The Book that Saved My Ministry

Seven leaders tell how reading made all the difference for them.

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TODD CLARK, teaching pastor, Christ’s Church of the Valley, Peoria, Arizona

Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God by Bill Hybels (InterVarsity Press, 1998)

Choosing to Cheat: Who Wins When Family and Work Collide? by Andy Stanley (Multnomah, 2003)

The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 1997)

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2014)

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study of Brokenness by Gene Edwards (Tyndale House, 1992)

As I look back over the landscape of my ministry, I have collected and read hundreds, possibly thousands, of books. I have discovered two very important things over the course of those 20 years.

First, I am the most important person I lead each week.

Second, I am the most difficult person I lead each week! And if I cannot lead myself well, I will not continue leading others for long.

The books that have been the greatest gifts to my life have not been geared toward leading others, but toward leading myself.

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Gayla Congdon, chief spiritual officer and founder, Amor Ministries, San Diego, California

The Table of Inwardness: Nurturing Our Inner Life in Christ by Calvin Miller (InterVarsity Press, 1984)

10_Books_JNI bought this book at a Youth Specialties Convention in 1984 and didn’t pick it up until seven years later when a family crisis was impacting my ministry. This book set me on a path for a more intimate relationship with Christ that also caused me to admit I had difficulty achieving that. I’m great with the outward expression of my faith, but struggle with the introspective part and just being with God. I was so busy serving God that I could forget about God.

This book taught me to sit myself at a table with God and Jesus for a chat. It took me to my prayer closet where I realized I was afraid to go. Real intimacy with God had eluded me for most of my life, as I feared he might just ask more of me. And yet, because I allowed myself to be vulnerable with God, I learned to do that with others. That is why this book probably saved my ministry.

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Brandon Groome, preaching minister, Forest Hill Christian Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Eugene Peterson’s Pastoral Library (Eerdmans, 1992, 2000)

Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach by Peter L. Steinke (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006)

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (Thomas Nelson, 1984, 2007)

Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby (B & H Publishing Group, 2001, 2011)

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2014)

Several books have helped to save my ministry through the years. Each book came to me during a different critical period and addressed a need that likely would have ended my ministry had it not been answered.

If I had to choose one book that acted most as a lifeline in ministry, it would be Eugene Peterson’s Pastoral Library, a collection of volumes on navigating the challenges of ministry. An older minister gifted this set to me when I was starting out, but I did not pick them up until the water was rising. They were a life raft at a time when the floods would have carried me away.

At another time in my ministry, a book on church conflict opened my eyes to how people interact in a congregational setting. Healthy Congregations by Peter L. Steinke is a somewhat technical book, but it helped me understand bad behavior. More importantly, it helped me learn how not to make things worse.

During the most complicated time in my ministry, Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World has been an indispensable tool for navigating the pressures of organizational leadership without losing my primary calling of both pastor and preacher. I return to this one at least once a year.

A few years ago I found myself suffocating within a vision development process. Our leadership was reading a lot of material from the business community, some of which was helpful in the technical aspect of the exercise. That is when I found Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby. This book is a constant companion for me and the church staff. We have all of our interns and oncoming staff read it. It saved my sanity for sure!

The last book is from a more recent season of deep spiritual desperation. I have read a dozen books on prayer through the years, all of which left me feeling either overwhelmed or unimpressed. I found Prayer by Timothy Keller during a recent season of internal conflict and spiritual desperation. Prayer breathed new life into my private prayers in a way that will make it a guide, manual, and devotional help for years to come.

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Ernie Perry, senior minister, Broadway Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky

The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross . . . Every Day by Jerry Bridges (NavPress, 2003)

Though it is a basic 101 read on the liberating power of the cross, it came at a time when I needed to better embrace grace, move off of a subliminal works-based theology, and be able to clearly teach it myself.

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John Russell, retired minister, Villa Hills, Kentucky

Early in ministry:

Serendipity (1965) and Horns and Halos in Human History (1954), both by J. Wallace Hamilton.

These helped teach me how to speak to the heart through the Word.

The Church in the Bible by Don DeWelt (1958, 1976)

Profoundly simple; simply profound.

Later periods:

“The War Within” by anonymous, Leadership, Fall 1982.

This magazine article taught that every minister/ministerial student needs to have the warning.

Freedom for Ministry by Richard John Neuhaus (Eerdmans, 1992) 

Thanks, Dr. Bravard.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah by Robert Bork (Harper, 1996, 2003) and The Death of Outrage by William Bennett (Free Press, 1999) 

Signs in our times from nonpreachers.

The Third—and Possibly the Best—637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, as chosen and arranged by Robert Byrne (Fawcett, 1987, 1991)

Simultaneously fun and enlightening.

