preview The Greatest Gift and know Ann’s speaking style before you choose this as your study. I find nothing wrong in her teaching, other than it being hard to pick out of her words, so there’s no theological reason to not use this—but if you dislike her speaking style it’s going to be a long four weeks.