“What book do you recommend?” That’s a pretty common question that gets floated around in meetings, conferences, and interviews. It is always fascinating to hear what books have been impacting to different people. When it comes to pastors who ask this question, titles like Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, or Purple Cow by Seth Godin are common favorites. The recommendation list is long in reference to leadership and running an organization but what about being a pastor? Books on leadership and the principles they teach are good but have we turned the pastor into a CEO rather than a shepherd? Has the role of “spiritual director” been pushed to the periphery? Has development in the pastoral vocation been traded for development in management savvy?
Our culture is driven by the free market which puts the consumer in the driver’s seat. As a result, leaders of companies that provide goods and services to the consumer must learn to grow and excel in organizational leadership, management efficiency and marketing prowess in order to survive. Though these skills top the priority list for business leaders, these are not the primary skills that must be developed in the life of a pastor. The core question to be answered is “What is driving what?” Meaning, is your pastoral work being driven by leadership and management principles or is your leadership being informed by pastoral values? The difference is huge and I pray that we have not become so influenced by culture that we have replaced the primary for the ancillary. So, what books do I recommend specifically for pastors? Thanks for asking…
by A.W. Tozer - Our view of God shapes everything. Tozer will challenge your understanding of God by masterfully unpacking the attributes of God. We are all in orbit around God, pastor included, so knowing who He is and what He does is vital.
I recommend any and all books by Eugene Peterson (he is most commonly known as the translator of The Message Bible) but specifically point to these four books.
Under the Unpredictable Plant – Using the story of Jonah as a metaphor, Peterson develops the idea of “vocational holiness” and calls pastors to their true purpose.
Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work – In an attempt to help pastors be more effective, Eugene points to the Old Testament for wisdom. His practical-theological insights include prayer-directing, story-making, pain-sharing, nay-saying and community-building.
Working the Angles – Just as the lines of the triangle don’t make a triangle without the proper angles, the actual tasks of the pastor are only as valuable as the substance of what supports them.
The Contemplative Pastor - Peterson describes the term "pastor" with the adjectives: un-busy, subversive, and apocalyptic – a great challenge to the many paradigms of our culture.
Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey – Life does not always work out the way we want it to and times of crisis and difficulty create disappointments that can be hard to navigate. Pastors have the task of walking with people through those times. Yancey looks at suffering and the questions we are often scared to ask.
The Other Side of Pastoral Ministry by Daniel Brown – Written by a long time pastor, the effectiveness of ministry is not found in numbers but rather in fruit and involvement in the community of believers.
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem – Big theology books are not reserved for seminarians and must get frequent use by pastors. Our theology must inform our practices rather than experiences defining our theology.
In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen - this little book is packed with insight on the life of a Christian leader. He brings the reader back to the freshness of the basics by emphasizing identity in Christ and the vitality of authentic relationships.