I have a reputation for saying: “I may not know the answer but I can suggest a book.” In other words, I read a lot and enjoy recommending books to others. At any church where I pastor, I always set up a table full of free books. It’s my way of giving and offering helpful advice.
So, I want to recommend ten books, I found particularly helpful. They are not all religious books but I found these ten particularly interesting and unique. The books listed are in no particular order. With each book I’ll enclose information gleaned off the cover or a website followed by my comments: “Why I recommend this book.”
“Does Your Church Have A Prayer?: In Mission Toward the Promised Land” by Marc Brown, Kathy Merry and John Briggs. Congregations seeking revitalization can take heart. Jesus has already prayed for their unity so they may share his love with the world! The DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE A PRAYER? Leader’s Guide presents a model of Christian transformation to guide a congregation through a journey of spiritual renewal in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. The Leader’s Guide begins with a number of biblical examples of spiritual leadership. Referring to these models, the authors offer pastors important thoughts on choosing, equipping, and encouraging leaders to collaborate with them as they enter a time of discernment. By applying biblical principles through this intentional process of congregational engagement, churches will understand their calling as they move from a wilderness of inward focus to God’s Promised Land of Jesus’ disciples.
“Why I recommend this book.” Pastors should first read “Does Your Church Have A Prayer,” then study it further with a group of leaders and finally present the results to the entire church. Most “church growth” books provide a single formula but “Does Your Church Have A Prayer,” helps each church discover their own unique formula through Bible study and discerning prayer. When the study is concluded, your church should have a vision and a plan for action.
“UnChristian: What New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, was inspired to write this book when he was asked to do extensive research on what young Americans think about Christianity. Lyons had a gut-level sense that something was desperately wrong, and three years of research paints exactly that picture. Mosaics and Busters (the generations that include late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered. Rather than simply do a PR face-lift, Kinnaman looks at ways in which churches’ activities actually may have been unchristian and encourages a return to a more biblical Christianity, a faith that not only focuses on holiness but also loves, accepts and works to understand the world around it. It would be possible to get lost in the numbers, but the authors use numerous illustrations from their research and life experiences and include insights at the end of every chapter from Christian leaders like Charles Colson, John Stott, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis. This is a wonderful, thoughtful book that conveys difficult truths in a spirit of humility. Every Christian should read this, and it will likely influence churches for years to come.
“Why I recommend this book.” If you are interested in reaching beyond the four walls of your church, this is a must-read. More than any other resource, “UnChristian reveals what others, who are not in your church, really think — about church, about God and about churched people. The answers aren’t always easy to hear but it’s critical information every church leader needs to understand. No missionary would enter another country without first studying the history and culture of the people they will work with. “Un-Christian” provides the history and culture of those we must reach if our churches are to have any success in following Christ’s command to go out into the world and make disciples.
“Change Is Like a Slinky: 30 Strategies for Promoting and Surviving Change in Your Organization” by Hans Finzel. A practical guide to navigate change in today’s organizational climate. “Change or perish” seems to be the mantra for leaders in all types of organizations. But how does one adapt to such fast and furious change? Hans Finzel provides a proven strategy in Change is Like a Slinky, exploring the six major phases in the cycle of change. As he says, ‘Change is a lot like a Slinky…A slinky can be a lot of fun, but it is also completely unpredictable.’ Instead of grudgingly wading through inevitable change, readers will find themselves equipped and fired up to tackle it head on.
“Why I recommend this book.” I was so impressed with “Change Is Like A Slinky,” I gave away nearly one hundred copies to people I work with. Every organization whether church or business must continuously deal with change. Once you accept the need for change you then move to, “How?” This book gives 30 answers on “How to accomplish change.” Each of the thirty strategies are short, helpful and easy to understand. This is a must read book for anyone in leadership.
“Have a Little Faith: A True Story” by Mitch Albom. What if our beliefs were not what divided us, but what pulled us together? A beautifully written story of a remarkable eight-year journey between two worlds–two men, two faiths, two communities–that will inspire readers everywhere. Have a Little Faith begins with an unusual request: an eighty-two-year-old rabbi from Albom’s old hometown asks him to deliver his eulogy. Feeling unworthy, Albom insists on understanding the man better, which throws him back into a world of faith he’d left years ago. Meanwhile, closer to his current home, Albom becomes involved with a Detroit pastor–a reformed drug dealer and convict–who preaches to the poor and homeless in a decaying church with a hole in its roof. Moving between their worlds, Christian and Jewish, African-American and white, impoverished and well-to-do, Albom observes how these very different men employ faith similarly in fighting for survival: the older, suburban rabbi embracing it as death approaches; the younger, inner-city pastor relying on it to keep himself and his church afloat. Have a Little Faith is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story.
“Why I recommend this book.” I don’t agree with the theology of “Have a Little Faith” but this book is not about theology. If you want to understand how people struggle with faith issues you will appreciate and learn from the characters within this story.
“Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse’s unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson’s efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers’ hearts.
“Why I recommend this book.” If you want to understand and better appreciate the culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this is a must-read book. If you are asking the question: “How can one person make a difference in another community, this is a must-read book. Note: I’m a little behind on this one. Greg Mortenson has a new book out called “Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Tomorrow: Five more books for 2010.