65 Books to Read

IMG_2862There are two times when I am most susceptible to feeling bad: (1) browsing through the books in a bookstore, and (2) looking through the books in our personal home library. In both places, I come across way too many good books waiting to be read!

A few years ago I talked about our Reading Pile. Some of those books have still not been read, and at the same time, we’ve add others. This past weekend, I updated the pile with the 65 most pressing books. Most of these books are leadership books with some spiritual growth books in there as well.

In my recent post, 15 Books That Have Shaped Me as a Leader, I said that leaders are readers. But I do not read as much as I want to. That’s due in part to finishing up and recovering from the doctor of ministry program in the last several years as well as everything else we’ve had going on, like completing the ordination process in the UMC.

I hope now that we’re recovering the D.Min. program, and especially after we complete the ordination process, that we will be able to get back to doing more reading (basically, we need to read faster than we add new books to the pile!).

Currently, I have a year-long list of books to read as part of a mentoring group I’m in, which are included in the 65 (actually, I’ve read a few of those already so I may only have to review them). I’ve also included resources I’m trying to read as part of my (final) 150 Days of Preparation for Ordination.

15 Books That Have Shaped Me as a Leader

It’s often said that leaders are readers. I’ve always loved what Rick Warren says: “Leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning, you stop leading!”

I have put together a list of 15 books that have shaped me as a leader. These aren’t necessarily the best books on leadership—they’re not even all specifically leadership books—but they are books I have read that have shaped me in some lasting, meaningful way.

Holy Discontent (Bill Hybels). Bill Hybels is at the top of my must-read authors. Anytime I listen to, or read, Bill Hybels, I always come away challenged and motivated! See my post on this book.

Courageous Leadership (Bill Hybels). Leaders must have courage. Leaders need to read this book! (See my post on this book.)

Too Busy Not to Pray (Bill Hybels). Ironically, I just read this classic book this week. It’s not specifically a book on leadership, but a book on prayer written by a leader about a topic in which Christ-following leaders must do well.

Communicating for a Change (Andy Stanley and Lane Jones). The most popular post on this blog is One-Point Preaching, a review of this book. Transitioning to one-point preaching has been the single most important change I’ve made during my leadership journey!

Next Generation Leader (Andy Stanley). This is one of my favorite books on leadership. Stanley is another must-read author! I haven’t written on this book but I blogged about a quote from it.

Choosing to Cheat (Andy Stanley). This is not specifically a leadership book but a topic leaders must address! See my first and second posts on this book.

The Present Future (Reggie McNeal). This is one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read—a must read for church leaders! See my post on this book.

The Barbarian Way (Erwin McManus). This is not specifically a leadership book, but one that leaders should read. See my post on this book.

An Unstoppable Force (Erwin McManus). Another great book by McManus. He writes about cultivation in this book, a topic I blogged about recently.

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat (John Ortberg). This is not a leadership book but it’s for disciples, and leaders are disciples of Jesus Christ first. I think it’s worth reading everything Ortberg writes!

Leadership and Self-Deception (Arbinger Institute). We read this for two different classes at Asbury. It’s a must-read for leaders.

Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders). This is a classic. I’m including it not so much because it’s a great book on leadership as much as how the chapter on prayer impacted me personally. See my post here.

The Leadership Challenge (James Kouzes and Barry Posner). This is a tremendous book, especially the section on “challenging the process.”

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell). There could easily be more books by John Maxwell on this list, but I’ve been influenced by Maxwell more than any other leader over the last twenty years so it’s impossible to know which resources I’ve been impacted by the most. This is a classic.

The Contemplative Pastor (Eugene Peterson). The only thing I remember about this book is one of the chapter titles—”Unbusy Pastor.” But I do remember being deeply impacted by this book, at the time. It would have been one of the early leadership books I read shortly after it was published in 1993 when I was working on an M.Div. Eugene Peterson is always challenging!

So, that’s my list. I write about other books from time to time. I hope you find them helpful!

What books have shaped you the most in your leadership journey?

Change Is Normal

Everyone says change is hard. It may be hard, but it’s normal.

I often think of a quote from SoulTsunami by Leonard Sweet:

What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? … in the modern medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don’t change, you die. It’s that simple. It’s that scary.

Sweet discusses molecular biology and notes that the 100 trillion cells are in a constant state of change (cells die and others divide to create replacements). Sweet points out:

Skin replaces itself every month; the stomach lining, every five days; the liver, every six weeks; the skeleton, every three months; cheek cells, three times a day. Ninety-eight percent of the atoms in your body are replaced every year—your whole body every five years (men) or seven years (women).

A few days ago, Sweet tweeted that there are “6 trillion chemical changes per second in body.”

It’s all pretty amazing. Change is hard-wired into who we are as God’s creation!

It makes sense, then, that we, as Jesus followers, and especially spiritual leaders, are called to be change agents in the world!

2 Corinthians 5.17 (NLT) …

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

(See my recent post: Change Takes Faith.)

Cultivation is the Work of Leaders

I’ve been fleshing out some of the reading from The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase. Previous posts include: “The Balancing Act”, Pray More Than Criticize, 5 Practices to Make the Most of Time, and Change Takes Faith.