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Clark Tanner, lead pastor, Countryside Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas

Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (Zondervan, 2008, 2012)

After I said yes to this assignment, I sat at my office desk looking over the books on my shelves. So which one is it? Which one saved my ministry? I kept coming back to one book: Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. Can I identify with everything Hybels writes about? Absolutely not! But when I was questioning whether I should remain in the located ministry, it was the book God used to turn my life around.

When I opened the book recently, I found notes all over the margins. One of his key statements: “The local church is the hope of the world.” I’d rather he said something like, “Jesus is the hope of the world,” but he didn’t. However, the statement got my attention. I had to ask myself if I really believed God’s church is essential. My answer: yes! So if I believed in the value of God’s church, then I needed to quit questioning my leadership and get on with ministry!

Today the church I serve is healthy. The leadership staff even likes each other and they understand their ministry roles. We are now working on a succession plan and the next season of church life. Is Courageous Leadership a deep book? No, but it was a book God used to refocus my life. I’m one thankful pastor!

A final comment. There was something else that saved my ministry. I spent a week with Dr. John Walker at the Blessing Ranch. God has given Walker an amazing gift for evaluating a Christian leader’s life and suggesting course corrections. If you have doubts about remaining in ministry, let me suggest not only a book but also a week with Dr. Walker.

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Jonathan Williams, senior pastor, Forefront, New York City

Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender (Waterbrook Press, 2008)

A quote from this book has freed me to truly listen to God’s calling with courage. Allender wrote: “A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone.”

The Naked Now by Richard Rohr (Crossroad Publishing, 2009)

This book changed my life.

I realized like never before that we have a God who goes against any and all meritocracy, tit for tat, or black and white. This God is so fond of me that he will do whatever it takes to point me in the direction of love. That’s the amazing grace I try to show each person who walks through the doors of our church.

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3 Comments

  1. David Cole
    October 25, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Yikes! Some of those titles look like they came off of a New Age Religion bookshelf.

  2. October 28, 2015 at 6:59 am

    These all look like great book titles, including Eugene Peterson’s, because they are from 2000 & earlier. I would not trust anything newer than that, though. Including his The Message.
    From gotquestions.org:

    The Message has engendered more criticism for its lack of serious scholarship and outright bizarre renderings than just about any other Bible version to date…In an interview with Christianity Today, Peterson described the beginning of the creative process that produced The Message: “I just kind of let go and became playful. And that was when the Sermon on the Mount started. I remember I was down in my basement study, and I did the Beatitudes in about ten minutes. And all of a sudden I realized this could work.” Aside from the impossibility of doing justice to the Sermon on the Mount in ten minutes, one wonders whether playfulness is the appropriate demeanor for those who attempt to “rightly divide the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Awe and reverence for a holy God and His holy Word, yes. Playfulness? No.

    Examples of problematic passages:

    John 10:30 should say: “I and the Father are one.”
    The Message: “I and the Father are one heart and mind.”

    Romans 15:13 should say: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
    The Message: “Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

    Perhaps the worst of many I could quote:
    From the Lord’s prayer in Matthew: “on Earth as it is in Heaven” becomes “as above, so below.” Those four words are found throughout the literature of New Age & satanic “magick.”

  3. Lynn Lusby Pratt
    November 8, 2015 at 8:27 am

    It’s not that these books don’t have a few good things to say. But some of the writers mentioned are leaning into (or heavily into) mysticism/Eastern religions/the occult. The foundational teachings of other religions absolutely cannot mesh with Christianity, so we’re standing on sinking sand here.

    To get up to snuff in understanding America’s (and the church’s) shift toward those “isms,” leaders would do well to read Where Has Oprah Taken Us? by Stephen Mansfield, followed by A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen. Everyone will recognize the people that Oprah made famous and will recognize some of those people’s key teachings, which Mansfield outlines so well. Then Yungen’s book quotes popular Christian writers whose teachings not only sound the same but actually trace to the same roots (follow the spiritual family trees); the parallels are unmistakable.

    People who start down and stay on this mystical/Eastern/occult path ultimately come to a place of disregarding Scripture, a denial of the atonement/deity of Jesus, and finally an “I am god” view (the “all is one” mystical worldview). Poor Rob Bell is a perfect celebrity example, but the average Christian is being tempted in this direction when leaders inadvertently steer us toward false teachings. Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken with a number of people whose Christian friends/family are ready to ditch Christianity in favor of Buddhism.

    Church leaders have a huge responsibility to help us stay on track, but they’re being snookered (by veiled language and clever marketing) into accepting and promoting false teaching. (See my Nothing Sacred miniseries on Facebook that began July 12, 2015.) This mystical shift has been happening for more than a decade, and many leaders are still in the dark/in denial. I hope they’ll do some investigating sooner rather than later—and show some righteous indignation at the enemy’s schemes!

    Oh, and to stay on track theologically in the first place, let’s emphasize more time in the Word. Jack Cottrell’s The Faith Once for All is a terrific reference book that helps us stay there.

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