Looking for some must-read books for preachers because you are a preacher/pastor/church leader?
I recently asked other pastors in our Facebook group and on my Twitter account what must-read books they would recommend other pastors/preachers to read this year. These books are not necessarily new books in 2020, but they are recommended books this year.
These books for preachers aren’t all preaching books, but books that other preachers and church leaders find to be important for us to read.
When we read great books, we are opening ourselves up to grow. If we aren’t reading, we likely aren’t growing. So developing a steady reading habit and reading good books consistently is vital for our continual growth as pastors/preachers/church leaders.
Must-Read Books for Preachers in 2020 (Recommended by Preachers and Church Leaders)
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman
Ten years after his death, Edwin Friedman’s best-selling A Failure of Nerve continues to offer insights into leadership that are more urgently needed than ever, and this revised, anniversary edition is essential reading for all leaders, be they parents or presidents, corporate executives or educators, religious superiors or coaches, healers or generals, managers or clergy. Friedman was the first to tell us that all organizations have personalities, like families, and to apply the insights of family therapy to churches and synagogues, rectors and rabbis, politicians and teachers. His understandings about our regressed, “seatbelt society,” oriented toward safety rather than adventure, help explain the sabotage that leaders constantly face today. Suspicious of the “quick fixes” and instant solutions that sweep through our culture only to give way to the next fad, he argued for strength and self-differentiation as the marks of true leadership. His formula for success is more maturity, not more data; stamina, not technique; and personal responsibility, not empathy. A Failure of Nerve was unfinished at the time of Friedman’s death and originally published in a limited edition. This new edition cleans up some oversights in the original and brings his life-changing insights and challenges to a new generation of readers.
The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero
Do you feel too overwhelmed to enjoy life, unable to sort out the demands on your time? Are you doing your best work as a leader, yet not making an impact? Have you ever felt stuck, powerless to change your environment?
In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, bestselling author Peter Scazzero shows leaders how to develop a deep, inner life with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.
Going beyond simply offering a quick fix or new technique, The Emotionally Healthy Leader gets to the core, beneath-the-surface issues of uniquely Christian leadership. This book is more than a book you will read; it is a resource you will come back to over and over again.
In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen was a spiritual thinker with an unusual capacity to write about the life of Jesus and the love of God in ways that have inspired countless people to trust life more fully. Most widely read among the over 40 books Father Nouwen wrote is In the Name of Jesus. For a society that measures successful leadership in terms of the effectiveness of the individual, Father Nouwen offers a counter definition that is witnessed by a “communal and mutual experience.” For Nouwen, leadership cannot function apart from the community. His wisdom is grounded in the foundation that we are a people “called.” This beautiful guide to Christian Leadership is the rich fruit of Henri Nouwen’s own journey as one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the 20th century.
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen
Hundreds of books, tapes, workshops and seminars promise to answer these impossible questions. Some offer a set of practical guidelines; others suggest a system or pattern to follow. Some stress various ministry functions; others feature case studies as models of success or failure. Some are helpful. Others are not. But in The Art of Pastoring, David Hansen turns pastoral self-help programs on their heads. He tackles the perennial questions from within his own experience. From the Inside Out Hansen’s fresh, bold narrative grows from nearly a decade of ministry. He draws you into his life and into the lives of Florence-Victor Parish in the mountains of Montana, including unforgettable encounters with unforgettable people–a stubborn pioneer woman who still chops her own firewood though she’s blind and 90 years old, a championship rodeo cowboy who was baptized in his boots, and many more. Hansen’s goal is to help you discover “that pastoral ministry is a life, not a technology . . . [that] life as a pastor is far more than the sum of the tasks I carry out. It is a call from God that involves my whole life.” From Calling to Living Parable Every pastor has encountered those who struggle to hear God’s voice in a hospital room, who reach for Jesus in the sacraments. No systematic answers can meet their deep, eternal needs. What can touch them, Hansen contends, is a life itself, a life lived as a parable of Jesus. “As a parable of Jesus Christ,” Hansen writes, “I deliver something to the parishioner that I am not, and in the process I deliver the parishioner into the hands of God.” It is this knack for getting to the heart of things that makes The Art of Pastoring valuable for pastors in any setting–rural, suburban or urban. Parachurch workers, missionaries, church leaders and ministry volunteers will also find inspiration here. In this significantly revised new edition, Hansen includes new insights into his view of pastorate as parable and adds a new postlude in which he comes clean on his “constant attempts to leave the ministry.”
Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright
Every organization is composed of tribes – naturally occurring groups of between 20 and 150 people. Until now, only a few leaders could identify and develop their tribes, and those rare individuals were rewarded with loyalty, productivity, and industry-changing innovation. Tribal Leadership shows leaders how to assess, identify, and upgrade their tribes’ cultures, one stage at a time. The result is an organization that can thrive in any economy.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
Since Eugene Peterson first wrote this spiritual formation classic nearly forty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been inspired by its call to deeper discipleship. As a society, we are still obsessed with the immediate; new technologies have only intensified our quest for the quick fix. But Peterson’s time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same―a long obedience in the same direction. Following Jesus in this way requires a deepening life of prayer, and throughout history Christians have learned to pray from the Psalms. Peterson finds encouragement for today’s pilgrims in the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), sung by travelers on their way to worship in Jerusalem. With his prophetic and pastoral wisdom, Peterson shows how the psalms teach us to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community, and blessing. This special commemorative edition of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction includes a new preface taken from Leif Peterson’s eulogy at his father’s memorial service.
Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry by Will Willimon
Ordained ministry, says Will Willimon, is a gift of God to the church—but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Always a difficult vocation, changes in society and the church in recent years have made the ordained life all the more complex and challenging. Is the pastor primarily a preacher, a professional caregiver, an administrator? Given the call of all Christians to be ministers to the world, what is the distinctive ministry of the ordained? When does one’s ministry take on the character of prophet, and when does it become that of priest? What are the special ethical obligations and disciplines of the ordained? Pastor: Revised Edition explores these and other central questions about the vocation of ordained ministry. It begins with a discussion of who pastors are, asking about the theological underpinnings of ordained ministry, and then moves on to what pastors do, looking at the distinctive roles the pastor must fulfill. The book also draws on great teachers of the Christian tradition to demonstrate that, while much about Christian ministry has changed, its core concerns—preaching the word, the care of souls, the sacramental life of congregations—remains the same. Ordained ministry is a vocation to which we are called, not a profession that we choose. To answer that call is to open oneself to heartache and sometimes hardship; yet, given the one who calls, it is to make oneself available to deep and profound joy as well.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”
Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.
Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West
Call Sign Chaos is the account of Jim Mattis’s storied career, from wide-ranging leadership roles in three wars to ultimately commanding a quarter of a million troops across the Middle East. Along the way, Mattis recounts his foundational experiences as a leader, extracting the lessons he has learned about the nature of warfighting and peacemaking, the importance of allies, and the strategic dilemmas—and short-sighted thinking—now facing our nation. He makes it clear why America must return to a strategic footing so as not to continue winning battles but fighting inconclusive wars.
Replenish: Leading From A Healthy Soul by Lance Witt
Every leader functions on two stages-the front stage or public world, and the back stage or private world. One cannot lead successfully front stage when one is completely depleted back stage. In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers due to cynicism, disillusionment, weariness, and personal scandals, there is an urgent need for soul care in the private lives of leaders. Replenish helps leaders focus on the back stage, the interior life, in order to remain spiritually healthy. In a caring, encouraging tone, it will show pastors how to prioritize matters of the soul develop healthy spiritual practices address problems that lead to burnout create a healthy rhythm in their lives improve their people skills and the spiritual climate of their team develop better systems in their churches discover how to lead an unhurried life For the many ministry leaders who feel alone, in over their heads, or simply worn out, this book will offer welcome relief and a healthy way forward.
The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene Peterson
Any pastor who needs and wants to get back to basics will do well to absorb this book. Eugene Peterson, well known as “a pastor’s pastor,” here speaks words of wisdom and refreshment for pastors caught in the busyness of preaching, teaching, and “running the church.”
In The Contemplative Pastor Peterson highlights the often-overlooked essentials of ministry, first by redefining the meaning of pastor through three strengthening adjectives: unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. The main part of the book focuses on pastoral ministry and spiritual direction “between Sundays”: these chapters begin with poetic reflections on the Beatitudes and then discuss such themes as curing souls, praying with eyes open, the language of prayer, the ministry of small talk, and sabbatical–all with engaging, illustrative anecdotes from Peterson’s own experience.