In one chapter, Bishop Schnase talks about a field he once saw that was no longer being actively cultivated and cared for. He wondered what he would do if the field were given to him for the purpose of generating a harvest. Bishop Schnase concluded a number of things. First, it would “involve a long, slow process” (91). Bishop Schnase writes:

Cultivation takes time and the passing of seasons, and requires patience without cynicism or resignation. (91)

With that in mind, Bishop Schnase believes he “would have much learning to do” (92). He’d also “have to get to work, doing something each day to move toward the harvest” (92). Bishop Schnase imagines he’d “have to attend to timing” (92)—different things need to happen at different times. Finally, Bishop Schnase realizes he’d “have to live with mixed and inconsistent results” (92).

Further, Bishop Schnase writes:

Scripture is replete with images of seeds and sowers, farmers and soils, seedtime and harvest, vines and branches. The biblical writers remind us of the patience and hard work required, and of the risks of birds and rocks and weeds. They also steady our fears with the promise and hope of harvests, some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some a hundred-fold. (92-93).

Regarding the mission field, Bishop Schnase writes:

Each of our churches has been entrusted a mission field, the community of people that surround us, the large numbers of people who do not know Christ. The mission field also includes countless people who suffer from loneliness, poverty, racism, or violence. This field provides the mission and purpose for our work, and we serve in obedience to Christ and out of love for neighbor and for God. (93)

May we be faithful to the work of cultivating the fields in which we’re placed. And may we also be intentional about cultivating our own hearts so that we will grow more and more like Christ in every way!

The good news is:

God has placed us in these fields for a purpose, and gives us the promise of rich harvests. (94)

Change Takes Faith

I have a couple more reflections on The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase (previous posts: “The Balancing Act”, Pray More Than Criticize, and 5 Practices to Make the Most of Time).

By definition, leaders are change agents, so Bishop Schnase’s thoughts on change caught my attention. Schnase points out why change is hard:

When we change, we leave behind old familiar things—ways of doing things, patterns, habits, attitudes, behaviors that are comfortble. (95)

Change involves loss. Change is difficult, but necessary—for growth, for greater fruitfulness. But because it’s difficult, “Change takes faith” (96). Change is part of life. The opposite of change isn’t comfort or stability or security—it’s death!


Forward movement in our following of Christ comes as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own maturation and growth. God’s Spirit is calling us toward greater Christ-likeness. We starve the old nature and feed the new creation as we intentionally move toward Christ. Change and growth are essential elements of our spiritual growth and discipleship. (96).

5 Practices to Make the Most of Time

I’ve been writing about The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase (see “The Balancing Act” and Pray More Than Criticize).

Bishop Schnase writes on “Redeeming Time.” By that, he means “making time sacred, useful to God, holy” (119). Schnase adds:

… redeeming the time involves discovering the holy, gift-like quality, the grace of time. It involves perceiving time differently, looking at time through God’s eyes. (119)

I have always been interested in time, specifically how to make the most of it (see last year’s post, Time Management). I’ve also always been interested in improving my use of time!

The language of “redeeming time” comes from the King James Version: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4.5). The New Living Translation puts them this way: “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5.16) and “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4.5).

Here are five practices that help make the most of time …

1. Pray. “Teach us to use wisely all the time we have” (Psalm 90.12, CEV).

2. Pinpoint your mission. It’s impossible to make the most of our time if we aren’t clear on our purpose in life. When we know our mission, then we know what to say no to, which is critically important.

3. Prioritize your tasks. When we have pinpointed our mission, prioritizing tasks becomes easier—easier, not necessarily easy. See Michael Hyatt’s excellent post: Put the Big Rocks in First.

This is one of my challenges. I can prioritize tasks, but too often, I want to knock out a bunch of smaller tasks so that I can devote extended time to the big task(s). But sometimes, by the time I finish the lower-priority tasks, there’s not enough time for the big tasks!

4. Play. I’m sure we don’t do enough of it, but a healthy dose of play makes people more productive. That was a major premise of Jump Start Your Brain by Doug Hall, which I read a number of years ago. Of course, in our case, the kids help … when we let them!

5. Practice sabbath time. Like play, our bodies require adequate rest (e.g., I recently read about the hidden dangers of sleep deprivation, which adds extra motivation). It’s no wonder God built sabbath rest into the rhythm of our lives from the very beginning!

What practices help you make the most of time?

Pray More Than Criticize

I recently wrote about Bishop Robert Schnase’s book, The Balancing Act (Bishop Schnase is author of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations).

I enjoyed the short book, which works well as a 30-day devotional, and plan to highlight a few sections on the blog over the next few/several days.

Early on in the book, Bishop Schnase relates an observation that a woman once shared with him. Schnase writes:

She said that she did not think that anyone should ever be allowed to complain about a pastor unless that person was also in constant prayer for the pastor. We should all desire our pastors to succeed, to fulfill their mission, to be strong and whole and healthy, and so we should pray for them, their families, their work, and their ministry. Imagine if every time we felt annoyed, disocuraged, or disappointed by a pastor, we prayed for them with even greater eagerness and sincerity. Imagine if we felt as much or more an obligation to pray for a pastor as we feel to criticize or correct a pastor. (22)

Of course, as a pastor, I love this statement. Nevertheless, it’s an important piece of advice for the sake of God’s mission and ministry in the world!

