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