FAQ: Six Questions to Ask Before Sunday by Scott Douglas
Every Sunday a pastor has a clock that starts ticking as soon as the last song ends and the crowd begins to file out of the church. It’s the inevitable timer that in 7 days another Sunday will be coming. Preaching is urgently essential today, and these six questions will help any pastor be ready for the next Sunday. These questions are: What text do I pick? What does the text mean? How is the text changing me? Who is my audience? Where is the Gospel? Why does it matter?Pastors of any tenure can benefit from reflecting on these questions, and in doing so stand firmly and faithfully on the Word.
Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton
“I’m tired of helping others enjoy God―I just want to enjoy God for myself.” With this painful admission, Ruth Haley Barton invites us to an honest exploration of what happens when spiritual leaders lose track of their souls. Weaving together contemporary illustrations with penetrating insight from the life of Moses, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership explores topics such as
- responding to the dynamics of calling
- facing the loneliness of leadership
- leading from your authentic self
- cultivating spiritual community
- reenvisioning the promised land
- discerning God’s will together
Each chapter includes a spiritual practice to ensure your soul gets the nourishment it needs. Forging and maintaining a life-giving connection with God is the best choice you can make for yourself and for those you lead. This expanded edition includes the popular “How Is It with Your Soul?” assessment for leaders and a flexible six- or twelve-week guided experience for groups.
Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson
Most people are fearful of change, both personal and professional because they don’t have any control over how or when it happens to them. Since change happens either to the individual or by the individual, Dr. Spencer Johnson, the co-author of the multimillion bestseller The One Minute Manager, uses a deceptively simple story to show that when it comes to living in a rapidly changing world, what matters most is your attitude.
Exploring a simple way to take the fear and anxiety out of managing the future, Who Moved My Cheese? can help you discover how to anticipate, acknowledge, and accept change in order to have a positive impact on your job, your relationships, and every aspect of your life.
Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken
It’s easy to dream about the “perfect” church―a church that sings just the right songs set to just the right music before the pastor preaches just the right sermon to a room filled with just the right mix of people who happen to agree with you on just about everything.
Chances are your church doesn’t quite look like that. But what if instead of searching for a church that makes us comfortable, we learned to love our church, even when it’s challenging? What if some of the discomfort that we often experience is actually good for us?
This book is a call to embrace the uncomfortable aspects of Christian community, whether that means believing difficult truths, pursuing difficult holiness, or loving difficult people―all for the sake of the gospel, God’s glory, and our joy.
On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg
The ministry of pastors is not simply a job; it’s a vocation and a lifestyle.
A pastor’s responsibilities are unique, demanding that he not only nurture his own spiritual life but also the lives of those in his care. What a challenge this can be!
Derek Prime and Alistair Begg provide practical advice for both the spiritual and practical aspects of pastoral ministry. They delve deep into topics such as prayer, devotional habits, preaching, studying, and specific ministry duties. The result is an essential tool for those in pastoral ministry.
A Pastoral Rule for Today: Reviving an Ancient Practice by John Burgess and Jerry Andrews
The pastoral office has always been a difficult calling. Today, the pastor is often asked to fulfill multiple roles: preacher, teacher, therapist, administrator, CEO. How can pastors thrive amid such demands? What is needed is a contemporary pastoral rule: a pattern for ministry that both encourages pastors and enables them to focus on what is most important in their pastoral task. This book, co-authored by three experts with decades of practical experience, explains how relying on a pastoral rule has benefited communities throughout the church’s history and how such rules have functioned in the lives and work of figures such as Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, and Bonhoeffer. It also provides concrete advice on how pastors can develop and keep a rule that will help both them and their congregations to flourish.
Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church by Scot Mcknight
According to Scot McKnight, “kingdom” is the biblical term most misused by Christians today. It has taken on meanings that are completely at odds with what the Bible says and has become a buzzword for both social justice and redemption. In Kingdom Conspiracy, McKnight offers a sizzling biblical corrective and a fiercely radical vision for the role of the local church in the kingdom of God. Now in paper.
Preaching Sticky Sermons: A Practical Guide to Preparing, Writing, and Delivering Memorable Sermons by Brandon Kelley and Joe Hoagland
Preaching remains relevant even as America becomes less Christian. Preaching Sticky Sermons is a practical and accessible book for pastors young and old. Kelley and Hoagland reveal how to make your sermons stick. They focus on four main areas of creating a sermon: Preparation, writing, delivery, and evaluation. This book will help you write sermons that stick not only on Sunday but also throughout the week.
What About You?
So there we have it. These were all recommended by preachers and church leaders. What would you recommend as must-read books for preachers in 2020? Let us know by joining our Facebook group or send us a Tweet.
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