For more on praying for pastors, see Praying for Pastors and Praying for Pastors 2.0, which I’ve written in the past. Along these lines, you might also be interested in 13 Things Anyone Can Do To Support Their Pastor, which was posted today by Brian Dodd.

Bishop Schnase concludes this particular chapter with a challenge:

Pray for your pastor. Pray for your church. Pray for the community that your church and pastor has been called to transform. Pray for the world God has entrusted us to serve. (23)

3 Ways Leaders Stir the Pot

In my last post, I suggested that Leaders are Pot-Stirrers.

Before I get into some specific ways that leaders stir the pot, I should say that being a pot-stirrer is not a license to be a jerk. I’m not talking about making life difficult for people for the sake of being difficult. It’s all about God’s mission and God’s mission requires that leaders stir the pot. Leaders do that by “speaking the truth in love” (ironically, this phrase appears in a chapter that highlights the purpose of leadership as equipping Jesus-followers for the mission of the church—Ephesians 4).

Well, I’m sure there are a number of ways leaders stir the pot; here are three ways that I try to stir the pot …

1. Leaders stir the pot through biblical preaching. I think this is the primary way that I stir the pot. If God’s Word doesn’t challenge people, either it isn’t being communicated well or the hearers do not “have ears to hear.”

The Bible is full of pot-stirring stories. In fact, there’s a whole section of the Old Testament filled with messages from pot-stirrers (i.e., prophets). God’s Word was stirring then; it should be now, as well.

2. Leaders stir the pot through vision-casting. Leaders must constantly communicate a biblical, missional vision for the church—through preaching and every other available form of communication. By nature, vision is both unifying and divisive. It unifies people who embrace the vision, but it also divides as it forces people to choose between where they want to go and where God is leading the church to go.

Perhaps that’s part of what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. For I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. People’s enemies are members of their own households” (Matthew 10.34-36).

The vision of the kingdom of God life is also divisive, in the sense that it forces us to make a decision. Jesus said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them” (Mark 8.34-35). That’s challenging stuff!

The leader’s task is to constantly lift up the missional vision of the church and the vision of life in God’s kingdom. In doing so, leaders stir the pot!

3. Leaders stir the pot by modeling a life of passionate discipleship. One of the (few) things I remember from college chemistry is that stirring water increases the temperature (something about the water molecules banging into each other, if I remember correctly). Leaders want to increase the temperatures of their churches. As leaders serve God with passion, passion is stirred in others, as well.

The Apostle Paul tells Jesus-followers in Romans, “The leader should lead with passion” (Romans 12.8). Paul also challenges his protege, Timothy: “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you” (2 Timothy 1.6). If leaders are going to stir others, they must keep themselves stirred.

Why bother being a pot-stirrer?
In stirring the pot, we are being faithful to God’s call to leadership in the church. People are challenged to live differently, to live according to God’s Word. And the church stays focused on its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

But it’s not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to be a pot-stirrer (leader). Stirring the pot stirs passion in some, anger in others (a negative form of passion). I recently heard John Maxwell say, “If you’re a leader, you have an enemy.” Enemies are a painful reality. They come with the territory. Being a faithful pot-stirrer requires courage as well as commitment to God’s call.

The Apostle Paul challenges us, “Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!” (Romans 12.11) Stir the pot!

What are other ways leaders do stir the pot?

Leaders are Pot-Stirrers

A number of years ago, I stopped on a channel long enough to catch part of the movie, Runaway Bride. In one particular scene, the “runaway bride” (played by Julia Roberts) yelled at a reporter (played by Richard Gere). The reporter made her life difficult by writing in a newspaper column about her practice of running away from weddings. At one point, while looking for a name to call the reporter, she came up with “pot-stirrer.”

It was intended negatively, but I have embraced it as a great metaphor for leaders. Leaders are pot-stirrers!

Leaders are not called to maintain the status quo or to allow people to remain in their comfort zones. Leaders are not tasked with keeping things running smoothly. Leaders are called to lead people (including themselves) out of their comfort zones. And that requires stirring the pot!

Jesus certainly stirred the pot. In fact, Jesus was the master pot-stirrer. He was always stirring the pot—so much so, that it landed him in hot water with the religious leaders of his day. Think about it. If Jesus would have only laid low on sabbath days (not to mention all of the other subversive activity he engaged in), things would have gone so much smoother, right? But Jesus was a pot-stirrer!

Today, it’s more important than ever that leaders called by God stir the pot. Without pot-stirring leadership, the church won’t be engaged in mission in the world, lives won’t be changed, and the world won’t be transformed. The mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world requires leaders who are pot-stirrers.

In my next post, I will suggest some ways that leaders stir the pot. In the meantime, I encourage you to review the tremendous statements by Bishop Hee-Soo Jung on leadership that I quoted in my post on the book, The Future of The United Methodist Church.

Have you embraced your call to be a pot-stirrer?